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Gratian (/ˈɡrʃən/; Latin: Flavius Gratianus Augustus;[1] Greek: Γρατιανός; 18 April/23 May 359 – 25 August 383) was Roman emperor from 367 to 383. The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied, during his youth, his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian's brother Valentinian II was declared emperor by his father's soldiers. In 378, Gratian's generals won a decisive victory over the Lentienses, a branch of the Alamanni, at the Battle of Argentovaria. Gratian subsequently led a campaign across the Rhine, the last emperor to do so, and attacked the Lentienses, forcing the tribe to surrender. That same year, his uncle Valens was killed in the Battle of Adrianople against the Goths – making Gratian essentially ruler of the entire Roman Empire. He favoured Christianity over traditional Roman religion, refusing the divine attributes of the Emperors and removing the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate.

Augustus of the Western Roman Empire
Gratian Solidus.jpg
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign24 August 367 – 17 November 375 (junior Augustus of the west under his father);
17 November 375 – 9 August 378 (senior Augustus of the west, with his brother as junior);
9 August 378 – 19 January 379 (senior Augustus of the whole empire, with his brother);
19 January 379 – 25 August 383 (senior Augustus in the west with his brother)
PredecessorValentinian I
SuccessorMagnus Maximus
Theodosius I
Valentinian II
Co-emperorsValens (Eastern Emperor, 375-378)
Valentinian II
Theodosius I (Eastern Emperor, 379-383)
Born18 April/23 May 359
Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia)
Died(383-08-25)25 August 383 (aged 24)
SpouseFlavia Maxima Constantia
Full name
Flavius Gratianus Augustus
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Gratianus Augustus
FatherValentinian I
MotherMarina Severa



Gratian was the son of Emperor Valentinian I[2] by Marina Severa, and was born at Sirmium[3] (now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) in Pannonia. He was named after his grandfather Gratian the Elder. Gratian was first married to Flavia Maxima Constantia, daughter of Constantius II. His second wife was Laeta. Both marriages remained childless. His stepmother was Empress Justina and his paternal half siblings were Emperor Valentinian II, Galla and Justa.

On 24 August 367 he received from his father the title of Augustus. On the death of Valentinian (17 November 375), the troops in Pannonia, impelled by the generals Aequitius and Maximinus, two of Valentinian's more unscrupulous ministers, proclaimed his infant son (by a second wife Justina) emperor under the title of Valentinian II.[4][5]

Gratian prudently acquiesced in their choice; reserving for himself the administration of the Gallic provinces, to command the forces responsible for the frontier, while handing over the peaceful Italy, Illyricum and Africa to Valentinian and his mother, who fixed their residence at Mediolanum. The division, however, was merely nominal, and the real authority even in those provinces remained in the hands of Gratian.[6]

Gratian, with the aid of his capable generals Mallobaudes, a king of the Franks, and Naniemus, completely defeated the Lentienses, the southernmost branch of the Alamanni, in May 378 at the Battle of Argentovaria. Next, Gratian personally led a campaign across the Upper Rhine into the territory of the Lentienses. After initial trouble facing the Lentienses on high ground, Gratian blockaded the enemy instead and received their surrender. The Lentienses were forced to supply young men to be levied into the Roman army, while the remainder were allowed to return home. Later that year, Valens met his death in the Battle of Adrianople against a coalition of hostile Gothic and Hunnic tribes who had rebelled after being settled in Thrace by the eastern emperor. Valens refused to wait for Gratian, who had promised to march to his aid as soon as the Alemanni threat was contained; as a result, two-thirds of Valens men, to the number of 40,000 dead, fell in the battle along with the emperor and some of his top staff.[7]

By the time Gratian arrived in the east to assume the rule of Valens' former possessions, the Gothic war had spiraled out of control; the provinces south of the Danube were daily being devastated by hordes of barbarians, and Roman authority as well as military prestige was all but annihilated.[8] Hearing that the Germans were planning a new invasion in Gaul now that Gratian had departed from the province, and convinced that one emperor alone was incapable of repelling the inundation of foes on several different fronts, the young emperor resorted to the by-now customary expedient of division of power, promoting Theodosius I on 19 January 379 to govern the east with the rank of co-equal Augustus.[9] During the ensuing four years Theodosius would take advantage of the internecine discord and disorder of the Goths to destroy the more intractable of the barbarians and settle the rest by a peaceful treaty in the provinces of Thrace and Asia Minor.[10]

For some years Gratian governed the Empire with energy and success, earning the esteem of the army and people by his personal courage and justice,[11] but at length, being deprived by death of some of his abler counselors, the promising young emperor degenerated into indolence and careless unconcern with public affairs, and occupied himself chiefly with the pleasures of the chase.[12] He alienated the army and German auxiliaries by his favoritism towards a body of Scythian archers whom he made his body-guard and companions in the hunt.[13] Increasingly, he became a tool in the hands of the Frankish general Merobaudes and bishop St. Ambrose of Milan.

Solidus of Gratian

By appearing in public in the dress of a Scythian warrior, after the disaster of the Battle of Adrianople, he finally exasperated his army. One of his generals, Magnus Maximus, took advantage of this feeling to raise the standard of revolt in Britain and invaded Gaul with a large army. From Paris, Gratian, having been deserted by his troops, fled to Lyon. There, through the treachery of the governor, Gratian was delivered over to one of the rebel generals, Andragathius, and assassinated on 25 August 383.[14][15]

Empire and Orthodox ChristianityEdit

The reign of Gratian forms an important epoch in ecclesiastical history, since during that period Nicene Christianity for the first time became dominant throughout the empire.

Gratian also published an edict that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria (i.e., the Nicene faith). The move was mainly thrust at the various beliefs that had arisen out of Arianism, but smaller dissident sects, such as the Macedonians, were also prohibited.

Suppression of paganismEdit

Gratian, under the influence of his chief advisor, Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan,[16][17] took active steps to repress pagan worship.[18][19] This brought to an end a period of widespread, if unofficial, religious tolerance that had existed since the time of Julian.[20] "In the long truce between the hostile camps", writes historian Samuel Dill, "the pagan, the sceptic, even the formal, the lukewarm Christian, may have come to dream of a mutual toleration which would leave the ancient forms undisturbed but such men, living in a world of literary and antiquarian illusions, know little of the inner forces of the new Christian movement."[21][22]

In 382, Gratian appropriated the income of the pagan priests and Vestal Virgins, forbade legacies of real property to them and abolished other privileges belonging to the Vestals and to the pontiffs. He confiscated the personal possessions of the colleges of pagan priests, which also lost all their privileges and immunities. Gratian declared that all of the pagan temples and shrines were to be confiscated by the government and that their revenues were to be joined to the property of the royal treasury.[23]

He ordered another removal of the Altar of Victory from the Senate House at Rome, despite protests of the pagan members of the Senate, and confiscated its revenues.[24][25] Pagan Senators responded by sending an appeal to Gratian, reminding him that he was still the Pontifex Maximus and that it was his duty to see that the ancestral pagan rites were properly performed. They appealed to Gratian to restore the Altar of Victory and the rights and privileges of the Vestal Virgins and priestly colleges. Gratian, at the urging of Ambrose, did not grant an audience to the pagan Senators. Moreover, he further renounced the title, office, and insignia of the Pontifex Maximus.[26][27] Notwithstanding his actions, Gratian was still deified after his death.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In Classical Latin, Gratian's name would be inscribed as FLAVIVS GRATIANVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Rose, Hugh James (1853). A New General Biographical Dictionary. p. 90.
  4. ^ An Encyclopedia of World History, (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1952), ch. II., Ancient History, p. 120
  5. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932, ch. XXV., p. 898
  6. ^ Gibbon, p. 899
  7. ^ Edward Gibbon, chap. XXVI., pp. 937-938, 947
  8. ^ Gibbon, pp. 939-943
  9. ^ Gibbon, pp. 943, 944
  10. ^ Gibbon, pp. 949-953
  11. ^ Gibbon, p. 934; chap. XXVII., p. 956
  12. ^ Gibbon, p. 957
  13. ^ Gibbon, p. 958
  14. ^ An Encyclopedia of World History, Ibid
  15. ^ Gibbon, p. 960
  16. ^ "Gratian", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909
  17. ^ "Letter of Gratian to Ambrose", The Letters of Ambrose Bishop of Milan, 379 AD.[1]
  18. ^ R. MacMullen, "Christianizing The Roman Empire A.D.100–400, Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-300-03642-6
  19. ^ Theodosian Code 2.8.18–2.8.25, 16.7.1–16.7.5
  20. ^ Zosimus (4.35) indicated that change occurred in Gratian's character when he fell under the influence of evil courtiers.
  21. ^ R. Kirsch, God Against the Gods, Viking Compass, 2004.
  22. ^ Samuel Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, 2d rev ed., Meridian New York, 1958, p. 26.
  23. ^ Theodosian Code 16.10.20; Symmachus Relationes 1–3; Ambrose Epistles 17–18.
  24. ^ Sheridan, J.J., "The Altar of Victory – Paganism's Last Battle." L'Antiquite Classique 35 (1966): 187.
  25. ^ Ambrose Epistles 17–18; Symmachus Relationes 1–3.
  26. ^ "Gratian." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Feb 3, 2008 <>.
  27. ^ Pontifex Maximus article by Jona Lendering retrieved August 21, 2011


External linksEdit

Born: 18 April or 23 May 359 Died: 25 August 383
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Valentinian I and Valens
Roman Emperor
with Valens (375–378)
Valentinian II (375–383)
Theodosius I (379–383)
Succeeded by
Valentinian II and Theodosius I
Political offices
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Dagalaifus
Succeeded by
Flavius Lupicinus,
Flavius Iovinus
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus III,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus III
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus
Succeeded by
Domitius Modestus,
Flavius Arinthaeus
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus IV,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus IV
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Equitius
Succeeded by
Post consulatum Gratiani Augusti III et Equiti
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus V,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Merobaudes
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valens Augustus VI,
Imp. Caesar Flavius Valentinianus Augustus II
Preceded by
Decimius Magnus Ausonius,
Quintus Clodius Hermogenianus Olybrius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus
Succeeded by
Flavius Syagrius,
Flavius Eucherius