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Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century A.D.

Noel Lenski
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 470
  • Book Info
    Failure of Empire
    Book Description:

    Failure of Empireis the first comprehensive biography of the Roman emperor Valens and his troubled reign (a.d. 364-78). Valens will always be remembered for his spectacular defeat and death at the hands of the Goths in the Battle of Adrianople. This singular misfortune won him a front-row seat among history's great losers. By the time he was killed, his empire had been coming unglued for several years: the Goths had overrun the Balkans; Persians, Isaurians, and Saracens were threatening the east; the economy was in disarray; and pagans and Christians alike had been exiled, tortured, and executed in his religious persecutions. Valens had not, however, entirely failed in his job as emperor. He was an admirable administrator, a committed defender of the frontiers, and a ruler who showed remarkable sympathy for the needs of his subjects. In lively style and rich detail, Lenski incorporates a broad range of new material, from archaeology to Gothic and Armenian sources, in a study that illuminates the social, cultural, religious, economic, administrative, and military complexities of Valens's realm.Failure of Empireoffers a nuanced reconsideration of Valens the man and shows both how he applied his strengths to meet the expectations of his world and how he ultimately failed in his efforts to match limited capacities to limitless demands.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92853-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xv-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The late-fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that his contemporary the emperor Valens was “a man with an equal amount of outstanding and awful qualities.”¹ He was neither a hero nor a monster, but rather very much an ordinary human faced with a superhuman task. This book is about both the man and the task, about Valens and his empire. It aims to set Valens in his context and show how a person of unremarkable talents faced the demands of a remarkably complex world. My object is not to denigrate Valens. The ancient sources have gone quite far enough to...

  8. Chapter 1 The Pannonian Emperors
    (pp. 14-67)

    On the afternoon of June 26, 363, the emperor Julian was pierced through the side with a spear in combat.¹ His troops carried him back to his camp, where later that night he died.² There was no time to waste in grieving. Julian had been leading his army in retreat north along the Tigris after his grandiose expedition into Persia had gone totally wrong. Roman supplies were dangerously low, and the Persians had been threatening the faltering Roman lines with constant attacks. On the morning of June 27, the coterie that had assembled around Julian’s deathbed the previous evening convened...

  9. Chapter 2 The Revolt of Procopius
    (pp. 68-115)

    Valens faced a major challenge to his power as early as the second year of his reign. A usurper named Procopius, who claimed blood relations with the house of Constantine, had himself proclaimed in Constantinople and quickly assembled an army large enough to pose a serious threat. Over the next eight months, from late 365 until mid 366, Valens was forced to turn all of his attention to this problem. In a century filled with usurpation attempts, that of Procopius stands out as perhaps the least typical. It was unusual both because it arose in the east and because it...

  10. Chapter 3 Valens’s First Gothic War
    (pp. 116-152)

    Shortly after Valens left Constantinople in the summer of 365, he received reports that the Goths were conspiring to invade the territory of Thrace. He sent the auxiliary units of the Divitenses et Tungrecani to forestall their attack and then continued eastward. As these units marched through Constantinople on their way to the Danube, Procopius suborned them and used them to initiate his revolt.¹ Next the usurper sent a letter to the Goths themselves, calling on them to provide him with auxiliary troops: since at least 332, the Goths had been treaty-bound to supply men to fight in Roman military...

  11. Chapter 4 Valens and the Eastern Frontier
    (pp. 153-210)

    Valens faced an eastern frontier that offered a confusing tangle of problems. Unlike the lower Danube, where Gothic hegemony confronted him with a single, albeit very dangerous, enemy, the eastern limits of the empire were home to a frustratingly complicated web of interrelated peoples, whose threats and demands had to be balanced one against the next. At no point in his reign was Valens free to let down his guard in the east, for as soon as problems with one group ceased, those with another arose. By investigating all of the conflicts that Valens faced in Persia, Armenia, Iberia, Syria,...

  12. Chapter 5 Religion under the Valentiniani
    (pp. 211-263)

    It was, as we have seen, imperative that a fourth-century emperor be fierce with the enemy. It was equally imperative that he be clement with his subjects. This message reached him loud and clear in the regular rituals of panegyric, which forever shaped an emperor’s understanding of the ideals created for him by his culture. In the fourth century, Libanius, Themistius, and the Latin panegyrists all stressed the importance of forgiveness and compromise, of humanity and justice.¹ As they intoned the refrain of clemency, panegyrists could not help but be aware that they were addressing the most powerful men on...

  13. Chapter 6 Administration and Finance under Valentinian and Valens
    (pp. 264-319)

    Administering the empire was a thankless job.¹ Few emperors became famous as great administrators whether among contemporaries or moderns. Yet much of their time, probably most of it, was spent on just this.² Wars were an occasional high point, but an emperor’s subjects were always present to nag with their concerns and rankle with their infractions. Thus, while an emperor could not win a reputation without winning wars, he could not help but lose his reputation if he ignored administration. This reality is reflected in the four cardinal virtues praised in an emperor by panegyrists and historians—temperance, wisdom, justice,...

  14. Chapter 7 The Disaster at Adrianople
    (pp. 320-368)

    In the late 360s, Valens engaged the Goths in a three-year war, which was in some sense compromising for both sides. The Goths had supported the usurper Procopius in his bid for power by supplying him with 3,000 auxiliaries and would later argue that they had merely been upholding the terms of the treaty they had struck with Constantine in 332. Valens did not brook the affront, however, and prepared a major military expedition against them. Between 367 and 369, he launched two invasions north of the Danube, during which he ravaged the territory of the Tervingi—the Gothic confederation...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 369-374)

    For the past thirty years, the field of late antiquity has received well deserved and long overdue attention. More recently, in the past decade, it has become fashionable to write extended apologies debunking perceived misconceptions about the period and building it up as in every way the equal of the classical world. No one is more convinced of the importance of such efforts than I. Having been trained as a classicist, I am aware of the attraction of classical standards and of the pull to regard them as normative and any deviation from them as inferior. This is surely wrong,...

  16. APPENDIX A. Datable Evidence for Valentinianic Fortifications
    (pp. 375-380)
  17. APPENDIX B. Shapur’s Administrative Structures in Armenia
    (pp. 381-384)
  18. APPENDIX C. Natural Disasters and the Reign of Valens
    (pp. 385-392)
  19. APPENDIX D. Civic Structures Built under Imperial Sponsorship, A.D. 364–378
    (pp. 393-402)
    (pp. 403-442)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 443-454)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 455-457)