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Valentinian III

Early Years

In the early years of the fifth century, a series of rulers from the Theodosian dynasty rose just as the empire was at its lowest point. Rome and Constantinople were ruled by a single family, but the empire had disintegrated beneath the surface; Valentinian III of the Western Roman Empire received the brunt of this division. He is recorded on the Biblical Timeline With World History at 425 AD.

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Valentinian III was born on the 2nd of July, 419 AD to the former emperor Constantius III and his wife Galla Placidia, the sister of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius. His father was proclaimed Augustus in 421 AD, but he died after only seven months in autumn of the same year. Galla Placidia and Emperor Honorius fell into a disagreement some time later, and the widow, along with her children, were forced into exile to Constantinople where they were warmly received by her nephew, the Emperor Theodosius II.

Honorius died without an heir in 423 AD and he was replaced by Joannes, a senior civil servant who was elevated as emperor by Honorius’ patrician, Castinus. As emperor, Joannes was generally accepted in what remained of the Western Roman Empire, with the exception of the province of Africa. Theodosius II responded with the nomination of his cousin as the next ruler of the Western Empire, Valentinian III, and started plans to depose Joannes from the throne. Theodosius succeeded and in 425 AD, Joannes was defeated by the Eastern Roman army. He was executed in the same year while his supporter, the general Aetius, was away on a mission to ask the Hunnic warriors for reinforcements.

“It was considered in XVIII c., that medallion depicts a portrait of Galla Placidia with her children.”

Co-regency with Galla Placidia

Valentinian was proclaimed Caesar a year before and he was declared Augustus in 425 AD when he was just six years old. His mother played an important role in running the empire and she was a regent for him between 425 to 437 AD. It was she who negotiated with Aetius when he led an army (which included considerable Hunnic troops) into Roman territory after the death of Joannes. Reluctant to engage in war, she ensured that her son’s reign was off to a good start when she paid off the Huns to leave the Western Empire and go back to their own territories; she also elevated Aetius to magister militum of Gaul. Galla Placidia’s rule on behalf of her son ended in 437 AD when Valentinian reached adulthood and married Licinia Eudoxia (his cousin and daughter of the Theodosius II).


Valentinian remained in the background for much of his reign and it was Aetius who held the Western Empire together with his effective administration. The problems which plagued the Western Roman Empire for many years lingered during Valentinian’s reign and various barbarian tribes took advantage of his weak leadership to wrest large parts of its territories. The Vandals rampaged through Hispania, Sicily, and African province between 409 to 442 AD and took a sizable portion of the Western Roman Empire. To neutralize the invasion and cement an alliance, Aetius proposed that Valentinian’s daughter, Eudocia, be married to Vandal prince Huneric (the son of the great king Gaiseric); this plan, however, did not push through as Huneric was already married to a Visigoth princess. Valerian raised the taxes to support the troops after the loss of a large part of the empire’s territories (the senatorial class and Valerian himself were not exempted from payment).

Attila the Hun

The greatest threat to the empire’s existence, however, came from the large Hunnic force led by the great Hun chieftain Attila. In 449 AD, Attila received a letter from Valentinian’s sister Honoria and with it was her engagement ring for a man she did not want to marry. Attila took this as a marriage proposal and demanded that the emperor partition half of the Western Empire as  Honoria’s dowry. Valentinian was so enraged at his sister that he killed Honoria’s messenger to Attila and only spared his sister after their mother, Galla Placida, pleaded for her life.

Attila needed just a small a reason to invade the Roman territories, and he did so under the pretext of claiming Honoria’s dowry. Aetius’ able leadership stood in the way of Attila’s ambition of conquering much of Roman territories, and he was forced to turn back to his own land after a series of negotiations. He died after he choked on his wedding night and the Hun empire disintegrated after his death.

The Fall of Aetius and the Assassination of Valentinian

In a bid to strengthen his ties with the imperial family, Aetius sought the engagement of his son to Valentinian’s daughter. The suspicious emperor, however, believed Aetius only wanted to eliminate him and declare his son as the new emperor. The ambitious senator Petronius Maximus and Chamberlain Heraclius conspired with Valentinian to assassinate Aetius. This was carried out on September 21, 454 AD. Valentinian was assassinated later on by the Huns, Optila and Thraustila, who sought revenge for their friend Aetius at the instigation of Petronius Maximus. Aetius was so popular with the soldiers that none of them who were present during the assassination prevented it nor helped Valentinian after he was stabbed by Optila. Valentinian III was succeeded by Petronius Maximus as ruler of the Western Roman Empire.

Picture By greek from Alexandria – Turismo Brescia, Public Domain,
Gibbon, Edward, and D. M. Low. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960.
Kleinhenz, Christopher. Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Mackay, Christopher S. Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
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