Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. II: The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus.: Death of Valentinian.Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Chapter XXXI.—Death of Valentinian.
The Sarmatæ after this having made incursions into the Roman territories, the emperor marched against them with a numerous army but when the barbarians understood the formidable nature of this expedition, they sent an embassy to him to sue for peace on certain conditions. As the ambassadors were introduced to the emperors presence, and appeared to him to be not very dignified fellows, he enquired whether all the Sarmatæ were such as these? As they replied that the noblest personages of their whole nation had come to him, Valentinian became excessively enraged, and exclaimed with great vehemence, that the Roman empire was indeed most wretched in devolving upon him at a time when a nation of such despicable barbarians, not content with being permitted to exist in safety within their own limits, dared to take up arms, invade the Roman territories, and break forth into open war. The violence of his manner and utterance of these words was so great, that all his veins were opened by the effort, and all the arteries ruptured; and from the quantity of blood which thereupon gushed forth he died. This occurred at Bergition Castle, after Gratians third consulate 664 in conjunction with Equitius, on the seventeenth day of November, Valentinian having lived fifty-four years and reigned thirteen. Upon the decease of Valentinian, six days after his death the army in Italy proclaimed his son Valentinian, then a young child, emperor, at Acincum, a city of Italy. 665 When this was announced to the other two emperors, they were displeased, not because the brother of the one and the nephew of the other had been declared emperor, but because the military presumed to proclaim him without consulting them, whom they themselves wished to have proclaimed. They both, however, ratified the transaction, and thus was Valentinian the younger seated on his fathers throne. Now this Valentinian was born of Justina, whom Valentinian the elder married while Severa his former wife was alive, under the following circumstances. Justus the father of Justina, who had been governor of Picenum under the reign of Constantius, had a dream in which he seemed to himself to bring forth the imperial purple out of his right side. When this dream had been told to many persons, it at length came to the knowledge of Constantius, who conjecturing it to be a presage that a descendant of Justus would become emperor, caused him to be assassinated. Justina being thus bereft of her father, still continued a virgin. Some time after she became known to Severa, wife of the emperor Valentinian, and had frequent intercourse with the empress, until their intimacy at length grew to such an extent that they were accustomed to bathe together. When Severa saw Justina in the bath she was greatly struck with the beauty of the virgin, and spoke of her to the emperor; saying that the daughter of Justus was so lovely a creature, and possessed of such symmetry of form, that she herself, though a woman, was altogether charmed with her. The emperor, treasuring this description by his wife in his own mind, considered with himself how he could espouse Justina, without repudiating Severa, as she had borne him Gratian, whom he had created Augustus a little while before. He accordingly framed a law, and caused it to be published throughout all the cities, by which any man was permitted to have two lawful wives. 666 The law was promulgated and he married Justina, by whom he had Valentinian the younger, and three daughters, Justa, Grata, and Galla; the two former of these remained virgins: but Calla was afterwards married to the emperor Theodosius the Great, who had by her a daughter named Placidia. For that prince had Arcadius and Honorius by Flaccilla his former wife: we shall however enter into particulars respecting Theodosius and his sons in the proper place. 667
Baronius (Am. IV. 272) and Valesius in this passage agree in looking upon this whole story as a groundless fiction which some pretended eyewitness palmed off on Socrates. The law mentioned here is never mentioned by any other historian; no vestige of it is found in any of the codes; on the contrary, according to Bingham (Christ. Antiq. XVI. 11), bigamy and polygamy were treated with the utmost severity in the ancient Church, and the Roman law was very much against them; furthermore, Am. Marcellinus (XXX.) says that Valentinian was remarkable for his chastity, both at home and abroad, and Zosimus (IV. 19) that his second wife had been married to Magnentius previously [and hence was not a virgin as here stated] and that he married her after the death of his first wife; all of which considerations taken together render it historically certain that the story is not true.114:667
Cf. V. 2; VI. 1.
Next: The Emperor Valens, appeased by the Oration of Themistius the Philosopher, abates his Persecution of the Christians.
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