Gratian (/ˈɡrʃən/; Latin: Flavius Gratianus; 18 April 359 – 25 August 383) was Roman emperor from 367 to 383. The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers and was raised to the rank of augustus in 367. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian took over government of the west while his half-brother Valentinian II was also acclaimed emperor in Pannonia. Gratian governed the western provinces of the empire, while his uncle Valens was already the emperor over the east.

Golden coin depicting Gratian
Solidus of Gratian, c. 381. Legend: d(ominus) n(oster) Gratianus p(ius) f(elix) aug(ustus).
Roman emperor
Augustus24 August 367 – 17 November 375 (under Valentinian I)
17 November 375 – 25 August 383 (after Valentinian I)
PredecessorValentinian I
SuccessorMagnus Maximus
Co-emperorsValens (East, 375–378)
Valentinian II
Theodosius I (East, 379–383)
Born18 April 359
Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia)
Died25 August 383 (aged 24)
Lugdunum (Lyon)
Burialc. 387
imperial mausoleum at Mediolanium
(now Sant'Aquilino, Basilica of San Lorenzo, Milan)
SpouseFlavia Maxima Constantia
Full name
Flavius Gratianus
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Dominus Noster Flavius Gratianus Augustus[1]
FatherValentinian I
MotherMarina Severa
ReligionNicene Christianity

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, attacked the Lentienses, and forced the tribe to surrender. That same year, the eastern emperor Valens was killed fighting the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, which led to Gratian elevating Theodosius to replace him in 379. Gratian favoured Nicene Christianity over traditional Roman religion, issuing the Edict of Thessalonica, refusing the office of pontifex maximus, and removing the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate's Curia Julia. The city of Cularo on the Isère river in Roman Gaul was renamed after him, becoming Grenoble from Latin: Gratianopolis.

In 383, faced with rebellion by the usurper Magnus Maximus, Gratian marched his army towards Lutetia (Paris). After a five-day skirmish near Lutetia, his army deserted him, he fled to Lyons, and was later murdered.


Gratian was the only child of Valentinian by Marina Severa and was born 18 April 359 at Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) in Pannonia.[2][3] At the time of his birth Gratian's father was living in exile.[4] Gratian was named after his grandfather Gratian the Elder, who was a tribune and later comes of Britannia for Constantine the Great.[5]

On 26 February 364, Valentinian was proclaimed augustus (emperor).[6] Within a month, motivated by senior officers, he proclaimed his brother Valens, Gratian's uncle, augustus of the Eastern empire.[6] Valentinian later divorced Gratian's mother, married Justina and they had Gratian's half-brother Valentinian.[7]

Gratian was given the title of consul in 366 by his father.[8] When Gratian was seven he was titled nobilissimus puer, indicating he was to be proclaimed augustus.[8] On 24 August 367 Gratian received from his father Valentinian the title of augustus.[8] Valentinian, concerned with Gratian's age and inexperience, stated his son would assist commanders with upcoming campaigns.[9] The following year, Gratian was held out of harm's way guarded by the Ioviani Seniores, while Valentinian engaged the Alemanni at the Battle of Solicinium.[10] When Valentinian campaigned in Illyricum in spring of 375, Gratian was tasked with the security of the Diocese of Gaul.[11] The magister peditum Merobaudes, together with the comes rei militaris Sebastianus, was sent by Valentinian to campaign against the Quadi.[12]

When his father died on 17 November 375, Gratian's inherited the administration of the western empire.[13] Days later, Gratian's half-brother Valentinian was acclaimed augustus by troops in Pannonia.[14] Gratian's reaction to Valentinian's elevation by the Pannonian faction has been recorded as gracious,[15][16] annoyed,[16] and vindictive.[16] Despite Valentinian being given nominal authority over Italy, Illyricum, and Africa, Gratian ruled the western Roman empire himself.[17]

Gratian married a daughter of Constantius II, Flavia Maxima Constantia, in 375;[7] she died in early 383.[18][19] He later married Laeta.[20] Both marriages remained childless.[21]

By 377, Gratian was marching his army east to assist Valens in the suppression of the Goths.[22] When a Germanic tribe, the Lentienses, were made aware the Roman army was marching east,[22] they started raiding across the Rhine.[22] Gratian beat back these raids with two units of auxilia palatina.[22] Undeterred, the Lentienses crossed into Roman territory with 40,000 men.[22] Gratian sent against them his general Nannienus, who defeated the Lentienses in May 378 at the Battle of Argentovaria.[23][24] Afterward, Gratian counter-attacked across the Upper Rhine into the territory of the Lentienses.[25] After initial trouble facing the Lentienses on high ground, Gratian blockaded the enemy instead and received their surrender.[25] The Lentienses were forced to supply young men to be levied into the Roman army, while the remainder were allowed to return home.[25]

Location of the battle of Argentovaria in 378.

Gratian's uncle Valens, returning from a campaign against the Sasanian Empire, had sent a request for reinforcements against the Goths.[26] According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Valens also requested that Sebastianus be sent to him for the war, though according to Zosimus Sebastianus went to Constantinople of his own accord as a result of intrigues by eunuchs at the western court.[12] The forces Gratian sent never reached Valens due to its commander feigning illness.[27] Weeks later, Gratian had arrived in Castra Martis with a few thousand men, by which time Valens was at Adrianople.[28] It was here that Gratian sent his comes domesticorum (count of the household), Richomer, to Valens explaining his delay.[29] Aware that Gratian's forces were not going to arrive, Valens attacked the Gothic army and as a result thousands[a] of Romans died in the Battle of Adrianople along with Sebastianus and the emperor himself.[27][30][12]

Following the battle of Adrianople, the Goths raided from Thrace in 378 to Illyricum the following year.[32][33] By 380, the Greuthungi tribe of Goths moved into Pannonia, only to be defeated by Gratian.[32] Consequently, the Vandals and Alemanni were threatening to cross the Rhine, now that Gratian had departed from the region.[34] Convinced that one emperor alone was incapable of repelling the inundation of foes on several different fronts, Gratian, now senior augustus following Valens's death,[35] appointed Theodosius I augustus on 19 January 379 to govern the east.[36][37]

Reverse of a solidus of Gratian marked: victoria augustorum ("the Victory of the augusti")

Empire and ChristianityEdit

Under the tutorage of Ausonius, Gratian issued an edict of tolerance at Sirmium in 378.[38] The edict restored bishops exiled by Valens and ensured religious freedoms to all religions.[38] Under the influence of Ambrose, bishop of Mediolanum (Milan), took active steps against pagan worship.[39] On 27 February 380, Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica.[40] This edict made Nicene Christianity the only legal form of Christianity and outlawed all other forms of religion.[40] This brought to an end a period of widespread religious tolerance that had existed since the death of Julian.[41]

In 382, Gratian issued edicts that removed the statue of the winged goddess Victory from the Senate floor,[42] removed the privileges of Vestal Virgins,[43] and confiscated money designated for sacrifices and ceremonies.[44] 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 treasury.[45] This resulted in protests from the Roman Senate led by Symmachus, which in turn was counter-protested by Christian senators led by Pope Damasus.[46]

Revolt and deathEdit

Gratian alienated the army by his favouritism towards his Alan deserters whom he made his body-guard and to whom he gave military commands.[47] This favouritism of former enemies and the paganism of the Alans angered his Christian army.[47] Consequently, on 19 January 383 Theodosius elevated his 5-year-old son Arcadius to augustus,[47] which Gratian refused to acknowledge.[47] By 383 the Roman general Magnus Maximus had raised the standard of revolt in Britain and invaded Gaul with a large army.[48] Gratian, in the midst of campaigning against the Alemanni, marched his army toward Paris.[49] There, after a five-day skirmish,[50] Gratian's troops deserted and he fled to Lyon.[48] Maximus sent after him Andragathius, who hunted Gratian down and killed him on 25 August 383.[51]

It would not be until 387, possibly even after the death of Magnus Maximus, that Gratian's remains were interred at Mediolanum in the imperial mausoleum.[52]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Heather estimates 10,000 Roman dead,[30] Williams & Friell state 20,000 Roman dead.[31]


  1. ^ Cooley 2012, p. 505.
  2. ^ Lenski 2002, p. 50.
  3. ^ Vanderspoel 1995, p. 183.
  4. ^ Tomlin 1973, p. 14.
  5. ^ Tomlin 1973, p. 1.
  6. ^ a b Lee 2013, p. 21.
  7. ^ a b Lenski 2002, p. 103.
  8. ^ a b c Lenski 2002, p. 90.
  9. ^ Hebblewhite 2019, p. 18-19.
  10. ^ Syvänne 2018, p. 156.
  11. ^ Syvänne 2018, p. 165.
  12. ^ a b c Martindale, John R.; Jones, A. H. M.; Morris, John, eds. (1971). "Sebastianus 2". The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume I, AD 260–395. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 812–813. ISBN 0-521-07233-6.
  13. ^ Kulikowski 2019, p. 80.
  14. ^ Lenski 2002, p. 357.
  15. ^ Syvänne 2018, p. 175.
  16. ^ a b c Hughes 2013, p. 138.
  17. ^ McEvoy 2013, p. 62.
  18. ^ Sivan 2011, p. 182.
  19. ^ McEvoy 2013, p. 105.
  20. ^ Bond & Nicholson 2018, p. 678.
  21. ^ Oost 1968, p. 38.
  22. ^ a b c d e Hughes 2013, p. 173.
  23. ^ Hughes 2013, p. 174.
  24. ^ Syvänne 2018, p. 192-193.
  25. ^ a b c Syvänne 2018, p. 195.
  26. ^ Lenski 2002, p. 356.
  27. ^ a b Lenski 2002, p. 339.
  28. ^ Lenski 2002, p. 366.
  29. ^ Hughes 2013, p. 185.
  30. ^ a b Heather 2006, p. 181.
  31. ^ Williams & Friell 1995, p. 18-19.
  32. ^ a b Heather 2006, p. 183.
  33. ^ Williams & Friell 1995, p. 27-28.
  34. ^ Williams & Friell 1995, p. 29.
  35. ^ Grainger 2020, p. 244.
  36. ^ Heather 2006, p. 187.
  37. ^ Williams & Friell 1995, p. 26.
  38. ^ a b McEvoy 2013, p. 119-121.
  39. ^ Radde-Gallwitz 2018, p. 14.
  40. ^ a b Medina 2018, p. 92.
  41. ^ Dill 1958, p. 26.
  42. ^ Jolly 1997, p. 45.
  43. ^ Testa 2015, p. 407.
  44. ^ Hinson 1995, p. 218.
  45. ^ Crosby 2015, p. 151.
  46. ^ Clark 2011, p. 75.
  47. ^ a b c d Syvänne 2018, p. 226.
  48. ^ a b Halsall 2007, p. 186.
  49. ^ White 2011, p. 154.
  50. ^ Syvänne 2018, p. 229.
  51. ^ Hebblewhite 2020, p. 69.
  52. ^ Johnson 2009, p. 210-211.


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  • Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84026-2.
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External linksEdit

Born: 18 April 359 Died: 25 August 383
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Valentinian I
Roman emperor
with Valens (375–378)
Valentinian II (375–383)
Theodosius I (379–383)
Succeeded by
Magnus Maximus
Political offices
Preceded by
Flavius Valentinianus Augustus
Flavius Valens Augustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Dagalaifus
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Flavius Valentinianus Augustus III
Flavius Valens Augustus III
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Sex. Claudius Petronius Probus
Succeeded by
Domitius Modestus
Flavius Arinthaeus
Preceded by
Flavius Valentinianus Augustus IV
Flavius Valens Augustus IV
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Equitius
Succeeded by
Post consulatum Gratiani Augusti III et Equiti
Preceded by
Flavius Valens Augustus V
Flavius Valentinianus Junior Augustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Merobaudes
Succeeded by
Flavius Valens Augustus VI
Flavius Valentinianus Junior Augustus II
Preceded by
Decimius Magnus Ausonius
Q. Clodius Hermogenianus Olybrius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Theodosius Augustus
Succeeded by
Flavius Syagrius
Flavius Eucherius