Flavius Gratian was born on April 18, 359 in Sirmium to a Roman officer family in the rank of Valentinian and Marina Sevira tribune. He was named in honor of his grandfather, father of Valentinian, who commanded the troops as comit in Africa and then in Britain. In 364, the army proclaimed the popular warlord Valentinian the Roman emperor. Valentinian chose the West for his rule, and gave the eastern part of the Roman Empire to his brother Valens, whom he made emperor co-ruler. In 366, seven- year -old Gratian was appointed consul.
In 367, Valentinian fell seriously ill in Gaul during the campaign against the invading alamanns. Among his commanders immediately disputes broke out over the choice of the new emperor in the place of the dying ruler. As soon as Valentinian recovered, he summoned Gratian to his military camp and, in an effort to maintain the continuity of power, proclaimed the 8-year-old son to be his co-ruler with the title of August, that is, the emperor in full. A contemporary of events, Ammianus Marcellinus, described in detail the procedure for the election of Gratian to the emperors.
Gratian was titled immediately in August in the Gallian city of Ambiana, which according to Marcellinus became a violation of the custom of giving children the title of Caesar, who by status gave the ruling emperor less authority than the highest title of August. On coins issued in honor of Gratian in the Alate, he was named the “Glory of the New Age” ( lat. GLORIA NOVI SAECVLI ). Valentinian began to prepare his son for the reins. He took him in the year 368 to campaign against the Germans beyond the Rhine, where Gratian was constantly among the soldiers. Grantian was identified as a teacher by a rhetorician and a famous poet Avsonius, who accompanied the titled boy in his father’s military campaigns, managed to give him a good education and even instilled an interest in writing poems.
After his divorce from Marina Sevira, in about the year 370, Valentinian took in marriage Justin, from whom the following year he had a son, also Valentinian.
In 374, the 15-year-old Gratian was married to Constancia, the daughter of the emperor Constantius II (reigned 337–361). Gratian’s residence was the imperial residence in Treviira.
Rise to power, 375 year
Emperor Valentinian I died unexpectedly on November 17, 375, in Pannonia at the beginning of the military campaign against the Quad tribe beyond the Danube. Thus, only one emperor of the West remained – Gratian. The Emperor of the East, Valens, who could organize a calm transfer of power, was in distant Syria. 16-year-old Gratian was also far away in Treviira. The commanders of Valentinian I, under the pretext of warning of unrest in the army, decided to make the emperor 4-year-old Flavius Valentinian, who lived with his mother in a villa 100 miles from the scene.
On November 22, 375, Gratian’s half- brother Valentinian was proclaimed in the Bregion army camp (in the territory of modern Hungary) as emperor of the West, co-ruler of Gratian. Ammianus Marcellinus reported on the reaction of Gratian to the election as commanders of a new emperor.
According to Zosima, the retinue under the young emperors has divided the spheres of influence. Gallia, Spain and Britain retreated to the domain of Gratian, while Valentinian was to rule Italy, Illyric and African provinces. Under Valentinian, his mother, Justin, and the Prefect of Provision, were in charge of the affairs, but Gratian was in control of the entire army of the Western Roman Empire.
Wars with barbarians
In 377, the rebel Gothic tribes captured the territory of Thrace and Moesia (the so-called Gothic War of 377–382 ). The Emperor of the East, Valens II, asked for military assistance from his nephew, Emperor Gratian. He sent to the aid of his uncle legions from Pannonia under the authority of Frigerida and detachments from Gaul under the authority of the head of the imperial guard, Richomer. These forces were not enough to defeat ready, and then next year Gratian decided to head the troops against the barbarians. The invasion of Gaul in February 378 by the Alamannian Lentiens tribe across the Upper Rhine delayed its march into Thrace.
The commanders of Gratian Nannien and Malladavd completely routed the 30-40 thousandth army of the Lentienz at Argentaria. After that, Gratian led the army into their lands beyond the Rhine, where, after stubborn battles, he forced the barbarians to submit and accept the Roman conditions of peace. Ammianus Marcellinus praised the merits of the young emperor: “ This victory, which came at the right time and was important in its consequences in the sense that it weakened the resistance of Western nations, won by the wave of the eternal god Gratian due to his unbelievable energy. ”
After the victory over the Lentienzes, Gratian set out to join up with Valens, but the latter got involved in a general battle with the Goths, without waiting for the approach of the Western legions. On August 9, 378, the Roman army was defeated at the battle of Adrianople, and the emperor Valens died.
According to the order established in the empire, Gratian was to appoint a co-ruler to control the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, and in view of the current situation, it is desirable from among the people who possessed military talents. Gratian did not dare to entrust power over the East to his formal co-ruler in the Western Empire, his young brother Valentinian. According to historian David Woods, Gratian actually had no choice, since all his commanders, judging by their names, were from barbarians, and only the commander of the troops in Illyric, Flavius Theodosius, came from a noble Roman family.
On January 19, 379, in Sirmia, Gratian proclaimed Theodosius emperor of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, and after the latter’s first victories over the barbarians, he returned in August of 379 to Augustus Treverorum (modern Trier ). Soon he moved his capital from Gaul to the north of Italy, to Mediolan.
Strengthening Christianity in the West
In Median, Gratian fell under the influence of Bishop Ambrose, who even earlier inclined the 20-year-old emperor to the Nicene form of Christianity, which, under Theodosius the Great, was defined as Catholic, or Orthodox,.
Gratian was the first Roman emperor who, at the beginning of his reign, refused to accept the sacred title of the Great Pontiff by the Roman priests, considering it incompatible with the Christian faith. Laws in 376–377 on his behalf are directed against heretical movements in Christianity. The emperor was very pious from early childhood.
In 381, he ordered the altar and statue of Victory to be removed from the building of the Roman Senate, and later to confiscate the property of religious pagan associations, depriving them of government subsidies. In the same year, Gratian convened a council in Aquilea, at which Arianism was actually condemned in the Illyrian provinces of the empire. In private letters to his mentor St. Ambrose, Gratian reveals a sincere desire to understand the issues of faith and strictly follow the principles of Christian doctrine.
Although the main contribution to the conversion of Christianity into the state religion of the Roman Empire was given by Christian historians to Theodosius the Great, Gratian also did much to establish Christianity of the Nicene form in the west of the empire.
Death of Gratian 383
In the spring or summer of 383, Constance, the first wife of Gratian, died. In the same summer, the emperor took as his wife Letha, whose name is mentioned only in the history of Zosima. Their marriage lasted a few days because of the rebellion of Magna Maxim.
In 383, the Roman general in Britain, Magnus Maxim, proclaimed emperor by his soldiers, landed at the mouth of the Rhine. Part of the German army went over to his side. According to Zosima and Aurelius Victor, Roman soldiers in Gaul blamed Gratian for reinforcing the barbaric element in the army
Sources differently convey the circumstances of the death of Gratian. According to Zosima Gratian fled to the east. In pursuit of him, Maxim sent his commander of the cavalry Andragafia, who overtook the emperor in Upper Moesia and killed him on the bridge in Sigidoun.
Gratian died at 24, leaving no children. The power over the West was divided by the usurper Magnim Maxim and the stepbrother of Gratian, the emperor Valentinian, who was kept in power only thanks to the energetic actions of his commander Baudon.