Emperor Valerian was born Publius Licinius Valerianus during the reign of Septimius Severus in 195 AD. At the time of his birth the Roman empire stretched from modern day Scotland in the northwest to Sudan in the southeast, Morocco in the southwest to Armenia in the east. Although the empire had reached its greatest extent under Trajan a century earlier, Severus had arrested the gradual decline during his rule that lasted until 211 AD. Unfortunately the emperors that followed Severus accelerated that decline as mismanagement, incompetence, and vanity eroded imperial power internally while external threats grew. By the time Valerian took power in 253, the previous emperor had allowed the Goths to invade the empire and return home keeping their captives and plunder as well as an annual payment from Rome, suffering a humiliation the Romans hadn’t experienced in over 500 years.
Valerian had at his disposal a great army, the legions of the Upper Rhine, appointed to him two years earlier. Those legions declared him emperor, and after taking Rome the Senate conferred the title on him.
Valerian had inherited a mess. The empire was besieged by all sides so he appointed his son Gallienus co-emperor to rule the western part of the empire and took the eastern part on himself. Gallienus was in charge of protecting the frontier at the Rhine and keeping the Germans on the northern side of this natural boundary, while Valerian moved his army east to handle the Goths. Plague decimated his troops. Seeing the empire divided and weak the Persian king Shapur I struck, sacking dozens of Roman cities, provinces and protectorates in Armenia, Syria, modern day Iraq and Turkey. Valerian moved his forces to counter the Persians and enjoyed some initial success. But the ravages of plague and war took their toll on his army, and the eastern campaign became a quagmire for Valerian. This didn’t stop him from sending orders back to Rome commanding the execution of Christian leaders and forcing of converts to make public sacrifices to the Roman gods.
Desperate for an opportunity to sue for peace, he sent a peace delegation to Shapur, who suggested a face-to-face meeting between the two emperors. The meeting was arranged and Valerian, ignoring the advice of his generals, went to meet Shapur with a small entourage of aides.
He was never seen again.
Christian historians wrote that Valerian had been captured by Shapur and was either flayed alive or forced to drink molten gold, his skin then being used to cover a stool or filled with straw and hung in Shapur’s court. But that could reflect the desire of the historians to see Valerian punished for his anti-Christian pogroms. Others suggest that he was kept by Shapur as a personal servant or even protected from his mutinous troops and given a comfortable place in exile.
Source Wikipedia: Emperor Valerian standing at the background and held captive by Shapur I found at Naqsh-e Rustam, Shiraz, Iran. The kneeling man is probably Philip the Arab.
A mighty empire in disarray. A quagmire in the Middle East. A vain emperor and persecutor of Christians willing to make a deal at any cost with an Iranian leader.
It will be interesting if Ayatollah Khameini issues an invite to the President.
And it will be even more interesting if he accepts it.