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“Worse than useless? Is that good??”
“You are cordially invited to the marriage of Attila and Honoria. Bring bottle and half of the Roman Empire”
Valentinian III ( Placido Valentinianus Avingaparti, 419-455) was the last of the great fruit bat loony, eccentric, lascivious, kinky killing Roman Emperors stretching in a line back to Caligula and Nero. Spoilt by his mother Galla Placidia and indulged by a succession of corrupt favourites, Valentinian watched his inheritance crumble away as the barbarians carved out their own states at his empire's expense. The prospective brother-in-law of Attila the Hun, putative father-in-law of Gaiseric the Vandal and would-be inheritor of the Roman Empire in the East (rejected), Valentinian was a spectacular failure on all flow diagrams measuring success. He even let a bloke in a dress to save Rome from the Huns which is why you may have heard of Pope Leo the Great and not Emperor Valentinian the Flop.
It wasn't as if Valentinian got a particularly bad education. His father Emperor Constantius III had been a no-nonsense general but had died when Valentinian was two years old. Valentinian's mother Galla Placidia was by Roman standards, a remarkably well balanced and sharp (and hard) as nails. She had been on an involuntary tour of the Roman Empire with the Visigoths after Rome had been taken back in 410 but had been ransomed by her brother Honorius. In gratitude, Galla had named her eldest daughter (Justa Grata) Honoria after him and Valentinian after her grandfather - the humour-free zone emperor Valentinian I.
When Galla Placidia became widowed a second time, her idiot brother developed the serious sibling groping disease. Galla left with her children to Constantinople. A couple of years later, Valentinian was back in Ravenna (the capital of the Western Roman Empire) as emperor. Uncle Honorius was long dead and buried, his imperial power usurped by an over ambitious civil servant called Ioannes. The six year old boy's first exercise of government business was to have his rival humiliated, mutilated and finally chopped up into very tiny pieces and filed under the heading 'Dead'.
edit Early Years
Since Galla Placidia apparently knew what she was doing, Valentinian was allowed to muck about with his life for the next 25 years. Galla indulged her only son, providing him with a succession of expendable playmates to practise his archery skills on. Valentinian was a playboy and poser but unlike his earlier pagan predecessors, he didn't develop a God-like conscience. His true mentor besides that of his mother was the Roman general, Flavius Aetius.
So though Valentinian stayed out of the way, his mother and her generals managed to lose a lot of the Roman Empire in the West behind the sofa. Britannia had long gone, though some of its liberal citizens constantly wrote to Valentinian asking for re-admittance. Gaul had gone (Visi)Goth and Spain was Vandal country, till their leader Gaiseric took a fancy to Africa and took his people over there (their credit cards had been finally stopped in Spain) and seized hold of Carthage. Valentinian meanwhile wanted a bride and some money. They could only be done by heading out east. His imperial colleague and cousin Theodosius II provided his daughter Licinia Eudoxia and suggested his wastrel cousin never to return unless he wanted a large weight off his shoulders (a swollen head).
edit Living it up in Rome
Rome had long ceased had ceased to be the administrative capital of the Roman Empire. Dull, marshy Ravenna was doing that job but Rome was still the Las Vegas of the Ancient World. Valentinian preferred to stay there, visiting all night drinking parties and taking part in classic Roman Orgies organised by traditionalists who wanted to maintain the empire's famous immorality code. The emperor's chariot-driven sex forays became famous. No woman was safe in his company, the wives of senators in particular which suggests Valentinian was working through some mother issues.
Valentinian's older sister Honoria didn't want to miss out on the fun. She had her own suite of lovers. But in a example of double standards, Valentinian found out and had them killed very slowly. He insisted Honoria be banished to Constantinople and live in a convent with her po-faced cousins. Galla Placidia approved. It was one of the first of Valentinian's executive decisions and he liked it.
edit Mum, Sister and Attila too
In the 440s Galla Placidia's position was challenged by Aetius. He was keen that his family marry into hers which was something Valentinian approved of. She lost her power but ended Honoria's banishment. Valentinian felt flouted and refused to let Honoria join them on the couches at the family banquets. He also noticed that she had a new quill friend called 'Atty' who lived somewhere beyond the Roman frontiers (or what was left of them). Valentinian resolved to marry her off to the ugliest and most impotent Roman he could find but Honoria had skipped town - and Italy, leaving a note on her pillow that read Off to See Attila the Hun. I'll be back later with his horde fart face.
Valentinian was furious. Honoria was recaptured shortly afterwards (she had no idea where Attila actually was) and reappeared in the Imperial court in non matching chains and rope. Valentinian was all for killing her on the spot but Galla Placidia insisted on another retirement to a convent for her flighty daughter. Angry that he had bottled confronting his mother, Valentinian brightened up when he received news that his cousin Theodosius had died after falling off his horse. This seemed a golden opportunity to 'reunite' the Roman Empire and move to Constantinople and inherit a plum job. Valentinian's wife was Theodosius's daughter but a move East was blocked by Augusta Pulcheria - sister of Theodosius. In a surprise move for an eternal virgin, she stubbed out her candles, left the convent and raised Marcian as her co-ruler and husband.
Once again it seemed to Valentinian that he had been made to look like a fool by a woman and promised himself he would be avenged. Then a message arrived from Attila asking where his 'bride' was. The wedding had been arranged...where was the bride? The Roman Empire was now at war with the Huns.
Not long after the Eastern rejection, Valentinian's mother died. He was forced to turn to Aetius who had been out of favour of late. Aeitus renewed his wish for his son to marry one of Valentinian's daughters. Valentinian agreed and Aëtius lead what remained of Rome's legions into battle against the Huns. In the upset of the century, Attila lost at the Battle of Chalons in 451 but then turned south and invaded Italy, still looking for Honoria.
Valentinian bravely hid in Ravenna whilst the Hun army marched south to sack Rome. Then for the second time Attila was thwarted by the Romans, this time it was Pope Leo and his chanting priests. What ever they did thoroughly scared the 'scourger' and the Huns abandoned Italy to return home. Valentinian called it a great victory and found time to finally to remove Honoria from any further Hun-love temptation when he heard Attila had pegged out on his marriage bed to a local Goth. How exactly Honoria died is not recorded but knowing Valentinian, a dollop of 'pervery' would have been involved.
edit Purple Murder
The removal of Attila and Honoria from the scene should have made it easier for Valentinian to relax. However, in some earlier arrangement, one of his daughters had been marked down to marry the son of the Vandal Gaiseric whist the other had been pledged to Aëtius's fruitful loins in the shape of Gudentius. Neither prospect excited Valentinian. A new advisor, senator Petronius Maximus suggested they ignore the Vandal and deal with Aëtius first. Valentinian asked Aëtius to 'pop by the palace' to discuss the catering arrangements for the forthcoming marriage. When an argument whether to invite any Huns or not got heated, Valentinian ordered his guards to jump Aetius and kill him. Valentinian's fellow assassins left it to their emperor to deliver the final blow to his old mentor.
Excited with this sudden blood rush to the head, Valentinian told everyone of his bravery. One courtier congratulated his emperor by saying 'you have cut your right hand off with your left'. Valentinian thought that was a compliment and gave him a leaving present.
A few months later Valentinian was in Rome where he would like to show off his 'military skills' of hiding and running away. Whilst re-telling some dull anecdote about Attila the Hun, two of Valentinian's soldiers ran him through with their spears and proclaimed Petronius Maximus emperor. Valentinian's body was given the royal treatment. It was embalmed and then sent to Ravenna where his mother and father were said to have been buried. Perhaps it was to make sure the ghost of Valentinian would kept under check by his formidable parents.
Petronius Maximus (in the West)