Valerian - an epic story mostly lost to history

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Clavdivs, Feb 17, 2019.

  1. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Well-Known Member

    If I was a super rich Hollywood producer the movie I would make would make would feature Valerian .. the only Roman Emperor to be captured as a prisoner of war.

    Emperor from 22 October 253 AD to spring 260 AD. He was taken captive by the Persian Emperor, Shapur I after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the first Roman Emperor to be captured as a prisoner of war, causing shock and instability throughout the empire.

    I just find it such an amazing story - so shocking and unbelievable.

    Image and description from Wikipedia:


    A bas relief of 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.

    Eutropius, writing between 364 and 378 AD, stated that Valerian "was overthrown by Shapur king of Persia, and being soon after made prisoner, grew old in ignominious slavery among the Parthians." An early Christian source, Lactantius, thought to be virulently anti-Persian, thanks to the occasional persecution of Christians by some Sasanian monarchs, maintained that, for some time prior to his death, Valerian was subjected to the greatest insults by his captors, such as being used as a human footstool by Shapur when mounting his horse. According to this version of events, after a long period of such treatment, Valerian offered Shapur a huge ransom for his release. In reply, according to one version, Shapur was said to have forced Valerian to swallow molten gold (the other version of his death is almost the same but it says that Valerian was killed by being flayed alive) and then had Valerian skinned and his skin stuffed with straw and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple. It was further alleged that it was only after a later Persian defeat against Rome that his skin was given a cremation and burial. The captivity and death of Valerian has been frequently debated by historians without any definitive conclusion.
    I posted a question relating to historical sources on Valerian's capture on

    I hope that Victor is Ok with me posting his excellent response here - seeing that I linked to the site I think it should be alright... if not I will remove.

    ----- Written by Victor,1603.0.html

    I think that there is not much info about Valerian, primarily, because he was captured. Romans liked winners and having your Emperor taken prisoner must have been extremely embarrassing for many Romans. Secondly, Valerian initiated a persecution against Christians. With Constantine, the Christians came out on top and history is written by the winners; and later writers, especially Church historians, would not have been inclined to write much about Valerian.

    There are a few primary sources that write about him, but not much. In De Caesaribus, Aurelius Victor only has a few sentences, ending with “For when his father was engaged in an indecisive and prolonged war in Mesopotamia, he was captured through the treachery of the Persian king, whose name was Sapor, cruelly mutilated and died in the sixth year of his reign while still a robust old man.”

    Eutropius in Brevarium says that “Valerian, while waging war in Mesopotamia, was overcome by Sapor, the king of the Persians, was subsequently captured, and grew old in ignominious servitude among the Persians.”

    Zosimus, as a pagan, in New History seems more sympathetic to Valerian and writes “He was popular and anxious to be a sound administrator…” He also says that “a plague struck Valerian’s troops, carrying off the majority.” After this he wanted to make terms with Sapor and set out with a small retinue and was then taken prisoner.

    Wikipedia has several other primary sources, but in all, there is not more than a few pages in total written about Valerian. That is not uncommon, as many Emperors have even less.

    There are some articles on Valerian on JSTOR, mainly about his persecution of Christians, but the first one re-examines the claim of Lactantius that Sapor dyed the skin of Valerian red before placing it on display in a temple.

    Lactantius, Valerian, and Halophilic Bacteria
    David Woods
    Fourth Series, Vol. 61, Fasc. 3 (2008), pp. 479-481

    Charles Oman
    The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society
    Fifth Series, Vol. 12, No. 45 (1932), pp. 58-62

    Imperial Religious Policy and Valerian's Persecution of the Church, A.D. 257-260
    Christopher J. Haas
    Church History
    Vol. 52, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 133-144

    Two Edicts of the Emperor Valerian
    Paul Keresztes
    Vigiliae Christianae
    Vol. 29, No. 2 (Jun., 1975), pp. 81-95

    The Persecution of Valerian and the Peace of Gallienus
    Wiener Studien
    Vol. 96 (1983), pp. 137-159

    Why Did Decius and Valerian Proscribe Christianity?
    George Thomas Oborn
    Church History
    Vol. 2, No. 2 (Jun., 1933), pp. 67-77

    Roman Emperors in the Sassanian Reliefs
    B. C. Macdermot
    The Journal of Roman Studies
    Vol. 44 (1954), pp. 76-80
    I picked up a modest coin of Valerian late last year - I just had to have something in my collection to represent this incredible story and seminal moment in Roman history.
    While the coin has its obvious problems I really do like the portrait.. he looks like an older fella you meet 'round the pub... (actually I think I am slowly morphing into a Valerian lookalike)..


    Sestertius of Valerianus I. (Senior), 253-260 AD., Rome mint.

    OBV: cuir. bust with laur. head right
    REV: Victory standing left (perhaps Victory wasn't the best choice by the mint?)

    Please share your coins of Valerian
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2019
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  3. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Nice coin, especially the full face portrait.
    I only have one of his a provincial. 91603_1486671056.jpg
    VALERIAN. CILICIA. Mopsuestia-Mopsus 255/6 AD River god Pyramus reclining on bridge consisting of five arches and triumphal arch at each end. 31mm, 14.43gm. SNG BN 1998.
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    My favorite Valerian Antoninianus and its description in Banduri's Numismata imperatorum Romanorum a Trajano Decio ad Palaeologos augustos, published in 1718:

    Valerian I DEO VOLKANO Antoninianus.jpg
    Valerian I DEO VOLKANO Antoninianus Banduri listing.JPG
  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Clavdivs, I've always been fascinated by the fate of Valerian & the sculptural relief you have pictured is tells the story well. I recently scored a handsome bronze coin of Valerian I from Anazarbus, in the province of Cilicia, see photos below. The coin is 31 mm & weighs a hefty 20.40 gm. The portrait is outstanding for a provincial issue & has been blessed with a beautiful patina. The reverse depicts Gallienus & Valerian sitting in curule chairs, & is dated Year 272 (AD 253/4). I'm a strong believer in slabbing high-grade coins but this coin has no business being in a slab. So when it arrives I'll free it :D. Despite the wear your coin has an excellent portrait.
    Anazarbus AE 31 obv. (3).jpg Anazarbus AE 31 rev. (2).jpg
  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    That's a great idea. Since the truth isn't known other than the prisoner of war bit, the writers could have a great time with the story.

    Valerian I (CE 253-260)
    Æ28.5 mm, 12.2 gm
    Obv: IMP CP LIC VALERIANVS AVG; radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right Rev: COL TVRO METRO; the building of Carthage: Dido standing left, holding cubit ruler and scepter, surveying construction; mason above gate, worker with pick-axe digging before gate, murex shell to lower right
    Ref: Rouvier 2501; BMC 470; cf Price & Trell 748
  7. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thank you @Clavdivs for the nice write up and your great coin! I feel the same about having coins from this dark period...

    RI Valerian I 253-260 CE AR Ant Felicitas stndg Caduceus and Cornucopia

    Sassanian Shapur I 240-272 CE AE Tetradrachm 10.78g 27mm Ctesiphon mint phase 1a mural crown korymbos - fire altar type 2 SNS IIa1-1a

    Captured Roman Empire's Valerian I, throwing the Empire into chaos.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2019
  8. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    Here are 2 pretty coins of Valerian. The first was struck at Antioch with reverse reading Virtus and showing a fighter or a war deity. RIC 227.
    The second is a Billon and shows 2 persons on reverse. RIC 292.
    Valery O          Virtus.jpg Valeryv Ric ANT 227.jpg ValerianBill     RIC 292.jpg ValerBill R.jpg
  9. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    I need to get my Valerian's all imaged; for now I only have my favorite portrait done:

    Valerian Fides Militvm.jpg

    And ol' Shapur too
    Shapur i drachm.jpg
  10. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    Silver Double Denarius
    Antioch mint, A.D. 253
    Rev: PIETAS AVGG - Two emperors (Valerain I and Gallienus), emperor at left sacrificing at altar with patera, emperor at right, sword on belt, holding eagle-tipped scepter
    RIC 284
    24 x 22 mm, 3.5g.
  11. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

    Antoninianus...reverse of Laetitia


  12. kaparthy

    kaparthy Well-Known Member

    It would be a downer of a movie, but it would play well in Iran if you made Shapur the hero.
    panzerman and TIF like this.
  13. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

    Hmmm...Russell Crowe as Valerian?
  14. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Just his story was one of the small embers that got me continuing into ancients when I got into them.

    Valerian I (253 - 260 A.D.)
    Egypt, Alexandria
    Billon Tetradrachm
    O: AK Π L I OVALEPIANOC EVEVC; Laureate, cuirassed bust right.
    R: Eagle standing left, head right, wreath in beak. Regnal date L-Δ across fields (Year 4).
    Alexandria mint, 256 A.D.
    Milne 3945 Emmett # 3764/4

    Valerian I (253 - 260 A.D.)
    AR Antoninianus
    O: IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, radiate, draped bust right.
    R: CONCORDIA EXERCIT, Concordia standing left holding patera and double cornucopiae.
    RIC 81, Cohen 39; Sear 9929.

    Valerian I (253 - 260 A.D.)
    AR Antoninianus
    O: IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, radiate and draped bust right.
    R: FORTVNA REDVX, Mercury standing left, holding purse and caduceus
    Antioch Mint, 254 - 255 A.D.
    RIC V 214; MIR 36, 1561a; RSC 75
  15. Agricantus

    Agricantus Allium aflatunense

    There are many interesting Valerianus provincials available at affordable prices. The craftmanship often leaves a bit to be desired. This celator didn't graduate summa cum laude his carving class. I love the coin, nonetheless.

    Phrygia, Hierapolis. Omonoia (Omonya on the coin) in alliance with Sardes, Lydia. Apollo Citharoedus standing; to right xoanon of Sardis
  16. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

    After Valerian and Gallienus' reign we don't see too many large provincial bronzes. Partly this had to do with the economics of the time where the poor antoniniani drove out the larger coins from circulation, also this was combined with the decline of civic life in the metropolises of the East. The wealthy class of city fathers was driven to ruin by inflation, and could no longer support the maintenance of their cities.

    And thus we arrive at one of the demarcation points for the start of Late Antiquity.
  17. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    ancient coin hunter, Your points are well taken. The fall of the city of Antioch, Syria to Shapur & the Persians in 256 had a major impact on the Eastern Roman Empire. Although Valerian secured Antioch the following year it was never the same. The coming of Islam spelled the doom for the Persians & Romans. The province of Cilicia produced some large dated bronze coins as my coin & the example Ancient Aussie posted illustrate.
  18. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

  19. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    If Robert Graves had written a novel called I, Valerian instead of I, Claudius, we probably already would have seen an interesting movie about his fate. 5kDEcQ9mR3y6N2Xx4bJFSe8r7BapqT.jpg
  20. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Well-Known Member

    Just acquired this one yesterday from Bing’s auction. Technically speaking it is not mine yet, gotta pay for it first.... DA9F2DC6-99AA-4E74-B981-7C2016D28D12.jpeg
  21. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I believe the type 'of choice' for Valerian is this RESTITVT(ORI) ORIENTIS honoring Valerian's 'Eastern' successes. These may be considered premature propoganda as things worked out.

    Of my Provincials, I like this AE25 of Nikomedia, Bithynia, with busts of Valerian I and Gallienus flanking Valerian II honoring the third neocorate of that city. Mine lost all the city ID from reverse top (can't win them all).
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