Valerian was an old man of sixty when he became emperor of Rome. Before becoming emperor, he had been given the post of censor by the emperor Trajan Decius. The public office of censor was important during the days of the Roman Republic and it was the censor who was responsible for expelling men of bad character or reputation from the senate, removing their names from senatorial rolls. Decius revived the office during his attempts to reform Roman society and raise the moral standards of the people by renewing ancient Roman customs and worship of the old gods. Valerian was very popular in Roman society and there was much jubilation in Rome when he became emperor.
Valerian has had a bad reputation amongst most historians, probably for his role in persecuting the Christians during his own reign and that of Decius. He certainly had more than his fair share of problems to deal with. After 354, he spent almost all of his time fighting the Persians in the East. Uranius Antoninus led a revolt in Syria which Valerian had to put down. The Goths took to piracy in the Black Sea, sacking many towns as well as looting and burning the famous temple of Diana at Ephesus, from which they plundered a fabulous treasure of silver and gold. It seemed that every time a military invasion or disaster occurred, Valerian arrived with his armies on the scene too late to do anything about the situation. So many things were happening that he could not be in every place at once and he did not feel he could trust an army to any strong general, given the army's poor record for loyalty.
Valerian was captured by the armies of Shapur I of Persia after a brave but not very well thought out attempt to hold a peace conference. When Valerian walked out under a truce of honor, Shapur simply captured him and dragged him off to his capital of Ctesiphon. Valerian's army was too weak from its losses due to battle and the plague to do anything to rescue him. According to legend, Shapur would have the once proud Roman emperor kneel when he wished to mount his horse. Shapur would then place his foot on the old man's neck and boost himself up into the saddle. He was supposed to have had Valerian stuffed with straw and put on display after the unfortunate emperor died.
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