Flavius Placidius Valentinianus, future emperor Valentinian III, was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 419AD.
Upon the death of his father, being still a minor, the new emperor ruled under the regency of his mother Galla Placidia, one of whose first acts was to install “Magister utriusque militiae” Her regency lasted until 437, and for the duration Theodosius II gave her his full support. This period was marked with a vigorous imperial policy and an attempt to stabilize the western provinces as far as the stretched resources of the empire could manage.
Nevertheless, there were significant problems that threatened the viability of the Roman state in the west. The Visigoths were a constant presence in south-eastern Gaul and could not be dislodged. The Vandals continued their incursions into Mauretania, conquering both Mauretania provinces, as well as parts of Numidia.Spain as well continued to slip away from imperial control during the early to mid 440s as the Suebi extended their control.
The Huns continued to pressure the Danubian provinces in the 440s. Sometime before 449, Valentinian granted the honorary title of Magister militum of the western empire upon their chieftain, Attila the Hun and the western court was relieved when he concentrated on raiding the eastern empire’s provinces in the Balkans from 441 through to 449.Among the sacked cities was Naissus, my home city.In 449, Attila received a message from Valentinian III’s sister, offering him half the western empire if he would rescue her from an unwanted marriage that his brother was forcing her into.
Attila had been looking for a pretext for invading the west, and was allegedly bribed by the Vandal king Gaiseric to attack the Visigoths in Gaul. In 450 he invaded the Gallic provinces, after securing peace with the eastern court. Valentinian was furious over the invasion. The man Honoria sent to Attila with the offer was tortured to reveal all the details of the arrangement, and then beheaded. It took a great deal of persuading for Valentinian’s mother to get her son to agree to sparing his sister’s life.
In early 451, Attila crossed the Rhine and entered the Belgic provinces, capturing Metz on April 7, 451. Aëtius gathered together a coalition of forces, including Visigoths and Burgundians, and raced to prevent Attila taking the city of Orléans, successfully forcing the Huns to beat a hasty retreat. The Roman-Germanic forces met Hunnic forces at the Battle of Châlons, resulting in a victory for Aëtius, who sought to retain his position by allowing Attila and a significant number of his troops to escape.
This allowed Attila to regroup, and in 452 he invaded Italy. He sacked and destroyed Aquileia and took Verona and Vincentia as well. Aëtius was shadowing the Huns but did not have the troops to attack, so the road to Rome was open. Although Ravenna was Valentinian’s usual residence, he and the court eventually moved back to Rome, where he was as Attila approached.
Valentinian sent Pope Leo I and two leading senators to negotiate with Attila. This embassy, combined with a plague among his troops, the threat of famine, and news that the eastern emperor Marcian had launched an attack on Hun homelands along the Danube, forced Attila to turn around and leave Italy. The death of Attila in Pannonia in 453, and the power struggle that erupted between his sons ended the Hunnic threat to the empire
Valentinian thereby felt secure enough to begin plotting to have Aëtius killed, egged on by Petronius Maximus a high ranking senator who bore a personal grudge against the powerful general. Aëtius, whose son had married Valentinian’s youngest daughter,Placidia was murdered by Valentinian on 21 September 454.Aetius was presenting some financial statement before the Emperor when Valentinian suddenly leapt from his throne, accusing him of treason. Valentinian drew his sword and rushed at the weaponless Aëtius, killing him on the spot. An appalled Sidonius Apollinaris later remarked to Valentinian that “I am ignorant, sir, of your motives or provocations; I only know that you have acted like a man who has cut off his right hand with his left.
On March 16 of the following year, however, the emperor himself was assassinated in Rome by two Hunnish followers of Aëtius.These retainers may have been put up to it by Petronius Maximus,a wealthy senator taking revenge for the rape of his wife Lucina by Valentinian. The day after the assassination, Petronius Maximus had himself proclaimed emperor by the remnants of the Western Roman army after paying a large donative. He was not as prepared as he thought to take over and stabilize the depleted empire, however; after a reign of only 11 weeks, Maximus was stoned to death by a Roman mob. King Gaiseric and his Vandals captured Rome a few days later and sacked it for two weeks.