What Really Happened to Valerian? Was the Roman Emperor Humiliated and Skinned at the Hands of the Enemy?

King Shapur of Persia Humiliating Emperor Valerian (Public Domain) Background: court of the emperor Valerian, painting circa 1450.

What Really Happened to Valerian? Was the Roman Emperor Humiliated and Skinned at the Hands of the Enemy?

The death of Valerian is traditionally known as one of the most dramatic and unfortunate of all the deaths of the Roman emperors. The widely accepted story is that Valerian wanted to end the war with the Sassanians by offering them money. The Sassanian king, Shapur I sent the ambassadors back to Valerian with a message that he wanted the emperor to come and appeal to him in person. When Valerian went to Shapur with a small retinue, he was seized by the Sassanians. According to Byzantine historian Zosimus, Valerian ended his days in the capacity of a slave among the Persians.

Shahnameh illustration of Valerian captured by Shapur I's men.

Shahnameh illustration of Valerian captured by Shapur I's men. (Public Domain)

Lactantius’ account of Valerian’s fate is more gruesome. Lactantius, ancient Christian author and advisor to Constantine I, claimed that Emperor Valerian was used as a human footstool whenever Shapur wanted to mount his horse. After Valerian’s death, Lactantius claims that “he was flayed, and his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians.”


Become a member to read more OR login here

Ancient Origins Quotations