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Gun & Politics: What President Trump Can Learn From Emperor Valerian

Susan Smith Columnist
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It is stunning to see what people think they can say about the President of the United States to his face, as it were, and by that I mean through the so-called media.  There doesn’t seem to be any restraint, any limitation of any kind, on what leftists say about our 45th President.  No insult directed against this man, who has basically given up his life to try to save America and its people, seems to be vile nor extreme enough to satisfy these people.

At the same time, though, it is clear that if a fraction of what they say about President Trump were said about their god and goddess Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, there would be hell to pay. Has there ever been a time abuse this extreme has been heaped upon a world leader before the time of Trump?

Well, maybe there was. Let’s look at the year 253 AD, and the Roman Emperor Publius

Licinius Valerianus Augustus, later known as Valerian.

253 AD, the year Valerian became Emperor of the Roman Empire, was not a good time for Rome; it was also not a good time for the Empire as a whole. The preceding half-century had proven to have been a difficult one for Rome for many reasons, the most telling of which, for both Rome and the Empire, was that had they had been ruled by a series of less than capable emperors.  It seemed like Rome could not break out of such a pattern of unsatisfactory leadership, with the entire Empire suffering as a result.

Valerian himself was of a noble family, and of a significant age (he was 58, quite an advanced age at that time) when he was called upon to serve as Emperor.  He had served satisfactorily as Consul before becoming Emperor, and had served well militarily under two Emperors, the Emperor Trajan Decius, who granted him “special powers to oversee his government when he embarked on his Danubian campaign,” and later, the Emperor Trebonianus Gallus, where he was entrusted “with the command of the powerful forces of the Upper Rhine in AD 251,” and  proving that this emperor, too, deemed him a man he could trust.

Emperor Gallus’ time as leader of Rome was known in particular as “a period of continuous disasters,” which included an outbreak of the plague, as well as an unanswered threat from the Persian ruler Shapur I, about whom will we hear more later.

With a successful rebellion against Trebonianus Gallus, by his own men, however, that Emperorship came to a close, and since Valerian was on his way to try and save him, and Rome was without an Emperor anyway, Valerian’s men hailed him as Rome’s new Emperor.

Of the opinion that Rome was no longer able to be ruled by a single Emperor, (one historian said he inherited an empire “out of control”), the first thing Valerian did, quite sensibly it was thought, was to declare his 40 year-old son, Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus, as co-emperor and “full imperial partner.”

The new Emperor then made, and implemented, the decision to send his son West to continue the fight against the Goths, (the increasingly powerful Germanic tribes, who had just sacked the formerly great city of Athens), while Valerian himself would go East to try to settle things with the Persians, with the ultimate hope being to negotiate a peace with the troublesome, aforementioned, Persian leader Shapur I, (also known at the time as Sapor).

These decisions made by Valerian seemed sensible, were agreed to by all in the Roman hierarchy and seemed beneficial for Rome at the time, but proved to be devastating for all involved.

Pestilence, i.e., the plague, raged through both Emperors’ troops, while at the same time both the Goths and the Persians delivered continual defeats against the Roman troops in different parts of the Empire whenever they came into contact.  The Persians claimed, for example, that by the time they actually met Valerian in battle that they had captured 37 cities that had been in question for leadership by Rome or another leader, with the decisions continually being made by Shapur in favor of Persia.

While Gallienus continued the fight against the Goths, however, Valerian and his troops were laid low by a renewed attack of the plague near Edessa in 260, so the Emperor made the necessary decision to sue for peace with the Persian leader.  Shapur agreed to meet Valerian in person, in line with the common practice of ‘parler;’ thus the Emperor rode off to meet with Shapur in the Persian leader’s quarters with a few aides.

The 40th Emperor of the Empire of Rome was never seen, nor heard from, again.

Whatever followed went against every honorable practice that had gone before in every form of spirit of warfare at the time.  It was always the case that negotiations of this nature, between world leaders, especially of the levels of the Emperor of Rome and the leader of Persia, were sacrosanct and immune from the kind of activity that Shapur undertook.

It was said later that Valerian lived for five years in Shapur’s captivity, every second of that experience in humiliation and torture.  The Emperor of the Romans was perennially kept in either chains or a small cage, and was released only when Shapur wanted to mount his horse, and then he called for Valerian to crouch on the ground on all fours so the leader of the Persians could use the Imperial back to mount his horse, this to the delight of his Persian troops.

Valerian, with no other hope of rescue, pleaded for ransom, offering enormous amounts of gold to the Persian leader, who finally succumbed to Valerian’s pleas by pouring molten gold down the Roman Emperor’s throat.

There are historians who reject these theories, and claim that Shapur preferred the more ingenious and long lasting humiliation of flaying the Roman Emperor alive, then tanning the Emperor’s skin and stuffing his body with straw and displaying it, or him, for his foreign guests’ amusement on a more permanent basis, in the imperial Persian palace, it was thought, for generations.

This was considered to be a devastating defeat for the Romans, and while there were many in Rome who wanted to avenge the Emperor, concerns closer to home were too pressing for a renewed battle against the Persians to try to recover Valerian.  Gallienus continued to serve as Emperor, alone, for another ten years, until he was assassinated by his own men in 268, and succeeded by Claudius II.  Rome never really recovered from this humiliation.

Valerian was the only Roman Emperor to have ever been held in captivity, to have been held as a “prisoner of war,” or to have died in captivity, much less treated in such an undignified manner.

We shall never know what really happened to the Emperor Valerian, but we do know that he certainly did not deserve the insults nor the abuse that he received at the hands of the Persians.

Perhaps Donald J. Trump, in looking at the treatment offered such an elevated past leader, should feel fortunate that only words are being sent his way as abuse, and that he is not in receipt of such imaginative methods of expressions of disapproval as what the Persians provided the Emperor Valerian in the third century.

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.