grati.jpg
Unidentified male portrait, Villa dei Papiri, Ercolano. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

Gratian the elder was born in Cibalae, modern day Croatia, a region known for providing military officers and personnel to the Empire. At an early age, his compatriots nicknamed him Funarius. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that he was a rope salesman and the second is that he prevented a group of soldiers from stealing a rope. Despite not being a member of the aristocracy, Gratian managed to enter the Protectores Domestici, an elite body of high ranking officers close to the emperor. Thanks to his physical prowess and military skills, Gratian was promoted to Comes Africae, commander of the Comitatenses, professional soldiers of North Africa. However, he was soon accused of embezzlement and forced to resign. Unfortunately, little is known about this incident. Around 340 AD, Gratian was recalled to military service under emperor Constans I as Comes Britanniae. Gratian rebuilt the frontier forts and fortified the island, demonstrating his military capabilities. During this time, he is likely to have worked in close cooperation with the Comes Litoris Saxonici and the Dux Britanniarum, respectively the commander of the coastal defenses and the commander of the Limitanei or Rparienses. After this last assignment, Gratian retired to his country villa in Pannonia. He had two sons, Valentinian and Valens, who would both become emperors. His property in Pannonia would be devastated during the civil conflict between Constantius II and Magnus Magnentius. He died in the year 367 AD. A brass statue of him was built in the Curia of Costantinople. Gratian is a really fascinating character as he came to power and to a prestigious position only through merit and not thanks to money or social status.

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