It’s that day of the year again when the chocolate sales spike up, and couples dine in expensive restaurants, get bouquets of flowers, buy pieces of jewelry, and other sorts of gifts are handed out like hotcakes. Ah, love is in the air, and romance blooms in the sighs of lovers embracing. One could almost see Cupid buzzing around shooting his arrows into folks. The tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day goes way back to around 270 A.D,  when a priest named Valentine was bludgeoned to death and beheaded after defying Emperor Marcus Aurelius Claudius’ order to ban marriage ceremonies. It was a long-winding journey before a gruesome death turned into a day of sweets and roses.

Claudius The Cruel

Aureus of Emperor Claudius. (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.comCC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s get to know Emperor Claudius II “Gothicus” first, whom, if not for his belief that Roman soldiers fight better when unmarried, we might not have this tradition. He was not called “Claudius the Cruel” for nothing, and he lived by his name. He was the first of what was known as “soldier emperors” who earned their position, not through their line of the distinguished family name but rather by their military career and the favor of the Praetorian Guard. Cladius earned the military’s respect by being physically strong and especially cruel. Legends say he once knocked off a horse’s teeth just with one punch. During his time, the Romans were involved in many bloody campaigns in an effort to save the Roman Empire from threats of invasions left and right— there was the Battle of Naissus and the Battle of Lake Benacus, among the others. He, of course, had to maintain a strong army to win these wars, but he encountered a problem. His dream of powerful soldiers encountered a hiccup because men refused to join the army, not wanting to be far away from their wives and families. Emperor Claudius’ brilliant solution, instead of convincing them that these battles were worth fighting for, decided to ban all marriages and engagement in the entirety of Rome. It was also an age of persecution of the Christians, which Rome eyed with suspicion as a threat to the Imperial order and its placement of the Emperor as a living God.  The Christians were generally peaceful but would rather die than perform the annual public act of burning incense and make a sacrifice to the Emperor in obedience.

Saint Valentine To The Rescue

According to History.com, there were three saints named Valentine or Valentinus that were considered the Saint Valentine of Valentine’s Day. All were said to be martyred— one was a priest in Rome, the other was a bishop from Italy(these two were probably different accounts of the same person), and the last was from the Roman province of Africa. One reason for the confusion was that Valentinius was a popular name in ancient Rome. In fact, there were 50 saints named Valentine. Whichever it was, here’s one of the popular stories:

Upon hearing Claudius the Cruel’s order to ban marriage, Valentine felt that it was unfair. Because he believed in the sanctity of the ceremony among Christians, he decided to go against it and secretly performed marriages for young couples. Unfortunately, it was discovered, and he was dragged to prison with Claudius’ order to have his head cut off.