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Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign November 20 284 - 292 (alone);
292 - May 1 305 (as Augustus of the East, with Maximian as Augustus of the West)
Full name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus
Born c.245
Dioclea, near Salona
Died c.312
Predecessor Numerian
Successor Constantius Chlorus and Galerius

Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (c. 245c. 312), born Diocles (Greek Διοκλής) and known in English as Diocletian,<ref>The full name Diocletian is derived from the Greek díos kletos ("sky-called").</ref> was Roman Emperor from November 20 284 to May 1 305.

Diocletian brought to an end the period popularly known to historians as the "Crisis of the Third Century" (235–284). He established an autocratic government and was responsible for laying the groundwork for the second phase of the Roman Empire, which is known variously as the "Dominate" (as opposed to the Principate instituted by Augustus), the "Tetrarchy", or simply the "Later Roman Empire". Diocletian's reforms fundamentally changed the structure of imperial government and helped stabilize the empire economically and militarily, enabling it to remain essentially intact for another hundred years.


[edit] Life

[edit] Early life and rise to power

Image:Dio coin3.jpg
Coin depicting Diocletian.

An Illyrian of low birth (from Dioclea, near Salona), Diocles<ref>He was the first emperor (after Philip the Arab) with a certifiably Greek full name: Dioclês. This is a full name similar in form to Heracles (Hêras kléos, the "fame/glory of Hera"), with the stem for Zeus substituted for the stem for "Hera" (Diós kléos, the "fame/glory of Zeus"). This was Latinized to Diocletianus when Diocles became emperor.</ref> rose through the ranks of the army. It is known that he was Dux Moesiae, with responsibility for defending the lower Danube. When, in 282, the legions of the upper Danube proclaimed Emperor the Praetorian prefect Carus, Diocles started gaining the new emperor's trust, obtaining the consulship in 283 and the rank of Comes domesticorum, that is commander of the cavalry arm of the imperial bodyguard.

The rising star within Roman Empire was Flavius Aper, the Praetorian prefect and father-in-law of Carus' son, Numerian. In 283, Carus elected his first son Carinus Augustus, left him in charge of the care of the West, and moved with Numerian, Aper and Diocles in the East, against the Sassanid Empire. Carus plundered the Sassanid capital, winning a major victory, but died in July/August, reportedly struck by a lightning bolt, rather by illness. He left Numerian as new Augustus, and an army to be brought back within the empire borders. Aper claimed that Numerian was ill too, so the emperor travelled in a closed coach, without any external contact. When the soldiers sensed a bad smell and opened the coach, Numerian was dead. Diocles caught the occasion, accused Aper of having killed Numerian, and killed the praetorian prefect personally in front of the troops, who immediately elected him Emperor, on November 20 284.<ref>Historia Augusta retells a legend about this killing, allegedly reported by Diocletian to the grand-father of the fictious author of this book, Flavius Vopiscus: "When Diocletian," he said, "while still serving in a minor post, was stopping at a certain tavern in the land of the Tungri in Gaul, and was making up his daily reckoning with a woman, who was a Druidess, she said to him, 'Diocletian, you are far too greedy and far too stingy,' to which Diocletian replied, it is said, not in earnest, but only in jest, 'I shall be generous enough when I become emperor.' At this the Druidess said, so he related, 'Do not jest, Diocletian, for you will become emperor when you have slain a boar". Diocles would have started hunting dozens of boars, to no effect. When the episode of the discovery of Numerian corpse happened, Diocletian was compelled to kill Aper (according to the often unreliable Historia Augusta) to fulfill the profecy, since in Latin language "aper" stands for "boar". (Carus et Carinus et Numerianus xiv-xv, [1]).</ref>

However, another lawful emperor was in the West, Carinus the elder son of Carus. Carinus and Diocletian met near Belgrade, and Diocles won the Battle of the Margus River, killing Carinus and becoming the only ruler of the Roman Empire, with the full name of Diocletianus. The sources disagree on what actually happened at the battle: Aurelius Victor claims (39. 11) that Carinus was winning the battle, when one of his officers, whose wife the young emperor had seduced, backstabbed him; Eutropius holds (9.20.2) that Carinus was deserted by his army. Diocletian, in an unusual act of clemency, did not kill or depose Carinus' Praetorian prefect and consul Aurelius Aristobulus, but confirmed him, and later gave him the proconsulate of Africa and the rank of Urban Praefect — a career that some scholars see as a reward for the treason of Aristobulus.

Between 235 and 284 there had been some 20 to 25 successive emperors, an average of a new emperor every two to three years. All but two of these emperors were either murdered or killed in battle. Diocletian seemed at first to be following in the footsteps of his short-lived predecessors in the years between 284 and 298, as he fought a lengthy series of wars from one end of the Empire to the other, maintaining the extended boundaries of the frontiers and stamping out domestic uprisings. By 298, however, he had succeeded in repelling Germanic intrusions from across the Danube and Rhine, had put a halt to Sassanid invasions in Syria and Palestine, and had defeated his political foes.

[edit] Diocletian's reforms

His position secure, a remarkable feat after over fifty years of internal instability that nearly saw the collapse of the Roman Empire (what has become known as the Crisis of the Third Century), Diocletian believed that going forward under the current system of Roman Imperial government was unsustainable. He initiated a number of reforms to prevent a return to the disorder of previous generations and maintain the viability of the Empire. These included splitting the Empire into two in order to be more manageable, creating a new system of Imperial succession, ruling as an autocrat and stripping away any remaining façade of republicanism, and economic reforms aimed at the problem of hyperinflation.

The position of emperor had originally been a dictatorial post carefully disguised as a constitutional monarch. While it drew much of its legitimacy from a complex array of republican titles and practices, with the "Emperor" being the Princeps ("First among equals", hence "Principate"), it drew most of its actual power from command over the legions and the Praetorian Guard. This is reflected in the most important of all Imperial titles, imperator (Supreme Commander), from which the word emperor itself is derived. These arrangements, while awkward at times and followed more closely by some emperors than others, worked for the first two centuries of the empire's existence. However, starting with the reign of Septimius Severus, rulers began to strip away or simply ignore many of the republican conventions, and reigned more as dictators than constitutional monarchs. This process undermined the office's foundations and legitimacy. Diocletian recognized that the title had to be based on something more than simply military force, in order to be more recognized and stable. So he sought to build a new basis for imperial legitimacy in the state religion, with himself as semi-divine monarch and high priest. The old republican title of Pontifex Maximus, would begin to take on a new importance.

Diocletian chose a new title for himself, calling himself Dominus et deus, or "Lord and God" (hence "Dominate"). He would actually sit on a throne. He was not to be seen in public, and if an audience was required, he had elaborate ceremonies in which the visitor would be required to lie on the ground prostrate and never to look at the emperor, allowed perhaps to kiss the bottom of his robe. In this way he created a remote, mysterious, theocratic and autocratic office. It is likely that terms such as "Your Majesty" or "Your Excellency" originated during Diocletian's rule.[citation needed]

According to an analysis by Edward Gibbon in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Diocletian did not require such ritual out of vanity. This type of majesty regarding the emperor had existed since the rule of Augustus. However, whereas Augustus disguised it, Diocletian simply displayed it.

[edit] Tetrarchy

Diocletian's experiences during his first nine years of running around the empire putting out fires brought him to the conclusion that the empire was simply too big for a single Emperor to rule—that it was not feasible to address barbarian invasions along the Rhine and Egyptian problems at the same time, along with the internal problems the empire was experiencing. His radical solution was to split the Empire in two, drawing a line straight down the middle of the map with the axis just east of Rome into eastern and western halves. While this division did not last in the short term, it set the precedent for the permanent division of the empire after 395.

The question of imperial succession had never been solved in the Roman system; there was no clear principle of succession, which often led to civil wars. Earlier Emperors had preferred the system of adoption, under which they would adopt a son and heir. The military did not like the system of adoption and preferred biological succession, with the emperor's son being the rightful heir. The Senate believed they should have the right to elect a new emperor. Thus there were usually at least three, if not many more, rightful heirs of succession.

In order to solve the problem of succession, and to answer the question of who would be Emperor of the newly divided East and West, Diocletian created what has become known as the system of "Tetrarchy", or "rule of four", whereby a senior emperor would rule in the East and another senior emperor would rule the West, and each would have a junior emperor. Among the many titles traditionally bestowed on Roman emperors, the most important was that of Augustus and therefore only the two senior emperors took this title, with the junior emperors receiving the lesser title of Caesar. Diocletian intended that when the senior emperor retired or died, the Caesar would take his place and choose a new junior emperor Caesar, thus solving the problem of succession.

By 292, Diocletian had the system in place and chose the Eastern Empire for himself and gave Maximian the Western Empire. The imperial power was now divided between two people. The two men established separate capitals, neither of which was at Rome. The ancient capital was too far removed from the places where the empire's fate was decided by force of arms. While improving the ability of the two emperors to rule the empire, the division of power further marginalized the Senate, which remained in Rome. In 293, Diocletian and Maximian each appointed a Caesar (Galerius and Constantius, respectively), formally adopting them as their heirs. However, these were not merely successors - each was given authority over roughly a quarter of the Empire.

Considering that during the half-century preceding Diocletian's ascension the empire had been in a nearly constant state of civil war, it is remarkable that the Tetrarchy did not immediately fall apart due to the greed of any of the four emperors. However, the opportunistic nature of Roman imperial politics soon brought about the disintegration of the Tetrarchy and the reinstitution of monarchy. In 305, Diocletian retired and Maximian was persuaded to do the same. The two Caesars became the senior emperors as designed, but when it came time to choose new Caesars, the military and Senate intervened and brought forward their own candidates. In 306, Constantine started a civil war in the west, which he won in 312, and took the eastern half by 324, thus ruling as a united Empire until his death in 337. However, by 395 the division occurred again and the two halves would never be reunited.

[edit] Roman Empire under Diocletian
Image:Roman Empire about 395.jpg
Map of the Roman empire, c. 395, showing the dioceses and the praetorian prefectures of Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and Oriens, roughly analogous to the four Tetrarchs' zones of influence after Diocletian's reforms. However, in 395, the western part of the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum was attached to the Praetorian prefecture of Italy. This map shows only eastern part of Illyricum, though in the time of Tetrachy the Illyricum was not divided.
Diocesis Territories
Oriens Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Cilicia
Pontus Cappadocia, Armenia Minor, Galatia, Bithynia
Asia (Asiana) Asia, Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycia, Lydia, Caria
Thrace Moesiae Moesia Inferior, Thrace
Moesia Moesia Superior, Dacia, Epirus, Macedonia, Thessaly,

Achaea, Dardania

Africa Africa Proconsularis, Byzacena, Tripolitana, Numidia, part of


Hispania Mauretania Tingitana, Baetica, Lusitania,


Prov. Viennensis Narbonensis, Aquitania, Viennensis, Alpes


Gallia Lugdunensis, Germania Superior, Germania

Inferior, Belgica

Britannia Britannia, Caesariensis
Italia annonaria
capital Mediolanum
Venetia et Histria, Aemilia et Liguria, Flaminia et Picenum, Raetia, Alpes Cottiae
Italia suburbicaria
capital Rome
Tuscia et Umbria, Valeria, Campania et Samnium, Apulia et Calabria, Sicilia, Sardinia et Corsica
Pannonia Pannonia Inferior, Pannonia Superior, Noricum,


[edit] Economic reforms

When Diocletian ascended to the throne, the Roman economy was on the verge of dissolution. Five decades of civil war, conflict with Sassanid Persia, politically motivated confiscations of property, and looting of the citizenry by the army had caused widespread impoverishment. <ref>Lewis, Naphtali, Meyer Reinhold (1990). Roman Civilization: Volume 2, The Roman Empire. Columbia University Press, 428. ISBN 0-231-07133-7.</ref> Most of the existing taxes, which were traditionally low, already went to pay the army, either in the form of regular pay or generous bonuses meant to ensure loyalty. This left little or no fiscal breathing room. Imperial budgets were crude, when they existed at all, and there were few opportunities to cancel other spending in order to meet sudden expenses. The quickest and easiest solution to this problem was to debase the silver coinage, to "print more money," as it were. <ref>Bowman, Alan K., Peter Garnsey, Averil Cameron (2005). The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Crisis of Empire. Cambridge University Press, 59. ISBN 0-521-30199-8.</ref> This resulted in extreme hyperinflation, mass distrust of imperial coinage, and localized regression to a barter economy in some areas. Despite these developments, quality of life for many residents of the empire didn't change significantly. Regions that were free from conflict fared better, naturally, than those which frequently saw the armies march through. Farmers and landlords who had direct access to the empire's agricultural base were not seriously affected by the currency fluctuations.<ref>Bowman, Alan K., Peter Garnsey, Averil Cameron (2005). The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Crisis of Empire. Cambridge University Press, 63. ISBN 0-521-30199-8.</ref>

In 290, Diocletian began a comprehensive reform of the coinage system. In 294, he introduced the first pure silver antoninianus in decades. The follis, a large bronze coin with added silver to provide intrinsic value, was issued for the first time. A new, heavier aureus and several smaller fractions were also introduced. Further, in 301, Diocletian attempted to curb the rampant inflation with his Edict on Maximum Prices. This edict fixed prices for over a thousand goods, fixed wages, and threatened the death penalty to merchants who overcharged. Instead of curbing inflation, the edict's price controls drove goods onto the black market and created shortages. In some areas, the edict was simply ignored, and it was soon withdrawn in failure.

Diocletian increased tax collection and, correspondingly, the size of the Roman civil services. An extensive new tax system based on "heads" (capita) and land (iugatio) was linked to a regular, five-year census conducted beginning in 287. Skilled laborers, local bureaucrats and tenant farmers (coloni) were made hereditary by law in an effort to stablize both the tax base and the apparatus for tax collection. The position of decurion, very roughly analogous to a mayor, had been an honor sought by wealthy aristocrats during the Principate. While tax collection had always been part of the job description, under Diocletian, its requirements became much more rigorous. Decurions were responsible for producing the taxes dictated by the census data for their area (and for making up the shortfall when they failed to collect from the populace). Whatever benefits the posting may have afforded in earlier times were quickly outweighed by its financial burdens, and many decurions abandoned their posts and fled. If caught, the penalties for this ranged from forfeiture of property to execution. Nor was flight from taxation restricted to the bureaucracy. Lactantius, a contemporary Christian chronicler who was understandably hostile to Diocletian, wrote that because of the new obligations, "There began to be fewer men who paid taxes than there were who received wages; so that the means of the husbandmen being exhausted by enormous impositions, the farms were abandoned, cultivated grounds became woodland, and universal dismay prevailed."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> While Lactantius's description undoubtedly contains some exaggeration, it seems equally certain that the Roman populace, long accustomed to irregular and ineffective tax collection, went through an uncomfortable period of adjustment to Diocletian's reforms.

[edit] Military reforms

Diocletian expanded the army from around 400,000 to over 450,000: About two-thirds of the army's strength was frontier forces (limitanei or ripenses); The remainder were in the mobile units that the Augusti and Caesares kept centrally located in their territories (comitatenses). Since they were closer to the centers of power, and therefore more politically dangerous, the mobile troops were better paid than the frontier forces. This proved a cause for resentment and, later on, trouble.

The experience with the vexillatio system led Diocletian to reduce the legions of the field forces to about 1,000 men each, to assure greater strategic and tactical flexibility without the need for detachments. The legions of the frontier were kept at full strength (4,000-6,000 men). Auxiliary units in both mobile and frontier forces were usually 1,000 men each.

Also, under Diocletian the post of Praetorian prefect was greatly reduced in power. Instead, each Augustus and Caesar had two major military commanders, a Magister militum (commander of the infantry) and a Magister Equitum (commander of the cavalry). This not only divided military responsibilities, thus reducing political dangers, but it also acknowledged the increased importance of cavalry in the Roman army.

Many of the military reforms started by Diocletian were continued by his successors and largely completed under Constantine, who abolished the Praetorian Guard, replacing it with a smaller, more controllable personal bodyguard (the Scholae) of about 4,000 men.

[edit] Persecution of Christians

In 303, the last and greatest persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire began.

In the earlier part of Diocletian's reign, Galerius had been the instigator of such persecution. However, later Diocletian embraced the policy of persecution with unequivocal zeal, issuing his first "Edict against the Christians" (February 24, 303). First Christian soldiers had to leave the army, later the Church's property was confiscated and Christian books were destroyed. After two fires in Diocletian's palace, he took harder measures against Christians: they had either to apostatize or they were sentenced to death. This wave of persecution lasted intermittently until 313, with the issue of the Edict of Milan by Constantine I and Licinius.

The persecution made such an impression on Christians that the Alexandrian church used the start of Diocletian's reign (284) as the epoch for their Era of Martyrs. Among the recorded martyrs, there are Pope Marcellinus, Philomena, Sebastian, Afra, Lucy, Erasmus of Formiae, Florian, George, Agnes, Cessianus, Saint Dujam (bishop of Salona) and others ending with Peter of Alexandria (311). Another effect of the persecution was the escape of one Marinus the Dalmatian to Mount Titano, forming what eventually became the Republic of San Marino.

[edit] Retirement and death

Image:SPLIT-Hebrard overall color restitution.jpg
Palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, around which the Croatian city of Split emerged

In 305, at the age of 59, after almost dying from a sickness, Diocletian retired to his palace in Dalmatia, near the administrative center of Salona on the Adriatic Sea, taking up his beloved hobby of growing cabbages. When solicited at a later date to resume the honours which he had voluntarily resigned, his reply was, "If only you could see the vegetables planted by my hands at Salona, you would then never think of urging such an attempt". He was the first Roman Emperor to voluntarily remove himself from office; all previous holders of the title either died of natural causes or were removed by force. According to Edward Gibbon, a report of at least doubtful nature has survived until the present that Diocletian ended up committing suicide.

Diocletian's Palace later became the seed of modern Split, Croatia.

[edit] Legacy

Overall Diocletian's reforms — in particular those of the military, civil administration, and Roman bureaucracy — were sound and helped to extend the life of the empire for centuries longer. A.H.M. Jones observes that "It is perhaps Diocletian's greatest achievement that he reigned twenty-one years and then abdicated voluntarily, and spent the remaining years of his life in peaceful retirement".<ref>Jones, A.H.M., The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1986, p. 40.</ref> However, his Tetrarchy would prove a formula for civil war, as he witnessed before his death. Once he retired, the Tetrarch system collapsed upon itself, with a new, single strong ruler eventually emerging triumphant. The division of the empire into western and eastern halves, eventually led to a permanent split, with the eastern half becoming the Byzantine Empire. Although the western empire would last only another couple of centuries, the Byzantine Empire, partly through Diocletian's own reforms, would continue in various forms for another one-thousand years.

Although his reign and achievements have been largely overshadowed by Constantine's, they mark an important turning point in Roman history. Diocletian remains one of the more enigmatic and contradictory personalities of history: although he stripped away much of what had remained of the Republic, yet would end up in later life acting much as Cincinnatus had, in giving up power for farming.

[edit] Diocletian in the arts

  • Diocletian is the main character of the novel Numerius, written by V. Martucci (2005)
  • Aranykoporsó ("Golden casket"), the novel of Ferenc Móra (the Hungarian writer of the early 20th century) is about the last years of Diocletian's reign.

[edit] Notes

<references />

[edit] Further reading

  • Roger Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, Edinburgh University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7486-1661-6
  • Pat Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-23944-3
  • Michael Rostovtzeff: The social and economic history of the Roman Empire. Oxford 1966

[edit] External links

Preceded by:
Numerian and Carinus
Roman Emperor
with Maximian (286-305)
Succeeded by:
Constantius Chlorus
and Galerius

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