Diocletian was roman inn emperor indigenous 284 to 305 CE. After ~ the defeat and death that the roman inn emperor Philip the Arab in 249 CE, the empire endured end three years of ineffective rulers. The glory days of Augustus, Vespasian and Trajan were lengthy gone and also the once an effective empire suffered both financially and also militarily. Over there were consistent attacks along the Danube River and in the eastern provinces. Finally, in 284 CE a male rose to the imperial throne that would totally change the challenge of the empire. His name was Diocletian.

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Early Career

Diocles, that would become known to history as Diocletian, was born the humble beginnings on December 22, 245 CE in the Balkan province of Dalmatia. Like countless of those who came before him, ~ entering the military, the rose conveniently through the ranks, eventually becoming a member the an elite corps in ~ the Illyrian army. Later, his abilities were rewarded once he became an army commander in Moesia, a north Balkan district located just west of the black Sea. In 283 CE the accompanied the roman inn emperor Carus come Persia whereby he served as component of the imperial bodyguard or protectores domesticis, a place he would proceed under Carus" follower and boy Numerian - unlike numerous who came before him, Carus" death in 283 CE was because of natural causes.

The young emperor"s regime would be short-lived. Although part suspect Diocletian of having actually a function in Numerian"s fatality in 284 CE, the Praetorian Guard command Arrius Aper, Numerian"s father-in-law, shouldered the blame; he realized his son-in-law to be incompetent and also hoped come secure the imperial throne for himself. His plans, however, backfired. Diocletian would certainly avenge the emperor"s death by death Aper in former of his very own troops. ~ Diocletian to be proclaimed emperor in November that 284 CE, he overcome the Strait of Bosporus into Europe whereby he met and also defeated Carinus, Numerian"s co-emperor and brother, at the fight of river Margus - the young emperor was supposedly murdered through his very own troops. V this victory, Diocletian gained complete control of the empire, suspect the name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletian.

Dividing the Empire

Diocletian interpreted that a significant problem in ruling a territory of the degree of the Roman empire was its enormous size. It was much too big to be rule by just one person, so one of the an initial actions take away by the new emperor was to separation the empire into two parts. Lacking an heir, in November of 285 CE, shortly after securing the royal throne for himself, he called an Illyrian officer (who taken place to it is in his son-in-law) called Maximian together Caesar in the west. The new Caesar, that would be advocated to Augustus one year later, instantly assumed the surname Marcus Aurelius Valerius. Diocletian, that was never really fond that the city of Rome, would remain emperor in the east. The meeting of Maximian afforded Diocletian the time to resolve the continuing problems in the east, however, despite Maximian"s place as co-emperor, Diocletian taken into consideration himself to it is in the senior emperor (something to which Maximian agreed), retaining the capacity to veto any of Maximian"s decisions. Gone to be Augustus"s principate; in its ar was the dominate.

Unfortunately for both Diocletian and Maximian, tranquility in the empire could not be retained for long. The challenges that had plagued the empire for the previous several years remained. As with his predecessors, troubles soon erupted along the Danube river in Moesia and Pannonia. Because that the next 5 years, Diocletian would certainly spend many of that time campaigning throughout the eastern half of the empire. An ultimate victory in 286 CE would carry him not only a lengthy awaited peace however the location of Germanicus Maximus. Diocletian demonstrated similar skills in Persia by defeating the Sarmatians in 289 CE and also Saracens in 292 CE.


Maximian was plagued by comparable problems in the west. A rogue officer named Carausius, the command of the roman inn North Sea fleet, seized control of brothers and part of north Gaul, proclaiming himself together emperor. He had been forgive his command after help Maximian defeat the renegade Bagaudae in Gaul. Later, as soon as it was learned that he was maintaining much the the “spoils that war” for himself, he was declared an outlaw and a death warrant was issued by Maximian. But, like numerous of the men who proclaimed themselves emperor, that met his death at the hand of someone under his very own command, in this situation his finance minister Allectus.

The ide of a divided empire was apparently working. However, a case that had confronted every emperor due to the fact that Augustus had to it is in addressed and also that was succession. Diocletian"s equipment to this age-old problem was the tetrarchy - an idea that maintained the realm in its current state, through two emperors, but permitting for a smooth change should an emperor die or abdicate. The new proposal called for two Augusti - Diocletian in the east and also Maximian in the west - and a Caesar to serve under every emperor. This “Caesar” would then succeed the “Augustus” should he die or resign. Every of the 4 would carry out his very own territory and also have his own capital. Although the empire remained split, each Caesar to be answerable to both Augusti. To to fill these new positions, Maximian adopted and then named his praetorian command Constantius as his Caesar. Constantius had got a call for self after that led a number of successful campaigns versus Carausius. Diocletian decided as his Caesar Galerius who had actually served with distinction under monarchs Aurelian and Probus.

This new arrangement to be soon placed to the test once trouble erupted in both Persia and North Africa. In Africa a Berber Confederation, the Quinquegentanei, encroached top top the royal frontier. In Persia strength was seized native the client-king Teredates in 296 CE, and also the invading army progressed towards the Syrian funding of Antioch. Unfortunately, in his retaliation Galerius used negative judgment and also suffered an embarrassing defeat by the Persians. For this humiliation, he was publicly rebuked through Diocletian. Fortunately, he was able to gather reinforcements and defeat the Persians and their leader Narses in Mesopotamia - a favorable treaty was negotiated. In Egypt one insurrection was led by Lucius Domitius Domitianus who, that course, asserted himself emperor. His fatality - a possible assassination in December the 297 - carried Aurelius Achilleus to the “throne.” In 298 CE Diocletian defeated and killed the would-be emperor at Alexandria. Maximian"s ultimate success in phibìc Africa, Constantius"s win in the west and the reacquisition the Britain and victories by Galerius against the Carpi along the Danube brought peace come the empire.

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Plan the the Baths of Diocletian
B. Fletcher (Public Domain)

Internal Administration

These victories finally enabled time for Diocletian to turn his attention to another project - domestic affairs. Return his greatest achievement would always be the tetrarchy, he additionally reorganized the entire empire from the tax system to provincial administration. In order to minimize the possibility of revolts in the far provinces, the emperor doubled the number of provinces indigenous fifty come one-hundred. The then arranged these brand-new provinces into twelve dioceses rule by vicars who had actually no armed forces responsibilities. This duties to be assigned to military commanders. The military system was additionally reorganized right into mobile field forces, the comitantenses, and also frontier units, the limitanei.

Unlike previous emperors, Diocletian avoided the patronage system, appointing and promoting individuals who were not only qualified however people he could trust. Unfortunately, together the prestige of royal Rome decreased and the facility of strength shifted come the east, countless members of the Senate in Rome shed much the their affect on administrative decisions. Due to the fact that of the influence of Greece and also Greek culture, the true facility of the realm shifted come the east. This would become much more prominent under Emperor Constantine, because that he would rotate a tiny Greek town, Byzantium, right into a shining instance of society and commerce, brand-new Rome. Rome was never either emperor"s selection for a capital. Reportedly, and also despite such grand jobs as the brand-new Roman baths - the largest in the Roman world on perfect in 305 CE, Diocletian would only visit the an excellent city once and that was just prior come his abdication. Also Maximian preferred Mediolanum (Milan). To Diocletian the funding was wherever he was; however, he eventually selected Nicomedia as his capital.

The empire"s finances had always been a suggest of contention for many emperors, and also since an ext money was essential to fund the provincial reorganization and expanded military, the old tax system had to it is in scrutinized. The emperor bespeak a new census to determine how countless lived in the empire, exactly how much land castle owned and what the land might produce. In order come raise money and also stem inflation Diocletian boosted taxes and revised the arsenal process. People were compelled to stay in the family service whether that business was rewarding or not. To stop runaway inflation that issued the Edict of maximum Prices, law that solved the price of goods and services and wages to it is in paid; however, this edict proved to it is in unenforceable.

Diocletian & the Christians

Aside from the continued problems through finance and border security, Diocletian was came to with the continuing growth that Christianity, a religion that appealed to the both the poor and also the rich. The christians had displayed themselves to it is in a thorn in the next of an emperor since the days of Nero. The problem grew worse as their number increased. Diocletian want stability and also that meant a go back to the much more traditional god of Rome, yet Christianity impede this. To most of the emperors who came before Diocletian, christians offended the pax deorum or “peace of the gods.” Similarly, since the days of Emperor Augustus, over there existed the imperial cult - the deification that the emperor - and also Jews and also Christians refused to consider any emperor a god.

However, part of the problem also stemmed from Diocletian"s ego. He started to consider himself a living god, demanding world prostrate themselves prior to him and kiss the hem of his robe. He wore a jeweled diadem and also sat ~ above a magnificent, elevated throne. In 297 CE he demanded the all soldiers and members of the management sacrifice to the gods; those who would no were instantly forced to resign. Next, in 303 CE he ordered the destruction of all churches and also Christian texts. All of these edicts were encouraged by Galerius. However, throughout this an excellent Persecution the Christians refused to yield and sacrifice come the roman gods. Leading members of the clergy to be arrested and ordered come sacrifice or die and a bishop in Nicomedia that refused to be beheaded. Finally, any type of Christian who refused was tortured and killed. At long last, the persecution came to an finish in 305 CE.


Abdication & Death

In 303 CE after ~ his only trip to Rome, Diocletian ended up being seriously ill, ultimately forcing him to abdicate the throne in 305 CE and take retirement in his huge palace-fortress in Spalatum (modern-day break-up in Croatia). The huge walled complicated included colonnaded streets, reception rooms, a temple, mausoleum, bathtub house and also extensive gardens. Diocletian additionally persuaded Maximian to step down together well. This joint abdication allowed Constantius and also Galerius come succeed together the new augusti. Maximinus and also Severus were appointed together the new Caesars. Return he would briefly come the end of retirement in 308 CE, the old emperor remained in his palace raising cabbages till his fatality in October the 311 CE.

Unfortunately, Diocletian"s vision of a tetrarchy would ultimately fail. After year of war in between successors, Constantius" kid Constantine reunited the empire after the battle of Milvian bridge in 312 CE. That would dominion from a city that would someday bear his name, Constantinople. And, in a decision the would have made Diocletian cry out, he offered Christianity the acknowledgment it deserved, even coming to be a Christian himself. In 476 CE with the fall of the realm in the west, the east, while quiet bearing part resemblance to the Old Rome, would certainly be reborn together the oriental Empire.

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Baker, S. Old Rome. BBC Books, 2007Potter, D. The kings of Rome. Subway Books, 2007


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Donald has taught Ancient, Medieval and also U.S. Background at Lincoln college (Normal, Illinois)and has always been and also will always be a student of history, ever since learning around Alexander the Great. That is passionate to pass knowledge on come his students.