Diocletian Roman Emperor 284-305AD Biography Ancient Coins Numismatic
Diocletian Roman Emperor
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Example of Authentic Ancient
Diocletian - Roman Emperor: 284-305 A.D. -
Silvered Bronze Follis Siscia mint 296 A.D.
Siscia RIC VI Siscia 96a var (rev. legend break).
IMP DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG, laureate head right
GENIO POPVLI ROMANI, Genius standing left, modius on head, naked except
over left shoulder, holding patera and cornucopiae. officina letter
(this coin: Γ)
in right field. Mintmark: SIS.
Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus;
c. 22 December 244 – 3 December 311), was a
Roman Emperor from 284 to 305. Born to a family
of low status in the
Roman province of Dalmatia, Diocletian rose
through the ranks of the military to become cavalry commander to the Emperor
Carus. After the deaths of Carus and his son
Numerian on campaign in Persia, Diocletian was
proclaimed Emperor. The title was also claimed by Carus' other surviving son,
Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the
Battle of the Margus. Diocletian's reign
stabilized the Empire and marks the end of the
Crisis of the Third Century. He appointed
Augustus his senior co-emperor in 285.
Diocletian delegated further on 1 March 293, appointing
Caesars, junior co-emperors. Under this "Tetrarchy",
or "rule of four", each emperor would rule over a quarter-division of the
Empire. Diocletian secured the Empire's borders and purged it of all threats to
his power. He defeated the
Carpi during several campaigns between 285 and
Alamanni in 288, and usurpers in
Egypt between 297 and 298. Galerius, aided by
Diocletian, campaigned successfully against
Sassanid Persia, the Empire's traditional
enemy. In 299 he sacked their capital,
Ctesiphon. Diocletian led the subsequent
negotiations and achieved a lasting and favorable peace. Diocletian separated
and enlarged the Empire's civil and military services and reorganized the
Empire's provincial divisions, establishing the largest and most
bureaucratic government in the history of the
Empire. He established new administrative centers in
Trier, closer to the Empire's frontiers than
the traditional capital at Rome had been. Building on third-century trends
absolutism, he styled himself an autocrat,
elevating himself above the Empire's masses with imposing forms of court
ceremonies and architecture. Bureaucratic and military growth, constant
campaigning, and construction projects increased the state's expenditures and
necessitated a comprehensive tax reform. From at least 297 on, imperial taxation
was standardized, made more equitable, and levied at generally higher rates.
Not all of Diocletian's plans were successful: the
Edict on Maximum Prices (301), his attempt
price controls, was counterproductive and
quickly ignored. Although effective while he ruled, Diocletian's Tetrarchic
system collapsed after his abdication under the competing dynastic claims of
Constantine, sons of Maximian and Constantius
Diocletianic Persecution (303–11), the Empire's
last, largest, and bloodiest official persecution of
Christianity, did not destroy the Empire's
Christian community; indeed, after 324 Christianity became the empire's
preferred religion under its first Christian emperor,
In spite of his failures, Diocletian's reforms fundamentally changed the
structure of Roman imperial government and helped stabilize the Empire
economically and militarily, enabling the Empire to remain essentially intact
for another hundred years despite being near the brink of collapse in
Diocletian's youth. Weakened by illness, Diocletian left the imperial office on
1 May 305, and became the only Roman emperor to voluntarily abdicate the
position. He lived out his retirement in
his palace on the Dalmatian coast, tending to
his vegetable gardens. His palace eventually became the core of the modern-day
Diocletian was probably born near
Croatia), some time around 244.
His parents named him Diocles, or possibly Diocles Valerius.
The modern historian
Timothy Barnes takes his official birthday, 22
December, as his actual birthdate. Other historians are not so certain.
Diocles' parents were of low status, and writers critical of him claimed that
his father was a
scribe or a
freedman of the senator Anullinus, or even that
Diocles was a freedman himself. The first forty years of his life are mostly
Joannes Zonaras states that he was
a commander of forces on the lower
Historia Augusta states that he served in
Gaul, but this account is not corroborated by other sources and is ignored by
modern historians of the period.
Death of Numerian
Carus' death left his unpopular sons Numerian
and Carinus as the new Augusti. Carinus quickly made his way to Rome from
Gaul and arrived by January 284. Numerian lingered in the east.
The Roman withdrawal from Persia was orderly and unopposed.
Bahram II could not field an army against them
as he was still struggling to establish his authority. By March 284, Numerian
had only reached
Emesa (Homs) in
Syria; by November, only Asia Minor.
In Emesa he was apparently still alive and in good health: he issued the only
rescript in his name there, but after he left the city, his staff, including the prefect
Aper, reported that he suffered from an
inflammation of the eyes. He traveled in a closed coach from then on.
When the army reached
some of the soldiers smelled an odor emanating from the coach.
They opened its curtains and inside they found Numerian dead.
Aper officially broke the news in
Numerianus' generals and tribunes called a council for the succession, and chose
Diocles as Emperor,
in spite of Aper's attempts to garner support.
On 20 November 284, the army of the east gathered on a hill 5 kilometres
(3.1 mi) outside Nicomedia. The army unanimously saluted Diocles as their new
Augustus, and he accepted the purple imperial vestments. He raised his sword to
the light of the sun and swore an oath disclaiming responsibility for Numerian's
death. He asserted that Aper had killed Numerian and concealed it.
In full view of the army, Diocles drew his sword and killed Aper.
According to the Historia Augusta, he quoted from
Virgil while doing so.
Soon after Aper's death, Diocles changed his name to the more Latinate "Diocletianus",
in full Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus.
Conflict with Carinus
After his accession, Diocletian and Lucius Caesonius Bassus
were named as consuls and assumed the
fasces in place of Carinus and Numerianus.
Bassus was a member of a
senatorial family from
Campania, a former consul and proconsul of
Africa, chosen by Probus for signal distinction.
He was skilled in areas of government where Diocletian presumably had no
Diocletian's elevation of Bassus as consul symbolized his rejection of Carinus'
government in Rome, his refusal to accept second-tier status to any other
and his willingness to continue the long-standing collaboration between the
Empire's senatorial and military aristocracies.
It also tied his success to that of the Senate, whose support he would need in
his advance on Rome.
Diocletian was not the only challenger to Carinus' rule: the usurper
M. Aurelius Julianus, Carinus' corrector
Venetiae, took control of northern
Pannonia after Diocletian's accession.
Julianus minted coins from the mint at Siscia (Sisak,
Croatia) declaring himself as Emperor and promising freedom. It was all good
publicity for Diocletian, and it aided in his portrayal of Carinus as a cruel
and oppressive tyrant.
Julianus' forces were weak, however, and were handily dispersed when Carinus'
armies moved from Britain to northern Italy. As leader of the united East,
Diocletian was clearly the greater threat.
Over the winter of 284–85, Diocletian advanced west across the
Balkans. In the spring, some time before the
end of May,
his armies met Carinus' across the river Margus (Great
Moesia. In modern accounts, the site has been
located between the Mons Aureus (Seone, west of
Despite having the stronger army, Carinus held the weaker position. His rule
was unpopular, and it was later alleged that he had mistreated the Senate and
seduced his officers' wives.
It is possible that
Flavius Constantius, the governor of Dalmatia
and Diocletian's associate in the household guard, had already defected to
Diocletian in the early spring.
Battle of the Margus began, Carinus' prefect
Aristobulus also defected.
In the course of the battle, Carinus was killed by his own men. Following
Diocletian's victory, both the western and the eastern armies acclaimed him
Diocletian exacted an oath of allegiance from the defeated army and departed for
Diocletian may have become involved in battles against the
Marcomanni immediately after the Battle of the
Margus. He eventually made his way to northern Italy and made an imperial
government, but it is not known whether he visited the city of Rome at this
There is a contemporary issue of coins suggestive of an imperial
adventus (arrival) for the city,
but some modern historians state that Diocletian avoided the city, and that he
did so on principle, as the city and its Senate were no longer politically
relevant to the affairs of the Empire and needed to be taught as much.
Diocletian dated his reign from his elevation by the army, not the date of his
ratification by the Senate,
following the practice established by Carus, who had declared the Senate's
ratification a useless formality.
If Diocletian ever did enter Rome shortly after his accession, he did not stay
he is attested back in the Balkans by 2 November 285, on campaign against the
Diocletian replaced the
prefect of Rome with his consular colleague
Bassus. Most officials who had served under Carinus, however, retained their
offices under Diocletian.
In an act of clementia denoted by the epitomator
Aurelius Victor as unusual,
Diocletian did not kill or depose Carinus' traitorous praetorian prefect and
consul Ti. Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus, but confirmed him in both roles.
He later gave him the proconsulate of Africa and the rank of urban prefect.
The other figures who retained their offices might have also betrayed Carinus.
Maximian's consistent loyalty to Diocletian proved an important
component of the Tetrarchy's early successes.
The assassinations of
Aurelian and Probus demonstrated that sole
rulership was dangerous to the stability of the Empire.
Conflict boiled in every province, from Gaul to Syria, Egypt to the lower
Danube. It was too much for one person to control, and Diocletian needed a
At some time in 285 at
Mediolanum (Milan), Diocletian raised his fellow-officer
Maximian to the office of
Caesar, making him co-emperor.
The concept of dual rulership was nothing new to the Roman Empire.
Augustus, the first Emperor, had nominally
shared power with his colleagues, and more formal offices of co-Emperor had
Marcus Aurelius on.
Most recently, the emperor Carus and his sons had ruled together, albeit
unsuccessfully. Diocletian was in a less comfortable position than most of his
predecessors, as he had a daughter, Valeria, but no sons. His co-ruler had to be
from outside his family, raising the question of trust.
Some historians state that Diocletian adopted Maximian as his filius Augusti,
his "Augustan son", upon his appointment to the throne, following the precedent
of some previous emperors.
This argument has not been universally accepted.
The relationship between Diocletian and Maximian was quickly couched in
religious terms. Around 287 Diocletian assumed the title Iovius, and
Maximian assumed the title Herculius.
The titles were probably meant to convey certain characteristics of their
associated leaders. Diocletian, in
Jovian style, would take on the dominating
roles of planning and commanding; Maximian, in
Herculian mode, would act as Jupiter's
For all their religious connotations, the emperors were not "gods" in the
tradition of the
Imperial cult—although they may have been
hailed as such in Imperial
panegyrics. Instead, they were seen as the
gods' representatives, effecting their will on earth.
The shift from military acclamation to divine sanctification took the power to
appoint emperors away from the army. Religious legitimization elevated
Diocletian and Maximian above potential rivals in a way military power and
dynastic claims could not.
with Sarmatia and Persia
After his acclamation, Maximian was dispatched to fight the rebel
Bagaudae in Gaul. Diocletian returned to the
East, progressing slowly.
By 2 November, he had only reached Citivas Iovia (Botivo, near
In the Balkans during the autumn of 285, he encountered a tribe of
Sarmatians who demanded assistance. The
Sarmatians requested that Diocletian either help them recover their lost lands
or grant them pasturage rights within the Empire. Diocletian refused and fought
a battle with them, but was unable to secure a complete victory. The nomadic
pressures of the
European Plain remained and could not be solved
by a single war; soon the Sarmatians would have to be fought again.
Diocletian wintered in
Nicomedia. There may have been a revolt in the eastern provinces at
this time, as he brought settlers from
Asia to populate emptied farmlands in
Syria Palaestina the following spring,
His stay in the East saw
diplomatic success in the conflict with Persia: in 287,
Bahram II granted him precious gifts, declared
open friendship with the Empire, and invited Diocletian to visit him.
Roman sources insist that the act was entirely voluntary.
Around the same time, perhaps in 287,
Persia relinquished claims on
Armenia and recognized Roman authority over
territory to the west and south of the Tigris. The western portion of Armenia
was incorporated into the Empire and made a province.
Arsacid claimant to the Armenian throne and
Roman client, had been disinherited and forced to take refuge in the Empire
after the Persian conquest of 252-53. In 287, he returned to lay claim to the
eastern half of his ancestral domain and encountered no opposition.
Bahram II's gifts were widely recognized as symbolic of a victory in the ongoing
conflict with Persia, and Diocletian was hailed
as the "founder of eternal peace". The events might have represented a formal
end to Carus' eastern campaign, which probably ended without an acknowledged
At the conclusion of discussions with the Persians, Diocletian re-organized the
Mesopotamian frontier and fortified the city of
Circesium (Buseire, Syria) on the
Maximian made Augustus
Maximian's campaigns were not proceeding as smoothly. The Bagaudae had been
easily suppressed, but
Carausius, the man he had put in charge of
pirates on the
Saxon Shore, had begun keeping the goods seized
from the pirates for himself. Maximian issued a death-warrant for his larcenous
subordinate. Carausius fled the Continent, proclaimed himself Augustus, and
agitated Britain and northwestern Gaul into open revolt against Maximian and
Spurred by the crisis, on 1 April 286, Maximian took up the title of
His appointment is unusual in that it was impossible for Diocletian to have been
present to witness the event. It has even been suggested that Maximian usurped
the title and was only later recognized by Diocletian in hopes of avoiding civil
This suggestion is unpopular, as it is clear that Diocletian meant for Maximian
to act with a certain amount of independence.
Maximian realized that he could not immediately suppress the rogue commander,
so in 287 he campaigned solely against tribes beyond the
The following spring, as Maximian prepared a fleet for an expedition against
Carausius, Diocletian returned from the East to meet Maximian. The two emperors
agreed on a joint campaign against the
Alamanni. Diocletian invaded Germania through
Raetia while Maximian progressed from Mainz. Each emperor burned crops and food
supplies as he went, destroying the Germans' means of sustenance.
The two men added territory to the Empire and allowed Maximian to continue
preparations against Carausius without further disturbance.
On his return to the East, Diocletian managed what was probably another rapid
campaign against the resurgent Sarmatians. No details survive, but surviving
inscriptions indicate that Diocletian took the title Sarmaticus Maximus
In the East, Diocletian engaged in diplomacy with desert tribes in the
regions between Rome and Persia. He might have been attempting to persuade them
to ally themselves with Rome, thus reviving the old, Rome-friendly,
sphere of influence,
or simply attempting to reduce the frequency of their incursions.
No details survive for these events.
Some of the princes of these states were Persian client kings, a disturbing fact
in light of increasing tensions with the Sassanids.
In the West, Maximian lost the fleet built in 288 and 289, probably in the early
spring of 290. The
panegyrist who refers to the loss suggests that
its cause was a storm,
but this might simply be the an attempt to conceal an embarrassing military
Diocletian broke off his tour of the Eastern provinces soon thereafter. He
returned with haste to the West, reaching Emesa by 10 May 290,
and Sirmium on the Danube by 1 July 290.
Diocletian met Maximian in Milan in the winter of 290–91, either in late
December 290 or January 291.
The meeting was undertaken with a sense of solemn pageantry. The Emperors spent
most of their time in public appearances. It has been surmised that the
ceremonies were arranged to demonstrate Diocletian's continuing support for his
A deputation from the Roman Senate met with the Emperors, renewing its
infrequent contact with the Imperial office.
The choice of Milan over Rome further snubbed the capital's pride. But then it
was already a long established practice that Rome itself was only a ceremonial
capital, as the actual seat of the Imperial administration was determined by the
needs of defense. Long before Diocletian,
Gallienus (r. 253–68) had chosen Milan as the
seat of his headquarters.
If the panegyric detailing the ceremony implied that the true center of the
Empire was not Rome, but where the Emperor sat ("...the capital of the Empire
appeared to be there, where the two emperors met"),
it simply echoed what had already been stated by the historian
Herodian in the early third century: "Rome is
where the emperor is".
During the meeting, decisions on matters of politics and war were probably made
The Augusti would not meet again until 303.
Foundation of the
Some time after his return, and before 293, Diocletian transferred command of
the war against Carausius from Maximian to
Constantius Chlorus, a former governor of
Dalmatia and a man of military experience stretching back to
Aurelian's campaigns against
Zenobia (272–73). He was Maximian's praetorian
prefect in Gaul, and the husband to Maximian's daughter,
Theodora. On 1 March 293 at Milan, Maximian
gave Constantius the office of Caesar.
In the spring of 293, in either Philippopolis (Plovdiv,
Bulgaria) or Sirmium, Diocletian would do the
Galerius, husband to Diocletian's daughter
Valeria, and perhaps Diocletian's praetorian prefect. Constantius was assigned Gaul and Britain. Galerius was
assigned Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and responsibility for the eastern
This arrangement is called the Tetrarchy, from a
Greek term meaning "rulership by four".
The Tetrarchic Emperors were more or less sovereign in their own lands, and they
travelled with their own imperial courts, administrators, secretaries, and
They were joined by blood and marriage; Diocletian and Maximian now styled
themselves as brothers. The senior co-Emperors formally adopted Galerius and
Constantius as sons in 293. These relationships implied a line of succession.
Galerius and Constantius would become Augusti after the departure of Diocletian
and Maximian. Maximian's son
Maxentius and Constantius' son
Constantine would then become Caesars. In
preparation for their future roles, Constantine and Maxentius were taken to
Diocletian's court in Nicomedia.
the Balkans and Egypt
Diocletian spent the spring of 293 traveling with Galerius from Sirmium (Sremska
Turkey). Diocletian then returned to Sirmium,
where he would remain for the following winter and spring. He campaigned against
the Sarmatians again in 294, probably in the autumn,
and won a victory against them. The Sarmatians' defeat kept them from the Danube
provinces for a long time. Meanwhile, Diocletian built forts north of the
Hungary), Bononia (Vidin,
Bulgaria), Ulcisia Vetera, Castra Florentium, Intercisa (Dunaújváros,
Hungary), and Onagrinum (Begeč,
Serbia). The new forts became part of a new defensive line called the Ripa
In 295 and 296 Diocletian campaigned in the region again, and won a victory over
the Carpi in the summer of 296.
Afterwards, during 299 and 302, as Diocletian was then residing in the East, it
was Galerius' turn to campaign victoriously on the Danube.
By the end of his reign, Diocletian had secured the entire length of the Danube,
provided it with forts, bridgeheads, highways, and walled towns, and sent
fifteen or more legions to patrol the region; an inscription at
Sexaginta Prista on the Lower Danube extolled
restored tranquilitas at the region.
The defense came at a heavy cost, but was a significant achievement in an area
difficult to defend.
Galerius, meanwhile, was engaged during 291–293 in disputes in
Upper Egypt, where he suppressed a regional
He would return to Syria in 295 to fight the revanchist Persian Empire.
Diocletian's attempts to bring the Egyptian tax system in line with Imperial
standards stirred discontent, and a revolt swept the region after Galerius'
L. Domitius Domitianus declared himself
Augustus in July or August 297. Much of Egypt, including
Alexandria, recognized his rule.
Diocletian moved into Egypt to suppress him, first putting down rebels in the
Thebaid in the autumn of 297,
then moving on to besiege Alexandria. Domitianus died in December 297,
by which time Diocletian had secured control of the Egyptian countryside.
Alexandria, whose defense was organized under Diocletian's former
Aurelius Achilleus, held out until a later
date, probably March 298.
Bureaucratic affairs were completed during Diocletian's stay:
a census took place, and Alexandria, in punishment for its rebellion, lost the
ability to mint independently.
Diocletian's reforms in the region, combined with those of
Septimus Severus, brought Egyptian
administrative practices much closer to Roman standards.
Diocletian travelled south along the Nile the following summer, where he visited
In Nubia, he made peace with the
Blemmyes tribes. Under the terms of the peace
treaty Rome's borders moved north to
Philae and the two tribes received an annual
gold stipend. Diocletian left Africa quickly after the treaty, moving from Upper
Egypt in September 298 to Syria in February 299. He met up with Galerius in
War with Persia
Narseh, a son of Shapur who had been passed
over for the Sassanid succession, came to power in Persia. Narseh eliminated
Bahram III, a young man installed in the wake
of Bahram II's death in 293.
In early 294, Narseh sent Diocletian the customary package of gifts between the
empires, and Diocletian responded with an exchange of ambassadors. Within
Persia, however, Narseh was destroying every trace of his immediate predecessors
from public monuments. He sought to identify himself with the warlike kings
Ardashir (r. 226–41) and
Shapur I (r. 241–72), who had sacked Roman
Antioch and skinned the Emperor
Valerian (r. 253–260) to decorate his war
Narseh declared war on Rome in 295 or 296. He appears to have first invaded
western Armenia, where he seized the lands delivered to Tiridates in the peace
Narseh moved south into Roman Mesopotamia in 297, where he inflicted a severe
defeat on Galerius in the region between Carrhae (Harran,
Turkey) and Callinicum (Ar-Raqqah,
(and thus, the historian
Fergus Millar notes, probably somewhere on the
Diocletian may or may not have been present at the battle,
but he quickly divested himself of all responsibility. In a public ceremony at
Antioch, the official version of events was clear: Galerius was responsible for
the defeat; Diocletian was not. Diocletian publicly humiliated Galerius, forcing
him to walk for a mile at the head of the Imperial caravan, still clad in the
purple robes of the Emperor.
Galerius was reinforced, probably in the spring of 298, by a new contingent
collected from the Empire's Danubian holdings.
Narseh did not advance from Armenia and Mesopotamia, leaving Galerius to lead
the offensive in 298 with an attack on northern Mesopotamia via Armenia. It is unclear if Diocletian was present to assist the
campaign; he might have returned to Egypt or Syria. Narseh retreated to Armenia to fight Galerius' force, to
Narseh's disadvantage; the rugged Armenian terrain was favorable to Roman
infantry, but not to Sassanid cavalry. In two battles, Galerius won major
victories over Narseh. During the
second encounter, Roman forces seized Narseh's
camp, his treasury, his harem, and his wife.
Galerius continued moving down the Tigris, and took the Persian capital
Ctesiphon before returning to Roman territory along the Euphrates.
Narseh sent an ambassador to Galerius to plead for the return of his wives
and children in the course of the war, but Galerius had dismissed him.
Serious peace negotiations began in the spring of 299. The magister memoriae
(secretary) of Diocletian and Galerius, Sicorius Probus, was sent to Narseh to
The conditions of the resulting
Peace of Nisibis were heavy:
Armenia returned to Roman domination, with the fort of Ziatha as its border;
Caucasian Iberia would pay allegiance to Rome
under a Roman appointee; Nisibis, now under Roman rule, would become the sole
conduit for trade between Persia and Rome; and Rome would exercise control over
the five satrapies between the Tigris and Armenia: Ingilene, Sophanene (Sophene),
Corduene (Carduene), and Zabdicene (near modern
Hakkâri, Turkey). These regions included the
passage of the Tigris through the
Anti-Taurus range; the
Bitlis pass, the quickest southerly route into
Persian Armenia; and access to the
Tur Abdin plateau.
A stretch of land containing the later strategic strongholds of Amida (Diyarbakır,
Turkey) and Bezabde came under firm Roman military occupation.
With these territories, Rome would have an advance station north of Ctesiphon,
and would be able to slow any future advance of Persian forces through the
Many cities east of the Tigris came under Roman control, including
Daudia, and Arzan – though under what status is
At the conclusion of the peace, Tiridates regained both his throne and the
entirety of his ancestral claim.
Rome secured a wide zone of cultural influence, which led to a wide diffusion of
Syriac Christianity from a center at Nisibis in
later decades, and the eventual Christianization of Armenia.
At the conclusion of the
Peace of Nisibis, Diocletian and Galerius
returned to Syrian Antioch.
At some time in 299, the Emperors took part in a ceremony of
divination in an attempt to predict the future.
haruspices were unable to read the entrails of
the sacrificed animals and blamed Christians in the Imperial household. The
Emperors ordered all members of the court to perform a sacrifice to purify the
palace. The Emperors sent letters to the military command, demanding the entire
army perform the required sacrifices or face discharge.
Diocletian was conservative in matters of religion, a man faithful to the
traditional Roman pantheon and understanding of demands for religious
Constantine state that it was Galerius, not
Diocletian, who was the prime supporter of the purge, and its greatest
Galerius, even more devoted and passionate than Diocletian, saw political
advantage in the politics of persecution. He was willing to break with a
government policy of inaction on the issue.
Antioch was Diocletian's primary residence from 299 to 302, while Galerius
swapped places with his Augustus on the Middle and Lower Danube.
He visited Egypt once, over the winter of 301–2, and issued a grain dole in
Following some public disputes with
Manicheans, Diocletian ordered that the leading
Mani be burnt alive along with their
scriptures. In a 31 March 302 rescript from Alexandria, he declared that
low-status Manicheans must be executed by the blade, and high-status Manicheans
must be sent to work in the quarries of Proconnesus (Marmara
Island, Turkey) or the mines of Phaeno in southern
Palestine. All Manichean property was to be
seized and deposited in the imperial treasury.
Diocletian found much to be offended by in Manichean religion: its novelty, its
alien origins, the way it corrupted the morals of the Roman race, and its
inherent opposition to long-standing religious traditions.
Manichaeanism was also supported by Persia at the time, compounding religious
dissent with international politics.
Excepting Persian support, the reasons he disliked Manichaenism were equally
applicable, if not more so, to Christianity, his next target.
Diocletian returned to Antioch in the autumn of 302. He ordered that the
Romanus of Caesarea have his tongue removed for
defying the order of the courts and interrupting official sacrifices. Romanus
was then sent to prison, where he was executed on 17 November 303. Diocletian
believed that Romanus of Caesarea was arrogant, and he left the city for
Nicomedia in the winter, accompanied by Galerius.
According to Lactantius, Diocletian and Galerius entered into an argument over
imperial policy towards Christians while wintering at Nicomedia in 302.
Diocletian argued that forbidding Christians from the bureaucracy and military
would be sufficient to appease the gods, but Galerius pushed for extermination.
The two men sought the advice of the
The oracle responded that the impious on Earth hindered Apollo's ability to
provide advice. Rhetorically Eusebius records the Oracle as saying "The just on
Earth..." These impious, Diocletian was
informed by members of the court, could only refer to the Christians of the
Empire. At the behest of his court, Diocletian acceded to demands for universal
On 23 February 303, Diocletian ordered that the newly built church at
Nicomedia be razed. He demanded that its scriptures be burned, and seized its
precious stores for the treasury.
The next day, Diocletian's first "Edict against the Christians" was published.
The edict ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship
across the Empire, and prohibited Christians from assembling for worship.
Before the end of February, a fire destroyed part of the Imperial palace.
Galerius convinced Diocletian that the culprits were Christians, conspirators
who had plotted with the
eunuchs of the palace. An investigation was
commissioned, but no responsible party was found. Executions followed anyway,
and the palace eunuchs Dorotheus and
Gorgonius were executed. One individual,
Peter Cubicularius, was stripped, raised high,
and scourged. Salt and vinegar were poured in his wounds, and he was
slowly boiled over an open flame. The
executions continued until at least 24 April 303, when six individuals,
A second fire occurred sixteen days after the first. Galerius left the city for
Rome, declaring Nicomedia unsafe.
Diocletian would soon follow.
Although further persecutionary edicts followed, compelling the arrest of the
Christian clergy and universal acts of sacrifice,
the persecutionary edicts were ultimately unsuccessful; most Christians escaped
punishment, and pagans too were generally unsympathetic to the persecution. The
martyrs' sufferings strengthened the resolve of
their fellow Christians.
Constantius and Maximian did not apply the later persecutionary edicts, and left
the Christians of the West unharmed.
Galerius rescinded the edict in 311, announcing that the persecution had failed
to bring Christians back to traditional religion.
The temporary apostasy of some Christians, and the surrendering of scriptures,
during the persecution played a major role in the subsequent
Within twenty-five years of the persecution's inauguration, the Christian
Emperor Constantine would rule the empire alone. He would reverse the
consequences of the edicts, and return all confiscated property to Christians.
Under Constantine's rule, Christianity would become the Empire's preferred
Diocletian was demonized by his Christian successors: Lactantius intimated that
Diocletian's ascendancy heralded the apocalypse,
Serbian mythology, Diocletian is remembered as
Illness and abdication
Diocletian entered the city of Rome in the early winter of 303. On 20
November, he celebrated, with Maximian, the twentieth anniversary of his reign (vicennalia),
the tenth anniversary of the Tetrarchy (decennalia),
and a triumph for the war with Persia. Diocletian soon grew impatient with the
city, as the Romans acted towards him with what
Edward Gibbon, following
Lactantius, calls "licentious familiarity".
The Roman people did not give enough deference to his supreme authority; it
expected him to act the part of an aristocratic ruler, not a monarchic one. On
20 December 303,
Diocletian cut short his stay in Rome and left for the north. He did not even
perform the ceremonies investing him with his ninth consulate; he did them in
Ravenna on 1 January 304 instead.
There are suggestions in the
Panegyrici Latini and Lactantius' account
that Diocletian arranged plans for his and Maximian's future retirement of power
in Rome. Maximian, according to these accounts, swore to uphold Diocletian's
plan in a ceremony in the
Temple of Jupiter.
From Ravenna, Diocletian left for the Danube. There, possibly in Galerius'
company, he took part in a campaign against the Carpi.
He contracted a minor illness while on campaign, but his condition quickly
worsened and he chose to travel in a
litter. In the late summer he left for
Nicomedia. On 20 November, he appeared in public to dedicate the opening of the
circus beside his palace. He collapsed soon after the ceremonies. Over the
winter of 304–5 he kept within his palace at all times. Rumors alleging that
Diocletian's death was merely being kept secret until Galerius could come to
assume power spread through the city. On 13 December, he seemed to have finally
died. The city was sent into a mourning from which it was only retrieved by
public declarations of his survival. When Diocletian reappeared in public on 1
March 305, he was emaciated and barely recognizable.
Galerius arrived in the city later in March. According to Lactantius, he came
armed with plans to reconstitute the Tetrarchy, force Diocletian to step down,
and fill the Imperial office with men compliant to his will. Through coercion
and threats, he eventually convinced Diocletian to comply with his plan.
Lactantius also claims that he had done the same to Maximian at Sirmium.
On 1 May 305, Diocletian called an assembly of his generals, traditional
companion troops, and representatives from distant legions. They met at the same
hill, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) out of Nicomedia, where Diocletian had been
proclaimed emperor. In front of a statue of Jupiter, his patron deity,
Diocletian addressed the crowd. With tears in his eyes, he told them of his
weakness, his need for rest, and his will to resign. He declared that he needed
to pass the duty of Empire on to someone stronger. He thus became the first
Roman Emperor to voluntarily abdicate his title.
Most in the crowd believed they knew what would follow;
Constantine and Maxentius, the only adult sons
of a reigning Emperor, men who had long been preparing to succeed their fathers,
would be granted the title of Caesar. Constantine had traveled through Palestine
at the right hand of Diocletian, and was present at the palace in Nicomedia in
303 and 305. It is likely that Maxentius received the same treatment.
In Lactantius' account, when Diocletian announced that he was to resign, the
entire crowd turned to face Constantine.
It was not to be:
Maximin were declared Caesars. Maximin appeared
and took Diocletian's robes. On the same day, Severus received his robes from
Maximian in Milan. Constantius succeeded Maximian as Augustus of the West, but
Constantine and Maxentius were entirely ignored in the transition of power. This
did not bode well for the future security of the Tetrarchic system.
Retirement and death
Diocletian retired to his homeland,
Dalmatia. He moved into the expansive
Diocletian's Palace, a heavily fortified
compound located by the small town of Spalatum on the shores of the
Adriatic Sea, and near the large provincial
administrative center of
Salona. The palace is preserved in great part
to this day and forms the historic core of the largest city of modern
Maximian retired to villas in
Their homes were distant from political life, but Diocletian and Maximian were
close enough to remain in regular contact with each other.
Galerius assumed the consular fasces in 308 with Diocletian as his
colleague. In the autumn of 308, Galerius again conferred with Diocletian at
Austria). Diocletian and Maximian were both
present on 11 November 308, to see Galerius appoint
Licinius to be Augustus in place of Severus,
who had died at the hands of Maxentius. He ordered Maximian, who had attempted
to return to power after his retirement, to step down permanently. At Carnuntum
people begged Diocletian to return to the throne, to resolve the conflicts that
had arisen through Constantine's rise to power and Maxentius' usurpation.
Diocletian's reply: "If you could show the
cabbage that I planted with my own hands to
your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and
happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed."
He lived on for three more years, spending his days in his palace gardens. He
saw his Tetrarchic system fail, torn by the selfish ambitions of his successors.
He heard of Maximian's third claim to the throne, his forced suicide, his
damnatio memoriae. In his own palace,
statues and portraits of his former companion emperor were torn down and
destroyed. Deep in despair and illness, Diocletian may have committed
suicide. He died on 3 December 311.
Diocletian saw his work as that of a restorer, a figure of authority whose
duty it was to return the empire to peace, to recreate stability and justice
where barbarian hordes had destroyed it.
He arrogated, regimented and centralized political authority on a massive scale.
In his policies, he enforced an Imperial system of values on diverse and often
unreceptive provincial audiences.
In the Imperial propaganda from the period, recent history was perverted and
minimized in the service of the theme of the Tetrarchs as "restorers".
Aurelian's achievements were ignored, the revolt of Carausius was backdated to
the reign of Gallienus, and it was implied that the Tetrarchs engineered
Aurelian's defeat of the
Palmyrenes; the period between Gallienus and
Diocletian was effectively erased. The history of the empire before the
Tetrarchy was portrayed as a time of civil war, savage despotism, and imperial
In those inscriptions that bear their names, Diocletian and his companions are
referred to as "restorers of the whole world",
men who succeeded in "defeating the nations of the barbarians, and confirming
the tranquility of their world".
Diocletian was written up as the "founder of eternal peace".
The theme of restoration was conjoined to an emphasis on the uniqueness and
accomplishments of the Tetrarchs themselves.
The cities where Emperors lived frequently in this period—Milan,
Thessaloniki, Nicomedia, and
Antioch—were treated as alternate imperial
seats, to the exclusion of Rome and its senatorial elite.
A new style of ceremony was developed, emphasizing the distinction of the
Emperor from all other persons. The quasi-republican ideals of Augustus'
primus inter pares were abandoned for all
but the Tetrarchs themselves. Diocletian took to wearing a gold crown and
jewels, and forbade the use of
purple cloth to all but the Emperors.
His subjects were required to prostrate themselves in his presence (adoratio);
the most fortunate were allowed the privilege of kissing the hem of his robe (proskynesis,
Circuses and basilicas were designed to keep the face of the Emperor perpetually
in view, and always in a seat of authority. The emperor became a figure of
transcendent authority, a man beyond the grip of the masses.
His every appearance was stage-managed.
This style of presentation was not new—many of its elements were first seen in
the reigns of Aurelian and Severus—but it was only under the Tetrarchs that it
was refined into an explicit system.
In keeping with his move from an ideology of republicanism to one of
autocracy, Diocletian's council of advisers, his consilium, differed from
those of earlier Emperors. He destroyed the Augustan illusion of imperial
government as a cooperative affair between Emperor, Army, and Senate.
In its place he established an effectively autocratic structure, a shift later
epitomized in the institution's name: it would be called a consistorium
not a council. Diocletian regulated his court by distinguishing separate
departments (scrina) for different tasks.
From this structure came the offices of different magistri, like the
Magister officiorum ("Master of offices"), and associated secretariats.
These were men suited to dealing with petitions, requests, correspondence, legal
affairs, and foreign embassies. Within his court Diocletian maintained a
permanent body of legal advisers, men with significant influence on his
re-ordering of juridical affairs. There were also two finance ministers, dealing
with the separate bodies of the public treasury and the private domains of the
Emperor, and the praetorian prefect, the most significant person of the whole.
Diocletian's reduction of the Praetorian Guards to the level of a simple city
garrison for Rome lessened the military powers of the prefect, but the office
retained much civil authority. The prefect kept a staff of hundreds and managed
affairs in all segments of government: in taxation, administration,
jurisprudence, and minor military commands, the praetorian prefect was often
second only to the emperor himself.
Altogether, Diocletian effected a large increase in the number of bureaucrats
at the government's command; Lactantius was to claim that there were now more
men using tax money than there were paying it.
The historian Warren Treadgold estimates that under Diocletian the number of men
civil service doubled from 15,000 to 30,000.
Roger Bagnall estimated that there was one
bureaucrat for every 5–10,000 people in Egypt based on 400 or 800 bureaucrats
for 4 million inhabitants (no one knows the population of the province in 300
AD; Strabo 300 years earlier put it at 7.5 million, excluding Alexandria). (By
comparison, the ratio in
twelfth-century China was one bureaucrat for
every 15,000 people.) Jones estimated 30,000 bureaucrats for an empire of 50–65
million inhabitants, which works out to approximately 1,667 or 2,167 inhabitants
per imperial official as averages empire-wide. The actual numbers of officials
and ratios per inhabitant varied, of course, per diocese depending on the number
of provinces and population within a diocese. Provincial and diocesan paid
officials (there were unpaid supernumeraries) numbered about 13–15,000 based on
their staff establishments as set by law. The other 50% were with the emperor(s)
in his or their Comitatus, with the praetorian prefects, with the grain supply
officials in the capital (later, the capitals, Rome and Constantinople),
Alexandria, and Carthage and officials from the central offices located in the
To avoid the possibility of local usurpations,
to facilitate a more efficient collection of taxes and supplies, and to ease the
enforcement of the law, Diocletian doubled the number of
provinces from fifty to almost one hundred.
The provinces were grouped into twelve
dioceses, each governed by an appointed
official called a
vicarius, or "deputy of the praetorian
Some of the provincial divisions required revision, and were modified either
soon after 293 or early in the fourth century.
Rome herself (including her environs, as defined by a 100 miles (160 km)-radius
perimeter around the City itself) was not under
the authority of the praetorian prefect, as she was to be administered by a City
Prefect of senatorial rank – the sole prestigious post with actual power
reserved exclusively for senators, except for some governors in Italy with the
titles of corrector and the proconsuls of Asia and Africa.
The dissemination of imperial law to the provinces was facilitated under
Diocletian's reign, because Diocletian's reform of the Empire's provincial
structure meant that there were now a greater number of governors (praesides)
ruling over smaller regions and smaller populations.
Diocletian's reforms shifted the governors' main function to that of the
presiding official in the lower courts:
whereas in the early Empire military and judicial functions were the function of
procurators had supervised taxation; under the
new system vicarii and governors were responsible for justice and
taxation, and a new class of
acting independently of the civil service, had military command. These dukes
sometimes administered two or three of the new provinces created by Diocletian,
and had forces ranging from two thousand to more than twenty thousand men.
In addition to their roles as judges and tax collectors, governors were expected
to maintain the postal service (cursus
publicus) and ensure that town councils fulfilled their duties.
This curtailment of governors' powers as the Emperors' representatives may
have lessened the political dangers of an all-too-powerful class of Imperial
delegates, but it also severely limited governors' ability to oppose local
landed elites. On one occasion, Diocletian had to exhort a proconsul of Africa
not to fear the consequences of treading on the toes of the local magnates of
If a governor of senatorial rank himself felt these pressures, one can imagine
the difficulties faced by a mere praeses.
As with most Emperors, much of Diocletian's daily routine rotated around
legal affairs—responding to appeals and petitions, and delivering decisions on
disputed matters. Rescripts, authoritative interpretations issued by the Emperor
in response to demands from disputants in both public and private cases, were a
common duty of second- and third-century Emperors. Diocletian was awash in
paperwork, and was nearly incapable of delegating his duties. It would have been
seen as a dereliction of duty to ignore them. Diocletian's praetorian prefects—Afranius
Hannibalianus, Julius Asclepiodotus, and
Aurelius Hermogenianus—aided in regulating the
flow and presentation of such paperwork, but the deep legalism of Roman culture
kept the workload heavy.
Emperors in the forty years preceding Diocletian's reign had not managed these
duties so effectively, and their output in attested rescripts is low.
Diocletian, by contrast, was prodigious in his affairs: there are around 1,200
rescripts in his name still surviving, and these probably represent only a small
portion of the total issue.
The sharp increase in the number of edicts and rescripts produced under
Diocletian's rule has been read as evidence of an ongoing effort to realign the
whole Empire on terms dictated by the imperial center.
Under the governance of the
jurists Gregorius, Aurelius Arcadius Charisius,
and Hermogenianus, the imperial government began issuing official books of
precedent, collecting and listing all the
rescripts that had been issued from the reign of
Hadrian (r. 117–38) to the reign of Diocletian.
Codex Gregorianus includes rescripts up to 292,
Codex Hermogenianus updated with a
comprehensive collection of rescripts issued by Diocletian in 293 and 294.
Although the very act of codification was a radical innovation, given the
precedent-based design of the Roman legal system,
the jurists were generally conservative, and constantly looked to past Roman
practice and theory for guidance.
They were probably given more free rein over their codes than the later
compilers of the
Codex Theodosianus (438) and
Codex Justinianus (529) would have.
Gregorius and Hermogenianus' codices lack the rigid structuring of later codes,
and were not published in the name of the emperor, but in the names of their
After Diocletian's reform of the provinces, governors were called iudex,
judge. The governor became responsible for his
decisions first to his immediate superiors, as well as to the more distant
office of the Emperor.
It was most likely at this time that judicial records became verbatim accounts
of what was said in trial, making it easier to determine bias or improper
conduct on the part of the governor. With these records and the Empire's
universal right of
appeal, Imperial authorities probably had a
great deal of power to enforce behavior standards for their judges.
In spite of Diocletian's attempts at reform, the provincial restructuring was
far from clear, especially when citizens appealed the decisions of their
governors. Proconsuls, for example, were often both judges of first instance and
appeal, and the governors of some provinces took appellant cases from their
neighbors. It soon became impossible to avoid taking some cases to the Emperor
for arbitration and judgment.
Diocletian's reign marks the end of the classical period of Roman law. Where
Diocletian's system of rescripts shows an adherence to classical tradition,
Constantine's law is full of Greek and eastern influences.
It is archaeologically difficult to distinguish Diocletian's fortifications
from those of his successors and predecessors. The Devil's Dyke, for example,
the Danubian earthworks traditionally attributed to Diocletian, cannot even be
securely dated to a particular century. The most that can be said about built
structures under Diocletian's reign is that he rebuilt and strengthened forts at
the Upper Rhine frontier (where he followed the works made under
Probus's reign, both along the
as well as along the Rhine–Iller–Danube
in Egypt, and on the frontier with Persia. Beyond that, much discussion is
speculative, and reliant on the broad generalizations of written sources.
Diocletian and the Tetrarchs had no consistent plan for frontier advancement,
and records of raids and forts built across the frontier are likely to indicate
only temporary claims. The
Strata Diocletiana, which ran from the
Euphrates to Palmyra and northeast Arabia, is the classic Diocletianic frontier
system, consisting of an outer road followed by tightly spaced forts followed by
further fortifications in the rear.
In an attempt to resolve the difficulty and slowness of transmitting orders to
the frontier, the new capitals of the Tetrarchic era were all much closer to the
Empire's frontiers than Rome had been:
Trier sat on the Rhine, Sirmium and Serdica were close to the Danube,
Thessaloniki was on the route leading eastward, and Nicomedia and Antioch were
important points in dealings with Persia.
Lactantius criticized Diocletian for an excessive increase in troop sizes,
declaring that "each of the four [Tetrarchs] strove to have a far larger number
of troops than previous emperors had when they were governing the state alone".
The fifth-century pagan
Zosimus, by contrast, praised Diocletian for
keeping troops on the borders, rather than keeping them in the cities, as
Constantine was held to have done.
Both these views had some truth to them, despite the biases of their authors:
Diocletian and the Tetrarchs did greatly expand the army, and the growth was
mostly in frontier regions, although it is difficult to establish the precise
details of these shifts given the weakness of the sources.
The army expanded to about 580,000 men from a 285 strength of 390,000, of which
310,000 men were stationed in the East, most of whom manned the Persian
frontier. The navy's forces increased from approximately 45,000 men to
approximately 65,000 men.
Diocletian's expansion of the army and civil service meant that the Empire's
tax burden grew. Since military upkeep took the largest portion of the imperial
budget, any reforms here would be especially costly.
The proportion of the adult male population, excluding slaves, serving in the
army increased from roughly 1 in 25 to 1 in 15, an increase judged excessive by
some modern commentators. Official troop allowances were kept to low levels, and
the mass of troops often resorted to extortion or the taking of civilian jobs.
Arrears became the norm for most troops. Many were even given payment in kind in
place of their salaries.
Were he unable to pay for his enlarged army, there would likely be civil
conflict, potentially open revolt. Diocletian was led to devise a new system of
In the early Empire (30 BC- AD 235) the Roman government paid for what it
needed in gold and silver. The coinage was stable. Requisition, forced purchase,
was used to supply armies on the march. During the third century crisis
(235–285), the government resorted to requisition rather than payment in debased
coinage, since it could never be sure of the value of money. Requisition was
nothing more or less than seizure. Diocletian made requisition into tax. He
introduced an extensive new tax system based on heads (capita) and land (iuga)
and tied to a new, regular census of the Empire's population and wealth. Census
officials traveled throughout the Empire, assessed the value of labor and land
for each landowner, and joined the landowners' totals together to make city-wide
totals of capita and iuga.
The iugum was not a consistent measure of land, but varied according to
the type of land and crop, and the amount of labor necessary for sustenance. The
caput was not consistent either: women, for instance, were often valued
at half a caput, and sometimes at other values.
Cities provided animals, money, and manpower in proportion to its capita,
and grain in proportion to its iuga.
Most taxes were due on each year on 1 September, and levied from individual
decuriones (decurions). These decurions,
analogous to city councilors, were responsible for paying from their own pocket
what they failed to collect.
Diocletian's reforms also increased the number of financial officials in the
provinces: more rationales and magistri privatae are attested
under Diocletian's reign than before. These officials managed represented the
interests of the fisc, which collected taxes in gold, and the Imperial
Fluctuations in the value of the currency made collection of taxes in kind the
norm, although these could be converted into coin. Rates shifted to take
inflation into account.
In 296, Diocletian issued an edict reforming census procedures. This edict
introduced a general five-year census for the whole Empire, replacing prior
censuses that had operated at different speeds throughout the Empire. The new
censuses would keep up with changes in the values of capita and iuga.
Italy, which had long been exempt from taxes, was included in the tax system
from 290/291 as other provinces.
The city of Rome itself and the surrounding
Suburbicarian diocese (where Roman senators
held the bulk of their landed property), however, remained exempt.
Diocletian's edicts emphasized the common liability of all taxpayers. Public
records of all taxes were made public.
The position of decurion, member of the city council, had been an honor
sought by wealthy aristocrats and the middle classes who displayed their wealth
by paying for city amenities and public works. Decurions were made liable for
any shortfall in the amount of tax collected. Many tried to find ways to escape
Currency and inflation
Aurelian's attempt to reform the currency had failed; the denarius was dead.
Diocletian restored the three-metal coinage and issued better quality pieces.
The new system consisted of five coins: the aureus/solidus,
a gold coin weighing, like its predecessors, one-sixtieth of a pound; the
argenteus, a coin weighing one ninety-sixth
of a pound and containing ninety-five percent pure silver; the
follis, sometimes referred to as the
laureatus A, which is a copper coin with added silver struck at the rate of
thirty-two to the pound; the radiatus, a small copper coin struck at the
rate of 108 to the pound, with no added silver; and a coin known today as the
laureatus B, a smaller copper coin struck at the rate of 192 to the pound. Since the nominal values of these new issues were lower
than their intrinsic worth as metals, the state was minting these coins at a
loss. This practice could be sustained only by requisitioning precious metals
from private citizens in exchange for state-minted coin (of a far lower value
than the price of the precious metals requisitioned).
By 301, however, the system was in trouble, strained by a new bout of
inflation. Diocletian therefore issued his Edict on Coinage, an act re-tariffing
all debts so that the
nummus, the most common coin in
circulation, would be worth half as much.
In the edict, preserved in an inscription from the city of
Geyre, Turkey), it was declared that all debts
contracted before 1 September 301 must be repaid at the old standards, while all
debts contracted after that date would be repaid at the new standards.
It appears that the edict was made in an attempt to preserve the current price
of gold and to keep the Empire's coinage on silver, Rome's traditional metal
This edict risked giving further momentum to inflationary trends, as had
happened after Aurelian's currency reforms. The government's response was to
issue a price freeze.
Edict on Maximum Prices (Edictum De
Pretiis Rerum Venalium) was issued two to three months after the coinage
somewhere between 20 November and 10 December 301.
The best-preserved Latin inscription surviving from the
the edict survives in many versions, on materials as varied as wood, papyrus,
In the edict, Diocletian declared that the current pricing crisis resulted from
the unchecked greed of merchants, and had resulted in turmoil for the mass of
common citizens. The language of the edict calls on the people's memory of their
benevolent leaders, and exhorts them to enforce the provisions of the edict, and
thereby restore perfection to the world. The edict goes on to list in detail
over one thousand goods and accompanying retail prices not to be exceeded.
Penalties are laid out for various pricing transgressions.
In the most basic terms, the edict was ignorant of the law of
supply and demand: it ignored the fact that
prices might vary from region to region according to product availability, and
it ignored the impact of transportation costs in the retail price of goods. In
the judgment of the historian David Potter, the edict was "an act of economic
Inflation, speculation, and monetary instability continued, and a black market
arose to trade in goods forced out of official markets.
The edict's penalties were applied unevenly across the empire (some scholars
believe they were applied only in Diocletian's domains),
widely resisted, and eventually dropped, perhaps within a year of the edict's
Lactantius has written of the perverse accompaniments to the edict; of goods
withdrawn from the market, of brawls over minute variations in price, of the
deaths that came when its provisions were enforced. His account may be true, but
it seems to modern historians exaggerated and hyperbolic,
and the impact of the law is recorded in no other ancient source.
A.H.M. Jones observed 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
Diocletian was one of the few Emperors of the third and fourth centuries to die
naturally, and the first in the history of the Empire to retire voluntarily.
Once he retired, however, his Tetrarchic system collapsed. Without the guiding
hand of Diocletian, the Empire fell into civil wars. Stability emerged after the
defeat of Licinius by Constantine in 324.
Under the Christian Constantine, Diocletian was maligned. Constantine's rule,
however, validated Diocletian's achievements and the autocratic principle he
the borders remained secure, in spite of Constantine's large expenditure of
forces during his civil wars; the bureaucratic transformation of Roman
government was completed; and Constantine took Diocletian's court ceremonies and
made them even more extravagant.
Constantine ignored those parts of Diocletian's rule that did not suit him.
Diocletian's policy of preserving a stable silver coinage was abandoned, and the
solidus became the Empire's primary
persecution of Christians was repudiated and
changed to a policy of toleration and then favoritism. Christianity eventually
became the official religion in 381. Constantine would claim to have the same
close relationship with the Christian God as Diocletian claimed to have with
Most importantly, Diocletian's tax system and administrative reforms lasted,
with some modifications, until the advent of the Muslims in the 630s.
The combination of state autocracy and state religion was instilled in much of
Europe, particularly in the lands which adopted Orthodox Christianity.
In addition to his administrative and legal impact on history, the Emperor
Diocletian is considered to be the founder of the city of
Split in modern-day
Croatia. The city itself grew around the
Diocletian's Palace the Emperor had built in
anticipation of his retirement.