Diocletian – Constantine AD 284-337
Diocletian splits the empire
Diocletian, Maximian and Carausius
Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus born 22 December AD 240. Consul AD 284, 285, 287, 290, 293, 296, 299, 303, 304, 308. Became emperor in 20 November AD 284. Wife: Prisca (one daughter; Galeria Valeria). Died at Spalatum, 3 December AD 311.
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus born 21 July AD ca 250. Consul AD 287, 288, 290, 293, 297, 299, 303, 304, 307. Became emperor in 1 April AD 286. Wife: Eutropia (one son; Marcus Valerius Maxentius; one daughter; Fausta). Died at Massilia, July AD 310.
Mausaeus Carausius born in Menapia, date unknown. Became emperor in AD 286/7. Died AD 293.
One aspect of the problem was not so much that the empire was falling apart, but that it had always consisted of two parts.
Much of the region which comprised Macedonia and Cyrenaica and the lands to the east was Greek, or had been Hellenized before being occupied by Rome. The western part of the empire had received from Rome its first taste of a common culture and language overlaid on a society which was largely Celtic in origin.
Diocletian was an organizer. In AD 286 he split the empire into east and west, and appointed a Dalmatian colleague, Maximian (d. AD 305), to rule the west and Africa. A further division of responsibilities followed in AD 292. Diocletian and Maximian remained senior emperors, with the title of Augustus, but Galerius, Diocletian’s son-in-law, and Constantius (surnamed Chlorus – ‘the pale’) were made deputy emperors with the title of Caesar. Galerius was given authority over the Danube provinces and Dalmatia, while Constantius took over Britain, Gaul and Spain. Significantly, Diocletian retained all his eastern provinces and set up his regional headquarters at Nicomedia in Bithynia, where he held court with all the outward show of an eastern potentate, complete with regal trappings and elaborate ceremonial.
The establishment of an imperial executive team had less to do with delegation that with the need to exercise closer supervision over all parts of the empire, and thus to lessen the chances of rebellion. There had already been trouble in the north, where in AD 286 the commander of the combined naval and military forces based at Boulogne, Aurelius Carausius, to avoid execution for embezzling stolen property, proclaimed himself emperor of Britain and even issued his own coins.
Diocletian ruled for twenty one years until, on 1 May AD 305, he took the unprecedented step of announcing from Nicomedia that he had abdicated, and offered Maximian no choice but to do the same. While his reign had been outwardly peaceful, the years of turmoil had left their mark on the administration of the empire and on its financial situation. Diocletian reorganized the provinces and Italy into 116 divisions, each governed by a rector or praeses, which were then grouped into twelve dioceses under a vicariusresponsible to the appropriate emperor. He strengthened the army (while at the same time purging it of Christians), and introduced new policies for the supply of arms and provisions.
Diocletian’s monetary reforms were equally wide-ranging, but though the new tax system he introduced was workable, if not always equitable, his bill in AD 301 to curb inflation by establishing maximum prices, wages, and freight charges fell into disuse, its effect having been that goods simply disappeared from the market.
Its interest today lies in its comparisons, even though or because these are much as one would expect. Ordinary wine was twice the price of beer, while named vintages were almost four times as much as the ordinary wine. Pork mince cost half as much again as beef mince, and about the same as prime sea fish. River fish were cheaper. A pint of fresh quality olive oil was more expensive that the same amount of vintage wine; there was cheaper oil as well. A carpenter could expect twice the wages of a farm labourer or a sewer cleaner, all with meals included. A teacher of shorthand or arithmetic might earn half as much again per pupil as a primary-school teacher; grammar teachers, and teachers of rhetoric five times as much. Baths’ barbers were all paid the same rate per customer.
Diocletian died in his retirement palace in his native Dalmatia in AD 311, having spent his retirement gardening and studying philosophy, refusing to play any further part in the government of the empire, which immediately after his departure began to founder.
Thre was however a curious episode during Diocletian’s reign which took place in the west of the empire. The western Augustus Maximian had hardly taken office, and proven his authority by crushing an insurrection in Gaul, when Britain declared its independence. For seven years the two Augusti found themselves compelled to recognize a third emperor in the person of Mausaeus Carausius, previously commander of the North Sea Fleet.
Constantius Chlorus, Galerius, Severus II
Maxentius, Licinius and Maximinus II Daia
Flavius Julius Constantius born 31 March AD ca. 250 in Illyricum. Became emperor in 1 May AD 305. Wife: (1) Helena (one son; Constantine), (2) Theodora ( two sons; Flavius Dalmatius, Flavius Julius Constantius; third child unknown). Died at Ebucarum (York), 25 July AD 306.
Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus born AD ca. 250 at Florentiniana, Upper Moesia. Became emperor in 1 May AD 305. Wife: (1) Galeria Valeria (one daughter; Valeria Maximilla), (2) an unknown concubine (one sons; Candidianus). Died at Nicomedia, May AD 311.
Flavius Valerius Severus born in the Danubian region, date unknown. Became emperor in August AD 306. Wife: (1) unknown (one son; Severus). Died at Rome, 16 September AD 307.
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius born in AD ca. 279 possibly in Syria. Became emperor in 28 October AD 306. Wife: Valeria Maximilla (two sons; Valerius Romulus; unknown). Died at Milvian Bridge at Rome, 28 October AD 312.
Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximinus born 20 November AD 270 in the Danubian region. Became emperor in 1 August AD 310. Wife: unknown (one daughter; unknown). Died at Tarsus July/August AD 313.
Valerius Licinius Licinianus born in AD ca. 250 in Upper Moesia. Became emperor in 11 November AD 308. Wife: Constantia (one son; Licinius). Died at Thessalonica early in AD 325.
When he retired, Diocletian had promoted Galerius and Constantius to the posts of Augustus, and appointed two new Caeasars. The troubles broke out when Constantius died in York in AD 306, and his troops proclaimed his son Constantine as their leader.
Encouraged by this development, Maxentius, son of Maximian, had himself set up as emperor and took control of Italy and Africa, whereupon his father came out of involuntary retirement and insisted on having back his former imperial command.
The situation degenerated into chaos. At one point in AD 308 there seem to have been six men styling themselves Augustus, whereas Diocletian’s system allowed for only two. Galerius died in AD 311, having on his deathbed revoked Diocletian’s anti-Christian edicts. Matters were not fully resolved until AD 324, when Constantine defeated and executed his last surviving rival. The empire once again had a single ruler, and against all the odds he lasted for some years.
Flavius Valerius Constantinus born on 27 February AD 285 (or AD 272/273) at Naissus. Consul AD 307, 312, 313, 315, 319, 320, 326, 329. Became emperor in AD 307. Wife: (1) Minervina (one son; Gaius Flavius Julius Crispus), (2) Fausta (three sons; Flavius Claudius Constantinus, Flavius Julius Constantius, Flavius Julius Constans; two daughters; Constantia, Helena) Died at Ankyrona near Nicomedia, 22 May AD 337. Deified AD 337.
Constantine was born in Naissus in Upper Moesia in about AD 290, his father subsequently being forced to divorce his mother (a former barmaid) and marry Maximian’s daughter. His appellation ‘the Great’ is justified on two counts. Under Diocletian especially, the Christians had suffered a terrible time. In AD 313, while the struggle for imperial power was at its height, Constantine initiated the edict of Milan – Milan, not Rome, was now the administrative centre of the government of Italy – which gave Christians (and others) freedom of worship and exemption from any religious ceremonial. It is said that before the battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, at which he enticed Maxentius to abandon his safe position behind the Aurelian Wall and then drove most of his army into the Tiber, Constantine had dreamed of the sign of Christ. Thereafter he was not actually baptized until just before his death in AD 337, he regarded himself as a man of the god of the Christians, and can therefore claim to be the first Christian emperor or king. In AD 325 he assembled at Nicaea in Bithynia 318 bishops, each elected by his community, to debate and affirm some priciples of their faith. The result, known as the Nicene Creed, is now part of the Roman Catholic mass and the Anglican churches’ service of communion. And, in AD 330, he established the seat of government of the Roman empire in a town known as Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinopolis (city of Constantine), thus ensuring that a Roman (but Hellenized and predominantly Christian) empire would survive the inevitable loss of its western part. Its capital stood, until the middle of the fifteenth century, as a barrier between the forces of the east and the as yet ill-organized tribes and peoples of Europe, each struggling to find a permanent identity and culture.
To the Jews Constantine was ambivalent: while the Edict of Milan is also known as the Edict of Toleration, Judaism was seen as a rival to Christianity, and among other measures he forbade the conversion of pagans to its practices. In time he became even more uncompromising towards the pagans themselves, enacting a law against divination and finally banning sacrifices. He also destroyed temples and confiscated temple lands and treasures, which gave him much needed funds to fuel his personal extravagances. His reign constituted, however, a series of field days for architects, whom he encouraged to celebrate the religious revolution by reinventing the basilica as a dramatic ecclesiastical edifice.
A general of considerable dynamism, he developed Diocletian’s reforms, and completed the division of the military into two arms: frontier forces and permanent reserves, who could be sent anywhere at short notice. He changed the system of command so that normally the posts of civil governor and military commander were separate. He disbanded the imperial guard, and established a chief of staff to assume control of all military operations and army discipline; the praetorian prefects (commanders of the imperial guard), became appeal judges and chief ministers of finance.
Constantine the Great died 22 May AD 337.