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Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (Latin: Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, birth name — Diocles). Dioclus (22 December 244, Dalmatia — 3 December 311, Salona) was Roman emperor from 20 November 284 to 1 May 305. Diocletian's rise to power ended the so-called crisis of the third century in Rome. He established a firm government and eliminated the fiction that the emperor was only the first of the senators (princeps), after which he declared himself the sovereign ruler. His reign marks the beginning of a period in Roman history called the dominatum.

Diocletian was born around 245 in the vicinity of Skodra in the town of Diocletia (now the territory of Montenegro) and came from the lowest social strata (his father was a freedman). Thus, the Roman Emperor Diocletian was the grandson of a slave. Timothy Barnes considers Diocletian's birth date to be December 22. His name was Diocles (or Valerius Diocles), which, when he became emperor, he changed to a more sonorous one — Diocletian. Having entered the military service under Gallienus as a simple soldier, he quickly rose up the career ladder, and making trips from one end of the Roman Empire to the other, he got acquainted with the state of affairs in the state. While in Gaul with his legion, he is said to have received a prediction from a druid that he would become emperor if he killed a boar (Latin aper). At Probus, he was already governor of Moesia. When the Emperor Carus went to war with the Persians, Diocletian accompanied him as commander of the Domestics (Latin: comes domesticorum). When Carus, on the other side of the Tigris, died suddenly, and his son Numerian, who was with him, was cunningly put to death by his father-in-law, Arrius Apres, the Praetorian prefect, on the banks of the Bosphorus at Chalcedon, the soldiers put Apres in irons, and their superiors proclaimed Diocletian Emperor. (September 17, 284).

Emperor Diocletian, 3rd century AD

Beginning of the Board

Diocletian began a new era in the Roman Empire, making the imperial power not only de facto, but also de jure unlimited-absolute monarchical power (dominant). The Emperor no longer shares it in the least with the Senate; he is the source of all power, above all laws, above all the inhabitants of the empire, whatever their rank.

The first act of the new emperor was to kill Apra with his own hand, in front of the army. He did not touch any of his enemies, but confirmed them in their positions, and when he defeated Carinus, another son of the Emperor Carus, in Moesia, he even surprised his contemporaries with a gentleness that was not at all common in Rome among the victors of civil wars. The victory over Carinus restored the unity of the empire; but as circumstances were difficult, Diocletian took his old friend Maximian as his assistant, first giving him the title of Caesar, and after his suppression of the Bagaudian peasant revolt in Gaul (285) — and the title of Augustus (286). While Maximian was defending Gaul from the Germans, Diocletian was busy in the east; securing the empire's borders in Asia and Europe. First from Nicomedia, where he was stationed in late 285 and early 286, Diocletian moved to Syria to arrange business with Persia; When circumstances in the East turned favorable for Rome, he turned from Asia to Europe to protect the Danube line from the attacks of the Sarmatians. He managed to defend the former border along the Danube (Dacia) and secure the province of Rhaetia for Rome. The emperors postponed their triumphant arrival in Rome, but each adopted a new epithet: Diocletian began to add Latin to his names. Jovius (Jupiter), and Maximian — Lat. Herculius (Hercules). After defeating the Saracens (Arabian Bedouins) who were ravaging the borders of Syria, Diocletian returned to Europe again (at the end of 290).

The division of the empire into four parts led to the transformation of the entire provincial administration. The Empire was fragmented into a large number of administrative districts. The entire empire was divided into 12 dioceses, each of which was divided into provinces: the smallest, Britannia, into four provinces, and the largest, Orient (Oriens), into 16. Such a management system required an increase in the number of officials, which accordingly led to an increase in taxes of the population. However, this reform met the needs of the time and was preserved after Diocletian.

Roman Empire during the reign of Diopletian


At the beginning of 291, at a conference in Milan with Maximian, who had arrived there from Gaul, it was decided to elect two Caesars, and the choice fell on Constantius Chlorus and Galerius Maximian. The attraction of two new persons to the imperial power was caused by the fact that with constant wars and disturbances in different parts of the state, the two emperors were not able to manage affairs in remote parts of the empire. To strengthen their mutual connection with the new emperors, Diocletian and Maximian are closely related to them: Constantius, divorcing Helen, the mother of Constantine, marries Maximian's stepdaughter Theodora and takes over Gaul and Britain; Galerius, also divorcing his former wife, marries Diocletian's daughter Galeria Valeria and takes over the whole of Illyria. Especially Maximian, in addition to the general supervision of the entire West, was left in charge of Italy, Africa and Spain. The areas to the east of Italy remained in Diocletian's care. In doing so, he attracted the 18-year-old Constantine, Constantius ' son by Helen, who followed him everywhere in his campaigns in the East. The solemn accession of the two Caesars to imperial power took place on March 1, 293. The division of provinces for administration was not so much a division of the empire itself as a relief to the work of administration, which, morally at least, was still headed by Diocletian.

Coin of Follis Dioctetiana, 3rd century AD

Restoration of the Empire

One of the new emperors immediately had the difficult task of wresting Britain from the usurper Carausius, whom Diocletian and Maximian had to endure until then, which Constantius achieved, as well as the pacification of Gaul. Maximian had to defend the Rhine borders from German incursions (296), and in the following year — to pacify the Moors in Africa. It fell to Galerius to defend, under the general direction of Diocletian himself, the frontier on the lower Danube, where the Yazygi, Carpi, Bastarnae, and Jutungi gave the Roman troops a great deal of work. Having restored peace to the European East, Diocletian was to go to Egypt, which was then in the hands of the usurper Achilleus.

After an eight-month siege, Diocletian captured Alexandria in 298. At the same time, Diocletian made arrangements for a more convenient administration of Egypt, dividing it into three provinces (Thebaid, Aegyptus Jovia, and Aegyptus Herculia), and for persuading the masses to side with the Roman government by distributing bread to the poor at public expense. At the same time, there is a strange edict that ordered to collect all the ancient books that taught how to make gold and silver, and burn them. This was explained by Diocletian's desire to destroy the source of wealth, and at the same time the arrogance of the Egyptians.

Finally, by a treaty with the Blemmians and Nobates, he secured the southern border of Egypt from the attacks of these barbarian tribes, promising to pay them an annual tribute. During the Egyptian campaign, he commissioned Galerius to march to Mesopotamia against the Persians, who were at war at that time with the Roman-protected pretender to the independent Armenian throne, Tiridates. Galerius failed, and fled to the aid of Diocletian, who was marching from Antioch, and who, as a punishment, forced him to follow his carriage a mile on foot in purple. Galerius ' second campaign was more successful. He routed the Persians in Armenia and forced them to cede to the Romans five provinces on the other side of the Tigris (297).

In 303, Diocletian began the persecution of Christians, which resulted in many martyrs. The emperor ordered the churches to be closed and the books destroyed.

He was least fortunate in his efforts to maintain paganism as a State religious system and in his fierce struggle against Christianity. In the very year of his death, the edict Constantine the Great granted the right of free conversion to Christianity to anyone who wished. The assessment of Diocletian's personality and activity differs between pagan and Christian writers. But pagan writers also reproach him for introducing Oriental pomp into court etiquette, and for the haughty halo with which he surrounded the person of the Roman emperor, demanding that they prostrate themselves before him, and appearing before his subjects as a deity. The colossal ruins of Diocletian's baths, built, according to legend, by Christians condemned to death, remained a real monument of his activity in Rome.


Thus, peace was gradually restored both within and on the borders of the state, which had not been the case in the empire for a long time. Diocletian's time was therefore hailed by contemporary rhetoricians as the return of the golden Age. After twenty strenuous years, the emperor finally came to Rome, but the parsimony of the entertainment he gave to the people caused general ridicule. Diocletian soon left Rome and went to his favorite residence, Nicomedia. On the way, he fell ill and, on the urgent advice of Galerius, solemnly resigned power in Nicomedia on May 1, 305. Galerius and Constantius received the title of Augustus, and Severus and Maximinus were elevated to Caesars.

Diocletian spent the rest of his life at home in Illyria, on his estate in Salona, where he lived in seclusion for 6 years. When Maximian and Galerius tried to persuade him to return to power, the former emperor refused, remarking, among other things, that if they had seen what kind of cabbage he had grown, they would not have pestered him with their proposals. The last years of Diocletian were marred not only by physical suffering, but also by the rudeness of the new rulers (especially Constantine). Diocletian died under unknown circumstances (according to Aurelius Victor - from poison, according to Lactantius-from hunger and kruchina, according to Eusebius-after a long illness and from decrepitude)in 311.

Related topics

The Roman Empire, Dominant, The Emperors of Rome, Constantine I the Great, The struggle between paganism and Christianity