Favourite Emperor of the 'Crisis' and Tetrarchic Periods (235-306)

Who are your favourite emperors from the 'Crisis'/Tetrarchic periods (up to two choices)?

  • Maximinus Thrax

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Pupienus & Balbinus

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Gordian III

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Philip the Arab

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Decius

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Valerian

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Gallienus

    Votes: 2 20.0%
  • Postumus

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Odaenathus

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Zenobia

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Claudius Gothicus

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Aurelian

    Votes: 6 60.0%
  • Tacitus

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Probus

    Votes: 2 20.0%
  • Carus and/or his Sons

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Diocletian

    Votes: 5 50.0%
  • Maximian

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Carausius

    Votes: 1 10.0%
  • Constantius I

    Votes: 1 10.0%
  • Galerius

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    10
#1
Yes, I am releasing the third poll very soon after the second, but I'm especially interested to see how people vote on this list. I won't be so rapid-fire in future.

You can choose an emperor because you admire them, because you find them interesting or for entertainment value. I have left some emperors off the list because it would just make it too long and I can't fathom why anyone would actually choose (e.g.) Quintillus.

Again, you can choose up to two emperors.
 
Sep 2013
596
Oakville, Ontario
#2
Taking what I presume will be the "boring" choice of Aurelian, who restored the Roman World, and Diocletian, who consolidated it.

The actions and various government and military reforms that they took almost certainly gave the Roman Empire another couple centuries of life.
 
#4
Taking what I presume will be the "boring" choice of Aurelian, who restored the Roman World, and Diocletian, who consolidated it.

The actions and various government and military reforms that they took almost certainly gave the Roman Empire another couple centuries of life.
I voted for those two as well. Aurelian because of his relentless energy and exceptional military achievements; Diocletian for his thoughtful, experimental, reform-laden and very-hands-on approach to rule, which, as you point out, gave the empire a much-needed new lease on life.
 
#6
Did Diocletian retire to grow cabbages? Did many of the others "retire"?
He did indeed! Vitellius and Didius Julianus unsuccessfully offered to retire to avert their demise in civil war, and similarly Tetricus abdicated rather than continue a civil war with Aurelian.

Unlike those emperors, in 305 Diocletian retired during a period of peace rather than civil war, a year and a half after his vicennalia (303). He made his co-Augustus Maximian abdicate as well, although Maximian ultimately refused to stay in retirement. Diocletian's successor Galerius apparently intended to retire as well, and planned to do so at some point after his own vicennalia (which would have been celebrated in 312). However, he died from disease in 311.

In 350 Vetranio abdicated as a show of loyalty to Constantius II after briefly ruling as emperor in the Balkans, but most scholars view Vetranio as someone who took power temporarily in a time of crisis in order to preserve military loyalty for the Constantinian dynasty. So the example of Vetranio is not similar to that of Diocletian.
 
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Feb 2011
920
Scotland
#7
Went for Probus for being very competent but in Aurelian's shadow- and for having a rather unfortunate end. Carausius for his British connections and for maintaning his legionary setup- last to mint legionary coins- and the last to mint old-style silver denarii,not to mention being militarily capable. Getting struck down by his accountant/treasurer Allectus has a moral there somewhere.

I cant help but feel a bit unsure about Diocletian and Constantine. Both were outstanding emperors and Constantine one of Rome's best-ever generals. But somebody somewhere instituted the policies which found the empire incapable of responding to the post-375 crisis with anything like the same effectiveness or energy as it had in the third century. Of course the invasions had different circumstances, but the combination of alteration in military structures, attempts to control the economy, religious changes and legal challenges to citizens somehow undermined the state- nobody really knows quite what went wrong. Everything that was done made good sense at the time, but the longer term effects may not have been foreseen!
 
Feb 2011
920
Scotland
#8
He did indeed! Vitellius and Didius Julianus unsuccessfully offered to retire to avert their demise in civil war, and similarly Tetricus abdicated rather than continue a civil war with Aurelian.

Unlike those emperors, in 305 Diocletian retired during a period of peace rather than civil war, a year and a half after his vicennalia (303). He made his co-Augustus Maximian abdicate as well, although Maximian ultimately refused to stay in retirement. Diocletian's successor Galerius apparently intended to retire as well, and planned to do so at some point after his own vicennalia (which would have been celebrated in 312). However, he died from disease in 311.

In 350 Vetranio abdicated as a show of loyalty to Constantius II after briefly ruling as emperor in the Balkans, but most scholars view Vetranio as someone who took power temporarily in a time of crisis in order to preserve military loyalty for the Constantinian dynasty. So the example of Vetranio is not similar to that of Diocletian.
Great response. Re surviving loss of office (albeit not really voluntarily) later on was Avitus, removed from office and forcibly consecrated as a Bishop (but died conveniently soon after) - also Romulus Augustulus, who may have survived till the 520s at least.
 
#9
Went for Probus for being very competent but in Aurelian's shadow- and for having a rather unfortunate end. Carausius for his British connections and for maintaning his legionary setup- last to mint legionary coins- and the last to mint old-style silver denarii,not to mention being militarily capable. Getting struck down by his accountant/treasurer Allectus has a moral there somewhere.

I cant help but feel a bit unsure about Diocletian and Constantine. Both were outstanding emperors and Constantine one of Rome's best-ever generals. But somebody somewhere instituted the policies which found the empire incapable of responding to the post-375 crisis with anything like the same effectiveness or energy as it had in the third century. Of course the invasions had different circumstances, but the combination of alteration in military structures, attempts to control the economy, religious changes and legal challenges to citizens somehow undermined the state- nobody really knows quite what went wrong. Everything that was done made good sense at the time, but the longer term effects may not have been foreseen!
Regarding Carausius, I wonder whether minting coins for specific legions came to be regarded as overly divisive in an empire suffering from an epidemic of provincial military rebellion, thus why it ended with him. In any case, Carausius is certainly impressive, having maintained control of Britain for seven or so years despite the opposition of Maximian and Diocletian.

The exercise of comparing the troubles of the third and fifth centuries is an interesting one. In some respects the problems are similar, but there are key differences. In the third century the biggest problem is military usurpation. Emperors repeatedly fail to convince the armies of their legitimacy, and different armies competed to raise their own emperors. The failure of emperors to achieve longevity meant that no dynasty could take hold. Foreign enemies form a major part of this picture. Their aggression created anxiety among the armies and provincials. The Sassanian Persians penetrated deep into the eastern provinces, twice sacked Antioch and numerous other cities, defeated Roman armies and captured an emperor. The Goths and Heruli raided far and wide in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, on and off, for two decades. The Alemanni and Iuthungi invaded Italy three times and caused anxiety in the city of Rome itself. Frankish raiders devastated parts of Gaul (Armorica suffered from the collapse of economic and social structures) and they reached Britain and Spain as well. But with that all being said, the Persians alone sought to hold territories permanently, and their ambitions in that regard were limited to Mesopotamia and Armenia. The Goths sacked cities but never sought to hold them.

Diocletian was the ruler whom Rome needed at that time. His force of personality, his use of quasi-divine self-representation (the use of adoratio, gaudy clothes, the signa Jovius and Herculius), his courting of the army (e.g. presenting his relationship to Maximian as that of a brotherhood, a relationship to which soldiers attached much value), his expansion of the bureaucracy in a manner that weakened the power of individual office-holders, his use of collegiality through the Tetrarchy and the emphasis of his propaganda on collegial unity through similarity (between the rulers) and hierarchy (with Diocletian at the top) managed to end the epidemic of military-backed usurpation as long as he was in power, and in the long term (through the power of longevity) established degrees of loyalty to the wider Tetrarchic dynasty, reflected in the form of loyalty to Constantine (and his descendants), Licinius and Maxentius.

This topic is very much on my mind since, as of this year, I have been awarded a PhD for a thesis on dynastic politics in the Tetrarchic period. I have thus thought a lot about Diocletian as a politician. He was very much an innovator, sometimes for better (as I've argued above, but note also his tax reform), sometimes for worse (e.g. the Edict of Maximum Prices, empire-wide persecution edicts and the failure of the Tetrarchy to work as a long-term solution). Above all, I think that Diocletian knew he needed to end the succession crisis. Like other emperors of preceding decades, he had killed his way to the top using a military career and military support. He had used tried-and-true methods, as unseemly as they were. But how was he to prevent himself from suffering the same fate as Aurelian, Probus, Gallienus and most other emperors of the period? How was he to hold power and prevent a bloody death? That was the real challenge of the period, and somehow Diocletian managed to find an answer, albeit an imperfect answer - the Tetrarchy could not work as a long-term solution, not least because it needed someone as influential as Diocletian at the top, and ideally a close camaradie between the two Augusti, as appears to have been the case between Maximian and Diocletian.

As for how Diocletian's (and Constantine's) reforms impacted on the fifth-century troubles, that's a difficult question that I'd like to think more about. Some have actually argued that their reforms were what allowed the eastern empire to keep on chugging. I'm not sure. But the troubles of the fifth century were in some respects quite different. There was less of a succession crisis (excluding the west under Ricimer); generalissimos were content to 'reign' without seizing the emperorship; there were multiple groups of northern peoples seeking to settle within the empire and who acquired the means to force such a thing; there were Huns; the East and West were more divided, with the East financially much better off. In any case it's an interesting question.
 
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#10
Great response. Re surviving loss of office (albeit not really voluntarily) later on was Avitus, removed from office and forcibly consecrated as a Bishop (but died conveniently soon after) - also Romulus Augustulus, who may have survived till the 520s at least.
If we take this further into the Byzantine period, we also have those unfortunate emperors who were blinded and/or had their noses lopped off so that they would cease to be eligible for the emperorship but would nevertheless go on living.
 
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