Misconceptions about Diocletian

Oct 2018
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In this thread it is also stated that Diocletian's wife (Prisca) and daughter (Valeria) were Christians. This is a common claim, but it stems from the Christian writer Lactantius, who in 314/5 related that Diocletian polluted Prisca and Valeria by making them sacrifice to the gods (De Mortibus Persecutorum 15.1). Perhaps they were indeed Christians, but I wouldn't put my money on it because a) Lactantius is producing invective against Diocletian, and b) the claim could be associated with the apparent trope that aristocratic and imperial women (e.g. Julia Mamaea, Otacilia Severa, Zenobia) were especially open to Christian ideas.
 
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Oct 2018
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In this thread it is stated that, during the Dyarchy (285-293), Maximian was expected to play the part of the soldier and Diocletian the administrator. This is again a common idea, but it stems from a panegyric delivered to Maximian by an anonymous Gallic orator in 289 (Panegyrici Latini X(2)). The panegyrist naturally seeks to emphasize the military achievements of Maximian, who in the late 280s won several campaigns over German enemies, but the orator does exaggerate the difference in roles. In these years Diocletian conducted campaigns as well, winning victories over Sarmatians and Saracens. Admittedly, however, despite having been a career soldier, he was a better politican and administrator than a general, as is attested by the manner in which he defeated Carinus (post 9).

With the co-option of the Caesars in 293, both Diocletian and Maximian progressively took a backseat role in relation to military campaigns. Constantius campaigned against the British emperors Carausius and Allectus as well as the Franks and Alemanni. Galerius, the most militarily-impressive of the Tetrarchs, won the most decisive victory over the Persians of the third and fourth centuries, and also fought campaigns against Sarmatians, Carpi, Marcomanni, Blemmyes, Nobates and rebels in the Thebaid. Diocletian crushed the Egypt-based usurpation of Domitianus and Achilleus (besieging and capturing Alexandria), and campaigned against the Sarmatians and Carpi. Maximian played the smallest military role during the years of the Tetrarchy, campaigning against Frankish pirates in Spain and Moorish rebels in Africa.
 
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Oct 2018
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Would it be wrong to think of the Tertrarchy as as an executive arrangement rather than a legislative one ?
It's an interesting thought. Can you elaborate on what you mean? In large part the arrangement strikes me as military. Each Augustus/Caesar provided the army with a military leader and representative of the regime. But each ruler also had a legislative role, since we know of legal rescripts produced by all four of the different courts. It is edicts where we see a near-monopoly on the part of Diocletian's court.
 
Feb 2019
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I think it's really amazing that Historum has a roster of conversant, insightful, "expert" contributors: individuals who have studied and committed to learning about history and are willing to pass on what they know to the rest of us. It's really interesting to hear from someone who has so much insight into Diocletian, the events surrounding his rule, etc. You are an asset here - thank you for sharing this!
 
Oct 2018
1,507
Sydney
I think it's really amazing that Historum has a roster of conversant, insightful, "expert" contributors: individuals who have studied and committed to learning about history and are willing to pass on what they know to the rest of us. It's really interesting to hear from someone who has so much insight into Diocletian, the events surrounding his rule, etc. You are an asset here - thank you for sharing this!
Aww shucks
 
Oct 2018
1,507
Sydney

In this thread it is accepted that Carinus, the emperor whom Diocletian overthrew, was a lazy tyrant who spent his time in Rome while his father Carus and brother Numerian fought campaigns against Persia and on the Danube. But what needs to be understood is that the image of Carinus the rapacious womanizing tyrant consists of cliches with which Roman writers condemned 'bad' emperors. It probably owes itself much more to Diocletianic propaganda than to reality. Carinus was no slouch. He campaigned against Germans on the Rhine and the Quadi on the Danube. Diocletian and the Tetrarchs naturally vilified the emperor whom Diocletian ousted from power, and this vilification would have persisted throughout the fourth century by virtue of sources consulted and also the fact that the Constantinian dynasty originated with Constantius, a Tetrarch. In fact, Constantius was the governor of Dalmatia during the reign of Carinus. He would soon receive a prestigious military career under Diocletian and his future co-emperor Maximian, receive a marriage alliance with Maximian in c. 288, and in 293 would be co-opted into their imperial college as Caesar, before being promoted to Augustus in 305. Could it be that Constantius made a friend of Diocletian (and Maximian) by switching sides during the civil war with Carinus? If Constantius had switched sides as the governor of Dalmatia, this would be useful since Dalmatia was very near to Moesia, where the Battle of the Margus, between Diocletian and Carinus, was fought. It seems likely. Indeed, Constantius eventually named a son of his Dalmatius, seemingly in honour of the appointment he held around the time of this civil war.

Let's look closer at how Diocletian took power.

In November 284 in Asia Minor the imperial army in the east discovered their emperor Numerian dead and decaying in his litter. In the politicking that followed, the commander of Numerian's protectores domestici (bodyguard), Diocles, was declared emperor by the army and changed his name to Diocletianus (Diocletian). Standing on the podium before the assembled troops, the new emperor then accused Numerian's praetorian prefect/father-in-law Aper of having killed the emperor and immediately slew him with his own sword, an act without parallel in Roman history. Diocletian had possibly had a hand in the emperor’s death, since his command meant he had proximity to the emperor, and the ‘discovery’ of Numerian’s body had been suspiciously delayed. But thanks to Diocletianic apologetics, the sources attribute the murder and delay solely to Aper (admittedly, because of his proximity, it is certainly plausible that this man was also involved).This was all in spite of the fact that Numerian's brother Carinus was still emperor and was currently ruling in the west.

News of Numerian's death and Diocletian's usurpation travelled, and Carinus' praetorian prefect Sabinus Julianus took matters into his own hands, launching his own usurpation against his benefactor. Julianus' usurpation was a fleeting affair. He fought Carinus near Verona in Italy and was soundly defeated and killed. However, the usurpation of Julianus meant that Carinus needed a new praetorian prefect, and he appointed the equestrian-ranked Tiberius Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus to assume this role. Knowing he would need to face Diocletian in battle, Carinus sought to secure Aristobulus' loyalty. For the year 285 Carinus assumed the ordinary consulship and made Aristobulus his consular colleague. In receiving the office of consul, Aristobulus was also admitted into the senatorial order.

Carinus then marched against Diocletian, who had entered the Balkans with his army. Carinus was intimidating. He had already defeated two usurpers during his reign (Sabinus Julianus and, in 283, Marcus Aurelius Julianus). But Diocletian was not to be underestimated. By early 285 Diocletian had received recognition as emperor from the Roman Near East (a source of trained soldiers) and Egypt (the empire's most important source of grain, which was necessary for feeding the army). Moreover, Diocletian did not rely solely on armed combat in his war against Carinus.

When the armies of Carinus and Diocletian faced one another near the river Margus near Viminacium, Carinus' army gained the upper hand. Sources vary, but either Carinus won the battle or was in the process of winning the battle when he was struck down by one of his tribunes. The hostile sources, influenced by Diocletianic propaganda, claim that Carinus was killed because he had defiled the wives of his officers. Perhaps this is true, but it is a literary trope often applied by Romans to rulers whom posterity has decided were tyrants. In any case, the tribune that slew Carinus was not necessarily the only person involved in the conspiracy. Aristobulus appears to have betrayed his emperor. After Diocletian won the civil war, he allowed Aristobulus to retain the offices of praetorian prefect and consul. To allow Aristobulus to retain an office as powerful as the praetorian prefecture is telling. Aurelius Victor reports that this was because of the services (officia) that he had rendered (Liber de Caesaribus 39.14). It would appear that, despite Carinus' attempts at securing the loyalty of his new praetorian prefect, Aristobulus turned against his master in favour of Diocletian.

At some point before 290 Aristobulus ceased to hold the praetorian prefecture, but Diocletian did not cease to present him with honours. He held the prestigious proconsulship of Africa for an exceptionally long tenure of four years (290-294), and he was then rewarded with the urban prefecture (295-296). These two posts represent the pinnacle of honours that could be awarded to a senator short of giving him a second ordinary consulship (a rarity for anyone who wasn't an emperor or Caesar).
I forgot to mention that Carinus also campaigned with success in Britain.
 
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Oct 2018
1,507
Sydney

In these threads I noticed some confusion surrounding names, which might strike some as a minor issue, but the Tetrarchs used names to signify their collegia concordia (harmony).

When Diocletian initially took power in 284 he was Gaius Valerius Diocles. In his invective against Diocletian, Lactantius would later repeatedly refer to him as Diocles in order to undermine the emperor's self-representation (De Mortibus Persecutorum 9.11, 19.5, 29.2, 37.3, 52.3). Soon afterwards he changed his cognomen to something similar but Romanized: Diocletianus (we know of one other instance of this name; Licinius Diocletianus, a man of equestrian rank from the 260s: CIL 5.856-857).

Maximian first appears as Caesar in 285 with the name Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus. Presumably Diocletian gave him the nomen Valerius to signify some level of kinship, probably the metaphorical fraternity that would characterize their relationship.

By 286 Diocletian's name, like Maximian, included the nomina Marcus Aurelius. Diocletian's name is variously given as Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, (less often) Marcus Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, and in one inscription from 288, Marcus Aurelius Gaius Valerius Diocletianus. Scholars debate the origins of Marcus Aurelius in this context. Some propose that Diocletian adopted Marcus Aurelius in honour of the second-century emperor, and gave Maximian the nomina when he also gave him Valerius. Alternatively, the timing of the names' appearance may suggest that Diocletian received the names from Maximian around the time that he co-opted Maximian and gave him the name Valerius. That is, in a show of fraternal harmony the two rulers exchanged nomina. It would not surprise if Maximian was born Marcus Aurelius. It was a common name. Families received the nomina when they were enfranchised by the Constitutio Antoniniana of 212. This would also better accord with the well-attested Tetrarchic use of symmetry to convey Concordia (e.g. Constantius and Galerius were co-opted on the same date in different parts of the empire [Milan and possibly Sirmium, 1 March 293], and Diocletian and Maximian abdicated in the same manner [Milan and Nicomedia, 1 May 305]).

In the same year Diocletian and Maximian also adopted the theophoric signa Jovius and Herculius respectively, signifying their close relationships to Jupiter and Hercules. Inherent within this presentation, Diocletian enjoys a closer relationship to the supreme deity as the senior-ranking emperor.

In 293 Diocletian co-opted Galerius, and Maximian Constantius. Galerius Caesar appears as Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus Jovius. He received the Tetrarchic family nomen of Valerius as well as his adopted father Diocletian's signum of Jovius, and he may well have received Gaius from Diocletian as well, considering that Constantius was, like Maximian, a Marcus (see below), thus presenting another possible instance of Tetrarchic symmetry. Galerius' cognomen was originally Maximinus, but it was changed to Maximianus in honour of Maximian, thus symbolizing that there was harmony not just between Galerius and Diocletian, but between Galerius and Maximian as well.

Constantius Caesar appears as Marcus Flavius Valerius Constantius. He received the Tetrarchic family nomen of Valerius and his adopted father Maximian's praenomen of Marcus (if he did not possess it already). Considering that he had a son named Julius Constantius, his original name was perhaps Julius Flavius Constantius.

Both Galerius and Constantius had nicknames, Armentarius ('Herdsman') and Chlorus ('The Pale') respectively, but neither formed part of their official nomenclature.
 
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Oct 2018
1,507
Sydney

This thread notes that, according to the Christian writer Lactantius, Galerius' mother Romula was a barbarian born north of the Danube (De Mortibus Persecutorum 11.1). It is cautioned in this thread that Lactantius was writing invective against the Tetrarchs, and especially despised Galerius as the most zealous persecutor among the Tetrarchs. This is indeed an appropriate note of caution, and I would add that Lactantius specifically states that Romula fled south across the Danube into the new province of Dacia Ripensis to avoid the inroads of the Carpi. This may suggest that it is indeed unfair to characterize Galerius as a barbarian. The Roman province of Dacia, which lasted from the reign of Trajan to that of Aurelian, existed north of the Danube. In the early 270s Aurelian ordered the abandonment of Dacia by the Roman administration and military because, in the troubles of the period, having a large trans-Danubian salient only added to the woes of an already undermanned and very long frontier (Aurelian needed to withdraw units to fight Zenobia, and even beforehand Gallienus had been forced to halve the size of the Dacian garrison). The new province of Dacia Ripensis was established south of the Danube to obscure the abandonment of territory, and Dacia was then populated by migrating Carpi, who had been raiding the province in the preceding years. It would therefore seem plausible that Romula had lived under Roman administration in Dacia and then migrated south due to the upheavals of the period.
 
Oct 2018
1,507
Sydney

This thread largely misses the mark on the matter of why in 286 Carausius, the admiral operating in the North Sea against German pirates, usurped against Maximian and Diocletian and proceeded to take control of Britain and the northern Gallic coast. This is the most famous rebellion against Diocletian, whereby, under Carausius and his successor Allectus, a Romano-British empire existed between 286 and 295/6. It is also the most important rebellion of the period, since Maximian's ongoing failure to end it helped bring about the creation of the Tetrarchy, with Constantius Caesar and the praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus taking over the direction of the war. It would thus be useful to clarify why, according to the sources, the rebellion happened.

Aurelius Victor reports that Carausius was a citizen of Menapia who had distinguished himself in the war against the Bagaudae. For this reason and his expertise as a pilot, having been a pilot as a young man, he was charged with fitting out a fleet to combat German piracy (Liber de Caesaribus 39.20). Eutropius reports much the same, adding that he was of very mean birth and was stationed in Boulogne against Frankish and Saxon marauders (9.21). The sources claim that he became arrogant with success and withheld recaptured booty from the provinces and the emperors. Eutropius adds that there was suspicion that he was deliberately allowing raiders to plunder the provinces so that he could seize the booty for himself (21). Maximian thus ordered his execution, and upon learning this Carausius had himself declared Augustus and sailed with the fleet to Britain, which he occupied (Panegyrici Latini 8(5).12.1; Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus 39.21; Eutropius 9.21).

We should not accept this story without reservation, since Carausius ultimately became the loser in this conflict, and the man responsible for his defeat was Constantius, the founder of the Constantinian dynasty. For this reason we cannot really know what sparked the rebellion. One presumes that Carausius' successes as an admiral were of help in the fostering of military loyalty - an inscription from 285 includes the victory title Britannicus Maximus within the titulature of Diocletian (ILS 615), which probably refers to a victory by Carausius. The novelty of an emperor based in Britain must have also been popular among the people of Britain themselves, since the region needed assistance. In the late third century Britain suffered from a scarcity of coinage, her towns were in a low stage of their development, and troops were withdrawn to other theatres of war, evidenced in the declining number of garrisons and the dilapidation of her forts. Such problems would have fostered support for usurpers, and indeed Britain previously supported both the Romano-Gallic emperors (260-274) and an unnamed usurper based in Britain during the reign of Probus (c. 280).
 
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