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THE THIRD-CENTURY CRISIS AND DIOCLETIAN
Relevant source material:
Zosimus, New History (fifth century) [2.34.1]: In his providence, Diocletian safeguarded the empire by stationing all the army in cities, fortresses, and towers on the frontiers; the barbarians could not cross the frontier, with troops everywhere to force them back.
But Constantine ruined this security by withdrawing troops from the frontier to cities which did not need them
Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 8.4: It was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian, (302-303) in the month of March, when the feast of the Saviour's passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be levelled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honour be degraded, and that the household servants, if the persisted in the profession of Christianity, be made slaves. And such was the first decree against us. But issuing other decrees not long after, the Emperor commanded that all the rulers of the churches in every place should be first put in prison and afterwards compelled by every device to offer sacrifice.
Paints a vivid image of the persecution [Hist. Eccl., 8, I, 12.1]: Why need I mention the rest by name, or number them, or picture the various sufferings of the admirable martyrs of Christ? Some of them were killed with the axe - as in Arabia. The limbs of some were broken - as in Cappadocia. Some, raised high by the feet, with their heads down, while a gentle fire burned beneath them, were suffocated by the smoke which arose from the burning wood - as in Mesopotamia. Others were mutilated by cutting off their noses and ears and hands, and cutting to pieces the other members and parts of their bodies - as in Alexandria…
(I, 15.5.18): For Diocletian was the first to introduce the foreign and royal manner of adoration, when previously we have read that emperors were greeted like higher officials… [I, 23.5.2] Diocletian encircled Cercusium, formerly small and vulnerable, with walls and high towers when he was organizing the inner lines of defence on the actual frontiers with the barbarians, so that the Persians would not overrun Syria, as had happened a few years previously, to the provinces' great loss…
Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum / Institutiones Divinae
Lactantius' assessment of Diocletian in the guise of Jupiter is deeply critical. First, Jupiter was "a traitor from his early youth since he drove his father from his reign and chased him away. Nor did he wait for the death of the broken old man in his desire for rule".
Because Diocletian, the Jovian ruler, may well have been implicated in the death of his predecessor, Numerian, the emphasis
Lactantius gives to Jupiter's usurpation may be drawing attention to the unsavoury and illegitimate character of Diocletian's accession. Lactantius belittles the adoptive system and condemns as weakness Diocletian's efforts to share power (Institutiones
Divinae, 1.3.11-12); the author deliberately chooses the tradition that makes Jupiter appear more villainous than Saturn (drawing on
Ennius' Sacred History) in order to criticise Diocletian, who claimed to be Jupiter's son, who wanted to be called "lord" and "god",
and who required his subjects to prostrate themselves in his presence. Lactantius' main criticism of Diocletian (DMP) was that he and his advisers had initiated the "Great Persecution" against the Christians, and it was Lactantius' view that the eventual demise of
Diocletian's associates was the result of divine vengeance
De Mortibus, I, 1.7 1-6
When Diocletian, who invented crimes and plotted evils, destroying everything, he could not even keep his hands from God. He turned the world upside down with his greed and cowardice. For he appointed three men to share in his reign, divided the world into quarters, and multiplied the armies - this when each of his colleagues strove to have a far larger number of troops than previous emperors had had, even though they had governed the state by themselves…and, so that terror should fill everything, the provinces too were cut up into fragments, many governors and more officials encumbered individual regions and almost every city, and likewise, there were many accountants, directions, and deputy prefects…Insatiably greed, Diocletian would never allow his treasures to be diminished, but he always accumulated extraordinary wealth and funds for distribution so that he could keep intact and untouched what he had hidden away…
Aurelius Victor, Book of the Caesars (c.361):
After the death of Carinus, Diocletian discovered that in Gaul Helianus and Amandus had roused a force of peasants and bandits and with much of the countryside ravaged, had taken hold of many cities; Diocletian immediately appointed his trusted friend
Maximian emperor, a good soldier and talented, though semi-civilized… [Later] the Persians were causing serious trouble in the
East, Julianus and the Quinquegentiani peoples in Africa…For these reasons, Diocletian and Maximian appointed as Caesars Julius
Constantius and Galerius Maximian. Marriage alliances were made (39, 17-26)
Rome's forces were truncated, as it were, by a reduction in the number of praetorian cohorts and citizens bearing arms; indeed,
many maintain that for this reason he [Diocletian] resigned his rule. For Diocletian investigated future events, and when he discovered that civil disaster was fated and a certain fracture, as it were, of the Roman state was looming, he celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his reign in decent health, and gave up his control of the state (39, 47-48)
Eutropius, Breviarium (c.369):
Apparent that Diocletian sought initially to rebuff any challenges to his legitimacy:
As the soldiers returned victorious from Persia, they made Diocletian emperor…At the first gathering of the troops, Diocletian swore that Numerian had not been killed by any treachery of his; and in full view of the troops, Diocletian plunged his sword through Aper,
who had committed the ambush…When peasants [Bacaudae] in Gaul staged an uprising, and claimed Amandus and Aelianus as their leaders, Diocletian appointed Maximian Herculius Caesar and sent him to crush them. Maximian tamed the peasants in light engagements, and re-established peace in Gaul (I, 9.19-20)
Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy (2004)
Reliability issue with Lact.; contemporary of Diocletian, and appointed by the emperor as a teacher of rhetoric in
Nicomedia; covers most of the important political and constitutional affairs of the time, but focuses on the persecution of the Christians by the tetrarchs; Rees asserts the following: 'despite the very considerable range of evidence relating to him,
his government and society, Diocletian remains enigmatic'; controversy over his life: on the question of his death, there are many conflicting narratives; Lactantius claims he starved himself for grief that his reign had not been appreciated; an anonymous epitomator speaks of suicide by poison, prompted by fear of Constantine and Licinius; Aurelius Victor makes no mention of his death at all; and Eutropius gives no detail
Alternative approach to the biographic method is one which compares the Roman Empire as Diocletian inherited it in 284,
with the legacy that he left for his successors; conspicuous in this model is the characterisation of the mid-third century as a period of 'crisis', particularly in constitutional, military, and economic affairs (see Jones and Alfoldy); accounts are replete with positivism - 'reform', or 'recovery'; if this interpretation shares much of the tone of the original Dyarchic and
Tetrarchic panegyrics, it stands in obvious contrast to the contemporary viewpoints of Lactantius and Eusebius, who present the Tetrarchic period as a time of escalating misery, out of which the Christian Constantine could emerge triumphant
Challenges to the model of the mid-third century as a 'crisis' period necessarily dilute the impression of Diocletian as a saviour figure; increasing tendency to see in Diocletian's empire something of its predecessors; aspects of tetrarchic government culture and policy, such as court ceremonial, collegiate rule, the use of military personnel, the itinerant emperor away from Rome and the persecution of Christians might all be seen to have had major precedents in the earlier third century
'In many ways the fifty or so years from Diocletian's accession to Constantine's death can also be seen as a continuity;
sources such as the Notitia and archaeology do not always allow precise distinction between the tetrarchy and Constantine,
but in fundamental aspects of administration, military, and economics, the measures across these decades now seem more a unity than was ever acknowledged by the Christian sources, keen to differentiate the persecutor of the church from its champion, or Constantine's panegyrical orators, celebrating his legitimacy in a way setting him apart from the Tetrarchs
D.M. Gwynn (ed), A.H.M. Jones and the Later Roman Empire (Leiden, 2008)
Jones deliberately adopted a narrow view of what mattered for imperial power and action; his Later Roman Empire does not attempt to capture the nature of imperial action; Jones' all-powerful ruler sat at the apex of the administrative pyramid whose lower operations constituted the focus of his analysis; even under weak emperors, who 'reigned rather than ruled', the system remained the same with the imperial position simply being appropriated by a general or, occasionally, an official; in contrast,
subsequent studies assume a regular circulation of power with the emperor as one among several competing elements
In contrast to the Principate of Augustus, Mommsen (Römisches Staatsrecht) had spoken of the 'Dominate' of the late empire,
which he argued began with Diocletian and was characterised by the excessive oriental veneration of the emperor as dominus whose position was no longer to be defined as a magistrate, but who conducted 'ein unbedingtes und unbeschränktes
Herrenrecht über das Gut aller Unterthanen'; Jones' narrative is also influenced by Stein; "Diocletian", wrote Jones, "was the representative and vice-gerent upon earth of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, king of gods and men; Maximian of Hercules, his heroic agent in rooting out the evils which oppressed the world"
Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay (Part III), pp.215-300
'The Failure of the Severan Empire'; long-standing relationship between Rome and Iran changing; for centuries, it had been at best a watchful peace; aside from Trajan's short-lived effort to create a province of Mesopotamia, the boundaries of the
Roman and Parthian empires had remained largely stable; Ardashir, the Sassanid king, brought with him a powerful sense of
Iranian tradition, centred on Zoroastrianism; any effort to understand Ardashir's rise to power depends upon a combination of the extensive account offered by the Arab historian al-Tabarī, who wrote between 870 and 923, and the monuments of Ardashir himself; Ardashir apparently attributed his rise to power to the god Ahura Mazda; this aggressive, ideological Sassanid regime was set on a collision course with Rome; when he struck, the Roman eastern armies were in no position to stop him
The thinking that governed Roman relations with the outside world involved terms such as gloria, the glory that was won in battle, the ability to compel a foreign people to do something; that which was to be preserved was decus (or "face"), fastigium
("dignity"), or the maiestas ("majesty") of the empire; foreign peoples who challenged the gloria of Rome suffered from superbia, "arrogance", which them to injure Rome; injuries which needed to be avenged; there can be no doubt that Ardashir had done an injury to Rome through his seizure of Carrhae and Nisibis in 235-6, and so it was the advisors of the young Gordian
III determined they must take vengeance on him; thus in 241, Rome declared war on Persia with much pomp and ceremony;
Insofar as anything resembling accuracy can be gleaned from various accounts, it seems that Gordian's army invaded
Mesopotamia in the winter of 244, and that it reached Misiche at the northwestern end of the Naarmalcha canal soon after;
Shapur there defeated the Romans, who withdrew to the Euphrates
The process of reuniting the empire, which would begin with the passing of Gallienus in 268, would hasten the tendency towards administrative homogenization and, perhaps even more significantly, toward the creation of intellectual institutions that would seek to control the nature of local responses to centralizing cultural influences
The tripartite empire that came into being in 261-2 was inherently unstable, resting on Gallienus' inability to defeat Postumus,
and Odaenathus' willingness to live with the arrangement he had with Gallienus; by the end of 268, both situations had changed;
Gallienus was dead, and so was Odaenathus
261-270; turmoil; successions, usurpations, civil wars; Aurelian assumed the purple in 270; with Italy pacified, he turned his gaze eastwards in 271-2; a further Scythian incursion in the Balkans was repulsed; and the Dacian provinces abandoned; this move reflected Aurelian's priorities; unlike Valerian, he had no intention of restoring the boundaries of the empire to their second-century limits; but rather to rationalize the empire he now ruled' the reunification of the empire would not be helped if resources were wasted in defending the indefensible; it was a dangerous move; emperors lived and died by their military victories or defeats; Aurelian carved two new provinces of "Dacia" from Upper Moesia; the last emperor to cede territory had been Hadrian
Aurelian's eastern campaign: firstly, he recovered Egypt, as the result of negotiation with the prefect whom Zenobia had left in charge; Palmyra fell to Aurelian before the summer of 272; Zenobia was sent back to Rome in captivity; Aurelian's retaking of
Egypt seemed to have a smooth transition; in a text of 293, Diocletian ordered the restoration of free status to a man enslaved in the period of Palmyrene rule; this would suggest that Aurelian left property rights as he found them, just as, it appears, the city council of Alexandria was left in office after the restoration of central control
On his return west, it became clear that his conquest of the east had been too easy; there was serious rioting in Alexandria, and then Palmyra revolted; this time, Aurelian crushed the rebels, sacking the city and stationing a garrison there; its long years of prosperity brought to an end under the gladius; in 274, Aurelian moved against the Gallic empire; the ruler he faced was Gaius
Esuvius Tetricus; diplomacy played a key role; Tetricus negotiated his personal surrender with Aurelian, before exposing his forces to the brunt of Aurelian's troops
With his authority restored over the whole empire, Aurelian set himself the task of restructuring the finances of the central government; the silver content of the basic silver coinage had slipped to around 2% in the course of the previous decade; it appears this debasement did not lead to a price-hike, which is strange; the gold coinage, the aureus, hovered around its official market value of about 1:25 ratio to the silver coinage; it may have been that the official relationship between the gold and silver coinage acted as a guarantee of the silver coinage, despite the debasement; Aurelian's policy was to mint a new, purer gold coin,
and eliminate the formal link with silver; he ordered the minting of a new silver coin (5%), and marked XXI, indicating a 1:20 ratio of silver to copper; the result, Potter asserts 'was disastrous', citing price increases in Egypt (eightfold), 'and there is no reason to think that the same effect did not occur in other parts of the empire where Aurelian's coins drove earlier ones from circulation', although, referencing C.E. King, "The Circulation of Coinage in the Western Provinces, AD 260-95", in King &
Henig (eds.), The Roman West in the Third Century: Contributions from Archaeology and History (Ox, 1981), he states that 'the new imperial coinage did not go into circulation with the same speed in every part of the empire'
'That the system worked, and had worked for Aurelian, makes it unlikely that the primary concern with coinage reform was to stabilize a system badly in need of overhaul. Rather, it would appear the primary motivation was political. By creating a new system of coinage, Aurelian was taking all the coinage that circulated with the images of his rivals, his immediate predecessors,
out of circulation…it was a striking way of advertising his claim to have renewed the empire: the coincidence between the reconquest of Gaul and the initiation of coinage reform is surely no accident; Aurelian was killed in 275, after a misunderstanding of some senior officers; the reign of his successor, Tacitus, was more of an appendix to the reign of Aurelian,
and was dominated by the question of his legacy
The decade after Aurelian's death is one of the most obscure in the annals of the Roman Empire; no contemporary sources exist,
but those which date to a later period suggest that the decade c.275-285 was one of invasion, revolt, and a continuing struggle of the central government to assert that it was the only power capable of determining the course of events on a local level
Aurelian's restoration of the power of a single emperor had involved intense negotiation with existing power structures, as in
Gaul, or the city council of Alexandria; to succeed, the system depended on the assumption that the imperial government was essentially just, and all-powerful; generals vied for power, as an absent emperor was as good as none at all
Diocletian's tetrarchic government set itself before its subjects with increasingly novel forms of imagery, ceremony, and architecture. Early coins of Diocletian and Maximian depict both rulers as being almost identical, but in the style of imperial portraits that had been prevalent from Claudius through Carinus; around 290, they change with the emperors assuming rounder features; the new architecture of power (such as the Circus at Sirmium) was designed to accompany a new form of ceremonial;
Diocletian limited the use of purple cloth to the imperial group; he wore a golden crown and spectacular jewellery; the style of government described by Marcus, whereby the emperor sought to show himself as a model of correct aristocratic deportment,
had given way to a style in which the emperor was seen to be distinct from all other mortals.
One significant administrative process that appears to have accelerated under Diocletian was the subdivision of existing provinces into smaller units; the increase in the number of governors arguably required a new way of disseminating legal information so as to reduce the stress upon the imperial secretariat; but there was more to it than that; the creation of official books of precedent had the same effect as lists of relevant cultural events that were so much a feature of the broader intellectual world.
A theme in the preface to the Edict on Maximum Prices is that of Diocletian's memoria; there is reference to "seething ravages"
of barbarian peoples in previous reigns does not allow much of a role in their suppression of earlier emperors; the effective erasing of emperors between Gallienus and Diocletian is underlined both in the way that members of the imperial group are described on public dedications and in panegyrics in their honour; a Lusitanian cohort in Egypt during 288 calls Maximian and
Diocletian "the invincible emperors, restorers of the whole world", and a text from Augsburg dating to 290 honours "the most foresightful emperor, ruler and lord of the world, founder of eternal peace" (Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, 617, 618); other texts of the period praise the emperors as "defeating the nations of the barbarians", and read as panegyrics
The ideology of restoration was a concomitant of the practice of centralization that was coming to the fore in these years; the codices of Gregorius and Hermogenianus were two signs of it; in the next five years, Diocletian and his colleagues would turn to ever more radical efforts at reforming the conduct of their subjects in order to make them worthy of life in this new world;
"there is a sense in which Diocletian may have been losing sight of what was possible in place of what was ideal. The Roman
Empire was still as vast and culturally diverse as it had ever been. The fact remained that even though the provinces were smaller and governors more numerous, the emperor's pronouncements could (and did) fall on deaf ears if they could not be reconciled with local realities. Indeed, in what may be the last edict of the tetrarchic government, an edict of Maximinius Daia
(313), the emperor states: 'We addressed a letter to the governors in each province last year, laying down that if any should wish to follow such a custom or the same religious observances, such a one should adhere to his purpose without hindrance…it cannot escape our notice even now that some of the judges misinterpreted our injunctions, and caused our people to have doubts with regard to our commands'
AHM Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey (Vol. 1), pp.3-76
Severan dynasty's position never really secure, owing to senatorial hostility; the Severan emperors could not entirely trust their senatorial army commanders; the loyalty of the armies were bought with larger and more frequent donatives, privileges, and increased pay; very questionable as to whether pay increases were justified; pay sheets of two Egyptian legionaries show that even before Domitian increased it by one-third, a soldier could, after all deductions, put by a substantial proportion of his pay,
and prices had not risen significantly during the second century; pay increases were made for political reasons; increased military expenditure was met partly by the large confiscations, for which plots, real or alleged, mainly of wealthy senators, gave the opportunity, and out of which the great department of the res privata was built up
'To all appearances, the prosperity of the empire suffered no serious check in the Severan period'; cities continued to expand;
then came a period of chronic instability; Maximinus was a peasant who had risen through the ranks by his vigour and efficiency; Gordian was an aged nobleman; even during their reigns, the senate maintained prestige and power; growing indiscipline among the armies; they were imbued more with a professional esprit de corps than with devotion to the empire; this was largely due to the recruiting system; we must ask how peculiar this loyalty to commanders and corps was in the thirdcentury; had this not been shown under Gaius Julius Caesar?
Lack of sources for half century after 238; Herodian closes his narrative in 238, and thereafter we have to rely upon such meagre late fourth century or fifth century chroniclers such as Aurelius Victor, Eutropius, and Zosimus; even in these, there is a hiatus between the death of Gordian III in 244 and the capture of Valerian in 260; we are left with coins, archaeology
The reasons for the instability are not altogether clear; sources tend to blame the armies; periodic friction between the senate and the emperor; Valerian, to judge by the laudatory notices he receives despite his extremely disastrous reign, seems to have enjoyed senatorial approval, and Gallienus' neglect of his memory and reversal of his policy may well have been resented;
racked by internal warring, the empire was less able to resist foreign aggression; on the eastern frontier, the Parthians had offered no serious threat, but the Sassanid dynasty did; on the Danube, old foes - the Marcomanni and Quadi were reinforced by immigrant German tribes, like the Goths and Vandals, who repeatedly ravaged Illyricum and Thrace, even Greece and Italy, and took to the sea, carrying their wars into Asia Minor; on the Rhine, the Franks and Alamans appeared and invaded Gaul, even penetrated into Spain; the Berber tribes of north Africa broke loose and raided their neighbours
Cities were sacked, crops burned, livestock butchered; the Roman armies pillaged the land for supplies; coins show currency depreciation; it has been observed that in Gaul and Britain, which Aurelian brought under his authority after the reform, there seems to have been great reluctance to accept the new coins, and it may be inferred that the government tariffed them at an exaggerated value; steep rise in prices resulted; the economic results of inflation can only be guessed at; merchants and craftsmen could increase their prices as currency depreciated; peasants would have done the same with their crops; landowners who took their rent in kind would have endured
Fiscal system unduly rigid; customs, the inheritance tax, the manumission tax, and other ad valorem levies of course automatically adjusted themselves to rising prices, and the revenue from them would have risen in nominal value; only contemporary evidence is from Egypt; detailed study shows that here rates of money taxes remained with a very few exceptions unchanged so long as they continued to be levied; in many cases the evidence for the exaction of taxes fades out as the inflation reaches its climax, and it would seem that, having become almost worthless, they were allowed to lapse; elsewhere we have no evidence, but by the time of Diocletian, it is evident that the money taxes were a relatively unimportant items in imperial finance and it may reasonably be inferred that in the other provinces as in Egypt they had not been raised in accordance with the rise in prices; govt. did not substantially increase its nominal revenue, and the real value of receipts sank
By the time of Diocletian, in almost all cases, no payment was made for requisitions; clothing being the only known exception to this; the ultimate result of inflation was that the government and its employees to a large extent abandoned a money economy;
the government still exacted many taxes, but most of its requirements were met by taking levies in kind; soldiers and officials received more money pay, but the more important part of their income consisted of issues of foodstuffs and clothing; by the beginning of the fourth century, promotion to higher rank was rewarded by double and multiple issues of rations, and this practice may very well go back to the third century; soldiers lost by the change; officers and higher officials suffered even more severely; government thus ultimately considerably reduced its real expenditure, seeing that in effect it paid soldiers only about half what they had received in the second century, and its higher civil and military officials only a fraction of their earlier salary
Relatively well informed about the great persecutions of Christians under Decius and Valerian, in 250-1 and 257-60 respectively; the mere profession of Christianity was punishable by death; but they were pardoned if they renounced their faith;
accused of perpetrating horrid orgies of incest and infanticide at their secret meetings, and that they were atheists, denouncing the traditional gods; these led to attacks on the Christians and demands that govt. should take action against them.
Attitude of govt. less easy to define; it was in general tolerant of the established religious practices of communities, though they might seem outlandish and degraded, provided that they did not, like Druidism, involve activities of human sacrifice; Roman govt. always viewed with suspicion any religious propaganda which disturbed existing beliefs; 'there can be little doubt that
Decius made a deliberate attempt to stamp out Christianity'; Valerian attacked the church; senators, knights, and imperial freedmen were ordered to abjure under penalty of confiscation and, if necessary, death; the clergy, if they refused to abjure,
were deported, religious meetings were banned, and church buildings, burial grounds, and other property confiscated; ordinary
Christians appear to have been left undisturbed; the persecution dragged on for four years, brought to an end with the capture of
Valerian by the Persians; Gallienus, Valerian's successor, released the clergy, restored its property to the church, and initiated a policy of toleration that would last forty years
'In the 270s, thing began to take a turn for the better. Aurelian succeeded in restoring the unity of the empire, suppressing the rival line of emperors which had for more than ten years ruled Gaul and Britain, and crushing the now openly rebellious empire of the Palmyrene Queen Zenobia of the East'; 'the condition of the empire nevertheless remained precarious in the extreme';
there were still many local disorders, such as the devastations of the Berber tribes in Africa, and widespread peasant revolts of the Bacaudae in Gaul; finances remained chaotic; 'above all it seemed impossible to achieve political stability. Gallienus' exclusion of senators from military commands, if it was intended to reduce the possibility of rebellions, proved markedly unsuccessful. Aurelian was assassinated by a conspiracy of his officers after a five year reign
'With the accession of Diocletian we move out of darkness and into a relatively well-illuminated twilight. We still lack a contemporary historian for secular affairs, but the Ecclesiastical history of Eusebius of Caesarea, besides describing the Great
Persecution which broke out towards the end of Diocletian's reign and continued under some of his immediate successors,
throws a good deal of light on contemporary conditions'; Lactantius' De Mortibus Persecutorum also key, if polemical
Where contemporary evidence gives a fragmentary picture of Diocletian institutions, it is often possible to fill in the gaps from the Notitia Dignitatum, when its evidence, after known later changes have been discounted, is found to coincide with earlier data; Diocletian set about sorting his empire out militarily (see above); in 292, there was a serious revolt in Egypt; Diocletian decided that two men were not enough to cope with the multifarious difficulties which beset the empire; in 293, two Caesars were proclaimed, Constantius in the West, and Galerius in the East, both experienced military men
According to Aurelius Victor and Eutropius, Diocletian was the first Roman Emperor to demand adoratio, like a god or a
Persian king, from those who approached him, instead of the customary salutatio, and he probably introduced the practice of living in seclusion and rarely appearing to the public, vested in the ornate purple robes described unfavourably by Victor
According to Jones, 'there can be no doubt that Diocletian hoped by his new system [the tetrarchy] to solve the problem of the succession. The Caesars, who were adopted by their chiefs, becoming Iovii and Herculii respectively, and married to their daughters, were obviously intended eventually to succeed. Diocletian thus broke away from the hereditary principle and reverted to the second-century system of adoption.
One of the counts in Lactantius' denunciation of Diocletian is that 'the provinces were chopped into slices'; inscriptions, papyri,
and imperial constitutions preserved in the Codes from the reigns of Diocletian and his immediate successors prove the creation of many new provinces during this period; in Africa, for instance, inscriptions show that under Diocletian, Valeria Byzacena was detached from the Proconsular province, and Mauretania Sitifensis from Caesariensis, while Numidia was divided into
Cirtensis and Militiana; in most provinces, which were ungarrisoned, the government had civil functions only; in some which had garrisons, Diocletian separated the military command from the civil government, but this was by no means happening everywhere; numerous inscriptions record the erection and repair of frontier fortresses by praesides, in Britain, in Maxima
Sequanorum, in Numidia, in Tripolantia, and Caesariensis, as well as Arabia and Augusta Libanensis; military commanders are scarcely attested; the institution of the dux (military leader) seems to have been a late development in Diocletian's policy and was not consistently followed through; if in some provinces the military command was separated from the civil government, it is probable that in most the governor became responsible for both jurisdiction and finance
In the 2nd century, there had in most provinces been a proconsul or legate whose main function was jurisdiction, and a procurator who managed finance; only in the few provinces governed by a procurator were these functions united; in the third century,
jurisdiction and finance had often been de facto united by the appointment of a procurator agens vices praesidis, and legates and proconsuls had acquired financial duties, since they were responsible for assessing and levying requisitions in kind
Diocletian virtually completed these processes; over the provinces into which Italy was divided, Diocletian placed correctores,
who were normally senators, but might be of equestrian rank; two old proconsular provinces, Sicily and Achaea, were also placed under correctores, so far as we know, senators; it seems likely that in the great majority of provinces the procurator was thus merged in the governor; Egypt was an exception, if indeed this was the rule; the object of Diocletian's reforms was to tighten up the administration by giving each governor a smaller area to control; still, in addition to finance and jurisdiction,
governors had a heavy burden of administrative work; there was much activity in the reign in repairing the long-neglected roads,
and probably also in building posting stations and reorganising the public post, which was subjected to heavier strains by the new fiscal system; Diocletian also grouped the provinces into larger circumscriptions, called dioceses, each of which was directed by a deputy of the praetorian prefects, the vicarius; six dioceses in the West - Britain, the Gauls, the Spains,
Viennensis, Africa and Italy (Italy actually, though not officially, two dioceses in itself - (i) Italy proper, and (ii) southern Italy and the islands of Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily
The vicarius seems to have deputized for the praetorian prefects in all their manifold functions, including military command;
very little use for senators; praetorian prefecture at its height; administration of the empire might have become more efficient,
but it came at a price; provincial governors had been doubled by the creation of about fifty new posts; the new diocesan officials totalled about forty or fifty; the total cost of the new offices will have been roughly equivalent to that of two legions, a heavy burden on the exhausted empire; as Lactantius complains, multi praesides meant plura officia - a raft of clerks and officials assisting the governors and other administrators
Lactantius castigates the multiplication of the armies under the tetrarchy, 'since each of them strove to have a far greater number of men than earlier emperors had had when they were sole rulers of the commonwealth'. The suggestion that the army was more than quadrupled is, of course, exaggerative; under the Severi there had been thirty-four legions in all, of which all but one or two survived in Diocletian's day; thirty-five were added to these before his abdication; 'the evidence suggests that the army was approximately doubled between the Severan period and the reign of Diocletian, and that the greater part of the increase was due to Diocletian himself'
New armies had to be recruited, trained, and paid; owing to the inflation, the cost of each soldier as compared with the second and early third century was very low; 'nevertheless even to feed, clothe, arm and mount so large an army was a heavy burden,
and Lactantius was not entirely unjustified in complaining that the number of those in receipt of payment began to exceed that of the taxpayers'; Diocletian made efforts to re-establish a sound currency and thereby to stabilize prices; 'he issued good gold and silver coins clearly marked with their weight, and a larger silver-washed copper nummus of superior quality. He no doubt intended to create a unified currency of gold, silver, and copper coins like that of the pre-inflation period. He certainly failed.
His issues of gold and silver must have been small, and he continued to mint nummi in vast quantities. Prices therefore continued to rise, and the gold and silver coins commanded a premium above their nominal value'; his Edict on Maximum
Prices sought to address the problem; but with no success whatsoever (according to Lactantius)
Censuses held throughout the empire; work carried out gradually and on provincial basis; objects assessed were land, stock, and the rural population, free and slave; regional variations; it seems, from Egyptian poll-tax records, that Diocletian came to include the urban population towards the end of his reign - a policy continued by Maximian; new fiscal system; simplicity;
provided a ready means of assessing the incidence of the diverse levies which the government required to raise, in wheat, oxen,
recruits, labourers, clothing, meat, wine, oil, barley, camels, horses and the like; each taxpayer was assessed at so many iuga;
certain complications; indivisible objects, such as recruits, labourers, animals and garments, which were required in relatively small quantities, could not be assessed on individual iuga or capita; made it possible for the state to dispense with the use of money, except for such minor adjustments as those mentioned; and relied almost entirely on requisitions in kind; made possible a 'budget' in the modern sense - with annual assessments of governmental requirements, and an annual adjustment of taxes to meet these requirements
'By his administrative and fiscal reforms, Diocletian gave security and order to the empire. The huge army which he built up effectively defended the frontiers and suppressed internal disorders. His enlarged bureaucracy administered justice more promptly and vigorously, saw to the execution of much-needed public works, and collected the necessary revenue with ruthless efficiency. The new fiscal system ensured that the burden was more or less equitably apportioned. As against this the increased army and civil service imposed a heavy burden on the already strained economic capacity of the empire. Lactantius declares that the burden was intolerable: "the number of recipients began to be greater than that of the taxpayers that the resources of the cultivators were exhausted by the enormous levies, and the fields were abandoned and cultivation returned to woodland"
S. Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery
Empire of the 2nd century 'a supreme achievement of statecraft, never since repeated, in which all the diverse nationalities of the
Mediterranean world from the Atlantic coast to the Euphrates were ruled by a single state which ensured that peace and security were the normal conditions of existence'; perhaps we should consider this the aberration, rather than the norm(?)
Williams, like most writers on Ancient Rome, is following in the shadow cast by Gibbon, who writes 'such were the Barbarians,
and such the tyrants, who, under the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, dismembered the provinces, and reduced the empire to the lowest pitch of disgrace and ruin, from whence it seemed impossible that it should ever emerge'
Gradual confederation of Germanic tribes; accompanied by the emergence of a distinct warrior aristocracy; previously, Germans had been a great collection of relatively small clans, practising a primitive slash-burn agriculture and regular communal allotment of land; process of exposure to the Empire lead to increases in war-chieftains' retinue, which became a standing force;
this institution, Williams argues, was the main catalyst in the fusion into great tribal confederations in the second century, in response to aggression of central/eastern peoples and to the opportunities of what seemed limitless reserves of booty in the
Roman provinces; when they attacked over the frontiers, the Roman provincial road system allowed them swift access to the heart of the empire; Germans a war-based culture; Romans did not possess technological superiority in military terms
Roughly the same time as the German confederation, Rome's eastern neighbour, the powerful Parthian Empire, also underwent a major revolution; the house of Sassan, claiming lineage from the ancient Achaemenid Empire of Darius and Xerxes,
established its rule; Shapur I ascended to the Sassanid throne in 241, whose first offensive took several Roman stronghold cities and finally captured Antioch, the great commercial capital of Hellenic Syria, only a short distance inland from the
Mediterranean coast; the focus of Romano-Persian politics had shifted dramatically 500 miles west
Internal strife (usurpation and effectively civil war) at a time of external threat; in 244, Praetorian Prefect Philip the Arab concluded an unfavourable peace with Persia and took the imperial throne on his return to Rome; Decius then swept through
Italy when the Goths posed a threat across the Rhine/Danube to oust Philip; and so it went on; in the 50 years from the assassination of Severus Alexander to the coup of Diocletian, there were fifteen 'legitimate' emperors, and many more illegitimate 'pretenders'; it is no coincidence that during this time the frontiers were repeatedly overrun and the Empire split into several (four) pieces
By the time Valerian had been installed as Emperor in 253, the Rhine and Danube frontiers lay in ruins; towns were abandoned as indefensible; the Alemanni had overrun Raetia, and penetrated into Italy; the Marcomanni had laid waste to Pannonia
(modern-day Hungary); and Persia once more invaded Syria, taking Antioch among other cities; Valerian took his forces east to combat the Persian threat, while he installed his son, Gallienus, as Caesar in Rome, to hold the western empire together as best he could; in the Black Sea region, Gothic and Borani fleets sacked undefended Greek coastal towns and cities - Byzantium,
Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Nicaea, Prusa, Trebizond
In 259, Valerian's forces suffered a catastrophic defeat at Edessa, where the Emperor himself was captured; 'the unprecedented humiliation of a captive Roman Emperor forced to kneel to a Persian King was recorded for all time by Shapur I in the rock monuments at Bishaphur and Naqshe-e-Rustan
Maj. Bryan Woody, The Roman Empire - The Third Century Crisis and Crisis Management
Master of Military Studies Research Paper, 2011/2012, Martine Corps University Command & Staff College, Quantico, VA
*** QUOTATION FROM, ABSTRACTION FROM, OR REPRODUCTION OF ALL OR ANY PART OF THIS
DOCUMENT IS PERMITTED PROVIDED PROPER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT IS MADE ***
As John Nicols describes in Mapping the Crisis of the Third Century, the Greek philosopher Protagoras may have regarded the crisis of the third century as such, "I have no means of knowing whether there was one or not, or of what sort of crisis it may have been. Many things prevent knowledge including the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life."
Generally speaking, most historians identify the crisis period as having occurred over approximately fifty years, between the reigns of Alexander Severus (r. 222 - 235) and Diocletian (r. 284 - 305), see Chris Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors
(London: Thames And Hudson, 1995), 149, 197
Once it had expanded as far north as Britain, west to the Atlantic coast, and east to modern-day Syria and Iraq, Rome could no longer replenish its legions without using conscripts from its conquered regions; essentially employing mercenary organizations and individuals to maintain its interests within the regions - a doctrine not suited to a homogenous strategy
Naturally enough, Major Woody places a great emphasis on the military failures of the third-century crisis; even prior to the understood beginning of the crisis period, Septimius Severus (r. 193 - 211 CE) gave prescient advice to his sons in 211, "work together, enrich the soldiers, and scorn everyone else." (Arther Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire: the Military Explanation
(London: Thames And Hudson, 1988)
Problems arose with Gallienus' handling of finances, a key necessity and component for maintaining the empires legions. The empire suffered as a result of silver degradation in their coinage, leaving little value and inflating prices across the empire.
Gallienus' money problems did not manifest themselves until after his death, but his mishandling of the empires finances was a crisis management failure and subverts the attempts at 'paying off the army.'
Pat Southern, author of The Roman Empire: from Severus to Constantine, expressed it best describing the disparity between the soldiers and the populace, "the blatant favouritism shown to the army was not seen for what it was, the way to salvation (and an answer to the ongoing crisis itself), but an unnecessary drain of money from all quarters." Problems with currency devaluation were a problem that extended throughout the crisis period until the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine.
Aurelian suffered the same fate as so many of the previous emperors, once again highlighting Rome's problems with succession.
Following a decision to march against Persia, Aurelian was assassinated at the hands of his own generals. Aurelian's reign however does mark a turning point in the crisis. Many of the reforms he instituted marked a significant shift in how Rome conducted business during the tumultuous years of the third century. In 271, Aurelian built a series of walls and fortifications around Rome that spanned nearly 12 miles in the hopes of holding back barbarian raiders, imagined or otherwise. Rome's
Aurelian walls were also "a sign of changed times," characterized by increasing levels of insecurity deep within imperial territories
When Diocletian assumed the purple in 284, one of his first acts as emperor was to appoint his fellow soldier Marcus Maximian as his Caesar, or as some historians have contested, Augustus at the outset of Diocletian's reign. This decision may have been twofold. In one area it satisfied the army's unending desire to see a soldier-emperor on the throne, as well as splitting the difficulties of governorship amongst two people. Additionally, coregency was an attempt to solve the problems inherent with local allegiances and misguided loyalties. Diocletian would administer control of the empire in the east and Maximian would take charge in the west. Diocletian's decision to include Maximian as co-emperor also precluded the possibility of a renewed civil war. The two emperors also introduced a trend that would continue under Constantine, divine separation of the rulers from the people. This was also the beginning of what would eventually form the backbone of the first Tetrarchy
From 284 to 291, the combined efforts of Diocletian and Maximian had profound effects on the stability of the empire. The
Sassanid threat in the east was mitigated through treaties and Roman consolidation of territory. The Mesopotamian territories were reabsorbed, Syria reorganized and Roman backed candidates were placed on the thrones of Armenia and Tiridates.
The west was more difficult to contain yet both emperors managed to quell the discontent along the Danube with only a minor annoyance gestating in Britain. One of the more notable outcomes during the first seven years of Diocletian's reign was the minimization of Rome as the seat of imperial power. Diocletian only visited Rome only once during his reign. The effectiveness of Rome proper had been supplanted by the movements, and location of the sitting emperor. Tacitus describes the 'secret of empire' as residing in the ability to make an emperor in a place other than Rome. (Victoria Pagan, ed., A Companion to Tacitus
(Hoboken: John Wiley And Sons, 2012).
L. De Blois, The Crisis of the Third Century in the Roman Empire: A Modern Myth?
In a somewhat flamboyant passage in his Birth of the Western Economy, Robert Latouche described the second and third quarters of the third century AD as "a sinister age, the least known of the whole history of Rome"; he goes on: "after the reign of the Severi we seem to plunge into a long tunnel, to emerge only at the beginning of the Late Empire under Diocletian, and when we step out again into daylight unfamiliar country lies all about us".
Geza Alfoldy viewed the crisis as a complex historical process; he summarised the various aspects of the third-century crisis that dominated the history of the Roman Empire from 249-284 in nine points: (i) the switching from the rule of an emperor to that of a military despot; (ii) the general instability; (iii) the growing power of the armies; (iv) increasing influence of the military provinces such as those along the Danube; (v) social shifts; (vi) economic problems; (vii) the decrease in and unequal distribution of the population; (viii) a religious and moral crisis and (ix) invasions of foreign peoples in practically all border regions and even beyond, into the heartlands of the empire
Recently, a more textured third-century crisis has emerged in scholarship; Klaus-Peter Johne did not deny the existence of the crisis, but he and his co-authors saw it not as an all-encompassing cataclysm, but a regionally-variable period; agriculture and urbanism, they suggest, suffered a crisis in the Rhine frontier regions and the mid-Danube, but not the Balkans, or regions, like
Iberia, not affected by war
Some scholars attribute the myth of the third-century crisis to the bias of our available sources, such as Cassius Dio and
Herodian, who were anxious at the prospect of losing their class privileges to the rising power of the military, or contemporary
Christian authors, who thought that the conversion of Constantine should be immediately preceded by an age of darkness; K.
Strobel, Das Imperium Romanum im '3. Jahrhundert'. Modell einer historischen Krise? (Stuttgart, 1993), and Potter, Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. A Historical Commentary on the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle (Oxford, 1990)
In many respects, the so-called 'crisis' period witnessed remarkable continuity: in the administration of justice, in public religion, in the presentation of imperial power (in the continuous practicability of traditional imperial coinage and images of paradigmata like Augustus, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius; until at least 260, emperors maintained the Antonine traditions in their appointment policies, particularly the appointment of senators to traditional posts
In 1999, Christopher Witschel demonstrated that, to all intents and purposes, the regions of Italy, Gaul, Britain, Spain, and
Northern Africa maintained their traditional infrastructures, their density of population and prosperity; Witschel's work was based heavily on archaeological evidence, which itself may be patchy; material remains, moreover, tell us next to nothing of social tensions undermining local patriotism, decreasing resources in a period of apparently continuing prosperity, or the weight of taxation and requisition; even Witschel, who tries to argue away the third-century crisis, admits that in periods of prolonged conflict, like that persisting from c.245-284, populations of war-torn areas (such as the Danube and Agri Decumates) decreased,
through forced migration or increased death rates
These continuities may of course mask societies under heavy and increasing tensions, which did not yet destroy traditional culture; Greek literary works of the period complain frequently of an exceedingly heavy burden of taxation; emperors are accused of feasting on money wrung from the poor and of robbing the rich to satisfy the soldiers (Cassius Dio 52. 28-29; 72.3.3 f.; 73.16.2; 75.8.4 f. and 13-16; Herodian 3.8 f.; 6.1.8 f.; 7.3.1 ff.; Philostratus, Vita Apollonii 5.36; Ps.-Aelius Aristides, Eis
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