Magazine article History Today

Abdication of the Emperor Diocletian: May 1st, 305

Magazine article History Today

Abdication of the Emperor Diocletian: May 1st, 305

Article excerpt

GAIUS AURELIUS Valerius Diocletianus was sixty years old or so, had been Roman emperor for twenty years and had had enough. He decided to retire and grow vegetables in his home town of Split, on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic in Croatia. He had started life there in obscure circumstances--his father was said to have been a freed slave--but driving energy, force of personality and a genius for administration carried him up through a career in the army. By 284, approaching forty, Diocletian held senior rank in the force the Emperor Carinus sent against the Persians, led by the emperor's brother and co-ruler Numerian. When Numerian was found dead in mysterious circumstances, his principal commander, Aper, was believed to have murdered him to seize power. The soldiers now acclaimed Diocletian as emperor and he drew his sword and killed Aper there and then. This neatly fulfilled a prediction that Diocletian would become emperor on the day he killed a boar (aper in Latin).

Carinus was assassinated the following year and Diocletian became master of the Roman world. It was too big for one man to manage and he well knew that the army was thoroughly out of hand. He picked an old comrade named Maximian, also of humble origins, and installed him in Milan as co-emperor while Diocletian established himself in the east, at Nicomedia in Anatolia. The effect was to divide the empire into western and eastern spheres, each with its own Augustus. …

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