Diocletian (/ˌdaɪ.əˈkliːʃən/; Latin: Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was Roman emperor from 284 to 305.
Born to a family of low status in Dalmatia, Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a cavalry commander of the Emperor Carus's army. After the deaths of Carus and his son Numerian on campaign in Persia, Diocletian was proclaimed emperor. The title was also claimed by Carus's surviving son, Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus.
Diocletian's reign stabilized the empire and ended the Crisis of the Third Century. He appointed fellow officer Maximian as Augustus, co-emperor, in 286. Diocletian reigned in the Eastern Empire, and Maximian reigned in the Western Empire. Diocletian delegated further on 1 March 293, appointing Galerius and Constantius as junior co-emperors (each with the title Caesar), under himself and Maximian respectively. Under the Tetrarchy, or "rule of four", each emperor would rule over a quarter-division of the empire. Diocletian secured the empire's borders and purged it of all threats to his power. He defeated the Sarmatians and Carpi during several campaigns between 285 and 299, the Alamanni in 288, and usurpers in Egypt between 297 and 298. Galerius, aided by Diocletian, campaigned successfully against Sassanid Persia, the empire's traditional enemy. In 299 he sacked their capital, Ctesiphon. Diocletian led the subsequent negotiations and achieved a lasting and favourable peace.
Diocletian separated and enlarged the empire's civil and military services and reorganized the empire's provincial divisions, establishing the largest and most bureaucratic government in the history of the empire. He established new administrative centres in Nicomedia, Mediolanum, Sirmium, and Trevorum, closer to the empire's frontiers than the traditional capital at Rome. Building on third-century trends towards absolutism, he styled himself an autocrat, elevating himself above the empire's masses with imposing forms of court ceremonies and architecture. Bureaucratic and military growth, constant campaigning, and construction projects increased the state's expenditures and necessitated a comprehensive tax reform. From at least 297 on, imperial taxation was standardized, made more equitable, and levied at generally higher rates.
Not all of Diocletian's plans were successful: the Edict on Maximum Prices (301), his attempt to curb inflation via price controls, was counterproductive and quickly ignored. Although effective while he ruled, Diocletian's tetrarchic system collapsed after his abdication under the competing dynastic claims of Maxentius and Constantine, sons of Maximian and Constantius respectively. The Diocletianic Persecution (303–312), the empire's last, largest, and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity, failed to eliminate Christianity in the empire. After 324, Christianity became the empire's preferred religion under Constantine. Despite these failures and challenges, Diocletian's reforms fundamentally changed the structure of Roman imperial government and helped stabilize the empire economically and militarily, enabling the empire to remain essentially intact for another 150 years despite being near the brink of collapse in Diocletian's youth. Weakened by illness, Diocletian left the imperial office on 1 May 305, becoming the first Roman emperor to abdicate the position voluntarily. He lived out his retirement in his palace on the Dalmatian coast, tending to his vegetable gardens. His palace eventually became the core of the modern-day city of Split in Croatia.
The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303, the emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding Christians' legal rights and demanding that they comply with traditional religious practices. Later edicts targeted the clergy and demanded universal sacrifice, ordering all inhabitants to sacrifice to the gods. The persecution varied in intensity across the empire—weakest in Gaul and Britain, where only the first edict was applied, and strongest in the Eastern provinces. Persecutory laws were nullified by different emperors (Galerius with the Edict of Serdica in 311) at different times, but Constantine and Licinius' Edict of Milan (313) has traditionally marked the end of the persecution.
Christians had been subject to intermittent local discrimination in the empire, but emperors prior to Diocletian were reluctant to issue general laws against the faithful. In the 250s, under the reigns of Decius and Valerian, Roman subjects including Christians were compelled to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution, but there is no evidence that these edicts were specifically intended to attack Christianity. After Gallienus's accession in 260, these laws went into abeyance. Diocletian's assumption of power in 284 did not mark an immediate reversal of imperial inattention to Christianity, but it did herald a gradual shift in official attitudes toward religious minorities. In the first fifteen years of his rule, Diocletian purged the army of Christians, condemned Manicheans to death, and surrounded himself with public opponents of Christianity. Diocletian's preference for activist government, combined with his self-image as a restorer of past Roman glory, foreboded the most pervasive persecution in Roman history. In the winter of 302, Galerius urged Diocletian to begin a general persecution of the Christians. Diocletian was wary, and asked the oracle of Apollo at Didyma for guidance. The oracle's reply was read as an endorsement of Galerius's position, and a general persecution was called on February 23, 303.
Persecutory policies varied in intensity across the empire. Whereas Galerius and Diocletian were avid persecutors, Constantius was unenthusiastic. Later persecutory edicts, including the calls for universal sacrifice, were not applied in his domain.
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