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Diocletian (full name: Imperator Caesar Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus[1]; A.D. 244 – A.D. 311) was Emperor of Rome from A.D. 284 to 305. He was emperor Carus's commander of cavalry and defeated the emperor's son Carinus who had claimed the title, too. He attempted to destroy the Christian faith by burning the scriptures. He was the last of the Barracks Emperors who used the army to seize power. He also forbade worship and arrested clergy as well as insisting on sacrifices to the cult of the Emperor. He martyred hundreds of Christians from Europe to North Africa.[2]

Attempts at reform

Diocletian attempted to save the Roman empire by dividing it into eastern and western regions, with Nicomedia as the capital of the East and Rome as the capital of the West. He established the "tetrarchy", or division of power among four rulers in 293 A.D. The tetrarchy included two primary rulers, each with the title "Augustus", who ruled over the eastern and western empires, and two "Caesars" who served under the Augusti. He imposed economic and class regulations; for example, Diocletian required farmers to stay with their land and workers to stay on the job for the rest of their lives. He did this to prevent people from leaving their work to avoid taxation. Diocletian also imposed wage and price controls to halt inflation.

Persecution of Christians

For a more detailed treatment, see Great Persecution.

Diocletian persecuted Christianity in the eastern part of the empire by ordering Christians to worship him and brutally persecuting them when they did not. It was the last of the great persecutions before his successor would ultimately legalize the Christian religion.

Failure of succession

Diocletian abdicated due to a stomach illness in A.D. 305. He lived long enough to see that the system that he set up for orderly succession had failed as open warfare broke out soon after he gave up power.

Further reading

  • Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine (2001) covers 193-337 AD online edition