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Roman Emperor - Diocletian

Updated on November 30, 2009
Photography by Giovanni Dall'Orto
Photography by Giovanni Dall'Orto

245 - 313 AD

Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, better known as Diocletian, was born near Salonae, Dalmatia (now Solin, Yugoslavia) in 245, Of humble origin, he pursued a military career and served with distinction under the emperors Probus, Aurelian, and Carus. He accompanied the Persian expedition of Carus, upon whose death and that of Numerian he was proclaimed Emperor by the troops at Calchedon. The assassination of Carinus quickly followed and Diocletian was acknowledged everywhere. Diocletian was a brilliant soldier and an able administrator and was responsible for reorganizing the Roman Empire.

He established the system of government known as the tetrarchy - a committee of four emperors, each responsible for a different part of the empire. He proclaimed Maximian Emperor of the West, appointed Galerius to control Thrace and Illyria, and Constantius Chlorus to rule Gaul and Spain (292). He himself administering Asia and Egypt.

Under the new arrangement a centralized government was established, taxation systematized, and the administration reformed. He brought financial stability through his reform of the currency. Diocletian severely persecuted the Christians in 303, regarding them as a menace to his rule. The last great persecution of the Christians took place during Diocletian's reign.

Diocletian made important administrative divisions of the provinces, and was responsible for far-reaching military and financial reforms, which were completed by Constantine the Great. The provinces were grouped in 12 dioceses and a vast bureaucracy, directly subject to the Emperor, was created. This gradually supplanted local autonomy. A new system of taxation was introduced, which in rural districts amounted to forced contributions of labour and produce, and so led to the ultimate serfdom of the peasant populations; municipal councils were made responsible for city taxes.

In 293, he further subdivided imperial power by appointing two junior emperors, or Caesars: Galerius and Constantius. The vast size of the empire was thus made more manageable. He also applied this principle of subdivision to the provinces, breaking the larger ones into smaller units, and then grouped the provinces into 13 administrative units, called dioceses, each governed by a vicarius. Each emperor had his comitatus (central administration and field troops), which travelled with him. This proliferation of administrative units increased the size of the Roman bureaucracy to vast proportions.

The attempt to stabilise prices in 301 was a complete failure, as also was an attempt to revive the old religion by a severe persecution of Christians in 303. Diocletian vastly increased the size of the army, yet another burden on the Empire's resources.

Diocletian's attempt to stabilise the currency and fix prices was unsuccessful, but he was more effective in his tax reforms. He carried out a census and instituted new taxes based on a fiscal unit of land and a head tax on individuals. A by-product of these measures was his edict fixing agricultural workers to the soil, which joined other such measures in contributing to the growth of hereditary castes associated with various professions, including the army.

His attitude to Christians reputedly changed from grudging tolerance to outright persecution. He is thought to have been encouraged to persecute Christians by Galerius, a rabid anti-Christian. Edicts were passed to prohibit Christians from joining the army or civil service, requiring all churches to be closed and the Scriptures burned, and depriving Christians of all rank.

In 305 Diocletian abdicated in favor of Galerius, as did Maximian, and he retired to his great palace at Salona, where he died in 313.

Diocletian has sometimes been compared to Augustus and described as second founder of the Empire.


  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 6, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 8.
  • Dictionary of World History, Helicon Publishing, 1993. Page 176.
  • Library of Essential Knowledge, Volume 2, Readers Digest, 1980. Page 605.
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 2, 1954. Page 395.
  • New Knowledge Library - Universal Reference Encyclopedia, Volume 8, Bay Books, 1981. Page 765.


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      Dylan 6 years ago

      Great read!! This is very interesting and will defintitely help me on my project. Thank you Darkside for you well writen essay

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      Karabel(lie) 6 years ago

      Great, Good facts to use for my Roman Emperor Project :)

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      Kmadhav 8 years ago from New delhi

      again I am reading history .......roman emperors are always remember for their qualities