Diocletian and the Tetrarchy

The Third Century was a disastrous era for the Roman Empire. For roughly 50 years the Romans were embroiled in a destructive and bloody civil war that nearly destroyed the empire. Every two-bit general with a few legions to his command was revolting and declaring himself emperor, emperors reigns became so short-lived that people were buying statues with replaceable heads and arms, whole swathes of the territory became independent kingdoms, barbarians increased attacks on the German border, the Parthians were up to no good as always, and the Roman economy crumbled.

The Crises came to an end in 284 when Diocletian came to the throne. Diocletian had the unenviable task of picking up the pieces and putting the empire back together after 50 years of chaos. He instituted a number of economic, military, administrative, and social reforms to that end. One of the most interesting was the institution of the tetrarchy.

One of the systemic problems that Diocletian recognized was that the empire was just too darned big for one government to manage. In order to remedy this, Diocletian divided the empire into two, the eastern empire, and the western empire. He then further divided east and west again, thus creating four distinct territories. The west would be ruled by a senior emperor (Augustus) and a subordinate junior emperor (Caesar). Likewise, the east was ruled by a senior and junior emperor. Thus, the Roman Empire was divided into quarters each ruled by its own emperor.

 

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While in theory, the tetrarchy was a good idea, in reality, Diocletian had ignored a fundamental aspect of the Roman system going back to the days of Julius Caesar and the Triumvirate; Romans don’t like sharing power. If the Roman government was rife with political chaos and intrigue when there was one emperor, imagine what it would be like when there were four emperors.

In 305 AD Diocletian retired as emperor, becoming the only emperor in Roman history to do so. A mere year later disputes broke out between the tetrarchs and a usurper took the throne in the west. The tetrarchs asked Diocletian to come out of retirement in order to stabilize the situation, but Diocletian refused claiming he had a nice crop of cabbages to grow.

Eventually, open warfare erupted and the tetrarchs began to murder each other in order to assume sole power. In the battle that resulted, a tetrarch named Constantine dominated and became sole emperor, the Roman emperor most known today for founding the city of Constantinople and legalizing Christianity in the empire.

 

While the tetrarchy was short-lived, it set the precedent that the empire could be divided into separate administrative divisions. Over the fourth century, the eastern and western halves of the empire grew apart until finally in 395 AD they completely split, thus creating the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

 

Memes

 

Can you Identify the Armored Vehicle?

20 COMMENTS

  1. The mystery vehicle is the Russian TOR missile system; NATO designation SA-15 “Gauntlet”.
    Thank you for the interesting challenge.

        • That would be unsatisfying. It would be like holding an object in my hand, in Arizona, and asking you (in Bavaria) to guess what it is.

          Unless we’re talking about “remote viewing” and that’s a completely different topic.

  2. Never really got interested in what was called “Ancient History” when I was in school. All we were ever taught in grade school was stuff about Egypt, the Holyland, and a smattering of things like why 1019AD was important, and what it meant. High school was mostly American history.

    The soldiers in the header photo look to be wearing modern foot gear. Perhaps you and Beans can collaberate and come up with something about the more mundane aspects of a Roman solsier’s life. What did they wear for shoes? What were their field rations? How many support troops (e.g. armorers, cooks, medics, etc) went with them? Things like that.

    • May look like modern gear, but Roman footwear was pretty ‘modern.’ Socks, heavy wool socks, and boots made much like modern boots or sandals that pretty much cover the foot and ankle with a single lace up the center. And hobnails.

      Our noble host knows more about all things Roman, so I’ll let him elucidate about the rest of that.

      My knowledge is more medievalist, and the answer to that would be, boots and hosen, bread and porridge and whatever meats are available, the number of camp followers varied and included farriers and mule skinners and cooks and medics (often priests, brothers and nuns) and blacksmiths and some armorers (more to fix stuff than to make stuff) and comfort troops. Oftentimes the camp followers were families of the troops and supplemented by whomever attached themselves to the army. And the inevitable pawn brokers, hucksters, charletans, actors, singers, and other ‘low lifes.’

      I am pretty sure that, depending what period of Roman history you’re talking about, much of the same followed the Roman armies. Just like they followed the Egyptian armies, the Persian armies, the Cathagenians, the Goths, the Huns, whomever.

      • Over 600 years or so, everything changed. Most people start at the Marian Reforms implemented in 107 BC by the statesman Gaius Marius. It led to standardized arms and armor and central logistics purchases.

        The Soldier’s Boots or sandals were standard from this point on and were worn as Beans points out, with hobnails on the soles. In cold weather they wore socks. In very cold weather they wore a waterproof felt boot, sometimes within a leather boot.

        The more common pictures show Roman legionnaires wearing light summer clothing (campaigning season). The more common armor was lorica hammata (chainmail) and that evolved for lorica segmentata (strips of steel). Legionnaires also wore boiled leather cuirasses and a lot of that depended on where they campaigned and what was available. There was an effort to standardize within each legion, but a lot of them wore recycled armor – true in the Middle Ages as well. Chainmail could be mended. Segmentata could be re-built.

        Trousers were worn in cold climates during the winter (in winter quarters).

        The reforms put the responsibility of supplying and managing an army in the hands of each general, not unlike the British system. The general received money and he bought the kit for everyone. The obvious opportunities to shortchange the soldiers is obvious. Generals like Gaius Julius Caesar took care that his soldiers were well equipped and happy, but it wasn’t universally true. (see recycling)

        A Man at Arms: A Novel by Steven Pressfield is an excellent characterization of a legionnaire and an auxiliary legionnaire. (released 2021)

  3. Chris Wray, the director (LOL) of the Feckless, Bungling, Incompetent’s just said the FBI has not, and will not, investigate and track violent incidents by BLM or Antifa. Make of that what you will.

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