In 284 AD, on this day forty-year old Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus (Diocletian) was chosen as Roman Emperor after the army unanimously saluted him as their new Augustus, and he accepted the purple imperial vestments.
Hedges of the Night
Article written by Ed, Scott Palter & Jeff ProvineFrom freedman had he risen steadily through the ranks of the military, serving in Gaul before the appointment as Dux Moesiae, cavalry commander of forces on the lower Danube. After the deaths of Carus and his son Numerian on campaign in Persia, Diocletian was proclaimed Emperor. The title was also claimed by Carus' other surviving son, Carinus, but Diocletian defeated him in the Battle of the Margus. With his accession to power, Diocletian ended the Crisis of the Third Century.
Diocletian appointed fellow officer Maximian Augustus his senior co-emperor in 285. He delegated further on 1 March 293, appointing Galerius and Constantius as Caesars, junior co-emperors. Under this "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. he led the subsequent negotiations and achieved a lasting and favorable peace.
His life experience provided Diocletian with a broad understanding of the operation of the power structures in the Roman Empire. And from his lowly birth status grew the germ of a compelling vision for meritocracy that would secure the future. Clearly to survive the centuries, the Empire needed to devolve into a symbiotic grouping of self-sustaining admnistrative provinces which could draw from local resources (the Rhine and Danube had the good recruiting grounds, whereas the East and to a lesser extent Italy/Africa had the money). But such a structure was always vulnerable to a powerful general whose ambition was to rule the whole Empire.
The answer to this conundrum was the progression of offices under which a Count of Britain picked in York by two Caesars and two Augusti could rise to higher order roles in Trier, Antioch, the Danube and finally Rome. As a further safeguard against dictatorship, Diocletian introduced a formal separation of powers, with a strong Senate and controls to keep the Praetorian Guard in check. It was these "hedges of the night" that would sustain the rule of four in the long centuries to come, preventing the civilized world from plunging into a dark age.