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Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (Roman…

Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (Roman Imperial Biographies) (alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi 1985; vuoden 1996 painos)

– tekijä: Stephen Williams (Tekijä)

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
921223,543 (3.86)3
First published in 1997. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
Teoksen nimi:Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (Roman Imperial Biographies)
Kirjailijat:Stephen Williams (Tekijä)
Info:Routledge (1996), Edition: 1, 264 pages
Kokoelmat:Shields Library, DonationsSpring18
Arvio (tähdet):

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Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (tekijä: Stephen Williams) (1985)

Viimeisimmät tallentajatmichael.wolstencroft, CampbellLibrary2020, Buchvogel, yksityinen kirjasto, bookfitz, Meleos, AggieShields

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A successful revolution will leave the buildings standing. A visitor to Rome in 303 would find the Republican and Imperial monuments, the palaces, amphitheaters, libraries, temples, circuses, theaters and baths in all their glory. In fact, the largest bath of them all was under construction. Externally, at least, the city prospered. But the society that the city was the avatar of had changed. Augustus or Marcus Aurelius world scarcely recognize it. The chaos of the Third Century took the stable, peaceful and prosperous empire of Antonius Pius, who could spend his entire twenty-three year reign never going more than fifty miles from the capitol, to the Crisis of the Third Century where the average emperor reigned for less than five years. The man most responsible for finally ending this is the subject of Stephen Williams’ excellent biography, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery.

This work fills a major gap in English language scholarship on a man who deserves far more attention. It is organized in to five major sections, running roughly chronologically, but each also following a theme. The first is an outline of the descent into the Anarchy and subsequent rise of the “Barracks Emperors”. The second recounts what little is known of Diocletian’s early years and his rise to the purple. The third (and longest) covers his military and economic reforms. The fourth is on religious policy (mostly). The book concludes with an account of the wars of the Tetrarchy, the rise of Constantine the Great and the later collapse of the West and survival of the East.

While reading Williams’ biography, two other works were called to my mind. The first is Peter Turchin’s War and Peace and War. Turchin’s thesis that a civilizational frontier gives social cohesion or asabiyya has a compelling test case in the Roman Empire of Diocletian’s time. The center of civilizational cohesion had shifted from a demilitarized and “soft” core to the more rough-hewn frontier provinces, places like Illyricum. The anarchy of the Third Century saw the displacement of the old Mediterranean Senatorial aristocracy of Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Syrians & Africans and its replacement by the frontier Illyrian officer class to which Diocletian belonged. As Williams describes them: “The Illyrian officers tended to be even more ‘Roman’ than the contemporary senatorial class…Many of them cultivated what they took to be the strict old Roman manners, especially in family life and traditional religious piety” and “what better qualifications for a consulship, than having risen by one’s own virtues to command in arduous and successful wars? These men alone could save the Empire from being carved into pieces, and they were determined to do it.” This then, is the ethos out of which Diocletian arose.

The second work is Edward Luttwak’s Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire. An acknowledged large portion of Williams’ account of the change in Roman military posture is drawn from Luttwak’s. With Diocletian, the Empire switched from having a hard shell with the legions on the borders, to a defense in depth. Militia-like limitanei were based on the frontier manning the fieldworks and fortresses. Their role was as border patrol and a tripwire, buying time for the professional field army to arrive. Taking for granted that this is what Diocletian was actually trying to do (which is beyond the scope of this review), there are enormous pitfalls to this strategy of trading space for time. Basically, frontier districts are sacrificed to protect more productive and populous core areas. Given that by this time, the Roman Army was recruited from the very areas to be sacrificed, this cannot have had a positive effect on the morale of either the citizens of these provinces or the legionaries from there. The decision to not take war to the enemy beyond the frontiers meant that barbarians could slowly build infrastructure and marshal resources without worrying about reprisal. Roman policy from Caesar to Marcus Aurelius had been to fight in enemy lands if possible.

As Williams relates it, Diocletian was a profoundly old fashioned and conservative man. Yet upon his ascension to power, he radically altered Roman government, with his most celebrated reform being the creation of the Tetrarchy. Though again, he could point to Roman history for examples-first to the now idealized co-reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus or to the even older split executive of the Republic. As Williams describes it, the Tetrarchy was not part of a master plan thought out in advance by Diocletian, but a series of ad hoc measures designed to counter developing crises as they arose. First of these the problems of concurrent Germanic incursions in the north and Persian advances in the east. These required the presence of someone with imperial authority in each region. The experience of the past century indicated that a general with that kind of authority and an army at his back was soon a threat to the Emperor, starting with Avidius Cassius under Marcus Aurelius. Without an heir or family member to place in that spot, Diocletian was forced to create another Emperor, selecting the general Maximian. This co-Emperor or Augustus and the top office was now called, held powers were equal to Diocletian in theory (but probably not so in practice). The problem of succession over the past century necessitated the creation of the Caesar, a vice-emperor. Diocletian’s personal familial situation probably led him to return to the Antonine principal of adoptive, rather than familial succession. As Napoleon lamented of himself, he did not have the legitimacy of a dynasty to fall back on should he run into a string of bad luck. Therefore, he needed someone ready to go, and this appointed vice-emperor position seemed a good solution in theory. Both selected another general, with Diocletian taking Galerius as his Caesar, and Maximian, Constantius Chlorus.

Unfortunately, as a soldier, Diocletian shared some of the less flexible aspects of the military mind. Chief among these was a fixation on a rigid chain of command and strong centralized authority. The “loose” empire of the First and Second Centuries was now long gone. As Williams says:

“He had never been a believer in giving officials a loose rein. For him, good government was closely supervised government. The kind of governor he wanted was a legally trained and expert man, but not the senatorial viceroy of the earlier Empire-rather, the conscientious functionary who carries out his assigned duties according to the rulebook.”

This growing bureaucratization was much different than that of the First and Second Centuries where, for instance, Trajan was content to “let the governors govern”. The subsidiarity of the older empire did not survive the crippling demands of the central government and growing civil service. Surpluses that had been channeled into building the infrastructure we still see today were now going to support the larger army and government required to feed and supply it. Again Williams:

“The suggestion that the new order was in some sense totalitarian arises out to the increasing compulsory State organization of what were previously voluntary guilds and municipalities. This was in contrast with the past, and made the new Empire a more oppressive place to live in. In the Second Century the profusion of prosperous, self-governing cities had been the glory of Rome’s achievement in the Mediterranean. They had seemed concrete proof that the free life of the citizen in the polis could be combined with a monarchy. But this great vitality of the urban gentry had been destroyed in the crisis and never really returned.”

Diocletian’s attempt to circumvent this increase in complexity and scale was to further subdivide the provinces (a trend carried on since Severan times), but this merely multiplied the problem. The problem was, as Williams says, “the public spirited citizen was replaced by the uniformed bureaucrat.” This type of solution will only delay the day of reckoning.

Part of this move to the professionalization and bureaucratization was the separation of civil and military power on every level below that of the Emperor himself. Diocletian banned senators from military command, and thus severed the last tenuous thread that linked the old aristocracy with the real power in the Empire. The long-term ramifications of this move are hard to overestimate. Williams says:

“It also meant a steady separation of professional ladders. Lack of education and culture was no longer a handicap in a purely military career, and the logical result was that it became easier for officers of German, ‘barbarian’ origin to climb the promotion ladder. Conversely, the new generation of educated equestrians eager for government jobs had no need to master the science of war, but relied solely on their training in rhetoric and law as they queued up for appointments in the expanded staffs of the governors, vicars, Prefects and departments of the Court.”

The separation of the connection with being “Romanized” and advancement in the military would widen the already large divergence between the soldier and citizen from a gap to a gulf. Already towards the end of his life Diocletian could see the results of his reform here, as Constantius Chlorus was creating his own rival base of power. As part of his campaigns in Gaul and Britain, Constantius had settled large numbers of Germans in his territories and had begun to recruit heavily from them. These Franks and Alemanni had no connection at all to Rome and would be a major part of its undoing over the next century. The “Virtus Illyrici” had saved the Empire from the crisis of the Anarchy. But the Illyrians, despite their rough edges, were Romans.

Diocletian’s “conservative” reforms make an interesting parallel to those of Augustus, three centuries earlier. Both found an Empire in crisis. Both stood on shaky ground with rivals to the throne. To legitimize and cement their control, both turned to religion. Augustus could claim descent from Venus through the Julians. Diocletian associated himself with Jupiter. Perhaps as a sign of how authority was intended to be divided, Maximian was affiliated with Hercules, so Diocletian could remain on Olympus and govern while Maximian would wander the Empire carrying out “Labors”. A side effect of this was the infamous Diocletianic Persecution of the growing Christian minority. Already though, paganism seemed to be losing its energy, as Julian would later find out.

The zeitgeist of the time is apparent with how each managed the external and formal trappings of power. Augustus was content with cloaking his absolute power in old Republican forms. Diocletian, however, adopted the court ceremony of the East, perhaps influenced by his time in Egypt. With all inhabitants of the Empire now equally subject to his rule, why not emphasize the difference between his own semi-divine personage and that of his subjects? This had been the pattern successfully followed in the east for centuries. The roots of Byzantium and its court are here.

The thing that makes Diocletian stand out among Roman Emperors, and upon further reflection, rulers throughout the history of the world, is his surprising abdication. This is what captured my interest in him as a man. That someone who held for over twenty years the absolute power that drove Caligula, Nero, Commodus and Elagabalus mad would, of his own accord, walk away is almost unparalleled. Granted he was sickly and tired in the last few years of his reign, but how many others in history have clung tenaciously to power, even as illness and dotage saps their vitality? This says something for the “Virtus Illyrici”. Williams does as good a job as can be done to examine this aspect of the man, given the paucity of sources. Retirement seems to have reinvigorated him, even when he could see the breakdown of the system he worked so hard to put in place. After his mediation at the Carnuntum Conference, he famously refused the offer of his retired co-emperor Maximian to return to power, being content with his vegetable garden. That was something of which, despite the centuries that separated them, Cincinnatus would have approved.

But was it worth it? Diocletian in some ways merely continued and consummated processes already in motion from the time of Septimus Severus. It is certainly possible to imagine a different solution, for instance if Aurelian not been assassinated. Perhaps a unified empire could have beaten back the tide and nurtured a revivified classical culture. As it actually went, the problems of the Western Empire would not be solved. The East’s military situation would only be satisfactorily resolved by the use of Isaurians as a domestic source of vitality and military manpower centuries later, in circumstances similar to the rise of the Illyrians of Diocletian’s day. But the world of classical antiquity had been hammered. Philosophy continued its descent into mysticism-exhausted. Art became more sterilized and brutal. The urban middle class disappeared and the cultured aristocracy morphed into a stagnant bureaucracy. Unwittingly perhaps, Diocletian had contributed to this. As an American officer (probably apocryphally) said in the Vietnam War of the village of Ben Tre, “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it”. To what lengths is it worth going to save something? Was the unmasking of the Roman Empire as an absolute theocratic monarchy with practically unlimited power over the lives of its citizens (or better termed from here on out, subjects) worth its continued existence? Or would an earlier breakup or collapse of the Roman State have had less catastrophic results for Europe, North Africa and the Near East? The things that made Classical civilization great were gone, and the titanic civilizational and spiritual void that was left was about to be filled by a source that would have shocked Diocletian. ( )
2 ääni Wolcott37 | Aug 24, 2013 |
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First published in 1997. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

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