Lives of the Caesar – Diocletian Trivia

Palace of Diocletian Remains
Palace of Diocletian Remains
Restitution of the Porta Ferrea of Diocletian’s palace in Split/Spalato. Photograph from E. Hébrard and J. Zeiller, Spalato, le Palais de Dioclétien, Paris, 1912. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

I’ve been reading Lives of the Caesar, edited by Anthony A. Barrett. The name deliberately echoes Suetonius although the Caesars are different. Barrett has put together essays by 12 scholars whom he says are each experts on the Caesar they have written about. This is a wonderful way to sample the writing of the scholars and so far I have found only one whose writing bothered me. I’m on #10.

The one whose writing bothers me probably wouldn’t have frustrated me in the days before search engine optimization, keywords, and tags. That’s because in those pre-Internet days I knew how to follow pronouns. I didn’t have to stop and draw lines connecting “he” with its antecedent, but after 11 years of replacing pronouns with keywords as often as possible, I’ve lost my grip on pronouns (and yes, 11 years ago, I would have substituted “them” for the final “pronouns”).

It’s hardly the scholar’s fault, so I really don’t want to say which of them is throwing me for a loop. I’ve read reviews of other material he’s written and he is described as an excellent writer who makes the difficult subject matter he covers understandable.

Right now I’m reading Simon Corcoran’s chapter on Diocletian. He says we know virtually nothing about the pre-imperial Diocletian. He may even have been a slave. This reminds me that all those statements made about how things were in Rome really need time parameters. Pertinax had become emperor in 193 despite the fact that his father had once been a slave. By the time of Diocletian, it is possible that an ex-slave could have become emperor. Corcoran thinks it more likely that Diocles (as he was called before becoming emperor) was the son, like Pertinax.

Another interesting bit of speculation revolves around what Diocletian was making of the imperial succession. It may appear that Diocletian was anti-dynastic, but when he created the pair of vice-emperors, the Caesars Constantius and Galerian, there was only one available son of the Augustuses (pardon the plural) and he was too young to rule. So Diocletian arranged marriages with the Augustuses’ daughters. Constantius and Galerian were, thus, sons by marriage.

A third bit of trivia from Corcoran that also addresses possible misconceptions about Diocletian is about his making Galerian run a mile beside him as he rode in a chariot, near Antioch, in 297. The usual interpretation is that Diocletian was angry because Galerian had acted prematurely and therefore suffered defeat at the hands of Narses, king of Persia. Instead, it is possible that Diocletian was showing off Galerian’s remarkable physical prowess.


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