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The reign of Diocletian, and his three associates, Maximian, Gale
rius, and Constantius.-General re-establishment of order and tranquillity.-The Persian war, victory, and triumph.— The new form of administration.-Abdication and retirement of Diocletian and Maximian.
Elevation As the reign of Diocletian was more illustrious racter of than that of any of his predecessors, so was his tian, A.D. birth more abject and obscure. The strong claims
of merit and of violence had frequently superseded the ideal prerogatives of nobility; but a distinct line of separation was hitherto preserved between the free and servile part of mankind. The parents of Diocletian had been slaves in the house of Annulinus, a Roman senator; nor was he himself distinguished by any other name than that which he derived from a small town in · Dalmatia, from which his mother deduced her origin.* It is, however, probable, that his father obtained the freedom of the family, and that he soon acquired an office of scribe, which was commonly exercised by persons of his condition. Favourable oracles, or rather the con
a Eutrop. 9. 19. Victor in Epitom. The town seems to have been properly called Doclia, from a small tribe of Illyrians, (see Collarius, Geograph. Antiqua, tom. 1. p. 393.) and the original name of the fortunate slave was probably Docles: he first lengthened it to the Grecian harmony of Diocles, and at length to the Roman majesty of Diocletianus. He likewise assumed the patrician name of Valerius, and it is usually given him by Aurelius Victor.
See Dacier on the sixth satire of the second book of Horace. Cornel. Nepos, in Vit. Eumen. c. 1. VOL. II.
sciousness of superior merit, prompted his aspiring son to pursue the profession of arms and the hopes of fortune; and it would be extremely curious to observe the gradation of arts and accidents, which enabled him in the end to fulfil those oracles, and to display that merit to the world. Diocletian was successively promoted to the government of Mæsia, the honours of the consulship, and the important command of the guards of the palace. He distinguished his abilities in the Persian war; and, after the death of Numerian, the slave, by the confession and judgment of his rivals, was declared the most worthy of the imperial throne. The malice of religious zeal, whilst it arraigns the savage fierceness of his colleague Maximian, has affected to cast suspicions on the personal courage of the emperor Diocletian. It would not be
easy to persuade us of the cowardice of a soldier of fortune, who acquired and preserved the esteem of the legions, as well as the favour of so mány warlike princes. Yet even calumny is sagacious enough to discover and to attack the most vulnerable part. The valour of Diocletian was never found inadequate to his duty, or to the occasion; but he appears not to have possessed the daring and generous spirit of a hero, who courts danger and fame, disdains artifice, and boldly challenges the allegiance of his equals. His abilities were useful rather than splendid; a vigorous mind, improved by the experience and study of mankind; dexterity and application in business; a judicious mixture of liberality and economy, of mildness and rigour; profound dissimulation under the disguise of military frankness; steadiness to pursue his ends; flexibility to vary his means; and, above all, the great art of submitting his own passions, as well us those of others, to the interest of his ambition, and of colouring his ambition with the most specious pretences of justice and public utility. Like Augustus, Diocletian may be
c Lactantius (or whoever was the author of the little treatise De Mortibus Per. secutorum) accuses Diocletian of timidity in two places, c. 7, 8. In chap. 9 he says of him, " erat in omni tumultu meticulosus et animi disjectus.”