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‘Sure and Dexterous Hand of the Founder’
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: Summation 13-14
© 2023 James LaFond
Diocletion was the son of a slave who worked his way into position of trust in the imperial structure. Then, when he was forced on pain of death if he refused, to become emperor, he spent 20 years attempting to develop a sustainable system that would permit him to resign, to retire to an estate, and have a few years free of bloodshed. He was a pious pagan and has been regarded as a persecutor of the Christians, though the evidence is thin. He was not a champion of Christianity and prayed to the old gods, he being a rustic man of the lower classes, and Christians of the age predominantly urban and suburban people of the upper classes. Christianity will be the subject of the next and final summation of this first volume. [1]
Dioclation appointed a co-emperor, a fellow Augustus, by the name of Maxim. This man was the opposite of Diocletion, a brutal rapist, torturer and fearless soldier. Diocletion cut a deal with his opposite so that he might focus on administration and war in the east against the formidable Persians and arrange for peace south of Egypt, where the Nubians were induced to form a buffer state against their fellow Blacks of Meroe.
The two Augusti appointed each a Caesar, who would do most of the fighting on the frontiers. Thus, Rome had four emperors, two senior, two junior, with the Italian homeland where none of these frontier born emperors came from, protected from the fierce northern barbarians by two armies, that of Maxim, who would manhandle the Sarmations and Eastern Germans and that of his subordinate, Constantius, [0] who would handle the Franks and other Western Germanic tribes and the terrible Picts and a rebel general in Britain.
In the east the brilliant and deft Diocletion had an army to fight the Persians in concord with a heroic Armenian prince who was said to be able to snap the horns from a bull’s head. This prince had a heroic companion, a warrior named Mango who was a deserter from Chinese military service in Central Asia. Dioclation also had a brutal general, a Caesar he appointed, named Galeanus.
The Persians would be broken and the northern barbarians chastised and driven back across their borders, or, like some tribes from the eastern Frontiers of Dacia, and Scythia provide tribal units to fight other barbarians in Britain. The emperors were reverting to the ancient Persian model of a mobile court and the use of client kingdoms and conquered tribes to provide ethnic units for service far away from their homeland.
A modern example would be if the U.S. Government chose San Francisco as the seat of a western government and the military function and logistical personnel of the Pentagon and the of the two presidents and two vice presidents were placed aboard air craft carriers to patrol the restive world. The deal with the two Caesars, was that they would succeed to the rule of their half of the empire when their boss retired, which they did, after 20 years.
Predictably with the retirement of Maxim and the ill health of Constantius, who should rise to Augustus in the West, would result in the following:
-Galeanus wanted it all.
-his newly chosen Caesar, Lucinius, a cruel vicious man, did not trust Diocletion to stay in retirement,
-Maxim wanted back in,
-Diocletion, the brains of the outfit, reminded Maxim that a deal was a deal and that he should really try gardening
-The loyal soldiers of Constantius, a solid and respected leader, upon his death bed in York, elevated Constantine, a young and vigorous conqueror, to oppose Galeanus
-Lucinius and Constantine both favored the Christian church and established extra brutal civic laws and revived the old Roman family extermination policies. Lucinious had the widow and daughter of his former boss, Diocletion hunted down and butchered. Constantine was simply a brute that signed off on such laws as executing newlyweds who did not get permission to wed from their parents.
The strong man, Constantine won victory and made rule from the eastern frontier where he and the emperors of his age mostly came from, the centerpiece of a new Roman Empire under the Cross, that would be governed from the modestly renamed Byzantium, known until its fall about 1200 years later as Constantinople.
As a novelist surely would have predicted, the complex management of four power centers required a flexible mind such as that of Dioclation, a mind formed in service, in a climb up through the ranks, the mind of a slave, of a civil servant who thought of the Empire as more important than himself. A warrior, virtually born in the saddle riding for his father, who was said to have sired Constantine upon a tavern owner’s daughter, while on campaign against the Sarmations on the Black Sea, was unfit for such civic compromise.
Constantine did support the reinvigoration of such pagan rites as boxing. Indeed, in the year 383, Varzadates, who would have been a younger relation of the Armenian Prince whose best warrior was Mango the Chinese mercenary, would win boxing at Olympia, the last record of such a victor by name. The rule of Rome by fighting men from the frontier was given stability and 20 years of coordinated victory free of civil war, by the one frontiersmen from among them whose father had been a bookish man [an accountant, I suspect] and who had taken to administration. Once that man stepped aside, weary to sickness of playing this brute off against that brute, the true nature of these frontier chieftains, would reveal itself in an imperial manner that canted ever towards the eventual feudal order that would replace it in the west under Christ and in the East under Islam.
Maxim would ignore his old boss’s suggestion that the growing of a fine head of cabbage could hold some meaning for that man of slaughter and rape he had somehow tamed for a generation. Maxim and his brute son would suffer what they had so often dispensed. The most chilling aspect of the disintegration of the Diocletion’s reforms, was that, seemingly in a bid to prevent the lineage of such an intelligent man from continuing, his family was exterminated by the very men he had trusted to protect them.
The Roman Empire was headed for a level of cruelty and a lack of forethought that exceeded that of Caligula, Nero and Commodos. As ingenius as the stop gap system was, designed as it was by a man caught in and laboring at the point of ten thousand swords, the costs were multiplied by four even as the economy suffered from war and a climate shift. The Huns were on their brutal way across Asia. The cold winds that drove them would eventually result in the Plague of Justinian in 525, perhaps the worst year in the history of Western Civilization and the true end of anything like Augustine Rome.
-0. Father of Constantine.
-1. Convincing evidence that Diocletion persecuted Christians as a priority are as lacking as evidence that Constantine and Lucinius were pious Christians.
-2. Stirrups found in the late 200s in Britain were likely from Sarmation levies, this practice by the time of Constantius some hundred years old.
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