Ancient roman ruinsAt the turn of the fourth century, four soldiers ruled the Roman Empire: Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius and Galerius. This Tetrarchy, as modern scholars call it, was the brainchild of Diocletian, and under this emperor’s leadership, the regime brought stability to an empire shaken after a half-century of political and military convulsions.

Like other Roman dynasts, the Tetrarchs employed adoption and marriage in the expression of their rule, but they also ignored certain dynastic norms. Diocletian and Maximian presented themselves as brothers despite being unrelated, Diocletian and Galerius repeatedly excluded the sons of Tetrarchs from the succession, and imperial women were neither empresses nor deified.

This paper presents the Tetrarchic dynasty as a military experiment, created by and tailored to soldiers. At the beginning of Tetrarchic rule, Rome’s armies exerted an unprecedented influence over imperial politics, and the Tetrarchs themselves were products of these armies. Their approach to power and propaganda was in answer to the pressing need to forestall army rebellion, and was defined by their own experiences as career soldiers in an age of imperial upheaval. While often thought of as the beginning of the fourth-century ‘new empire’ (Barnes; Harries), the Tetrarchy ultimately originated within the third-century zeitgeist.

In 2018 Byron received his doctorate from the University of Sydney, and since then he has been researching political culture and imperial imagery in the age of Diocletian and Constantine. He is adapting his doctoral thesis into a book titled The Dynasty of Soldiers: Family Politics in the Tetrarchic Period, AD 284-311, and has produced forthcoming articles on politics and literature in the third and fourth centuries AD. He is a member of the Serbo-Australian excavation team working on a possible Tetrarchic imperial villa in Glac, Serbia, and has been conducting research for Professor Richard Miles’ ARC-funded project The Rise of Decline in the Later Roman Empire.


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