Dr Byron Waldron (The University of Sydney) ‘Diocletian and the Sword of Damocles: The Tetrarchic Experiment as a Dynasty of Soldiers’

At the turn of the fourth century AD, four soldiers ruled the Roman Empire: Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius and Galerius. This Tetrarchy, as modern scholars call it, was established by the senior emperors, Diocletian and Maximian, and brought stability to an empire shaken after a half-century or more 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, which was 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 their products. The approach of the Tetrarchs 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’s ‘new empire’, the Tetrarchy ultimately originated within the third-century zeitgeist.

Podcast can be found here