Roman Emperor Diocletian – The Crisis Manager Whose Reforms Shaped Medieval Europe
In In the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse. Civil wars, Germanic invasions from the north, and aggressive Persian attacks from the east once destroyed the most powerful state on earth.
But Rome was far from over. In the darkest hour, the Roman general Diocletian (ruled 284-305) rose to power and turned the tide in favor of the Romans. The Roman Empire survived almost intact for another 150 years!
Roman Emperor Diocletian excelled in crisis management!
Diocletian increased the size of the army by a third, from 390,000 to 580,000 soldiers. The army was divided into border units, the limitanei, and the field armies, the comitatenses.
He doubled the number of legions, but also made each legion smaller. He reduced the number of soldiers per legions from 6,000 to 1,000 to make the legions more mobile.
To ease the need for recruits, Diocletian instituted annual conscription for the first time since the time of the Roman Republic. In addition, soldiers’ sons also had to enlist.
Diocletian knew that generals commanding large armies could challenge him for the throne. After all, that was how he himself became Roman Emperor.
To prevent any individual from obtaining a force large enough to challenge the emperor, Diocletian separated civil and military administration and divided the provinces into smaller ones.
Diocletian also established imperial arms factories which produced high quality weapons and armor for Roman armies.
Diocletian was obsessed with defence. He improved Roman border fortifications in Britain, along the Rhine and Danube, in North Africa and Syria. In addition, the cities of the provinces were protected by thick and high stone walls.
Diocletian knew that the concentrated attack would always pierce the borders of the Roman Empire. Therefore, he designed a genius-in-depth defense.
Forts and border towns were guarded by units called limitanei, whose task was to slow the advance of enemy troops. They were supported by cavalry units, called vexilatioposted behind the front lines.
Deep within the empire were stationed the mobile legions, the counties. They were stationed in important logistics centers from which they could quickly support the border regions.
Diocletian’s efforts resulted in a successful defense of the Roman Empire.
Diocletian realized that the Roman Empire was far too big to be ruled by one man.
To improve the speed of the Roman response to an attack, he divided the Empire into two: the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. Each moiety was ruled by two emperors, a senior emperor titled August and a junior emperor with the title Cesar. The system was called tetrarchy.
Diocletian spent little time in Rome, which became only a ceremonial capital of the Empire.
Trier (Germany) and Milan (Italy) to the west and Sirmium (Serbia) and Nicomedia (Turkey) to the east were much more convenient capitals for the effective defense of the Empire.
The Tetrarchy only lasted until 306. However, the division of the Roman Empire into two was here to stay. Eventually, the Eastern Roman Empire outlasted the Western Roman Empire for nearly 1,000 years.
Diocletian’s main goal was to ensure enough resources for the Empire’s army.
First, Diocletian attempted to restore the gold and silver standard and end the debasement of Roman coinage. Yet he failed because there was not enough gold and silver for the new coins.
The Roman economy suffered from massive inflation. To stop rising prices, Diocletian prescribed maximum prices for services and products. The idea didn’t work.
As a result, he reformed the tax system. Instead of paying with worthless coins, the Romans had to pay taxes in the form of goods and services. The taxation of small farmers and craftsmen was heavy. In contrast, senatorial elites were exempt from taxes.
Farmers could no longer pay their taxes and became sharecroppers (settlers) to the local elite. They have become slaves in their own land.
To avoid labor shortages, Diocletian instituted that professions become hereditary from father to son.
In the short term, Diocletian provided enough resources for the army. In the long term, it destroyed Roman society’s entrepreneurial spirit and social mobility.
Diocletian’s reforms had far-reaching consequences. Many reforms shaped the society of the Middle Ages.
Serfdom was a direct result of Diocletian’s economic reforms. Once free farmers became slaves and had to work for wealthy landowners without the ability to move.
The idea of medieval guilds arose from Diocletian’s order that sons should continue their father’s occupation.
Regional military leaders were called dux Where comeorigin of words duke and to count. In many medieval states with weak central authority, dukes and counts held the real power.
When Diocletian seized the throne of the ailing Roman Empire in 284, he faced a daunting task.
His reforms extended the existence of the Roman Empire for 150 years. However, Diocletian’s reforms made the lives of ordinary people unbearable.
By forcing farmers and artisans to support the army, Diocletian resurrected the army, but destroyed civilian life. Thus, the Empire lost its soul.