The Roman emperor from 284-305 was Diocletian and lived from 245-313. He was born in Illyricum (modern Yugoslavia), the son of a freed Dalmatian slave. Enlisting in the military Diocletian worked his way up through the ranks of the army until he commanded, being raised to the purple by the elections of the generals and officers before the age of 40. He is said to have secured power by illegitimate means. He was a constructive statesman who could plan in long range terms for the Empire's future and make bold innovations to secure efficient administration. Diocletian divided the power with three others, and established four imperial courts, none of them in Rome. His own court he established in Nicomedia, from there he could keep a close watch on the always threatening monarchs and tribes along the eastern borders. There were two Augusti, each with his slightly subordinate Caesar. Rivals contested his claim to the throne, but he subdued them all.

Diocletian was the most savage of all the persecutors of the church in what is called the tenth persecution, however, he ranks as one of the greatest of Rome's emperors. The sudden about face in Rome's history, from chaos and encroaching dissolution to a new access of vigor and stability, was largely the product of one reign, that of Diocletian, who occupied the throne for 20 years.

Diocletian mounted the throne, 284; at first he showed great favor to the Christians. In the year 286, he associated Maximian with him in the empire; and some Christians were put to death before any general persecution took place the fatal day fixed upon to commence the bloody work, the day in which the Terminalia were celebrated, and on which the cruel pagans boasted, they hoped to put a termination to Christianity. Two years before the end of his effective reign, Diocletian joined with his fellow Augustus, Maximian to order the most terrible of all persecutions of the Christians. He ordered his army purged of Christians, commanded churches to be destroyed, worship was prohibited, scriptures confiscated and burned, bishops were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Christians were demoted from places of honor. The whole power of the throne was turned loose to wipe the Christians out. Even the pagans were sickened at the horror. In 305 Diocletian, in accordance to his long announced intention, abdicated the throne and forced Maximian to do same. Persecution still raged, Galerius who has been blamed with instigating the persecutions in the first place was more intent than ever toward extermination.

On the appointed day, the persecution began in Nicomedia, the church was forced open and the books were burned. Diocletian and Galerius, not content with the burning of the books they had the place levelled to the ground. Then followed an edict commanding destruction of all the churches and books, and an order to render all Christians outlaws.

Diocletian succeeded in re-establishing imperial authority. Constantine carried forward most of Diocletian's reforms. His major departure was in the imperial policy toward Christians. Diocletian had persecuted the Christians in the belief that they were undermining his efforts to save the empire. His suspicions are understandable, they met together in what appeared to be secret societies, opposed military service, refused to acknowledge the emperor as divine. Diocletian had persecuted the Christians not because of their strange beliefs (he supported the idea of religious toleration), but because of their seemingly disloyalty to the state.

The persecution of Diocletian was, indeed, the crowning struggle of the old idea of the god-emperor against the already great and powerful organization that denied his divinity. Though Diocletian, still effuse to the effusion of blood, had moderated the fury of Galerius, enacted that their churches be demolished to the foundations. There was punishment of death to all who hold secret assemblies for worship. He delivered all the sacred books to be burned and the property of the church was confiscated putting the whole body of Christians outside the protection of the law. Diocletian was determined to rescue the faltering empire.

The persecution was general in all Roman Empire, particularly in the east and consisted of racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poison and famine. Why Diocletian became a persecutor is a matter of conjecture, then in his late fifties, he should be past making any drastic changes. In addition to the Christians in his household, his wife and his daughter, the wife of Galerius were either Christian or favorably disposed. Galerius is generally supposed to be the instigator.

In 304, a fourth edict seems to have been issued by Maximian, joint emperor with Diocletian. The storm was empire wide, from Britain to Arabia, especially in the East, where Christianity had its greatest numerical strength. It lasted more than a decade and endured longer in the East than in the West. Death penalty only used as a last resort, but torture was freely applied to induce the victims to recant and through it many perished. On occasion there was wholesale slaughter. Thus in Asia minor a Christian town was surrounded by soldiers and burned, together with its inhabitants. An eye witness declares that he saw wild beasts leave unharmed the Christians who had been exposed to them and turn upon those who were goading them on.

For reasons that are still subject to debate among historians, Diocletian, two years before the end of his highly effective reign, joined with his fellow Augustus, Maximian to order the most terrible of all persecution of the Christians. For 18 years, he paid no attention to the growing Christian power. His court was full of Christian functionaries, great churches were built, Christians were appointed governors of important provinces and excused from sacrificing to the emperor. Then suddenly, the old emperor ordered his army purged of Christians. The Imperial edict commanded that Christian churches should be destroyed, Christian worship prohibited, and, Christian Scriptures confiscated and burned. The protection of the laws was withdrawn from Christians. Christian bishops were rounded up wholesale, imprisoned, tortured, and many put to death, while the whole power of the throne was turned loose to wipe out the rest of the Christian community with blood. The church was subjected to perhaps its worst and most dreadful hour of trial. There was no corner of the Empire where Christians were not sought out, dragged before idols, and commanded to offer incense and sacrifice, or, if they refused, subjected to the most cruel tortures. Diocletian's abdication of the throne and that of Maximian Hercules, by his wish, signalled the end of the persecutions and the ultimate triumph of the church.

After a reign of some 20 years, he retired voluntarily to a palatial estate at Spalato in his native Illyricum..
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