|GERRYMANDERING AN EMPIRE
Gerrymandering: to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible; to divide (an area) into political units to give special advantages to one group.
On this page, I use the word "gerrymander" in a limited sense referring to the division of an area into political units. At the end of the third century, Diocletian divided up the Empire to bring efficient administration. He sought to improve Rome's governmental structures halting Empire wide deterioration.
I'm following a chronological approach to this lecture rather than a topical one. I begin with Diocletian and end with Constantine.
Diocletian (A.D. 284-305) assumed power when Rome's power and vitality are eroding away. The succession problem continues. Diocletian believes he can provide stability by solving this continuing problem.
Diocletian, a military leader, busies himself during his first few years putting down rebellion on the northern and eastern frontiers. An excellent field general, Diocletian accompanied his men in their campaigns. While in the field he found Imperial administration difficult. He appointed three officers to lead various armies. In 286 he sent Maximian to Gaul to put down rebellion. Diocletian gave Maximian the title "Caesar" to denote his authority. Diocletian retained the title "Augustus." In 293 Constantius Chlorus put down a British rebellion. Diocletian gave him the title "Caesar" too. At the same time Germanic tribes along the Danube rebelled and Diocletian rewarded Galerius with the same title and sent him to settle the border regions down.
The use of "Caesar" is not new. As early as Antonius Pius, Emperors used the title to denote the "heir apparent." Here the title took on a slightly different cast because it is not immediately apparent just which general stood next in line.
Each Caesar successfully pressed each campaign leaving their leadership unquestioned. Each general remained dispersed throughout the Empire. Diocletian determined to utilize them to more efficiently administer the Empire. To accomplish this, Diocletian established four military districts, or prefectures. Diocletian, Constantius Chlorus, Maximian and Galerius all wear the title Prefect. Diocletian established his court in Nicomedia, Galerius at Sirmium, Maximian at Milan and Constantius Chlorus at Trier. Diocletian then broke down each prefecture into provinces, with a total of 96 throughout the Empire. He stationed a military contingent in each province with leaders responsible to their Prefect. Diocletian kept troop strength low to keep any provincial commander from grabbing too much strength.
Ultimately the government took on a pyrimidical shape. Diocletian held full control; no one doubted that. Diocletian and Maximian held the title "Augustus," while Galerius and Constantius Chlorus took "Caesar." Now we again see the concept of "Caesar" as heir apparent. Diocletian planned for Constantius Chlorus and Galerius to step up at a specified time. Once that occurred new Caesars would be appointed. These new leaders would also be the Prefects of the Prefecture of the East and the Prefecture of Italy. Diocletian really believed this would result in smooth transitions.
Everything ran well for 20 years. Effective delegation occurred and peace reigned. The church found itself left almost entirely alone. About 301, things changed.
Lactantius, a Roman historian, recorded that Christians offended the gods at a ceremony in Galerius' court. Romans typically consulted the gods for portents prior to important state decisions or military campaigns. The ceremony involved the examination of an animal sacrifice's entrails. During one of these examinations in 303, Christians in court genuflected at the wrong time messing everything up. No portents were gleaned from the ceremony. The gods refused to communicate because Christians served in government.
Persecution resulted! In February, 303, Diocletian dismissed all Christians from the armed services and the government. This action did not satisfy Galerius. He outlawed Christian worship, destroyed church buildings and burned Scriptures. Government edict ordered all Christians to sacrifice to the gods on pain of torture, deportation or execution. Lasting some eight years, this persecution proved the most severe persecution Christians faced. The fact that a church building in Nicomedia sported a spire taller than the Imperial palace irritated Diocletian and added fuel to the fire. Then fire broke out in Diocletian's quarters. The Romans blamed Christians for the fire because they made an easy scapegoat.
As usual, the persecution's severity depended on where you lived. Galerius pressed persecution heavily. Christians in the Prefecture of the East suffered greatly, too. Maximian acted less strongly and up in Gaul, Constantius Chlorus did very little.
Gaul's lack of persecution can be traced to several factors. First, very few Christians lived in Gaul. Christianity's strength remained in the Empire's eastern half. Second, Helena, Constantius' beloved concubine and Constantine's mother, professed Christ. Constantius looked upon Christians with a degree of favor. He enforced the first edict, the removal of believers from military and government service, but little more. From all we can tell, no Christians died in Gaul.
Meanwhile Diocletian's retirement program went into effect. Some historians believe Diocletian suffered a stroke in 304 prompting him to retire in 305. He sent word to Maximian that it's time for the two Augustii to step down. Although displeased with the order, Maximian obeyed. Galerius and Constantius Chlorus stepped up to their new position and Caesar selection begins.
Most Imperial citizens knew who was next in line. They believed Maxentius, Maximian's son, would be the new Caesar in the West, and Constantine, Constantius' son, would take over in the East. Constantine's presence in the eastern army verified that assumption. Galerius, however, talked Diocletian into discarding both men. Instead, Diocletian appointed Maximin Caesar in the East and Severus in the West. Galerius probably argued that to do otherwise promoted family dynasties. Diocletian's plan had held only one dynastic element: Diocletian forced his Caesars to marry Augustii's daughters. This order proved a source of hard feelings for Constantius. Diocletian forced him to divorce Helena and marry Maximian's daughter. In spite of the alterations and substitutions the plan seemed to work well.
Constantius Chlorus died in office during a British campaign. He became ill at York and lay ill for some time. Constantine, who found himself almost a prisoner in the East, escaped arriving in York just before his father died. Constantius' soldiers proclaimed Constantine the new western Augustus subverting Diocletian's whole scheme. The mess could've been avoided by merely allowing Severus to move up and retain Constantine as Caesar. Galerius, trying to avoid conflict, agreed to the alteration. Maxentius now came back into the picture. He executed Severus and demanded recognition as the "rightful" successor to Constantius Chlorus. He demanded the position of Augustus over Constantine. Galerius, dumbfounded by all the confusion, tried to solve the problem by appointing Licinius Augustus.
Now while all this governmental mess is taking place, Christian persecution continues although at a reduced pace. Galerius's officials continued to persecute Christians heavily. In 311 Galerius became mortally ill and cancelled all persecution orders. Christians came back into the open and rebuilt their churches. Six days after rescinding his edicts, May 6, 311, Galerius died. Galerius withdrew the persecution for three reasons: (1) He was ill. (2) Persecution didn't work. (3) Public opinion turned against him.
With Galerius out of the picture, Maximin moved up to become the new Eastern Augustus. He kept the status quo for a time but within six months reinstated persecution. He soon realized it didn't work and he soon stopped it. For all intents and purposes, Galerius' 311 edict ended Roman persecution. At this point about 10% of the Empire's population professed Christianity with about 5-7 million believers scattered throughout the Empire.
Before his death Galerius tried to persuade Constantine to become Caesar rather than Augustus. Had everything been equal, Constantine might have agreed. At the time, however, Maxentius set out to carve out Italy for himself. Maxentius invited his father, Maximian, back and he takes over southern Gaul. Constantine immediately moved to solidify his position in northern Gaul and Britain. Under pressure Maximian bowed out.
In an effort to firm up his position, Constantine married Maximian's daughter, Fausta. At one point you have a father, Maximian, son, Maxentius and son-in-law, Constantine, all struggling for power. Thinking Maximian could not be trusted, Constantine ordered his execution in 310. Constantine then held the Prefecture of Gaul and Maxentius the Prefecture of Italy. Licinius remained in the picture, too. Constantine's advisers suggested he stop. Refusing to listen, Constantine moved against his brother-in-law in 312. Crossing in northern Italy, Constantine fought his way down the boot. Constantine's naval fleet cut off Roman grain supplies which increased pressure on the city. By autumn Constantine reached central Italy and was ready to move on Rome.
Somewhere near Rome Constantine saw his famous vision. Lactantius, a devout Christian, discussed this vision in just 31 words. The lack of embellishment gives the incident believability. Eusebius of Caesarea also recorded the event, as do most heathen writers of the period. He saw the Christian "Chi Rho," the symbol of Christ and over it appeared the words, "Under this sign, conquer." Constantine took the vision literally and painted the symbol on each soldier's shield. He also ordered it made into a laborium, or regimental banner.
Maxentius had an excellent military position inside Rome's walls. The city was well provisioned and fortified. Inside the city walls, however, Maxentius found it difficult to control his men. Maxentius and his men simply pulled any girl they desired off the streets for sex. As a result, fighting occurred between the Praetorian Guard and the city's residents.
Maxentius consulted the gods about the coming battle with Constantine. The portents showed that Rome's enemy would fall. He concluded Constantine was doomed and for some unknown reason chose to abandon his stronghold and ventured outside to fight. Military science states that an army laying siege to a well fortified city must outnumber the enemy 3:1. Maxentius and Constantine were about evenly matched. Maxentius could have defeated Constantine had he remained inside the city. As it was, Constantine outflanked him and pushed him into a situation where the Tiber surrounded his forces on three sides. Maxentius and a handful of carefully selected cavalry made a mad dash for Rome. Constantine's cavalry pursued and everyone reached the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber at about the same time. A melee followed and Maxentius ended up in the river where he drowned. The date is October 28, 312. Constantine then held all power in the Empire's western half.
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