9 Religious Revolution

  1. THE END OF THE TETRARCHY


  1. Stage 1
  • 305 Maximian and Diocletian retire (die 310 and 312 respectively)
    • Private life after being emperor was unprecedented 
    • Diocletian’s retirement seems to have been willing - possible pressure from Galerius?
    • Constantius and Galerius promoted to Augusti
    • 2 new Caesares promoted: Maximin Daia and Severus
  • Both close to Galerius: lends support to the Christian viewpoint that Galerius is the controlling agent
  • Constantius and Maximian both have adult sons: Constantius and Maxentius
    • Both overlooked: unusual for a biological son to be ignored in the succession
      • cf. Adoptive principle only worked in 2nd century because emperors had no biological sons
    • One of the only points in history where there was a genuine attempt to introduce a succession plan that overlooked biology in favour of merit 
    • Vision only lasts for one generation; passing on of power falls apart after one generation
    • Roman world cannot cope with biological sons being omitted/biological sons cannot cope with being omitted


  • 306 Constantius, now Augustus in the West, dies; his troops proclaim Constantine as Augustus
    • Difficult to reconstruct the narrative of events; first Christian emperor, Christian sources dominate late antiquity, therefore the narrative is unanimously pro-Constantine 
    • Acclamation engineered by Constantius; recognised by Galerius
    • Severus elevated to Augustus in the west
    • Constantine acclaimed as Caesar 
  • This leads Maximian’s son Maxentius aggrieved… revolts
    • Maximian comes out of retirement to join sons’ revolt against Severus
    • Severus’ troops refuse to fight, Severus imprisoned
  • 307 Constantine allies himself with Maximian and Maxentius
    • Married daughter of Maximian 
  • 308 Diocletian comes out of retirement to form new tetrarchy 
    • Licinius appointed by Galerius as Augustus
    • Maximinus and Augustus named Caesar - junior position
    • Maximinus and Constantine demand elevation to Augustus
      • End up in situation with 4 co-emperors, rather than 2 senior and 2 junior 


  • Diocletian’s system stabilises constant usurpation 
  • Attempts to put down a stable succession falls apart almost immediately 
    • Attempt to provide stability works for a generation but is a failure due to the inability to fix the main problem of the empire: the issue of succession 


  1. Stage 2 
  • 310 Maximian comes out of retirement… AGAIN (against own son)
    • Tells troops that Constantine is dead and retreats to Marseille… commits suicide
    • Problem for Constantine; draws his legitimacy from Maximian
      • Constantine has to look for a new basis/claim to legitimacy 
    • New narrative: appropriation of Claudius Gothicus 
      • Claim to imperial authority based on his father having been an emperor, and Claudius Gothicus
      • ‘third ruler after two rulers of your line’ based on familial dynasty rather than the tetrarchic system
      • No other tetrarchic rulers can make this claim
  • 311 Galerius dies - seems to have been holding things in check
    • When Galerius dies, things fall apart… possibility of civil war
    • Constantine and Licinus become allies and then each pick off another member of the tetrarchic college
      • Licinius goes agains Maximin Daia
      • Constantien goes against Maxentius
  • 312 Constantine defeats Maxentius 
    • Night before the battle, Constantine converts to Christianity and is thus victorious 
  • 313 Maximinus Daia defeated by Licintus 
    • Both battles report having been aided by religious aid 
  • Now 2 Augusti.. but no Caesars. Indication both emperors are looking to dynastic rule, and probably both have ambition for sole rule
  • 316 Fausta, Constantine’s second wife, daughter of Maximian, gives birth to Constantinus; catalyst for accelerating conflict between Licinus and Constantine
  • Christian sources recall this as having been motivated by Constantine’s desire to stop Licinus persecuting Christians in eastern provinces
  • More likely this is Constantine’s ambitions for dynastic rule being given a positive spin by later Christian authors
  • 317 Uneasy peace, 2 Augusti and 3 Caesars 
    • Pretence of alliance continues 
  • 324 Constantine defeats Licinus, surrenders and executed
    • Rome returns to having a single ruler 
  • Political instability of the third century seems to have been ended temporarily by Diocletian’s tetrarchic reforms. 
  • Constantine manages to rule the whole empire on his own, which no other emperor was able to due during the third century 
  • Could be argued that he only managed to do this because the empire had been stabilised by the reforms of Diocletian
  • How successful actually was Constantine’s rule? Based entirely on later Christian sources - bias


II. THE START OF A CHRISTIAN EMPIRE?


  • Constantine takes an interest in church politics 
  • Constantine calls church councils, first in 325 










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