Emperor Diocletian dies after abdicating six years earlier

Today on December 3rd 311, Diocletian, one of Ancient Rome’s greatest emperors, finally succumbs to illness after abdicating the throne six years earlier.

The Roman Empire was on the brink of devastation and destruction prior to Diocletian’s rule. Rome had endured three decades of anarchy under a succession of poor leadership. The empire was in financial ruin and faced constant attacks from Germanic barbarians and raiding along its eastern borders. Diocletian’s reorganization of the fiscal, administrative, and military machinery laid the foundation for the future Byzantine Empire in the East. His actions also temporarily shored up the decaying empire in the West.

Diocletian is perhaps best known for his decision to split the empire in two, forming a western and eastern empire with separate emperors. He made himself emperor of the east while installing an old friend, Maximian, in the west. Diocletian reorganized the Roman legions and brought back old discipline, a defining characteristic of the Roman army. His reign is also infamous for executing the last great persecution of the Christians.

Diocletian ruled for more than twenty years, but his health increasingly deteriorated during his later reign. In an unusual decision, he abdicated the throne and decided to retire in peace. During an emotional farewell to his soldiers, he formally divested himself of his imperial purple cloak in an abdication ceremony held in Nicomedia. Maximian also reluctantly resigned the same day in Milan, however, he unsuccessfully attempted to reclaim his power several years later.

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