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Diocletian was a Dalmatian of humble origin, after rising to become commander of the imperial bodyguard, he successfully asserted his claim to the throne (284AD), two years later he appointed an old Danubian comrade, Maximian, as joint Augustus, then after a few years of fighting on the frontiers he converted the dual regime into a system based on four rulers( the tetrarchy). He nominated two more Danubians as secondary emperors, Galerius, who was to preside over parts of the east under Diocletian control, and Constantius I, who was to rule over western areas under Maximian.

 

There had been partitions in the empire before, but this arrangement was more elaborate and thoroughgoing and was intended to be permanant. It was designed to fulfil military needs and to ensure in due course an orderly series of collegiate imperial successions.

 

Diocletian took the un-precedented step of abdicating from the throne due to ill health (305) and persuaded Maximian to do the same, leaving Galerius and Constantius as the reigning Augusti in their places

 

Diocletian left a remarkable heritage, he was probably the greatest imperial organizer since Augustus. He made many reforms during his reign like raising the number of provinces from fifty to a hundred and then grouped the provinces into thirteen major units or dioceses. these dioceses, which in some cases pointed the way to national identities of the future, were administered by governer generals, and they in turn depended on the four praetorian prefects , who had now become great personages of the civil administration.

 

He also under-took with the help of his fellow tetrarchs the overhaul of the entire structure of the Roman army.

He issued an edict fixing maximum prices for all goods and transport costs, and maximum wages for all workers throughout the empire.

 

Does any one have anything else on him?

Edited by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

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I read a book on Diocletian a while back, and it seemed to stress that one of his measures of change was to make the status of Emperor even larger than ever seen, well away from the principate to something of a God-King of the old style. Maybe another measure to stave off rebellion by making the concept of attaining the purple beyond the scope of a mortal.

 

People like to rag on Diocletian since his reforms all pretty much failed, but you have to admire his attempt.

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Perhaps I will stand corrected, but I believe that he was the emperor who established the oriental style court.

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Diocletian's reforms amounted to feudalism with all its attendant evils.

 

Whether his motives were right or not is open to rank speculation, but I have a hard time believing in the good intentions of anyone with such a cavalier attitude toward foreseeable consequences. Wage and price controls inevitably lead to shortages and fail to curb inflation, which is caused almost entirely by monetary policies (such as debasing currency). Moreover, the Roman economy -- like all advanced economies-- was heavily dependent on specialization and free trade, which Diocletian upset enormously.

 

As far as I can tell, Diocletian was an uneducated rube. His asendancy was in direct proportion to the waning influence of Hellenic ideals and everything that made Rome great.

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Wage and price controls inevitably lead to shortages and fail to curb inflation, which is caused almost entirely by monetary policies (such as debasing currency). Moreover, the Roman economy -- like all advanced economies-- was heavily dependent on specialization and free trade, which Diocletian upset enormously.

 

It's easy to judge people in history with the hindsight of millennia, but harder to judge a man by putting his shoes on and seeing his world through his own ancient eyes...

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MPC, one could also say that since shortages may cause price increases that put the essentials of life out of the reach of the population, price controls become necessary. It is not unknown that merchants and traders will take advantage of local circumstances to raise their prices arbitrarily. The present oil situation being an example. Diocletian's price controls may have been a bad idea, but what were his alternatives? His interests may have been for the nation as a whole. Why should he have been able to see the consequences of price controls? He could see the consequences of greed.

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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MPC, one could also say that since shortages may cause price increases that put the essentials of life out of the reach of the population, price controls become necessary.

What becomes necessary is a short but pronounced restriction of the money supply. Price controls only increase shortages and beget the need for more controls, which begets the need for further restrictions, and then you quickly find yourself on a road to serfdom. Come to think of it--Hayek's thesis is literally PERFECT for what happened under Diocletian.

 

It is not unknown that merchants and traders will take advantage of local circumstances to raise their prices arbitrarily. The present oil situation being an example.

I'll not dispute contemporary economics in this forum.

 

Diocletian's price controls may have been a bad idea, but what were his alternatives? His interests may have been for the nation as a whole. Why should he have been able to see the consequences of price controls? He could see the consequences of greed.

 

There were several alternatives open to Diocletian. Most importantly, he needed to restore the value of coinage so that fewer coins were needed for the same goods. Rebasing the currency would have have helped enormously here. Second, several steps were necessary to increase productivity so that more goods were chasing the fixed supply of gold that existed (which would also deflate prices). The most important step would have been to have increased public order, peace, and security throughout the empire by turning local forces on brigands instead of neighboring lands.

 

Greed did not cause the inflation of the era. There is no good reason to belive that the men of Diocletian's time were any more (or less) greedy than they had been prior to, during, or after the period of inflation. In contrast, examination of the coins from this period show massive clipping, debased precious metal content, and similar moves that had the effect of devaluing the currency. All of these factors were widely known to cause higher prices. Any moron who tried to buy a loaf of bread with a bunch of clipped coins knew he had to pay more than the guy who tried to buy a loaf of bread with non-clipped coins.

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Cato, you use contemporary economics to explain your points...

 

Anyway, didn't Diocletian attempt to revalue coinage? I am almost certain that he did. The clipping you speak of are efforts of previous and probably later emperors to stabilize the economic situation.

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No doubt Diocletian was one of the few emperors who happened to get a chance to retire, rather than be assassinated, which is a feat in itself. The Tetrarchy, though he couldn't have known it at the time, also produced the likes of Constatine, and the future rise of the Byzatine Empire.

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Cato, you use contemporary economics to explain your points...

 

Sure, but the facts were present to be discovered by anyone interested in reforms. Let's put it another way. If Diocletian were an honest but mistaken reformer, why didn't he attempt to implement his reforms on a limited scale before imposing them on everyone? Or--why didn't previous emperors attempt wage and price controls? My explanation--that Diocletian was cavalier about the consequences of his behavior--neatly accounts for both how widely he implemented his novel practices and why previous emperors never tried anything so bad.

 

Anyway, didn't Diocletian attempt to revalue coinage? I am almost certain that he did. The clipping you speak of are efforts of previous and probably later emperors to stabilize the economic situation.

 

Yes, the prior clipping was the cause of the inflation that Diocletian was attempting to combat. If Diocletian increased the metal content of coinage, it's news to me. My recollection was that he debased the coinage still further, but I'm happy to be corrected.

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Sure, but the facts were present to be discovered by anyone interested in reforms. Let's put it another way. If Diocletian were an honest but mistaken reformer, why didn't he attempt to implement his reforms on a limited scale before imposing them on everyone? Or--why didn't previous emperors attempt wage and price controls? My explanation--that Diocletian was cavalier about the consequences of his behavior--neatly accounts for both how widely he implemented his novel practices and why previous emperors never tried anything so bad.

 

It seems not so unreasonable to have the reform empire wide. Maybe he believed that you could not enact this sort of reform on only one area of the empire due to the fact that the people in whatever microcosim he might choose to work on could see it as unfair, and the business of that area moved to another area, thus warping the model he might have hoped to work with. An emperor had to be as fair as possible, such a revolutionary move say in Britannia, could give local governers all the excuse in the world to rebel. Empire stability clearly was not what it once was in this day.

 

Previous emperors probably did not attempt these controls since they were for the past 100+ years a bunch of arrogant generals with little care for economics. Diocletian clearly was a more thoughtful man, if misguided in his attempts.

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Yes, the prior clipping was the cause of the inflation that Diocletian was attempting to combat. If Diocletian increased the metal content of coinage, it's news to me. My recollection was that he debased the coinage still further, but I'm happy to be corrected.

 

Oddly enough, he did both. He introduced the new high purity silver coing, the Argenteus (similar to the Denarius in the reign of Nero or about 3.8 grams of silver). Conversely he also introduced such coins as the follis (modern name... ancient identification is unknown) which was about 5% silver and 95% bronze.

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I might not consider the creation of the follis as a debasement necessarily. All modern coins for instance are not made of any valuable material. The follis could just be a way to fill in monetary unit areas which were not adequately covered, like the range between the as (penny) and sestercius. Primus know what value the follis was suppose to be?

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MPC, remember that Diocletian didn't have a collection of 'letters' after his name from the Chicago School. Had he attempted to re-base the coinage of the empire, it would have taken ages. In the mean time the 'bad' would have driven out the 'good'. Bringing the coinage up to snuff would not necessarily have defeated inflation either. Spain's importation of gold from the Americas caused a European wide inflation. Those who had gold, did fine; those who didn't ate cake or weeds - and they were the vast majority. Hoarding of gold can cause deflation and the resultant poverty of the many. If this were such an easy problem to solve, why did the US have to borrow 30 year money at 14% during the Reagan administration? 50 years ago, gasoline cost 17 cents a gallon. Recently it cost $3.40 a gallon - a 2,000% increase. All of those letters haven't done much good.

 

I doubt that his trying a scheme in one province or city would have succeeded, unless the area were completely isolated. As an aside, normal interest rates more than doubled from the first to the second and third centuries AD.

 

"...a short but pronounced restriction of the money supply...." As the Fed did during the Great Depression, further deepening it?

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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I might not consider the creation of the follis as a debasement necessarily. All modern coins for instance are not made of any valuable material. The follis could just be a way to fill in monetary unit areas which were not adequately covered, like the range between the as (penny) and sestercius. Primus know what value the follis was suppose to be?

 

You're right, it wasn't a debasement, but a sample of the sort of things he was doing---high and low purity introductions. It's hard to classify his reforms as debasement or improvement of purity because he truly was replacing the existing structure and starting over with new standards.

 

A follis was 1/5 that of the Argenteus or 1/120 of a gold Aureus. It was roughly equivelent to an early imperial sestersius which was about 1/100th of a gold Aureus at the time.

 

[EDIT] let's stick to Rome here guys

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