Die diokletianische Tetrarchie als Epoche einer historischen Wende in antiker und moderner Sicht

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Abstract

The reign of the emperor Diocletian has always been regarded as one of the most crucial periods in Roman history. Sometimes it is emphasized as the turning point between the principate and the following epoch, which is called in English the “Later Roman Empire,” in French “le Bas-Empire,” and in German “die Spätantike” or, more pointedly, “der Dominat.” Such a determination was already suggested in antiquity by the orator Lactantius, who was a contemporary of Diocletian and his three co-emperors, who together formed the socalled “tetrarchy.” This new system of rule was created by Diocletian in order to establish in all endangered regions of the Roman world the presence of an emperor, who would guarantee the security of his part of theImperium Romanum. Lactantius based his assessment of Diocletian’s reign on the observation that it saw the last major persecution of the Christians who were later to be recognized by Constantine. In modern times, following the more secular position of Edward Gibbon, many historians who treated the tetrarchic period in an overwhelming number of works expressed the view that we can acknowlege these years as an important time because of the many substantial reforms that were initiated by Diocletian; but the persecution of the Christians was only one among many events of his reign. The period of the Diocletianic tetrarchy was really fundamental, but characterizing it as an historical turning point would be a simplifying overstatement.