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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine


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The process of development of the imperial power, primarily on the basis of Ptolemaic Egypt and later under the influence of Sassanid Persia, was almost completed by the fourth century. Diocletian and Constantine desired to effect the definite organization of the monarchy and for this purpose they simply replaced the Roman institutions with the customs and practices which predominated in the Hellenistic East and were already known in Rome, especially after the time of Aurelian.

The times of trouble and military anarchy of the third century greatly disturbed and disintegrated the internal organization of the empire. For a while Aurelian reestablished its unity and for this achievement contemporary documents and inscriptions bestow upon him the name of the restorer of the Empire (Restitutor Orbis). But after his death a period of unrest followed, It was then that Diocletian set himself the goal of directing the entire state organism along a normal and orderly path. As a matter of fact, however, he simply accomplished a great administrative reform. Nevertheless, both Diocletian and Constantine introduced administrative changes of such extreme importance to the internal organization of the Empire that they may be considered to be the true founders of a new type of monarchy created under the strong influence of the East.

Diocletian, who spent much of his time in Nicomedia and was on the whole favorably inclined toward the East, adopted many characteristics of the eastern monarchies. He was a true autocrat, an emperor-god who wore the imperial diadem. Oriental luxury and the complex ceremonial were introduced at his court. His subjects, when granted an audience, had to fall on their knees before they dared to lift their eyes to view their sovereign. Everything concerning the Emperor was considered sacred - his words, his court, his treasury; he himself was a sacred person. His court, which Constantine later transferred to Constantinople, absorbed large sums of money and became the center of numerous plots and intrigues which caused very serious complications in the later periods of Byzantine life. Thus autocracy in a form closely related to Oriental despotism was definitely established by Diocletian and became one of the distinguishing marks of government structure in the Byzantine Empire.

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