Friday, February 22, 2008

I, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (A.D. 236-316)


Was the last Emperor of the united Roman Empire. Born around the year A.D. 236, on the Dalmatian coast, I was originally named Diocles and was of humble birth.
As a young man, I sought my fortune in the army - showing myself to be a shrewd, able, and ambitious individual. Rising quickly through the military ranks, I received the title of "Duke of Moesia" (an area on the banks of the lower Danube River) along with responsibility for border defense. In A.D. 282, the legions of the upper Danube proclaimed Carus as emperor and under the new emperor I was promoted to Count of the Domestics, the commander of the cavalry arm of the imperial bodyguard.

In A.D. 284, in the midst of a campaign against the Persians, Carus was killed leaving the empire in the hands of his two young sons, Numerian in the east and Carinus in the west. Soon thereafter, Numerian died under mysterious circumstances near Nicomedia, and I was acclaimed emperor in his place. In 285 Carinus was killed in a battle near Belgrade, and I was declared emperor of the entire empire by the Danubian Legions. I took the name Diocletian upon ascending the throne.

During my reign as emperor, I sought to radically change the empire in an attempt to halt its decay. But for all my notable accomplishments, the one for which I will be forever associated with was my creation of the Tetrarchy which some historians refer to as the second phase of the Roman Empire.

In an attempt to reduce to burden of governing the vast Roman empire, I created the Tetrachy - a governing body of four co-rulers - two Augusti (including myself) who would rule of the two halves of the empire and two Caesars who would govern the frontier provinces and succeed the Augusti after their death. While the Tetrachy allowed me to maintain rule over the vast empire, it also permanently split the empire into two halves. The western or Latin half would one day crumble while the eastern or Greek half would survive and grow in power to become the Byzantine Empire with Constantine I as its emperor.

I managed to rule as a Roman emperor for 20 years. In A.D. 305, I abdicated the throne and retired to my palace in what is today Split, Croatia.

According to some historians, Diocletian commissioned construction of his palace 8 years earlier in A.D. 293. The palace is actually a walled enclave that included a military installation whose footprint covered nearly 10 acres as well as the emperor's apartments, several temples, and housing for soldiers and servants.

In the years immediately following Diocletian's death in A.D. 316, the immense palace was used as government office space, but it inadvertently became a city of refugees in the early 7th century when the Avars and Slavs attacked and destroyed the city. This huge influx of refugees overcrowded the palace compound, and the new settlement spread outside its walls. Successive rulers, including the Byzantine emperors, the Croatian kings, the Hungarian-Croatian kings, and the Venetians, later built structures within and outside the complex, changing it so much that its Roman character has all but disappeared.

After the fall of Venice in 1797, the Austrians took over, ceded control of the city to France for a short time in the early 19th century, then took over again until World War I, when control reverted to the Yugoslav government and ultimately Croatia.

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the remains of Diocletian's Palace form the historic center of present day Split. Private residences and businesses can all be found within the walls of the palace. Experiencing urban European city life within the walls of Diocletian's Palace is something I'm really looking forward to! Until I set foot in Split, I can only imagine what it might be like - lunch in an open air plaza surrounded by centuries old ruins. How cool is that?