BMCR 2004.12.05

Diocletian and the Tetrarchy

, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004. xvii, 219; maps, plates. £16.99.

Rees’ Diocletian and the Tetrarchy appears to be the inaugural entry in a new series, “Debates and Documents in Ancient History,” dedicated to central topics in Greek and Roman History. The reign of Diocletian and his co-rulers is usually considered to be the point when the Roman world ended and the world of Late Antiquity began and, for this reason, is always a fascinating topic for a study. Rees’ work probably sets the format for later volumes in the series; the first half consists of a scholarly narrative on various important historical issues of the period (pp. 3-90), while the second half contains both translations of many of the primary sources which the author cites in his narrative and photographs and diagrams of many of the structures and works of art that are illustrative of the period under consideration (pp. 93-196). Throughout his running historical narrative, the author includes parenthetical cross-references to the primary evidence contained in the second half of the book upon which his arguments rest.

The first section of the Rees’ book provides a historical overview of the Tetrarchic period, followed by six chapters, each of which is “dedicated to a theme of central importance to government or society under Diocletian and his colleagues in office” (pp. ix-x). These themes include the Roman army (pp. 13ff), governmental administration during the period (pp. 24ff), the status of the Roman economy in the late third and early fourth centuries (pp. 37ff), court ceremonial (pp. 46ff), the practice of religion under the Tetrarchy (pp. 57ff), and the issues of unity, succession, and legitimacy (pp. 73ff). The final, brief chapter ties together the various threads of the work. In each of the topical chapters, the author discusses not only the various issues that are of importance for each particular theme but also the value and interpretation of the various primary sources which he uses to buttress his discussion.

This reviewer was impressed by Rees’ excellent control of both the primary sources and the secondary literature on the Tetrarchy. His judgements on various contentious issues are balanced, and, in many cases, he allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions based on the weight of the evidence. The chapters on governmental administration and religion are worthy of comment. The discussion of governmental administration relies not only on the Notitia Dignitatum, the Verona List, and other literary and legal sources one would expect, but also on Egyptian papyri of Panopolis (pp. 33ff), which are unusual to find in a work apparently directed to the mass market. Rees’ treatment of religion is primarily devoted to a discussion of the Great Persecution of 303-313 (pp. 59ff), although a small amount of space is devoted to sacrifice and the Manichaeans, almost as an afterthought. The author, in this section of the book, is concerned with the chronology of the persecution and the sources which treat the event. His discussion of the persecution is clear and puts the event in its proper historical context.

As for the second half, one wonders why Rees felt it necessary to re-translate many of these primary sources when good scholarly editions of many of the literary and historical texts are in print. Why, for example, was it necessary for him to re-translate segments from the Panegyrici Latini (pp. 128ff) when he could have used the wonderful translation of these same sources in Nixon and Rodger’s In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: “The Panegyrici Latini” ?

Likewise, although the architectural diagrams of Baths of Diocletian at Rome and of the various Tetrarchic palaces located in Split and Gamzigrad as well as the photographs of Tetrarchic structures around the empire (pp. 183ff) are more than adequate for the purpose, one may wish that Reese had included additional examples of art from the period. In the best of all worlds, the reviewer would like to have seen some color reproductions of the illuminations of the Notitia Dignitatum. The one black and white photograph that Rees includes in the book tempts this reader to find pictures of this important source for himself.

In addition to the running text, Rees has included maps (pp. xiiff), a chronological table of the period, a bibliographical essay for further reading subdivided by the headings used in each chapter, a glossary of basic terms, and a set of essay questions as well as exercise topics which cover nearly all aspects of his discussion (pp. 197-205). The bibliography (pp. 206ff), though brief, will provide the reader with a listing of most of the major secondary works necessary for a more detailed study of the Tetrarchic period. In a word, this work is a good introduction to the reign of Diocletian and his co-rulers for the average undergraduate or graduate student.