Book Review: Galerius and the Will of Diocletian

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by William Lewis Leadbetter

London & New York: Routledge, 2013. Pp. xiv, 282. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95 paper. ISBN: 0415859719

Galerius and the Diocletianic Reform of the Roman Empire

The “Crisis of the Third Century,” a fifty-year period which saw some two dozen men hold the imperium and some score more make bids for it, came to an end with the accession of Diocletian (r., 284-305).  The new emperor instituted widespread reforms, not least forming the “Tetrarchy,” appointing a co-emperor and two understudies to share the power and help manage the empire. 

Diocletian’s understudy was Galerius, who succeeded him in 305 and ruled until his death from disease in 311.  In this volume, Prof. Leadbetter (Cowan University, Australia) gives us a life and times of Galerius.  He based his account on a critical evaluation of documents, coins, inscriptions, histories (albeit cautioning us that Christian ones are suspect, as Galerius was a persecutor), and more.  Leadbetter uses Galerius’ career, and interactions with many other actors in the period, notably Diocletian’s partner Maximian, Constantius and his son Constantine the Great, Maxentius, and Licinius, to examine the nature of Diocletian’s reforms. 

Leadbetter does not resolve the issue of whether Diocletian was a radical innovator with a comprehensive plan of reform in mind, or merely made adjustments to institutions based on practicality and precedent.  For example, long before Diocletian appointed a co-emperorthere had been cases of co-emperors, and military and provincial organization had often been restructured.  Leadbetter does, however, help throw considerable light on the period, helping separate the more successful of Diocletian’s reforms, notable his provincial and military restructuring, from the less successful ones, particularly the “Tetrarchy,” which did not eliminate competition for the imperium. 

A volume in the Routledge series “Roman Imperial Biographies,” Galerius and the Will of Diocletian is a valuable read for anyone interested in the later Roman Empire.

Note: Galerius and the Will of Diocletian is also available in hardcover, $123.00, ISBN 0415404886, and also in pdf, downloadable text, and proprietary e-book formats

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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