On This Day
The term “tetrarchy” (from the Greek: τετραρχία, tetrarchia, “leadership of four [people]”)[a] describes any form of government where power is divided among four individuals, but in modern usage usually refers to the system instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293, marking the end of the Crisis of the Third Century and the recovery of the Roman Empire. This tetrarchy lasted until c. 313, when mutually destructive civil wars eliminated most of the claimants to power, leaving Constantine in control of the western half of the empire, and Licinius in control of the eastern half.
Although the term “tetrarch” was current in antiquity, it was never used of the imperial college under Diocletian. Instead, the term was used to describe independent portions of a kingdom that were ruled under separate leaders. The tetrarchy of Judaea, established after the death of Herod the Great, is the most famous example of the antique tetrarchy. The term was understood in the Latin world as well, where Pliny the Elder glossed it as follows: “each is the equivalent of a kingdom, and also part of one” (regnorum instar singulae et in regna contribuuntur).
As used by the ancients, the term describes not only different governments, but also a different system of government from the Diocletianic arrangements. The Judaean tetrarchy was a set of four independent and distinct states, where each tetrarch ruled a quarter of a kingdom as they saw fit; the Diocletianic tetrarchy was a college led by a single supreme leader. When later authors described the period, this is what they emphasized: Ammianus had Constantius II admonish Gallus for disobedience by appealing to the example in submission set by Diocletian’s lesser colleagues; his successor Julian compared the Diocletianic tetrarchs to a chorus surrounding a leader, speaking in unison under his command. Only Lactantius, a contemporary of Diocletian and a deep ideological opponent of the Diocletianic state, referred to the tetrarchs as a simple multiplicity of rulers.
Much modern scholarship was written without the term. Although Edward Gibbon pioneered the description of the Diocletianic government as a “New Empire”, he never used the term “tetrarchy”; neither did Theodor Mommsen. It did not appear in the literature until used in 1887 by schoolmaster Hermann Schiller in a two-volume handbook on the Roman Empire (Geschichte der Römischen Kaiserzeit), to wit: “die diokletianische Tetrarchie”. Even so, the term did not catch on in the literature until Otto Seeck used it in 1897.
The first phase, sometimes referred to as the diarchy (“rule of two”), involved the designation of the general Maximian as co-emperor—firstly as Caesar (junior emperor) in 285, followed by his promotion to Augustus in 286. Diocletian took care of matters in the eastern regions of the empire while Maximian similarly took charge of the western regions. In 293, Diocletian thought that more focus was needed on both civic and military problems, so with Maximian’s consent, he expanded the imperial college by appointing two Caesars (one responsible to each Augustus)—Galerius and Constantius Chlorus.
In 305, the senior emperors jointly abdicated and retired, allowing Constantius and Galerius to be elevated in rank to Augustus. They in turn appointed two new Caesars—Severus II in the west under Constantius, and Maximinus in the east under Galerius—thereby creating the second Tetrarchy.
Born On This Day
1901 – Regina M. Anderson, Multiracial playwright and librarian (d. 1993)
Regina M. Anderson (May 21, 1901 – February 5, 1993) was an African-American playwright and librarian. She was of Native American, Jewish, East Indian, Swedish, and other European ancestry (including one grandparent who was a Confederate general); one of her grandparents was of African descent, born in Madagascar. Despite her own identification of her race as “American”, she was perceived to be African-American by others. Influenced by Ida B. Wells and the lack of black history teachings in school, Regina became a key member of the Harlem Renaissance.
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