Rome’s Third Century Crisis and the Emperor Diocletian

The disastrous third-century crisis in Rome began with the erratic Emperor Septimius Severus, whose reign extended from 193 to 211 A.D. In Severus’ warped mind the army was the most important thing in his vast empire. As a result he raised taxes in order to favor the Roman army with more pay and comfort. On his deathbed he told his son and heir Caracalla: “Favor the army, nothing else matters.”

Caracalla faithfully followed in his father’s footsteps. He worsened the already atrocious condition of the Roman Empire. He raised the taxes ten percent and then, in order to collect more taxes, he extended citizenship to the whole empire. He also insanely raised the soldiers’ wages fifty-percent! Ironically, he was brutally murdered by the privileged army itself.



Other problems that were critical to the crisis were a severe plague, barbaric Germanic peoples trying to invade, and a failing economy. The latter was caused by both the excessive debasement of coin value by the emperors and because the Roman Empire depended heavily on the wealth gathered in conquest, which was lacking.

Finally, in 284 A.D., the despicable Diocletian came into power. Among the disliked reforms he made were the price controls. In 301 A.D., he wrote the Edict on Prices. This document set maximum prices on goods and established set wages and caused jobs to become hereditary. This was a form of slavery!

The last reform that the irrepressible Diocletian performed was the establishment of a tetrarchy. This is where an empire is ruled by four people. Diocletian divided the depressed Empire into two halves: East and West. Each half was ruled by an Augustus and a Caesar. This system of government was permanently established by a future emperor.



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