Posted by: ken98 | November 1, 2009

Prelude to a Tragedy in 3 Acts

Day 52 Ken here

(Or “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” – Diocletian’s that is. Prelude=Carus and Numerianus, Tragedy=Diocletian)

(I’ve given up the “logical” numbering of days, and am resorting to the actual number since I lost over 2 weeks being sick and “indisposed”)

Blogging = Motocross + Japanese Cookies

Blogging itself is so strange – an ENORMOUS imposition of time and pressure, but unexpectedly satisfying once each day is published. As for me personally, just feeling all the precision firing of the historical neurons (for the 1st time in a 10 years or so) gives pleasure. It’s an amazing privilege to try and look at 21st century U.S. culture through 3rd/4th century eyes.

I think the shock of coming up for air after living the death throes of the early empire for an hour, and realizing how generally similar our 2 cultures are is giving me the same adrenaline rush as say, motocrossing on a muddy track for an hour. Not probably everybody’s reaction, I’m sure. I guess it’s something you have to experience for yourself.

And it takes time to get there – you have to be patient. It’s actually a pleasure I’ve consciously pursued for decades now. Like japanese “cookies” that have the merest hint of sweet, but give you the rush of having eaten a bag of processed cane sugar after eating just one. Ratcheting down your sensitivity is harder than building up a tolerance, I think – but in the end more rewarding.

Appreciating Late Roman History is definitely an acquired taste.

The Story

  • Two sons (Carinus, Numerianus) succeed Carus (Carus dies 12-25-283 – I love that date)
  • Carinus (left in the city of Rome) celebrates triumphs/funeral of brother and father with spectacular games remembered for generations ((284)
  • 3 page digression on Games, amphitheater of Rome
  • Numerianus (in Persia) dies, death kept secret for 8 months by Aper(Praet Pref, Numer father-in-law), as army marches back to Rome
  • Diocletian elected emperor when death discovered, Aper executed (9-17-284)
  • Carinus and Diocletian battle in Maesia (Hungary) on the Danube, Diocletian almost loses, Carinus killed by own soldier for adultery with wife(? more Hist Aug nonsense?) (May 285)
  • Election of Diocletian by Senate, Summary of Diocletian’s early life, character

    The Prelude to the Tragedy

    Diocletian - founder of the new empire

    Diocletian - founder of the new empire

    Although we cannot know it yet – we are on the brink of a HUGE watershed in Roman history – the reign of Diocletian (285-305). At first glance he seems like just another peasant-general-emperor who will either do a good job/fail utterly and be murdered by his own troops (the tradition for the last 50 years).


    But Diocletian will change all that. Irrevocably.

    He will split the empire, make it a Stalin-esque state running for the benefit of the military and the maintenance of the frontiers against the barbarians, retire (!!! – the first and last emperor to try and retire successfully I think) after a round 20 years, and live to see his wife and daughter executed in cold blood by one of his successors manipulating the vast levers of the monolithic empire machine he brought into the world out of sheer willpower.

    What Does it all Mean?

    He saves the empire, but at what cost (personally, and for the population of the Roman empire in general)? Is relative safety worth a renunciation of rights? Is bigger government better if it performs as advertised? All good questions with pros and cons on both sides.

    Carinus and Numerianus and the Augustan Histories

    Unfortunately, we are still journeying for the most part in the Augustan Histories fairy tale world, where nothing is quite what it seems, and fact and comedy are intermixed like a monologue in a Vegas show, Carinus and Numerianus seem to present set character types once again. The younger (Carinus) is (per Gibbon) “soft yet cruel, devoted to pleasure, but destitute of taste, and though exquisitely susceptible to vanity, indifferent to public esteem.” (DF ch xii, p. 350). Carinus is killed eventually while winning a battle against Diocletian by a jealous soldier (Tribune), the husband of a wife he had appropriated, thus changing the face of history literally.

    Its a pretty picture, the entire next 3 centuries of Roman history hinging on the knife skill of one cuckolded officer, and I’d like to believe it, but is smacks too much of the addiction the Augustan Histories writer had to dramatic moments (remember the Histories were written 100 years later, and Diocletian was the George Washington of the later empire – a figure almost out of myth (although maligned as a pagan in the later christian empire) – so to think it all could have never happened would certainly provide a thrill).

    Carrying the corpse of Numerian for 8 months in secret, the killing of Aper (Numerian’s Praetorian Prefect and father-in-law), and the election of Diocletian by the legion in Numerian’s place all seem a little hollywood-esqe to me also (and conveniently positive for Diocletian’s reputation) – but stranger things have happened.

    This is just another example of the absolute darkness the false candle of the Augustan Histories leaves us in. Although we now surmise the Histories were written about 390 CE, internally the Histories claim they were written in the early 300’s during Diocletian’s lifetime. So lying about how Diocletian came into power would strengthen the lie that the Histories were written in the early 300’s – wheels within wheels within wheels.

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