Posted by: ken98 | November 7, 2009

Imperial Nursing Homes, NeoPlatonists, and Cabbages

Day 57 – Ken here
(DEF v.1, ch.13, pp.390-400)

Still writing late at night – when will I ever learn? I have to say though, it’s very satisfying reading history in a puddle of desk-top light, and typing away into a blog in the depths of the night, kept company only by the strangely insistent ticking of a half-dozen clocks spread round about the house. All in all I give it a 2 thumbs up – you ought to try it sometime…

The Story

  • Brief description of dramatic increase in taxes during Diocletian’s reign
  • Long illness of Diocletian
  • Abdication of Diocletian, forces Maximian (very unwillingly) to abdicate with him, promote Galerius, Constantius to Augusti (5-1-305)
  • Comparison of Diocletian’s abdication and Charles V’s (Carlos Quinto) abdication
  • Diocletian retires to Salona, happily advising the unhappy Maximian to “grow cabbages with his own hands” to understand true happiness
  • Long description of Salona, Diocletian’s retirement palace (the size of a small city) which is now-a-days the entire town of Split, Croatia, near to Salona
  • Brief Tangent: decline of letters
  • Brief Tangent: decline of philosophy and rise of NeoPlatonists (whom Gibbon despises) and who (coincidentally, Gibbon points out) heavily influence new christian church
  • Diocletian's retirement palace at Split, Croatia - yes, it's the entire town - it's good to be king

    Diocletian's retirement palace at Split, Croatia - yes, it's the entire town - it's good to be king

    Coat of Arms for Split Croatia - that main gate you see used to be Diocetian's front door to his palace

    Coat of Arms for Split Croatia - that main gate you see used to be Diocetian's front door to his palace

    What a nursing home for an emperor looks like in 305 CE
    The entire town of Split fits within the former walls of the retirement complex Diocletian had built for himself after he got sick and abdicated the throne. The modern 21st century coat of arms for the city of Split which displays the main entrance to the city is actually Diocletian’s old front door.

    The first time I read about this I was amazed and, yes, I give Diocletian a TON of credit. Even though he reconstituted the entire empire into a kind of primitive fascist totalitarian state, he DID bring stability to the Mediterranean, and peace (which is saying quite a lot, actually). Not only was he able to retire (one of the only emperors to do so successfully, and one of the very FEW emperors NOT to be murdered by troops or family members during the 200’s), he was able to do so IN STYLE with the respect and admiration of the empire still behind him.

    The Life and (future)Tragedy of Diocletian
    Diocletian’s personality and reforms left an indelible stamp on the empire for centuries to come. Constantine in the coming decades built on that, and forced the empire to become christian, but the fundamental fabric of the empire (economically, administratively, etc) was hardened into a stable form in the fateful 20 years of Diocletian’s reign. He will later learn how powerless a respected and admired past emperor really is when one of his successors (a friend of a friend) murders his wife and daughter in a political purge and he is powerless to prevent it. But that lies 5 or so years in the future, for now, he has done the unthinkable: Roman political retirement.

    A Typical Retiree Gives Advice – the famous “Cabbage” comment
    For all of you who have parents, (especially Dads) who have happily and suddenly morphed into that “retired” person who has discovered the secrets of a much-less-stressful existence, the remarks of the just-retired Diocletian will sound spot-on. I’m not sure about the actual cabbage part, but the general gist is exactly what I would have expected from a retired executive.

    Diocletian forced Maximian to retire against his will (Maximian was his friend and former companion emperor, whom Diocletian had forced to retire at the same time Diocletian retired). Maximian was having a hard time refocusing his life from being a great player in world affairs to being a great player only in his own living room. Diocletian, upon hearing how hard retirement was for him said: “If he (Diocletian) could show Maximian the cabbages that he had planted with his own hands in Salona (Split), he should no longer be urged to relinquish the enjoyment of happiness for the pursuit of power.” (DEF ch13, p.394).

    Maximian, to be just, had no say in his forced buy-out, and even though he got a substantial golden parachute out of the deal, he was definitely NOT ready to be put out to pasture quite yet. Sadly, he was also to suffer (with his family) a horrible, embarrassing, and lethal end (as did Diocletian).

    You know – for all it’s abstract theoretical beauty, this whole forced retirement thing was a complete disaster for the families Diocletian and Maximian – no matter how noble and just it appeared then and still appears to historians to this day. I guess the lesson is: never give up power until they pry it out of your cold dead hands.


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