chapter  4
48 Pages

A world geared for war: 284–324

Soon after becoming Emperor, Diocles changed his name to Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, rounded down by modern scholars to Diocletian, the name by which he is known to history. Whether or not he was implicated in a plot to remove Numerianus remains a matter of conjecture; perhaps he merely stood by while Aper did the work and then muscled in as righteous avenger, condemning Aper to death. He executed him personally, in full view of the troops, thus fulfilling the prophecy of a wise woman in Gaul who had told him that he would be Emperor after killing his boar (aper). More likely this is a story fabricated after the event to demonstrate that he was following his destiny, marked out for him by the gods long ago. The process whereby Diocletian was raised to the purple cannot have been as straightforward, simplistic or as spontaneous as the extant ancient narrative makes it sound. He survived long enough to ensure that certain parts of his history were rewritten in accordance with the official version, which would be silent on the issues of his ambitions, whatever they were, and on the intrigues that brought him to power. Consequently, the retrospective restructuring of the historical narrative has masked for ever the details of what happened in 284 and no doubt in the ensuing years as well.1