SELECTIONS FROM EARLY CHRISTIAN WRITERS: ILLUSTRATIVE OF CHURCH HISTORY TO THE TIME OF CONSTANTINE by Henry Melvill Gwatkin, M.A. First Edition, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1893. Reprinted with additions and corrections, 1897, 1902, 1905. Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram, 2013.
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XLIX. LACTANTIUS, De Mort.Pers.7.


Misgovernment of Diocletian


Diocletianus, qui scelerum inventor et malorum machinator fuit, cum disperderet omnia, ne a deo quidem manus potuit abstinere. Hic orbem terrae simul et avaritia et timiditate subvertit. Tres enim participes regni sui fecit, in quatuor partes orbe diviso, et multiplicatis exercitibus, cum singuli eorum longe maiorem numerum militum habere contenderunt, quam priores principes habuerant, cum soli rempublicam gererent. Adeo maior esse coeperat numerus accipientium, quam dantium, ut enormitate indictionum consumptis viribus colonorum, desererentur agri et culturae verterentur in silvam. Et ut omnia terrore complerentur, provinciae quoque in frusta concisae: multi praesides et plura officia singulis regionibus ac paene iam civitatibus incubare; item rationales multi, et magistri, et vicarii praefectorum, quibus omnibus civiles actus admodum rari, sed condemnationes tantum et proscriptiones frequentes, exactiones rerum innumerabilium, non dicam crebrae, sed perpetuae, et in exactionibus iniuriae non ferendae. Haec quoque tolerari possunt quae ad exhibendos milites spectant. Idem insatiabili avaritia thesaurus nunquam minui volebat, sed semper extraordinarias opes ac largitiones congerebat, ut ea quae recondebat, integra atque inviolata servaret. Idem cum variis iniquitatibus immensam faceret caritatem, legem pretiis rerum venalium statuere conatus est. Tunc ob exigua et vilia multus sanguis effusus, nec venale quidquam metu apparebat, et caritas multo deterius exarsit, donec lex necessitate ipsa post multorum exitium solveretur. Huc accedebat infinita quaedam cupiditas aedificandi, non minor provinciarum exactio in exhibendis operariis, et artificibus, et plaustris omnibusque quaecumque sint fabricandis operibus necessaria. Hic basilicae, hic circus, hic moneta, hic armorum fabrica, hic uxori domus, hic filiae. Repente magna pars civitatis exceditur. Migrabant omnes cum coniugibus ac liberis, quasi urbe ab hostibus capta. Et cum perfecta haec fuerant cum interitu provinciarum, Non recte facta sunt, aiebat; alio modo fiant. Rursus dirui ac mutari necesse erat, iterum fortasse casura. Ita semper dementabat, Nicomediam studens urbi Romae coaequare. Iam illud praetereo, quam multi perierint possessionum, aut opum gratia. Hoc enim usitatum et fere licitum consuetudine malorum. Sed in hoc illud fuit praecipuum, quod ubicunque cultiorem agrum viderai, aut ornatius aedificium, iam parata domino calumnia et poena capitalis, quasi non posset rapere aliena sine sanguine.

When Diocletian, that inventor of crimes and deviser of evils, was ruining all things, he could not refrain his hands even from God. He was the man who overturned the whole world, partly by avarice and partly by cowardice. He made three partners in his government, dividing the Empire into four parts, so that armies were multiplied, because each of the four endeavoured to have a much greater number of soldiers than former emperors had when they ruled the State alone. Thus the receivers of taxes began to be more in number than the payers, so that by reason of the consumption of husbandmen's goods by the excess of land-taxes, the farms were left waste and tilled lands turned into forest. In order too that all places might be filled with terror the provinces also were cut up into fragments, and many presidents and sundry companies of officials lay heavy on every territory, and indeed almost on every city; and there were many receivers besides and secretaries and deputies of the prefects. All these very seldom had civil cases before them, only condemnations and continuai confiscations and réquisitions – I will not say frequent, but unceasing – of every kind of property, and in the levying intolerable wrongs. Even these might be borne if they were intended to provide pay for the soldiers; but Diocletian in his insatiable avarice would never let his treasures be diminished, but was always heaping up extraordinary aids and benevolences, in order to keep his hoards untouched and inviolate. Again, when by various evil deeds he caused a prodigious scarcity, he essayed by law to fix the prices of goods in the market. Then much blood was shed for trifling and paltry wares, and through fear nothing appeared in the market, so that the scarcity was made much worse, tili after the law had ruined multitudes it was of sheer necessity abolished. In addition to this he had an unlimited taste for building, and levied of the provincials as unlimited exactions for the wages of workmen and artificers, and the supplying of wagons and everything else that was wanted for the works in hand. Here were public offices, there a circus, here a mint, there a factory of arms, here a palace for his wife, and there one for his daughter. On a sudden a large part of the city is turned out of doors: they all had to remove with wives and children, as if the city had been taken by enemies. And when the works had been finished at the cost of ruin to the provinces – 'They are not done right,' he used to say; 'let them be done another way.' So they had to be pulled down and altered, perhaps only to be demolished again. Thus he always played the madman in his endeavour to equal Nicomedia with imperial Rome. I leave untold how many perished on account of their estates or wealth, for by the custom of evil men this was become frequent and almost lawful. Yet the worst of it was this, that wherever he saw a field more carefully tilled or a house more elegantly adorned than usual, straightway an accusation and capital sentence was prepared for the owner as though he could not spoil his neighbour's goods without shedding of blood.


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