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RECOVERY OF BRITAIN.---THE PERSIAN WAR.- RECOMMENCEMENT OF PERSECUTION.- EDICTS AGAINST THE CHRISTIANS.
THE TRIUMPH OF DIOCLETIAN. -HIS RESIGNATION OF THE EMPIRE.
The new mode of government by two emperors and two Cæsars appeared to prosper; and by their means tranquillity was again restored, and the provinces re-united. Constantius recovered Britain, and the inhabitants were glad to receive such a mild ruler in the place of Allectus, under whose tyranny they had groaned for three years. Both the Cæsars defended their provinces with such boldness that the repulsed barbarians often turned their arms against each other in despair ; and the emperors succeeded in the overthrow of five Moorish nations who had joined together to attack the African provinces.
Alexandria had declared independence, but was taken by Diocletian after a siege of eight months. Many thousands of the Alexandrians were destroyed, and some of the cities of Egypt entirely ruined, as the emperor supposed nothing but terror could subdue the independent spirit of the nation. In A.D. 296, Diocletian declared war against Narses, king of Persia, under pretence of restoring Tiridates, the rightful heir of the throne of Armenia, to the kingdom of his father. Armenia had been under Roman protection from the reign of Nero till the time when it was seized by Artaxerxes; and the Armenians were then oppressed by the Persian rulers during twenty-six years. Tiridates, who had been saved when an infant from the destruction which fell on all his father's house, was gladly welcomed by the Armenians when he appeared among them ; but by the superior power of Narses he was expelled, and again took refuge with the Roman emperor. Diocletian sent for Galerius to assist him in the Persian war: but in the first three battles the Romans were defeated through his rashness, and Tiridates scarcely escaped destruction. The emperor received the defeated Cæsar with marked displeasure, and obliged him to follow his chariot on foot. The pride of Galerius made him resolve to recover this disgrace; and, having obtained permission again to lead the army against the Persians, he was completely victorious, and Narses was obliged
TREATY WITH THE PERSIANS.
to fly. His richly furnished tents, with several of his female relations, fell into the hands of the conqueror; and he treated the latter with the same respect that Alexander had formerly shown to the wife and mother of Darius. Diocletian went out to meet the victorious Cæsar with every mark of honour and affection, and both returned to Antioch in the same chariot. There they were visited by the Persian ambassadors, with a letter from the king, in which he observed, that the Roman and Persian monarchies were “ the two eyes of the world,” and that it would be imperfect if either of them were put out. He desired to ransom his relations and to make conditions of peace. Galerius was little disposed to listen to any such proposals; and angrily asked the ambassadors, what mercy could be expected by their sovereign after the treatment Valerian had received ? But the prudent Diocletian at length persuaded him, that an advantageous peace was to be preferred to the continuance of an uncertain war.
A treaty was concluded, by which it was agreed that the Araxes should be the boundary of the Persian empire, and thus the Persians gave up the five disputed provinces beyond the Tigris. Tiridates was restored to his kingdom, under Roman protection, and the emperor was also allowed the right of nominating the kings of Iberia. By the observance of this treaty, peace was preserved till the death of Tiridates, a period of forty years. The winter of A.D. 302, at the close of the Persian war, Galerius remained with Diocletian in the palace of Nicomedia; and the Cæsar continually urged upon his fatherin-law the necessity of taking some severe measures against the Christians. Galerius had always disliked them, and had dismissed a great number of Christian officers from their em. ployments; perhaps considering that it was dangerous to leave any part of the empire to the defence of men of such principles. Diocletian readily consented to exclude the Christians from holding any office in his household or army; but it was long before he was willing that their blood should be shed. But in the course of the winter the arguments of Galerius and of his counsellors prevailed ; and on the 23rd of February, A.D. 303, the first act of violence was committed in the destruction of the church at Nicomedia. Early in the morning the Prætorian prefect, with a strong body of guards, provided with the instruments used in destroying fortified cities, began the work; and
PERSECUTION UNDER DIOCLETIAN.
in a few hours a building which had towered above the imperial palace was levelled with the ground. The Pagans searched in vain for some visible object of worship ; and were obliged to content themselves with burning the volumes of the Scriptures. The next day the general edict against the Christians was put up in a conspicuous part of the city ; but it was soon rashly torn down by one of the Christians. He was roasted alive before a slow fire ; but he smiled through all his agonies, and, it is said, expressed the greatest abhorrence for the wicked tyranny which dictated the edict. The spirit of this man was very contrary to the becoming meekness of a Christian; but excessive commendation of his zeal was expressed, and he was exalted as a noble martyr.
Within fifteen days the palace of Nicomedia, and even the bedchamber of Diocletian, was twice in flames, and the emperor narrowly escaped. Galerius at once attributed the fire to the vengeance of the Christians, and hastily left Nicomedia, saying his life was in danger. Ecclesiastical historians, on the other hand, have supposed that it was the contrivance of Galerius, in order to excite the emperor's terror and hatred of the Christians. If it were so, he was entirely successful; for every mode of torture was practised upon such as would not sacrifice, and many were executed in the court and in the city. The wife and daughter of Diocletian were amongst the number who consented to sacrifice in order to save their lives : but the sufferings which they afterwards underwent were far worse than those of martyrdom.
By the edict of Diocletian it was commanded that all the churches throughout the empire should be thrown down ; and that all who dared to hold any secret assemblies for worship should be put to death. The magistrates were desired to search for the sacred books and to burn them publicly. All the lands that had been left to the churches in different places were to be taken away; and the Christians were to be excluded from the benefits of public justice and from the protection of the law. The faithful among the Christians continued to meet after their churches were destroyed, and refused to deliver up the Scriptures ; but a great mass of persons again went with the stream, and many of the bishops and presbyters betrayed the copies of the Bible, which they ought to have preserved, and were long after distinguished by the disgraceful epithet of Traditors. In
IMPERIAL EDICTS AND INSCRIPTIONS.
some provinces the magistrates only shut up the places of worship : but for the most part they were burnt down, and the vessels of gold and silver, which in some churches were very abundant, were seized as public property. In a small town of Phrygia, it is related that the Christians, with their wives and families, took possession of the church; and when they found themselves unable to defend it, would not retire, but willingly perished in the ruins.
Some slight disturbances in Syria, and on the frontiers of Armenia, were supposed by the persecuting party to arise from the efforts of the bishops : and Diocletian was so much irritated, that he declared in several cruel edicts his intention of abolishing Christianity altogether. The first of these edicts was directed against the clergy, and the prisons were soon filled with a multitude of all orders. By the second edict the magistrates were commanded to employ every means to reclaim the deluded Christians, and to oblige them to return to the worship of the gods.
Gaul seems to have been the only part of the Roman empire in which the Christians were safe, and many took refuge there: the amiable Constantius only carried out the imperial edicts for the destruction of the churches, and still kept the Christians about his person and would not suffer them to be injured. Spain was, probably, beyond his immediate control or protection; for, in that country, an inscription is said to have been found to the following effect : “ Diocletian Jovian; Maximinian Herculeus; Cæsares Augusti, for having extended the Roman empire in the East and West, and for having extinguished the name of Christians.” And another, which ran thus : “ Diocletian and Maximinian, for having adopted Galerius in the East,-for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ,-for having extended the worship of the gods.” A medal was also struck, bearing the name of Diocletian, with this inscription : “ The name of Christians being extinguished.”
Thus did the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Christ, not knowing that the very gates of hell could not prevail against his Church, and that they must finally bow before the name that they despised. Persecution is, in fact, but as the knife in the hand of the husbandman cutting off the fruitless branches, and pruning those that bear fruit.
ABDICATION OF DIOCLETIAN.
In the twentieth year of his reign, A. D. 305, Diocletian went to Rome for two months, and celebrated the last triumph that was ever beheld in that city. Maximinian alone shared in his honours, as the victories of the Cæsars were attributed to their respective fathers. Africa, Britain, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Nile, all furnished suitable memorials of their restoration and subjection to the empire of Rome; and the Persian victory was set forth by an ingenious representation of the country, and by the exhibition of the images of the princesses who had been taken captives and restored to liberty at the conclusion of the treaty.
Diocletian was displeased by the rude familiarity of the Roman citizens who had not learned the manners of his courtiers, and he was glad to retire to Nicomedia. There he passed a winter of much suffering from ill health, and it was at one time reported that he was dead; but on the first of March, he appeared once more in public; and, before a large concourse of people assembled in a spacious plain near the city, he declared his determination to resign the empire. On the same day, Maximinian went through the same form at Milan, as Diocletian had required him to follow his example: but he did not resign his dignity with good-will, and was never contented with a life of retirement.
Diocletian, on the contrary, enjoyed the beautiful retreat that he had prepared in his native country, and amused himself in building, planting, and gardening; often declaring to the few friends in whose company he delighted, that there was no art so difficult as that of reigning. When the restless Maximinian entreated him to take up the power he had laid down, he replied that, if he could show him the cabbages he had planted, he would not wish him to sacrifice health and happiness for the sake of imperial honours. It is probable that Diocletian had long intended to retire, as he had built a magnificent palace at Salona, in the province of Dalmatia ; it is said to have covered nine or ten English acres, and some suppose that the modern town of Spalatro was built from its ruins.
Diocletian's edicts against the Christians, and his weakness in yielding to the suspicious cruelty of an inferior mind, throw a deep shade over the close of a reign which was for the most part beneficial to his subjects. No one seemed so fitted to govern this great people as himself; and the events that fol