Key to Umbria

Porphyry bust of Galerius, from his palace in Romuliana (Gamzigrad) 


Early Career

There is scant information in the early sources to illuminate Galerius’ early life:

  1. According to Lactantius (who hated him):

  2. “ ...his mother was born beyond the Danube, and it [had been] an inroad of the Carpi that [had] obliged her to cross over and take refuge in New Dacia” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 9:2). 

  3. This suggests that she had been among those who had fled across the Danube to the new Dacia Ripensis in 275 AD, when the Emperor Aurelian had conceded the old province of that name north of the river to the Carpi.

  4. According to the ‘Epitome de Caesaribus’:

  5. “Galerius ..., although possessed of an uncultivated and rustic justice, was praiseworthy enough, physically attractive, a skilled and fortunate warrior, sprung from country parents, a keeper of cattle, whence [he acquired] the cognomen Armentarius [herdsman].  He was born and also buried in Dacia Ripensis, a place which he [renamed] Romulianum from the name of his mother, Romula” (40: 15-6).

  6. The imperial Palace at Romuliana ) still survives, at Gamzigrad, in modern Serbia.

Since his daughter seems to have been of marriageable age in ca. 300 AD (see below), he was presumably born in ca. 260 AD.

According to Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 136):

  1. “Galerius’ career before 293 AD is totally unknown ....”

He presumably served for a time under Diocletian before his elevation to the imperial college.  Lactantius asserted that he had originally been called Maximinus but: 

  1. “... Diocletian ... bestowed on Galerius [instead] the name of Maximian, ... because Maximian Herculius had served [Diocletian] with unshaken fidelity” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 18:13).

The timing of this renaming is unspecified, but it had presumably occurred at the time of his elevation to the rank of Caesar.

Appointment as Caesar

The circumstances in which Galerius was elevated to the rank of Caesar were described in detail on the page on the First Tetrarchy.  Diocletian invested him with the purple at his then place of residence, Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia, some 55 km west of Belgrade), on 1st March 293 ADHis new official name, Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, incorporated elements of the names of both Diocletian and Maximian, and he shared with Diocletian the signum Iovius.  He was always documented thereafter as the junior of the two Caesares, presumably because he was the younger and the less experienced.

A passage in a panegyric (Panegyric VIII, translated into English in Nixon and Rodgers, referenced below) that was delivered in ca. 297 AD at Constantius’ court, probably at Trier, recorded  number of victories that the Tetrarchs had won by that time, three of which clearly belonged to Diocletian and/or Galerius:

  1. “Let me simply marvel at:

  2. -.... the Sarmatian expedition in which almost the whole people was wiped out;

  3. -.... the Nile trophies ....; and

  4. - the very recent recent annihilation of the Carpi ...” (5:2).

As discussed below, the first two of these victories resulted from campaigns undertaken immediately after Galerius’ elevation:

  1. -Diocletian continued his campaign against Sarmatian incursions into the Hungarian plains from his base at Sirmium; while

  2. -Galerius established a residence at Antioch as a base from which he suppressed a revolt in upper Egypt.

While Diocletian’s decision to create the Tetrarchy when he did was probably motivated by the need for a Caesar (in this case Constantius) who could devote all his energies to the defeat of Carausius, he also clearly found it useful to have second Caesar, in this case Galerius, who could deal  with emergencies that arose while he himself was fully employed on the Danube.

Marriages and Progeny

The new imperial college was strengthened by dynastic marriages.  Thus, according to Aurelius Victor:

  1. “.... [Diocletian and Maximian] appointed as Caesars and made marriage alliances with Julius [sic ?] Constantius and Galerius Maximianus ... After annulling their previous marriages:

  2. -[Constantius] received the stepdaughter of Herculius [Maximian];

  3. -[Galerius received] Diocletian's daughter ...” (De Caesaribus39:18-9).

In fact, it seems almost certain that Constantius’ second marriage had taken place in ca. 288 AD, some five years prior to his elevation.  The date of Galerius’s marriage to Diocletian’s daughter, Valeria is unknown, but it might have similarly pre-dated his elevation.

Nothing is known for certain about Galerius’ first marriage, but it might have produced the daughter whose own marriage was recorded by Lactantius:

  1. Maximian Herculius had a son, Maxentius, [was] married to the daughter of Galerius” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 18:9).

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 2011, at p 48) suggested that the marriage probably took place:

  1. “shortly after [Galerius’ daughter] reached puberty, perhaps ca. 300 AD, when [Maxentius] was about twenty”.

Galerius’ daughter is recorded in an inscription (CIL XIV 2826, ca. 305 AD) as Valeria Maximilla, the mother of Maxentius’ young son, Romulus (who sadly died only a few years later):

  1. Her name Valeria Maximilla might suggest that she was also the daughter of the older Valeria, Galerius’ second wife, and thus a grandchild of Diocletian. An inscription (CIL VI 1138) from a statue base recovered from the site of Maxentius’ mausoleum on the Via Appia, where Romulus was buried in ca. 309 AD, would probably resolved the uncertainty had it been complete:

Divo Romulo n(obilissimae) m(emoriae) v(iro)

co(n)s(uli) or[d(inario) I]I

filio / d(omini) n(ostri) Maxent[ii] Invict(i) / [ac perpet(ui)] Aug(usti)

nepoti / [di]vi [M]axim[i]ani Sen(ioris) /


divi [Maximiani Iu]/[ni]oris

ac [ .... ]

To the deifed Romulus, man of most noble memory,

consul ordinary for the second time

son of our lord Maxentius the unconquered and perpetual Augustus

grandson of the deified Maximianus senior [Maximian]


of the deified Maximianus junior [Galerius]

and also ...

  1. Perhaps the missing fragment commemorated Romulus as a great grandson of Diocletian?

  2. However, two considerations suggest that this was not the case:

  3. Lactantius believed that the older Valeria was unable to have children (see below).

  4. The dating of CIL XIV 2826 (above) suggests that the younger Valeria was of child-bearing age by ca. 300 AD.  If the older Valeria had indeed been her mother, she must have married Galerius some 10 years before his appointment as Caesar in 293 AD, which is possible but seems unlikely.

Thus, on balance, it seems likely that Valeria Maximilla was the product of Galerius’ first marriage.  Her name Valeria might well have been acquired at the time of Galerius’ accession (or perhaps at the time of her own marriage to Marcus Valerius Maxentius).

Galerius’ second marriage (like, one assumes, his first) produced no legitimate sons.  However, according to Lactantius:

  1. “Candidianus ... was the son of Galerius by a concubine, and Valeria, ob sterilitatem (who could not have children), had adopted him” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 50:2).

Lactantius (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 20:4) had described him as a boy of nine years old in 305 AD, which suggests that he was born in 296 AD.

Diocletian’s Campaigns on the Danube

Sarmatian Campaign (294 AD)

As discussed on the page on Diocletian and Maximian (285-93 AD), Diocletian had undertaken a successful campaign against the Sarmatians in late 285 AD.  However, as Stephen Williams (referenced below, at p 52) observed, although his campaign was recorded as a triumph:

  1. “... it gave a respite of only three years ... By 289 AD, the Sarmatians had to be fought again.”

Diocletian had duly claimed a second victory against the Sarmatians in 289 AD.

It is clear, however, that the problems of incursions across the Danube continued.  Diocletian therefore established his main residence at Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia, some 55 km west of Belgrade) for much of the period 289-94 AD, in order to find a more permanent solution.  As noted above, Panegyric VIII referred to a campaign at this time as:

  1. “... the Sarmatian expedition in which almost the whole people was wiped out” (5:2)

The translator (at note 15) cited evidence from the Consularia Constantinopolitana (Chron. min. I. p. 230) for Diocletian’s activity on the Danube in 294 AD, when:

  1. “... forts were built in Sarmatia, opposite Aquincum [modern Budapest] and Bononia [the port of Sirmium]” (taken from Andras Mocsy, referenced below, at p 269).

It was probably from these fortresses that Diocletian executed a pincer movement that achieved the victory noted by the panegyrist, gaining Diocletian his third title as Sarmaticus maximus. 

Carpian Campaign (296 AD)

Panegyric VIII also referred to a campaign that had led to:

  1. “the very recent recent annihilation of the Carpi ...” (5:2).

The translator (at note 17) noted that this must have been very recent indeed when the speech was delivered (in the spring of 297 AD).   Timothy Barnes (referenced below,1982, Table 5, p 255) reasonably associated it with the Tetrarchs’ victory title of Carpicus maximus.

There is uncertainty about which of the Tetrarchs actually won the victory. 

  1. Ammianus Marcellinus referred to the Carpi as:

  2. “... a people whom Diocletian drove from its ancient abode and transferred to Pannonia” (‘Roman Antiquities’, 28.1.5)

  3. Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1976, at p  187) therefore concluded that:

  4. “... the defeat of the Carpi in 296 AD, which modern scholars have ascribed to Galerius or even to Maximian, must be restored to [Diocletian]”.

  5. Bill Leadbetter (at p 98) also tended to agree, suggesting:

  6. “Perhaps, as a preventative measure, [Diocletian] raided across theDanube before his departure [ for the east (below)]”.

  7. However, the translator of Panegyric VIII (above) pointed out (at note 17) that Ammianus’ observation:

  8. “... need not imply that Diocletian was in charge of the military operation (or even that Ammianus thought he was)”. 

  9. He suggested (at note 17 and again at note 48) that Maximian is indeed a credible candidate for the leader of this campaign prior to his journey to Gaul in 296 AD (described in the page on Maximian and Constantius in the West).

Campaigns in Egypt

Galerius in Egypt (293-5 AD)

In a note (note 16) to the translation of Panegyric VIII (above), the translator suggested that the most plausible explanation of  “the Nile trophies” (above) is that they corresponded to the following entry in the Chronicle of St Jerome (probably following the Chronicle of Eusebius):

  1. “Busiris and Coptos, having rebelled against the Romans, were razed down to the ground” (268th Olympiad).

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1976, at p 181) drew on a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus (P Oxy i 43), dated to February 295 AD, that:

  1. “... attests to the presence in Egypt of an expeditionary force comprising detachments of several legions [and] implies the presence of an Emperor (whose identity remains to be established) and should be relevant to the [panegyrist’s] ‘trophies on the Nile’.  Nor is there any obvious difficulty in assigning the destruction of Busiris and Coptos to the same expedition”.

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1976, at p 181) then identified the Emperor in question as Galerius, on the basis of victory titles that Diocletian seems to have denied him at this time, which he claimed as soon as he was free so to do:

  1. “Diocletian did not celebrate the [suppression of the revolts at Busiris and Coptos] as a victory over external enemies.  [However], when [Galerius became] senior Emperor (i.e., after 25th  July 306 AD), he took the titles [‘Aegyptiacus maximus’ and ‘Thebaicus maximus’], which appear in the appropriate chronological place between "Germanicus maximus" and "Sarmaticus maximus."  It follows that the victories were won in late 293 or early 294 AD”.

(See also Timothy Barnes 1982, Table 7, p 257)

Barnes’ assertion that Galerius had suppressed these revolts in Egypt is supported by the subsequent publication by John Rea et al. (referenced below) of a papyrus that provided circumstantial evidence for the presence of his army in Egypt at the appropriate time.  The papyrus itself was a warrant, dated 6th December 293 AD, for the issue at Caesarea [in Palestine?] of rations to an adiutor memoriae named Alogius during his recovery from an illness and his subsequent journey to catch up with his regiment:

  1. “the divine comitatus (bodyguard) of our master Maximianus [Galerius], the most noble Caesar”. 

The authors suggested that Alogius had kept the warrant until he had rejoined Galerius, and then had discarded it (since it was of no further use).  Since it had been found “somewhere in Egypt”, Galerius and his army were presumably there at that time. 

The inference is that, soon after his investiture at Sirmium (1st March 293 AD), Galerius marched with an army to Caesarea (probably the city of that name in Palestine), before departing on or about 6th December for Egypt, where he remained until at least February 295 AD.  John Rea et al. pointed out that the troops who were still with Galerius at that point (as evidenced by P. Oxy i 43 above) had been detached from three legions (IV Flavia, VII Claudia and XI Claudia) that normally serving in Moesia, the inference being that they had been assigned to him when he left Sirmium.

It remains to identify the two cities, Busiris and Coptos, at which the rebellion(s) broke out.

  1. The second of these is not particularly problematic: Coptos on the Nile was close to Thebes (modern Luxor), so the title ‘Thebaicus maximus’ might well relate to the suppression of a revolt there. 

  2. The case of Busiris is more complex.  As Alan Bowman (referenced below) pointed out:

  3. “... Busiris, which means "House of Osiris," is a fairly common [place-name in Egypt”.

  4. The most important city of this name was in the Nile delta in Lower Egypt, and a revolt there might well have been the occasion for the title ‘Aegyptiacus maximus’.  However, the literary sources [which ones ??] apparently placed the ‘Busiris’ that revolted in the Thebaid.  Alan Bowman (referenced below) suggested an alternative candidate for this city, based on a trilingual inscription (in Egyptian, Latin and Greek) that was discovered at Philae in 1896 (known as IPhilae 128).  This inscription, which had been set up on 29 April 29 BC by Cornelius Gallus to commemorate his achievements during his first year of his position as prefect of Egypt, described Gallus as (inter alia):

  5. “... vanquisher of Thebaid's revolution in fifteen days: [he] defeated the enemies twice ... and took over five cities by force: Boresis, Coptos, Ceramici, Diospolis Megaly, and Ophion ...”.

  6. Alan Bowman suggested that Galerius too had suppressed a revolt at Boresis (rather than Busiris).  He suggested that Galerius had perhaps taken the title ‘Aegyptiacus maximus’ at this point because this victory pre-dated the creation of the separate province of Thebais, which is first attested in February 295 AD.  (The precise location of Boresis in the Thebaid is unknown, but it was attested to again in the 4th century).

Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 84) summarised the importance of this campaign:

  1. “Galerius’ remit was to find a workable solution to the problems of regional disloyalty in a strategically critical region.  Less obviously, he may well have been required to commence the renovation of infrastructure that had fallen into desuetude.  He certainly sought to impose a drastic settlement ... the complete destruction of Coptos”.

He went on to deduce that the Romans built a fortress on the site of the old city, and that the population was moved to a nearby site (modern Qena) that was named (in Galerius’ honour) Maximianopolis.  Coptos itself had re-emerged by the middle of the 4th century, by which point it had its own bishop.

Revolt of Domitius Domitianus (297-8 AD)

A number of early sources refer to a revolt in Lower Egypt by someone called Achilleus in the late 290s AD, and two of them give additional information:

  1. According to St Jerome:

  2. Alexandria, with the rest of Egypt, cut itself off from Roman authority through the leadership of Achilleus; after a siege of eight months, it was retaken by Diocletian.  Therefore, many throughout the whole of Egypt were troubled with heavy proscriptions and exile after those who had emerged as the cause of the revolt had been killed” (269th Olympiad).

  3. According to Eutropius, while Maximian was campaigning in Africa (ca. 297 AD):

  4. Diocletian, meanwhile, besieging Achilleus in Alexandria, obliged him to surrender about eight months after, and put him to death.  He [Diocletian] used his victory, indeed, cruelly, and distressed all Egypt with severe proscriptions and massacres.  Yet at the same time he made many judicious arrangements and regulations, which continue to our own days” (‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’, 9:23: 4-6).

No surviving early literary source refers to the actual prime mover of this revolt, Lucius Domitius Domitianus, for whom coins that were minted in Alexandria proclaiming him as Augustus.  Diocletian's had ended the traditional independence of the mint at Alexandria in 296 AD, from which point it minted coins in the same denominations and styles as the other mints of the Empire.  Lucius Domitius Domitianus minted:

  1. orthodox coins, not only for himself but also for the Tetrarchs, some of which are illustrated on this page from the Numisology website); and

  2. reintroduced pre-reform denominations (didrachms, tetradrachms, and octodrachms) on coins that bore the regnal date ‘Year 2’.

Scholars used to assume that Domitius Domitianus and Achilleus must have been the same person, but the evidence of papyri proves that this was not the case: for example, P. Cairo. Isid. 62, which dated to September 297 AD and which was concerned with the arbitration of  a dispute between a group of siblings and their stepmother, lists Domitianus as Emperor and refers to Achilleus as his “corrector” (governor). 

The chronology of this revolt should probably begin with an edict issued by Arisius Optatus, the legitimate Prefect of Egypt, on 16th March 297 AD, in which he announced the imminent census which was to be used for the purpose of tax assessment.  According to Timothy Barnes (referenced below 1982, at p 149) this is the only securely dated documentary evidence for Optatus in this position, and the next such evidence for a legitimate Prefect of Egypt relates to Aelius Publius (298-9 AD).  Barnes reasonably places the illegitimate Aurelius Achilleus between them.  It seems likely that the new taxation régime announced by Optatus (and perhaps the recent reform of the coinage) had given rise to the revolt, and it might be that news of Galerius’ recent defeat at the hands of the Persians (above) had emboldened the rebels. 

According to Stephen Williams (referenced below, at p 81) the revolt had started in the Thebaid and quickly swept across the country to Alexandria.  Diocletian could hardly countenance another usurpation so soon after the defeat of Allectus in Britain, and certainly not in such a strategically important place as Egypt.  He was forced to leave Syria at a delicate moment in the Persian  campaign (below) in order to suppress the revolt.  He seems to have quickly recovered most of Egypt before coming to a halt at Alexandria, which (as mentioned by the sources above) withstood a siege of some eight months.  Domitius Domitianus was last documented in December 297 AD.  It is therefore reasonable to assume (following the early sources above, that Achillleus orchestrated the city’s defence thereafter.  Diocletian was present in the spring of 298 AD, when the city finally fell and (according to Eutropius, above) Achilleus was executed.  This page on the Library of Alexandria contains two other interesting references from later Byzantine historians:

  1. Diocletian "set fire to the city and burnt it completely, and he established his authority over it" (John of Nikiu, ‘Chronicle’, LXXVII.6).

  2. Diocletian  apparently swore to slaughter the city’s inhabitants until their blood reached the knees of his horse; only when it stumbled over a corpse did the carnage end (from an account, possibly more graphic that accurate, by John Malalas, ‘Chronicle’, XII.41).

After the revolt, Diocletian travelled south along the Nile towards the frontier.  A papyrus from the city of Panopolis (some 600 km south of Alexandria) contains 112 letters from a two-week period (11th –24th September AD 298) that largely concern the arrangements for his imminent arrival there.  It may have been at this time that Diocletian redrew the boundary to a more defensible position: Procopius, who described the new arrangement in detail in a digression in his Book I of his ‘Persian War’, implied that he was present at the time:

  1. “Formerly, [the city called Elephantine] was not the [southern] limit of the Roman Empire, which lay beyond there as far as one would advance in a journey of seven days; but the Roman Emperor Diocletian came there, and observed that the tribute from these places was of the smallest possible account ... while the very large body of soldiers that was stationed there ...[imposed] an excessive burden upon the public; and at the same time the Nobatae who formerly dwelt about the city of Oasis used to plunder the whole region; so he persuaded these barbarians to move from their own habitations, and to settle along the River Nile ... For in this way he thought that they would no longer harass the country about Oasis ... and would probably beat off the Blemyes and the other barbarians.  And since this pleased the Nobatae, they made the migration immediately, just as Diocletian directed them, and took possession of all the Roman cities and the land on both sides of the river beyond the city of Elephantine.  Then it was that this Emperor decreed that to them and to the Blemyes a fixed sum of gold should be given every year with the stipulation that they should no longer plunder the land of the Romans. ... [Diocletian] went so far as to select a certain island in the River Nile close to the city of Elephantine and there construct a very strong fortress in which he established certain temples and altars for the Romans and these barbarians in common, and he settled priests of both nations in this fortress, thinking that the friendship between them would be secure by reason of their sharing the things sacred to them. And for this reason he named the place Philae” (‘‘De bellis’’, 1.19.27-37).

Campaigns against the Persians

As set out in the page on Diocletian and Maximian (285-93 AD), Diocletian had negotiated a treaty with King Vahran II of Persia in 287 AD, under which he had secured the restoration to the Romans of part of Armenia, where King Tiridates III was able to return to power as a Roman client.  (Diocletian might also have secured the restoration to the Romans of territory in Mesopotamia).  Thus the eastern frontier with Persia became relatively secure.  However, Vahran II died in 293 AD and was succeeded, after a brief struggle for power, by his uncle, Narses, a son of the great King Shapur I (240-70 AD), whose many humiliations of the Romans were famously depicted (among other places) in the rock reliefs of Naqš-i Rustam

Narses’ relations with the Romans were not initially overtly hostile.  Thus, in the famous Paikuli inscription, Narses claimed:

  1. “Then I, with the support of and in the name of the gods and my own [ancestors? ...], ascen[t ?] [the throne of ?] (my) father and ancestors.  And Caesar and the Romans were in gratitude(?) and peace and friendship with me” (3:1).

Nevertheless, Galerius seems to have spent much of 295 AD in Syria, perhaps in anticipation of renewed Persian hostility.  Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 88) deduced that he employed men from a number of legions drawn from across the Empire on an impressive programme of fortification and infrastructure restoration in the region.  He also suggested that Diocletian might well have travelled to meet Galerius  in Damascus in April/May 295 AD (on the basis that Diocletian had probably issued the edict that had emanated from that city on 1st May of that year).

First Imperial Title ‘Persicus Maximus

Two inscriptions commemorate Diocletian with a single victory title Persicus Maximus:

  1. CIL  III 5810 (290 AD), in which Septimius Valentio, governor of Raetia, proclaimed himself ‘d(evotus) n(umini) m(aiestati)que eius’ (devoted to Diocletian’s spirit and majesty); and

  2. CIL  XIII 5249 (after the appointment of the Caesars in 293 AD but before the end of the following year), on the foundation stone of the fortress wall of Vitudurum (Germania Superior).

The second inscription gave the title to both Diocletian and Maximian, and omitted all victory titles for the Caesars (although they too presumably shared it).  Timothy Barnes (referenced below,1982, Table 5, p 255, note 2) discounted both inscriptions as evidence for a formal victory title, which he asserted can only be deduced from the Edict of Maximum Prices (301 AD).  He tentatively dated this formal title, which was given to all four Tetrarchs, to 295 AD. 

It has to be said that there is no surviving evidence for an outright Roman victory against the Persians, either by Diocletian alone before 290 AD, or by Diocletian and/or Galerius before 298 AD (below). 

First Campaign against Narses (296 AD)

According to Lactantius:

  1. “[Narses], king of the Persians, emulating the example set him by his grandfather [Shapur], assembled a great army and aimed at becoming master of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 9:5).

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1976, at p 182) pointed out that a surviving fragment of an epic poem in Greek (P. Argent. 480, 1-3) - which in another publication (referenced below, 1982, p54, note 35) he suggested came from a panegyric that was to delivered to Diocletian while he was in Egypt in 298 AD - provided additional information:

  1. The other leaders [Maximian and Constantius] would have hastened from Italy to [Diocletian’s] aid, had not war in Spain drawn one [Maximian] and the battle-din of the island of Britain encompassed the other [Constantius].  [Thus, only] the elder lord [Diocletian] with his army of [Romans] reached the Orient in the company of the younger king [Galerius].  They had the likeness of the blessed gods, one [Diocletian] in strength matched Zeus on high and the other [Galerius, matched] the fair-haired Apollo. . .”  (from the translation in Dodgeon and Lieu, referenced below, at 5:3:5).

The additional pieces of information were as follows:

  1. the Persian attack occurred in 296 AD, when Constantius was still engaged in the recovery of Britain; and

  2. both Diocletian and Galerius travelled to the east to confront it.

From the itineraries compiled by Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, p 54 for Diocletian  and p 63 for Galerius), it seems that Diocletian left the Danube to join Galerius in Syria.  However, all the early sources ascribe the subsequent defeat to Galerius:

  1. “Galerius Maximianus ... , fought, on the first occasion, a battle [against Narses that was] far from successful, meeting him between Callinicus and Carrae, and engaging in combat with rashness, [although with no lack] of courage; for he contended with a small army against a very numerous enemy.  Being in consequence defeated, and going to join Diocletian, he was received by him, when he met him on the road, with such extreme haughtiness, that he is said to have run by his chariot for several miles in his scarlet robes” (‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’, 9:24).

Orosius (‘Seven Books of History Against the Pagans’,7: 25: 9) gave essentially the same account, except that he had this defeat follow two earlier and presumably inconclusive engagements.  The public humiliation of Galerius would have been uncharacteristic of Diocletian and alien to his concept of imperium, so it can be safely discounted (as discussed further below).

Second Campaign (297-9 AD)

According to Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 91), after his victory in 296 AD, Narses turned his attention to the expulsion of the Roman client King Tiridates III from Armenia.  Diocletian seems to have remained in Syria at this point, while Galerius assembled a new army on the Danube (see below).  However, in late 297 AD, probably after Galerius had returned with his new army, Diocletian was forced to leave for Egypt to deal with the revolt of Domitius Domitianus (above). 

Galerius linked up with the exiled Tiridates III and prepared to attack Narses in Armenia.  Thus, according to Eutropius:

  1. “... [having] collected forces in Illyricum and Moesia, he [Galerius] fought a second time with [Narses] ... in Greater Armenia, with extraordinary success, and with no less caution and spirit: for he undertook, with one or two of the cavalry, the office of a speculator [spy - see  below].  After putting [Narses] to flight, he captured his wives, sisters and children, with a vast number of the Persian nobility besides, and a great quantity of treasure; the king himself he forced to take refuge in the remotest deserts in his dominions”.(‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’, 9:25).

Dodgeon and Lieu (referenced below, at Appendix II) translated parts of the ‘History of the Armenians’ (ca. 470 AD) by Pavstos Buzand, which contains (at pp 306-7 in the translation) a fascinating account of this the reconnaissance mission (above) that Galerius carried out prior to the attack on Narses’ camp:

  1. “When [Galerius] heard of [Narses’ invasion], he too mustered his army and marched off to the land of Armenia to confront the Persian king.  He left his own camp near the town of Satagh (Satala) and selected [two Armenian nobles, Arshavir and Andovk,] ... and, together with them, he, the Emperor, entered the Persian camp disguised as a village greengrocer.  The camp was pitched in the district of Basean,at a place called Oxsa.   And so they came and entered the camp of the Persian king: they spied out the lie of the land and took measure of their forces. Then they returned to their own camp and made ready.  They [returned to the Persian camp in force on the following morning and] ... took it off-guard and unawares, relaxed and unsuspecting. ... The king [Narses] alone escaped by a hair’s breadth, ... took flight and just managed to reach his own country”.

The humiliation that Shapur had visited on the Romans was thus avenged in magnificent style!  Galerius celebrated his triumph by minting a bronze medallion at Siscia in ca. 297 AD: he is depicted  on the reverse on horseback, holding spear, and riding over five helpless Persians (identified by  their Phrygian caps) as he is crowned by a flying victory.  The reverse legend reads: VICTORIA PERSICA. 

The Tetrarchs’ second victory title Persicus maximus clearly related to this initial victory.  As Timothy Barnes (1982, at p 18) summarised:

  1. “Galerius [then] marched on from Armenia into Media and then into Adiabene (in modern Iran).  In each region, he won a victory in the field.”

This led to three more victory titles:

  1. Armeniacus maximus;

  2. Medicus maximus; and

  3. Adiabenicus maximus.

Galerius then marched to Nisibis on the Tigris [now Nusaybin in Turkey].  The source for the date is the ‘Chronicle(ca. 500 AD) by Joshua the Stylite, a history in Syriac of Mesopotamia:

  1. ‘“In 609 [of the Seleucid Era], the Romans took possession the city of Nisibis, and it was under their control for 65 years” (VII).

C. S. Lightfoot (referenced below, at p 4-5) noted that this year 609:

  1. is generally equated with October 297 and to September 298 AD”.

Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 95) suggested that Galerius probably spent the winter  of 298/9 AD there.  The choice was probably not an arbitrary one: the fall of Nisibis to the first Sassanian king of Persia, Ardašir I, in 230 AD had launched  the wars that had brought so much humiliation to Rome (as summarised in this page in

It was during this stay in Nisibis that Galerius received Narses’ ambassador, Apharban, who formally sued for peace and for the release of the surviving Persian captives.  Thomas Banchich (referenced below, at p 133-4, F201) has recently published his translation of the account of this meeting by the 6th century Byzantine historian, Peter the Patrician.  It contains Galerius’ famous response to Narses’ plea for mercy, when he countered with the Persians’ record in the case of the Emperor Valerian (described in the page on Diocletian and Galerius in the East (293-305 AD):

  1. ... after [he] had tricked [Valerian] with deceptions, [your father, Shapur I] held him to extreme old age and did not spare him a dishonourable death: after his death, ... [he] preserved his skin and perpetrated an immortal outrage on his mortal body

Nevertheless, Narses could hope for better treatment (not least for his captured wife and other members of his family), since Galerius ended by saying that he could:

  1. “be hopeful that, before too long, envoys would come to him, according to the inclination of the sovereign [Diocletian]”.

Aftermath (299-300 AD)

Thomas Banchich (referenced below, at p 135-6, F202) also translated a second passage by Peter the Patrician, in which he described a meeting between Diocletian and Galerius at Nisibis.  According to Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, p 55), Diocletian had finally been able to leave Egypt, and was documented at Antioch on 5th February 299 AD.  From there, it would have been a relatively short march inland to Nisibis.   Galerius might have been elsewhere when he arrived, since Eutropius recorded that:

  1. Returning .. in triumph to Diocletian, who was then encamped with some troops in Mesopotamia, [Galerius] was welcomed by him with great honour” (‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’, 9:25).

Diocletian and Galerius agreed the terms that were to be put to Narses, and sent the magister militum Sicorius Probus to inform Narses of what was required.  Narses apparently chose a site by the river Asprudus in Media for the meeting, but Thomas Banchich, in his notes to the translation, pointed out that this river is unknown.  He suggested that the meeting more probably took place in the palace at the Persian capital, Ctesiphon.  Narses was forced to cede a swathe of northern Mesopotamia to the Romans, with Nisibis as the gateway through which all commercial activity with them would be channelled.  In return, according to Peter the Patrician: 

  1. “ Narseus [received back] both his wives and his children, their chastity having been preserved for them with the help of the Emperor’s  love of honour”.

John Malalas (‘Chronicle’, XII, translated by Dodgeon and Lieu, referenced below, at p 130) gave additional information:

  1. “[Narses’ wife] Arsane ... [had] resided in Daphne for some years {after her capture], and was guarded with honour by command of ... Diocletian.  After this, there was a peace treaty, and she was returned to the Persians, to her own husband, having endured an honourable captivity”. 

John Malalas (above) continued:

  1. “At this time, donatives were offered by [Diocletian] to the whole Roman state to celebrate the victory”.

Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p96 and note 151) suggested that Galerius travelled from the Danube to Antioch to join in the celebration of a triumph in 300 AD.  (He also suggested (at note 52) that this was the occasion on which (according to Eutropius, in an account also mirrored in other sources), Galerius had:

  1. “ ... run by [Diocletian’s] chariot for several miles in his scarlet robes” (‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’, 9:24).

As noted above, this is more plausible than Eutropius’ assertion that Diocletian inflicted a public humiliation on Galerius after the defeat of 296 AD.

David Potter (referenced below, 2004, at pp 288-90) summarised the effect of the concessions that Narses had been forced to make:

  1. “ It would [now] be impossible for a Persian army to move unobserved or swiftly through a region now controlled by strongly fortified cities, while Rome retained an advance base to the north of Ctesiphon.  [All this extra security did not] ... require a substantial increase in the size of the army, since [the newly acquired provinces] were treated like Armenia, in that they acknowledged Roman authority while remaining under their own rulers”. 

This treaty of 299 AD secured peace between Rome and Persia for some 40 years.

Galerius on the Danube  (299 - 304 AD)

According to Eutropius, following the defeat of the Persians:

  1. “... [Diocletian and Galerius] conducted several wars, both in conjunction and separately, subduing the Carpi and Bastarnae, and defeating the Sarmatians, from which nations [they] settled a great number of captives in the Roman territories” (‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’, 9:25). 

These victories occurred under Galerius, who now  assumed responsibility for Danube frontier, for which purpose he established a magnificent new palace at Thessalonica.  Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 61-2) placed his main residence here from 299 AD, the date at which a mint was initiated there (see Sutherland and Carson, referenced below, p p 57).  The palace complex also included:

  1. a rotunda that is sometimes thought to have been intended as Galerius’ mausoleum, but which more probably functioned as a temple (as discussed by A. Mentzos, referenced below); and

  2. the famous Arch of Galerius, which was decorated with reliefs, many of which celebrated Galerius’ recent victory against the Persians (as analysed by Margret Pond Rothman, referenced below).

Andras Mocsy (referenced below, at p 272) suggested that Galerius undertook a significant drainage programme in Pannonia at this time, probably to create land for the new settlements and possibly making use the settlers’ labour.

Sutherland and Carson (above) noted that he mint at Thessalonica closed in ca. 303 AD, and its operations moved to Serdica (modern Sofia, Bulgaria).  Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 61-2) associated this with a change in Galerius’ main residence from Thessalonica to Serdica (close to the village where he was born).  Unfortunately, the Roman place there is under the modern city and remains unexcavated.

According to Lactantius, Galerius made the following complaint to Diocletian in 305 AD:

  1. “... for 15 years past, he had been confined, as an exile, to Illyricum and the banks of the Danube, perpetually struggling against barbarous nations, while others, at their ease, governed dominions more extensive and civilised than his” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 18:6).

In fact, this period of ‘exile’ had only lasted for some five years: perhaps it had simply felt like 15 years.

Campaign against the Sarmatians (299 and 302 AD)

An entry in the Consularia Constantinopolitana (Chron. Min. I. p. 230) for 299 AD records a victory against the Marcomanni in that year.  Timothy Barnes (referenced below,1982, Table 5, p 255) associated this with Diocletian’s fourth title (and Galerius’ second) of Sarmaticus maximus (which was also Maximian’s third and the second of each of the Caesars), which he dated to 299/300 AD.

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 2011, at p  180) noted another victory title of Sarmaticus maximus (Diocletian’s fifth, Galerius’ third), which he dated to 302 or 304 AD.  According to Lactantius:

  1. “A certain person tore down [the Edict against Christians at Nicomedia in the following February] and cut it in pieces ... declaring mockingly that victories over the Goths and Sarmatians were being proclaimed"  (13:2).

The second part of this translation is taken from Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 2011, p 53), who added that:

  1. “By the ‘Goths’, Lactantius clearly meant the Carpi [see below].”

The intrepid rebel (who was martyred for his trouble) was presumably referring to victories that Galerius had secured in the previous year.

Campaign against the Carpi (301-4 AD)

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, Table 7, p 257) listed four victory title of Carpicus maximus (Galerius’ second, third, fourth and fifth), which he dated to successive years in the period 301-4 AD. 

It was suggested above that one of these victories had been secured in 302 AD, after which Galerius had left the Danube to spend the winter of 302/3 with Diocletian at Nicomedia.  In the following February, Diocletian issued the Edict against the Christians.  Lactantius claimed that Galerius arranged for a subsequent programme of arson at the imperial palace which he sought to blame on Christians so that Diocletian would be induced to impose yet harsher measures.  When this attempt failed:

  1. “Galerius, who in the middle of winter had prepared for his departure, suddenly hurried out of the city, protesting that he fled to escape being burnt alive” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 14-6).

Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p  101) suggested that:

  1. “More likely, [Galerius] was summoned by the more urgent flames of war”.

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at pp 64) identified the date of Galerius’ departure for the Danube as March 303 AD. 

A rescript (CJ 5.73.4) places Diocletian at Durostorum on the lower Danube (in modern Bulgaria) on 8th June 303 AD, when he was en route of the celebration of his vicennalia in Rome on 20th November  of that year.  Lactantius described how he left Rome for Ravenna:

  1. “Then, at the close of summer [of 304 AD], [Diocletian] made a circuit along the banks of the Danube, and so came to Nicomedia” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 17:4).

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 56. note 43) suggested that this might have been the occasion on which he settled the Carpi in Pannonia.  Evidence for such a settlement is given by Lactantius in a vitriolic account of the régime of the Emperor Maximinus after Galerius’ death in 311 AD:

  1. “For hardly were there any men in the bodyguard [of Maximinus] other than those [probably the Carpi] who, having been driven from their habitations by the Goths in the 20th year of Diocletian [i.e. 303 AD], had yielded themselves to Galerius and entered into his service [and been ‘inherited by Maximinus].  It was ill for humankind, that men [like these], who had fled from the bondage of barbarians, should thus come to lord it over the Romans.  Protected by such guards, [Maximinus] oppressed and insulted the Eastern Empire” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 38:6).

Diocletian was already ill when he left the Danube.  According to Lactantius, when he reached Nicomedia (where he was documented on 28th August 304 AD):

  1. “His disease had now become more grievous and oppressing; yet he caused himself to be brought out, in order to dedicate that circus that he had erected at the conclusion of the 20th year of his reign [i.e. in November].  Immediately he grew so languid and feeble that prayers for his life were said to all the gods.  Then suddenly, on the ides of December [13th December 304 AD], sorrow, and weeping was heard in the palace ... and a report went [around] of the death, and even of the burial, of Diocletian” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 17: 4-6).

As it turned out, this was a false alarm.  Nevertheless, Galerius now clearly needed to turn his attention to the preservation of his own position.  He duly left the Danube and, when he returned in the winter of 306/7 AD, it was as Augustus.

Read more:

T. Banchich, “Lost History of Peter the Patrician: An Account of Rome's Imperial Past from the Age of Justinian”, (2015) Oxford

T. Barnes, “Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire”, (2011) Chichester

W. Leadbetter, “Galerius and the Will of Diocletian”, London 2009

D. Potter, “The Roman Empire at Bay, 180–395 AD”, (2004, second edition 2014) Abingdon

A. Mentzos, “Reflections of the Interpretation and Dating of the Rotunda of Thessaloniki”, EyvaTia 6 (2001) 57-82

C. E. V. Nixon and B. S. Rodgers, “In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini”, (1994) Berkeley 

M. Dodgeon and S.  N. C. Lieu (Eds), “The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (226-363 AD): A Documentary History”, (1991, reprinted 2002) London

J. Rea et al., “A Ration Warrant for an Adiutor Memoria”, Yale Classical Studies 28 (1985) 101-13

S. Williams, “Diocletian and the Roman Recovery”, (1985, second edition 1997) London

A. Bowman, “Two Notes”, Bulletin of American Society of Papyrologists 21 (1984) 33–8.

T. Barnes, “New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine”, (1982) Harvard

C. Lightfoot, “The Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire with Special Reference to the Reign of Constantius II”, (1981)  Thesis from St. John's College, Oxford

M. Pond Rothman, “The Thematic Organisation of the Panel Reliefs on the Arch of Galerius”, American Journal of Archaeology, 81:4 (1977), pp. 427-54

T. Barnes, “Imperial Campaigns (285-311 AD)”, Phoenix, 30:2 (1976) 174-93

A. Mocsy, “Pannonia and Upper Moesia: History of the Middle Danube Provinces of the Roman Empire”, (English translation, 1974) Oxford

Diocletian (284-305 AD)

Diocletian's Rise to Power (284-5 AD)      Diocletian and Maximian (285-93 AD)

First Tetrarchy (293-305 AD)      Diocletian, Maximian and Rome (285-305 AD)

Military Campaigns: Maximian and Constantius  in the West (293-305 AD)

Military Campaigns: Diocletian and Galerius in the East  (293-305 AD)

Imperial Cult (285-305 AD)

Diocletian to Constantine (285-337 AD): Literary Sources 

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