Tetrarchy - Terminology

Terminology

Although the term "tetrarch" was current in antiquity, it was never used of the imperial college under Diocletian. Instead, the term was used to describe independent portions of a kingdom that were ruled under separate leaders. The tetrarchy of Judaea, established after the death of Herod the Great, is the most famous example of the antique tetrarchy. The term was understood in the Latin world as well, where Pliny the Elder glossed it as follows: "each is the equivalent of a kingdom, and also part of one" (regnorum instar singulae et in regna contribuuntur).

As used by the ancients, the term describes not only different governments, but also a different system of government from the Diocletianic arrangements. The Judaean tetrarchy was a set of four independent and distinct states, where each tetrarch ruled a quarter of a kingdom as they saw fit, the Diocletianic tetrarchy was a college, led by a single supreme leader. When later authors described the period, this is what they emphasized: Ammianus has Constantius II admonish Julian for disobedience by appealing to the example in submission set by Diocletian's lesser colleagues; Julian himself would compare the Diocletianic tetrarchs to a chorus surrounding a leader, speaking in unison under his command. Only Lactantius, a contemporary of Diocletian and a deep ideological opponent of the Diocletianic state, referred to the tetrarchs as a simple multiplicity of rulers.

Much modern scholarship was written without the term. Although Edward Gibbon pioneered the description of the Diocletianic government as a "New Empire", he never used the term. Neither did Theodor Mommsen. It did not appear in the literature until 1887, when it was used by the schoolmaster Hermann Schiller in a two-volume handbook on the Roman Empire, Geschichte der Römischen Kaiserzeit. Schiller called it "die diokletianische Tetrarchie". The term did not catch on in the literature, however, until Otto Seeck used it in 1897.

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