260 – late April or early May 311), formally
Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus
was Roman Emperor
from 305 to 311.
was born on a small farm estate, on the site where he later built
his palace, Felix
His father was a Thracian
and his mother Romula was a Dacian
woman, who left Dacia
because of the Carpians
attacks. He originally followed his father's occupation, that of a
herdsman, where he got his surname of Armentarius (Latin
, herd). He served with
distinction as a soldier under Emperors Aurelian
, and in
293 at the establishment of the Tetrarchy
was designated Caesar
with Constantius Chlorus
receiving in marriage Diocletian
daughter Valeria (later known as Galeria Valeria), and at the same
time being entrusted with the care of the Illyrian
provinces. Soon after his appointment, Galerius would
be dispatched to Egypt to fight the rebellious cities Busiris and Coptos.
War with Persia
In 294, Narseh
, a son of Shapur who had been
passed over for the Sassanid succession, came into power in Persia.
Narseh probably moved to eliminate Bahram
, a young man installed by a noble named Vahunam in the wake
of Bahram II's death in 293. In early 294, Narseh sent Diocletian
the customary package of gifts, but within Persia he was destroying
every trace of his immediate predecessors, erasing their names from
public monuments. He sought to identify himself with the warlike
reigns of Ardashir
(r. 226–41) and
(r. 241–72), the same Shapur who had
sacked Roman Antioch, skinned the Emperor Valerian
(r. 253–260) to decorate his war
In 295 or 296, Narseh declared war on Rome. He appears to have
first invaded western Armenia, retaking the lands delivered to
Tiridates in the peace of 287. He would occupy the lands there
until the following year. Narseh then moved south into Roman
Mesopotamia, where he inflicted a severe defeat on Galerius, then
commander of the Eastern forces, in the region between Carrhae
(Harran, Turkey) and Callinicum (Ar-Raqqah, Syria).
Diocletian may or may not have been
present at the battle, but would present himself soon afterwards at
Antioch, where the official version of events was made clear:
Galerius was to take all the blame for the affair. In Antioch,
Diocletian forced Galerius to walk a mile in advance of his
imperial cart while still clad in the purple robes of an emperor.
The message conveyed was clear: the loss at Carrhae was not due to
the failings of the empire's soldiers, but due to the failings of
their commander, and Galerius' failures would not be accepted. (It
is also possible that Galerius' position at the head of the caravan
was merely the conventional organization of an imperial
progression, designed to show a Caesar's deference to his
Galerius had been reinforced, probably in the spring of 298, by a
new contingent collected from the empire's Danubian holdings.
Narseh did not advance from Armenia and Mesopotamia, leaving
Galerius to lead the offensive in 298 with an attack on northern
Mesopotamia via Armenia. Diocletian may or may not have been
present to assist the campaign. Narseh retreated to Armenia to
fight Galerius' force, to Narseh's disadvantage: the rugged
Armenian terrain was favorable to Roman infantry, but unfavorable
to Sassanid cavalry. Local aid gave Galerius the advantage of
surprise over the Persian forces, and, in two successive battles,
Galerius secured victories over Narseh.
During the second encounter, Roman forces seized Narseh's camp, his
treasury, his harem, and his wife along with it. Narseh's wife
would live out the remainder of the war in Daphne, a suburb of
Antioch, serving to the Persians as a constant reminder of Roman
victory. Galerius advanced into Media and Adiabene, winning
continuous victories, most prominently near Erzurum, and securing
Nisibis (Nusaybin, Turkey)
before October 1, 298.
He moved down the Tigris, taking
Ctesiphon, and gazing onwards to the ruins of Babylon before
returning to Roman territory via the Euphrates.
Narseh had previously sent an ambassador to Galerius to plead for
the return of his wives and children, but Galerius had dismissed
this ambassador, reminding him of how Shapur had treated Valerian.
The Romans, in any case, treated Narseh's captured family with
tact, perhaps seeking to evoke comparisons to Alexander
and his beneficent conduct
towards the family of Darius
. Peace negotiations began in the spring of 299, with both
Diocletian and Galerius presiding. Their magister memoriae
(secretary) Sicorius Probus was sent to Narseh to present
The conditions of the peace were heavy: Persia would give up
territory to Rome, making the Tigris the boundary between the two
empires. Further terms specified that Armenia was
returned to Roman domination, with the fort of Ziatha as its
border; Caucasian Iberia would pay
allegiance to Rome under a Roman appointee; Nisibis, now under
Roman rule, would become the sole conduit for trade between Persia
and Rome; and Rome would exercise control over the five satrapies
between the Tigris and Armenia: Ingilene,
Sophanene (Sophene), Arzanene (Aghdznik), Corduene, and
Zabdicene (near modern Hakkâri, Turkey). These regions included the passage of the
Tigris through the Anti-Taurus
range; the Bitlis pass, the
quickest southerly route into Persian Armenia; and access to the
With these territories, Rome would
have an advance station north of Ctesiphon, and would be able to
slow any future advance of Persian forces through the region. Under
the terms of the peace Tiridates would regain both his throne and
the entirety of his ancestral claim, and Rome would secure a wide
zone of cultural influence in the region. The fact that the empire
was able to sustain such constant warfare on so many fronts has
been taken as a sign of the essential efficacy of the Diocletianic
system and the goodwill of the army towards the tetrarchic
Persecution of Christians
Christians had lived in peace during most of the rule of
Diocletian. The persecutions that began with an edict of February
24, 303, were credited by Christians to Galerius' work, as he was a
fierce advocate of the old ways and old gods. Christian houses of
assembly were destroyed, for fear of sedition in secret
was not anti-Christian during
the first part of his reign, and historians have claimed that
Galerius decided to prod him into persecuting them by secretly
burning the Imperial Palace and blaming it on Christian saboteurs.
Regardless of who was at fault for the fire, Diocletian's rage was
aroused and he began one of the last and greatest Christian
persecutions in the history of the Roman
It was at
the insistence of Galerius that the last edicts of persecution
against the Christians were published,
beginning on February 24, 303, and this policy of repression was
maintained by him until the appearance of the general edict of
toleration, issued from Nicomedia in April 311, apparently during his last bout of
illness, in his own name and in those of Licinius and Constantine (see Edict of Toleration by
gives the text of the edict in his moralized chronicle of the bad
ends to which all the persecutors came, De Mortibus
("On the Deaths of the Persecutors", chapters 34,
35). This marked the end of official persecution of
Rule as Augustus
After the elevation of Constantius I
and Galerius to the rank of Augusti, two new Caesars were required
to supply their place, and to complete the system of the Imperial
government. The two persons whom Galerius promoted to the rank of
Caesar were very much Galerius' creatures, and he hoped to enhance
his authority throughout the empire with their elevation.
First was Maximinus Daia
, whose mother was
Galerius' sister. An inexperienced youth with little formal
education, he was invested with the purple, exalted to the dignity
of Caesar, and assigned the command of Egypt and Syria.
Severus, Galerius' comrade in arms; he
was sent to Milan to receive
the possession of Italy and Africa.
According to the forms
of the constitution, Severus acknowledged the supremacy of the
western emperor; but he was absolutely devoted to the commands of
his benefactor Galerius, who, reserving to himself the intermediate
countries from the confines of Italy to those of Syria, firmly
established his power over three quarters of the empire.
were dashed when his colleague Constantius died at York in 306 and
the legions elevated his son Constantine to the position of
Galerius only discovered this when he received a
letter from Constantine, who informed him of his father's death,
modestly asserted his natural claim to the succession, and
respectfully lamented that the enthusiastic violence of his troops
had not allowed him to obtain the Imperial purple in the regular
and constitutional manner. The first emotions of Galerius were
those of surprise, disappointment, and rage; and, as he could
seldom restrain his passions, he threatened to burn both the letter
and the messenger.
he had time to reconsider his position, he inevitably saw that his
chances of winning a war against Constantine was doubtful at best,
especially given that he was well aware of Constantine’s strengths
as Constantine had been his guest for some time at Nicomedia, not to mention the attachment of the troops to
Therefore, without either condemning or ratifying the
choice of the British army, Galerius accepted the son of his
deceased colleague as the ruler of the provinces beyond the Alps;
but he gave him only the title of Caesar, and the fourth rank among
the Roman princes, whilst he conferred the vacant place of Augustus
on his favourite Severus.
The ambitious spirit of Galerius was only just gotten over this
disappointment when he beheld the unexpected loss of Italy to
. Galerius’ need for additional
revenue had persuaded him to make a very strict and rigorous
examination of the property of his subjects for the purpose of a
general taxation. A very minute survey was taken of their real
estates; and, wherever there was the slightest suspicion of
concealment, torture was used to obtain a sincere declaration of
their personal wealth. Italy had traditionally been exempt from any
form of taxation, but Galerius ignored this precedent, and the
officers of the revenue already began to number the Roman people,
and to settle the proportion of the new taxes. Italy began to
murmur against this indignity and Maxentius used this sentiment to
declare himself emperor in Italy, to the fury of Galerius.
Therefore, Galerius ordered his colleague Severus to immediately
march to Rome, in the full confidence that, by his unexpected
arrival, he would easily suppress the rebellion. Severus was
quickly captured and executed by Maximian
who had once again been elevated to the rank of co-emperor, this
time by his son Maxentius.
The importance of the occasion needed the presence and abilities of
Galerius. At the head of a powerful army collected from Illyricum
and the East,
he entered Italy, determined to revenge the death of Severus and to
punish the rebellious Romans. But due to the skill of Maximian, Galerius
found every place hostile, fortified, and inaccessible; and though
he forced his way as far as Narni, within
sixty miles of Rome, his control in Italy was confined to the
narrow limits of his camp.
Seeing that he was facing ever-greater difficulties, Galerius made
the first advances towards reconciliation, and dispatched two
officers to tempt the Romans by the offer of a conference, and the
declaration of his paternal regard for Maxentius, reminding them
that they would obtain much more from his willing generosity that
anything that might have been obtained through a military campaign.
The offers of Galerius were rejected with firmness, his friendship
refused, and it was not long before he discovered that unless he
retreated, he might have succumbed to the fate of Severus. It was
not a moment too soon; large monetary gifts from Maxentius to his
soldiers had corrupted the fidelity of the Illyrian legions. When
Galerius finally began his withdrawal from Italy, it was only with
great difficulty that he managed to stop his veterans deserting
In frustration, Galerius allowed his legions to ravage the
countryside as they passed northwards. Maxentius declined to make a
With so many emperors now in existence, in 308
Galerius, together with the retired emperor Diocletian and the now
active Maximian, called an imperial 'conference' at Carnuntum
on the River Danube to
rectify the situation and bring some order back into the imperial
government. Here it was agreed that Galerius’ long-time friend and
military companion Licinius
, who had been
entrusted by Galerius with the defense of the Danube while Galerius
was in Italy, would become Augustus in the West, with Constantine
as his Caesar. In the East, Galerius remained Augustus and
Maximinus remained his Caesar. Maximian was to retire, and
Maxentius was declared a usurper.
Galerius’ plan soon failed. The news of Licinius’ promotion was no
sooner carried into the East, than Maximinus, who governed, the
provinces of Egypt and Syria, rejected his position as Caesar, and,
notwithstanding the prayers as well as arguments of Galerius,
exacted, the equal title of Augustus. For the first, and indeed for
the last time, six emperors administered the Roman world. And
though the opposition of interest, and the memory of a recent war,
divided the empire into two great hostile powers, their mutual
fears and the fading authority of Galerius produced an apparent
tranquility in the imperial government.
The last years of Galerius saw him relinquishing his aspirations
towards being the supreme emperor of the empire, though he managed
to retain the position of first among equals. He spent the
remainder of his years enjoying himself and ordering some important
public works, such as discharging into the Danube the superfluous waters of Lake Pelso, and the cutting down the immense forests that
Galerius died on 5 May 311 from a horribly gruesome disease
described by Eusebius
, possibly some form
of bowel cancer
Gamzigrad-Romuliana, Palace of Galerius near Zaječar in Serbia he had
constructed in his birthplace, was inscribed into the World Heritage List in June
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