This inscription records a dedication – perhaps in the form of an honorific statue, which this base supported – to the emperor Diocletian, in the capital city of the province of Raetia, Augusta Vindelicum (modern Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany). It is a useful text for the imperial epithets that it awards to Diocletian, honouring him in terms that celebrate the eternal nature of Roman power, as well as providential aspects of the emperor’s own abilities.
The text is found on the remains of a limestone statue base that likely originally held a figurative statue of the emperor. It was dedicated in 290 CE, based on the seven attestations of tribunician power (tribunicia potestate VII) and the fourth consulship (consuli IIII), which Diocletian assumed together with his imperial colleague Maximian on the 1st January of that year; his eighth year of tribunician power began on 10th December of 290 CE, giving a fairly precise date for the present dedication (Chastagnol, “Deux chevaliers”, p. 224). The dedication was made by Septimius Valentio, the governor (praeses) of the province, in a further indication of the inscription’s date; shortly after this date – Lactantius implies 293 CE – Diocletian reorganised the provinces, dividing most of them into smaller administrative units, but also grouping them into twelve dioceses, over which a new magistrate – the vicarius agens praefectorum praetorio (“deputy of the praetorian prefect”) – was to govern. The first attestation of such vicarii is documented in 298 CE (Aemilius Rusticanus as vicarius of Oriens, P. Oxy. 1469), meaning that this inscription must predate certainly 298 CE, and perhaps also the date suggested in Lactantius’s work (On the Deaths of the Persecutors VII.4; Barnes, The New Empire, p. 224-225).
The statue base was dedicated in the capital of the province of Raetia, Augusta Vindelicum. The city had been founded by Drusus and Tiberius in 15 BCE, initially as a military garrison, but soon became the capital, most likely because of its excellent military, economic and geographic position at the convergence of the Lech and Wertach rivers, which gave direct access to most of the important Alpine passes. Just two years before the dedication had been set up, Raetia had been the location from which Diocletian and Maximian had launched a campaign against the Germanic peoples (the Alamanni) to the north of the Danube, who frequently exploited the general uncertainty that the accession of a new ruler created, in part because they treated any ‘treaties’ of alliance or peace that existed between them as to be between individuals, rather than between the tribes and the Roman state, and therefore required renegotiation and renewal when one of the two parties died (Harries, Imperial Rome, p. 34). After Diocletian had been acclaimed emperor in 284 CE, and named Maximian as his Caesar in 285, the pair had faced numerous and simultaneous threats on the Rhine and Danube frontiers, and on the ‘Saxon shore’, or the two sides of the English channel (Harries, Imperial Rome, p. 34). These uprisings were defeated, but in 288 CE it was necessary for Diocletian to join Maximian’s efforts against the Germans, for which both won the honorific title Germanicus Maximus, as given in this inscription here. Given that the campaign was led from Raetia, it was only right that it received proper acknowledgement in the capital of the province; Maximian’s forces had operated from Mainz, rather than Raetia, however, which is perhaps why the dedication here is singularly aimed at the emperor himself (for Diocletian and Maximian’s campaign against the Germans, see Panygericus Latinus X (2).6; Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, p. 45-51, 73).
The most interesting aspect of the inscription is found in the honorific epithets awarded to Diocletian. Along with the standard imperial titles of Imperator, “unconquered Augustus” (invictus Augustus), “high priest” (pontifex maximus), he was honoured with the military acclamations of Germanicus maximus and Persicus maximus, following the successes just mentioned against the Alamanni in Raetia and against the Persians in 287 CE, the latter of which was only recognised in 290 (Harries, Imperial Rome, p. 35). These are all standard titles, but Diocletian also receives additional epithets; firstly, he is described as the “most provident princeps” (providentissimus princeps), using a superlative that had only made its first appearance in inscriptions during the reign of Trajan (see CIL IX, 5894). It went on to be used reasonably widely in honorific inscriptions dedicated to emperors from the Severans to Constantine (see Davenport, “Imperial ideology,” p. 55, n. 71), but its significance should not underplayed. It articulated a concept of imperial rule that was connected to the gods; in a literal sense, providentia (from which the superlative providentissimus derives) indicated the capacity to see ahead, to have good foresight, but in the sphere of the divine this ability was “one of the forces that governed the affairs of the world” (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 92). In Stoic philosophy, providentia, or pronoia – the power to see ahead – was a key doctrine and one which was believed specifically to determine future events; this notion found particular expression in the writings of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who frequently cited it as the divine force responsible for order, and which protected us from chaos (e.g. Meditations II.3.1; II.11.2; see Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 92, n. 196 for further references and bibliography on this idea). That such a quality should be associated with rulership is clear to see; the ability to see ahead distinguished a Roman emperor from his subjects, relating both to political stability but also to the divine qualities that associated the princeps with the will of the gods. As rightly noted by Carlos Noreña, “providentia…was a benevolent force that shaped the universe…it could hardly be better suited to the discourse of imperial virtues” (Imperial Ideals, p. 93). It may also be the case that after the turbulence of previous years, which had seen the separation of the northern provinces into the so-called “Gallic Empire”, and the frequent turnover of military emperors in different parts of the Roman world, the stability that Diocletian’s reign brought was already felt in the provinces, where it was celebrated as part of the cosmic will of the gods that a leader with the necessary skills to govern effectively was once again emperor. The message may even have more local; the providentia of Diocletian could too have been understood as the quality that led the successful campaign against the Alamanni in Raetia, associating his imperial qualities with the traditional virtues of military strength and the restoration of order.
There was a dynastic quality to the epithet too; since the Augustan period, when an altar dedicated to Providentia Augusta was set up in the Campus Martius by Tiberius and coin types which depicted it, issued between 14-17 CE, announced him as the successor of Augustus, providentia had carried a message to legitimate dynastic success (for the altar, see Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romanae IV, p. 155-6; Scott, “Providentia Aug.” p. 436-446). Vespasian too had minted coin types carrying the image of the altar as part of his dynastic message, and the Arvals celebrated Galba’s adoption of Piso with an offering to providentia (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 93). The fact that Diocletian did not promote a message of dynastic succession as part of his imperial ideology is interesting in this regard, but it may be that this epithet was used in anticipation of his announcing a successor, presumably Maximinian who had been named his Caesar five years earlier. The concern for the future that providentia appeared to imply guaranteed stability and future prosperity, which was by extension connected to the aeternitas (“eternity”) of Rome, a further quality celebrated in the honorific epithets of this inscription. Diocletian is heralded as the “founder of eternal peace” (fundator pacis aeternae), recalling the golden age of Rome’s pax Romana and in a promise that under Diocletian, the same was ensured for the empire as a whole. The “eternity” of Rome’s empire was of ideological resonance on a grand scale in terms of the imperial message put forwards by Diocletian, but also one that would have had meaning in a province that had recently enjoyed the benefits of the emperor’s stabilising presence. Indeed, the importance of the success of Diocletian’s German campaign is further indicated by the final epithet that he is awarded, “ruler and lord of the world” (rector orbis ac dominus). Both rector – ruler, guide or leader – and dominus – master – had been introduced as imperial epithets during the reign of the Severan emperors, under whom rose the absolutist concepts of imperial authority. Military dedications to Septimius Severus and Caracalla in particular introduced the epithet dominus, which was much more infrequent in a civilian context (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 227). Diocletian’s military expertise would certainly explain the use of dominus here, which has been combined with rector – an epithet designed to indicate stable leadership – over the orbis, the Roman world. This was an enormously significant concept; the orbis signified the orbis terrarum, which equated the human population of the world with that of the empire, on the basis that the world, the orbis terrarum, was the same as the Roman world, the orbis Romanum, or the Roman empire. Diocletian’s power was, therefore, of manifold diversity; as the inscription’s honorific titles indicate, he was celebrated for his divinely inspired foresight, his military success and the stability that that brought to the Roman people as a whole. At the same time, the dynastic succession implied by proventissimus was inextricably linked to his status as a “founder of eternal peace,” who ensured the future prosperity and success of Rome and her subjects.
Dedication to the “providence” and “divine spirit” of Diocletian (CIL III, 5810) Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron Publishing date: Sat, 08/18/2018 - 19:37 URL: http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/dedication-%E2%80%9Cprovidence%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Cdivine-spirit%E2%80%9D-diocletian-cil-iii-5810 Visited: Tue, 04/23/2019 - 06:08