Within a few days Galerius Cæsar arrived, not to congratulate his father-in-law on the re-establishment of his health, but to force him to resign the empire. Already he had urged Maximian Herculius to the like purpose, and by the alarm of civil wars terrified the old man into compliance; and he now assailed Diocletian. At first, in gentle and friendly terms, he said that age and growing infirmities disabled Diocletian for the charge of the commonweal, and that he had need to give himself some repose after his labours. Galerius, in confirmation of his argument, produced the example of Nerva, who laid the weight of empire on Trajan.
But Diocletian made answer, that it was unfit for one who had held a rank, eminent above all others and conspicuous, to sink into the obscurity of a low station; neither indeed was it safe, because in the course of so long a reign he must unavoidably have made many enemies. That the case of Nerva was very different: he, after p. 308 having reigned a single year, felt himself, either from age or from inexperience in business, unequal to affairs so momentous, and therefore threw aside the helm of government, and returned to that private life in which he had already grown old. But Diocletian added, that if Galerius wished for the title of emperor, there was nothing to hinder its being conferred on him and Constantius, as well as on Maximian Herculius.
Galerius, whose imagination already grasped at the whole empire, saw that little but an unsubstantial name would accrue to him from this proposal, and therefore replied that the settlement made by Diocletian himself ought to be inviolable; a settlement which provided that there should be two of higher rank vested with supreme power, and two others of inferior, to assist them. Easily might concord be preserved between two equals, never amongst four; 1981 that he, if Diocletian would not resign, must consult his own interests, so as to remain no longer in an inferior rank, and the last of that rank; that for fifteen 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 than his, and better civilized.
Diocletian already knew, by letters from Maximian Herculius, all that Galerius had spoken at their conference, and also that he was augmenting his army; and now, on hearing his discourse, the spiritless old man burst into tears, and said, “Be it as you will.”
It remained to choose Cæsars by common consent. “But,” said Galerius, “why ask the advice of Maximian and Constantius, since they must needs acquiesce in whatever we do?”—“Certainly they will,” replied Diocletian, “for we must elect their sons.”
Now Maximian Herculius had a son, Maxentius, married to the daughter of Galerius, a man of bad and mischievous dispositions, and so proud and stubborn withal, that he would never pay the wonted obeisance either to his father or father-in-law, and on that account he was hated by them both. Constantius also had a son, Constantine, a young man of very great worth, and well meriting the high station of Cæsar. The distinguished comeliness of his figure, his strict attention to all military duties, his virtuous demeanour and singular affability, had endeared him to the troops, and made him the choice of every individual. He was then at court, having long before been created by Diocletian a tribune of the first order.
“What is to be done?” said Galerius, “for that Maxentius deserves not the office. He who, while yet a private man, has treated me with contumely, how will he act when once he obtains power?”—“But Constantine is amiable, and will so rule as hereafter, in the opinion of mankind, to surpass the mild virtues of his father.”—“Be it so, if my inclinations and judgment are to be disregarded. Men ought to be appointed who are at my disposal, who will dread me, and never do anything unless by my orders.”—“Whom then shall we appoint?”—“Severus.”—“How! that dancer, that habitual drunkard, who turns night into day, and day into night?”—“He deserves the office, for he has approved himself a faithful paymaster and purveyor of the army; and, indeed, I have already despatched him to receive the purple from the hands of Maximian.”—“Well, I consent; but whom else do you suggest?”—“Him,” said Galerius, pointing out Daia, a young man, half-barbarian. Now Galerius had lately bestowed part of his own name on that youth, and called him Maximin, in like manner as Diocletian formerly bestowed on Galerius the name of Maximian, for the omens sake, because Maximian Herculius had served him with unshaken fidelity.—“Who is that you present?”—“A kinsman of mine.”—“Alas!” said Diocletian, heaving a deep sigh, “you do not propose men fit for the charge of public affairs!”—“I have tried them.”—“Then do you look to it, who are about to assume the administration of the empire: as for me, while I continued emperor, long and diligent have been my labours in providing for the security of the commonweal; and now, should anything disastrous ensue, the blame will not be mine.”
[See p. 303, supra.]