A roughly sketched fragment, of which the present volume is the development and completion, received from the judges the award of the Hulsean Essay Prize in 1874. It is with the aid of Mr Hulse’s Benefaction that the work is now published: and the author has to thank those who selected the subject for having first set him to work upon this most interesting period.
My book ventures, contrary to an established etiquette, to pretend to something not unlike originality. Of course, but few new ‘facts’ have been disclosed. There are not many ‘facts’—in that limited sense of the word which excludes all that is inward, all that turns a string of events into History—still left to be discovered in any historical field: they are as rare as gold-nuggets. But I have made a real effort to understand for myself, what the ‘facts’ which are everybody’s property mean, without following any previous author. No English writer of any eminence has made a special study of the great crisis, though Dean Milman shows careful thought and a just appreciation of the Persecution as a whole; and Gibbon is always masterly. Far the best account of the period that I know, is in the Duke de Broglie’s exquisite book, L’ Église et l’Empire; but this too is only a cursory description. To several of the German authors I owe a great deal; in fact to one—Pfarrer Hunziker—I am head over ears in debt for his book zur Regierung und Christenverfolgung des Kaisers Diocletianus und seiner Nachfolger. He has furnished me not only with many useful references and much carefully worked chronology, but also to some extent with my method, and with many suggestions which I have used. But it will be found that I very rarely agree with Mr Hunziker, or with any of the German scholars, to whom I endeavour to state my obligations in the notes. The laborious erudition of Tillemont presents the grateful student with every shred of information that can be gathered from antiquity: but no historian could call him master.
The chief novelties in this book may be briefly mentioned, with a view to their confirmation or exposure in the interests of truth. They are as follows:—the notion that Constantine’s Church policy was a fulfilment of Diocletian’s design; the modelling of Diocletian’s Persecution after that of Valerian (together with the contrast shown between Valerian’s and Decius’ efforts); the proof that Diocletian had nothing to do with the so called Fourth Edict; his conduct at the Abdication newly explained; the true dating of the Manichaean Edict; the demolishing of Constantine’s supposed Second Act of Toleration; and a number of lesser points. My view of the character of the great Emperor is, I trust, not wholly new: only in the present year, I was glad to observe, the British Quarterly Magazine contained an article by Mr Freeman, in which something like justice was done to Diocletian’s memory. The admirable portraits on the title-page will show something of the difference between his colleague and himself; though it must be owned that the unflattering likeness of Maximian (which does not bear out his description in John Malalas) was coined in the place where Maximian was best hated, at Rome.