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Diocletian reigned from 284 to 305. He was almost 40 when, in 284, he was chosen to be emperor by the Roman army he commanded in Turkey. He immediately had to deal with invasions and rebellions. In 286 he divided the Roman empire into two. Diocletian set up his own government at Nicomedia, in Turkey, realizing the wealthiest and most vital part of the empire lay to the east. Maximian (at that time the general in command of Gaul) ruled the western empire. In 292 two more commanders, Constantius and Galerius, were chosen as deputies to rule subsections. These deputies were given the title of Caesar, while Diocletian and Maximian held the title of Augustus. Diocletian called the new system a tetrarchy.

The army was reorganized and enlarged until it contained about half a million men. Provinces were subdivided to make them more manageable and regular annual taxation was imposed. These were good, but expensive, plans; they helped him to deal with the growing problem of civil unrest and to stabilize the empire's finances.

The idea of the 'Roman spirit' was promoted throughout the empire by placing emphasis on the divine authority of the emperor. People who did not agree that the emperor was a god were persecuted, and in 303 Diocletian ordered persecution of the Christians. They were banned from the army and public service. Churches and Christian books were destroyed. Many Christians were killed.

In 305 Diocletian and Maximian abdicated; a power struggle followed. Diocletian retired 'to grow cabbages', he said, in his native Croatia.

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