Too Big For One Man?

The Roman Empire was a mess in the 3rd Century C.E. There was nonstop mismanagement from the different levels of the government up to the emperors themselves. This led to economic instability, and internal and external wars, as well as a constant turnover of emperors. Between the fall of the Severan Dynasty and the rise of Diocletian in the late 3rd Century, the average Roman Emperor ruled for under 2.5 years. This period is known to us today as the Crisis of the Third Century, and was close to spelling the end of the empire. However, the Roman Empire would last for almost 200 years beyond these dire years. The Romans were indeed a resilient group, but most scholars credit one man with the turnaround – Emperor Diocletian.

Bust of Diocletian (Courtesy of ZazaSRB – Wikimedia Commons)

It is funny that Diocletian alone is credited with the restabilization of the empire as his approach to do so was to divide up power by unofficially splitting the empire into East and West in 293C.E. by having 2 rulers (1 Augustus, 1 Caesar) in each region. This is known today as the Tetrarchy, or literally “rule of 4.” This led to a more orderly governing of the empire and allowed Rome a way out from the crisis. Though the Tetrarchy would prove short lived, dying with Diocletian, the empire would continue to have at least two emperors, 1 in the west and 1 in the east, for the remainder of its existence. Its large territory, population, complex law, and cosmopolitan social dynamics were too much for one man at the top to manage alone. I would argue this is a similar situation to what the United States has found itself in the post-World War II era.

The United States Presidents have been notoriously overworked, with before and after photographs showing their apparent accelerated aging caused by the rigors of the office. The Roman emperors, for all of their luxuries, were the same, often wasting away from diseases, both physical and mental, worsened by the constant overwork of office. Additionally, the United States is as diverse a nation as the world has ever seen, and Rome was the same way in the lens of antiquity. This perhaps calls for a leader who more in tune with his area rather than one person generally presiding over the entire state, allowing the upper levels of government to work more efficiently than they did in Rome in the 3rd Century and currently in the United States. Some would argue that the President has his cabinet and other White House staffers, and the emperor had similarly appointed underling, but these people usually are “yes men” looking to further their own power by staying in their leader’s good graces.

Map of the Roman Empire under rule of the Tetrarchy (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In my opinion, the United States could definitely benefit from a model like the Diocletian Tetrarchy. For sample purposes, assume the United States was divided into 4 regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West. Each of these regions, while still diverse, tend to have their own regional flair. Each region electing their regional “President” would allow a more streamlined approach compared to the bloated “one size fits all” inefficient approach of the current Federal government. Additionally, once the 4 were elected, there could be a national election where 1 of the 4 was chosen as the “senior President” to oversee governance in times of crisis. This is what Diocletian was for Rome. Each of the 4 maintained the empire on a day to day basis, but in times needing critical decision making, Diocletian would have the ability to override the others. Clearly, this would not solve all of the United States’ current issues, but it is interesting to consider that there may be too much demanded of the President, and the country is too diverse in its opinions for only one person at the top to lead. Would the United States benefit in a model reminiscent of Diocletian?


Bust of Diocletian. Wikimedia Commons. 30 September 2018. Retrieved from

Historic map of Roman Empire during the first tetrarchy. Wikimedia Commons. 2008. Retrieved from

Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss

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