The Great Persecution - Christian History
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The Great Persecution

The Roman Emperor Diocletian came to power in 284 AD. Diocletian was an army general, and he felt that a lot of the empire's problems could be solved by not allowing so much freedom, but instead having everyone do the same thing, the right way (his way). First he was busy fighting the Germans and the Sassanids and having civil wars, then for a while he was busy trying to fix the economy.

But by 301 AD Diocletian had noticed that there were people who had different religions in the Roman Empire. Diocletian HATED this idea. First of all, these people were different from him, which seemed disrespectful. Second, they might be making the gods mad. So they had to be stopped. First Diocletian got rid of the Manichaeans.


Diocletian's palace at Split (the bell tower was added later)

Then (since that had gone pretty well), in 303 AD he began a big persecution of the Christians.
This didn't go as well. Diocletian's co-emperors in the West weren't very interested in killing Christians, so a lot of Eastern Christians just moved to the West. Also, even Diocletian didn't really want to kill a whole lot of people. He just wanted them to worship his gods. He didn't really know what to do with the ones who said no.

Galerius
Galerius

Even after Diocletian retired in 305 AD, his successor, Galerius, still persecuted the Christians, but still without getting rid of them.

Constantine and his Conversion
More about Diocletian
Main Christianity page
Main religion page
Main Roman history page


For Presidents' Day, check out our articles about Washington in the Revolutionary War and Lincoln in the Civil War. Find out about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the other Amendments, and how Washington promised to include freedom of religion.
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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