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Diocletian’s “Great Persecutions”: Minority Religions and the Roman Tetrarchy

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In the year 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian and the other members of the Tetrarchy
launched a series of persecutions against Christians that is remembered as the most severe,
widespread, and systematic persecution in the Church’s history. Around that time, the Tetrarchy
also issued a rescript to the Pronconsul of Africa ordering similar persecutory actions against a
religious group known as the Manichaeans.

At first glance, the Tetrarchy’s actions appear to be the result of tensions between
traditional classical paganism and religious groups that were not part of that system. However,
when the status of Jewish populations in the Empire is examined, it becomes apparent that the
Tetrarchy only persecuted Christians and Manichaeans. This thesis explores the relationship
between the Tetrarchy and each of these three minority groups as it attempts to understand the
Tetrarchy’s policies towards minority religions. In doing so, this thesis will discuss the
relationship between the Roman state and minority religious groups in the era just before the
Empire’s formal conversion to Christianity. It is only around certain moments in the various
religions’ relationships with the state that the Tetrarchs order violence. Consequently, I argue
that violence towards minority religions was a means by which the Roman state policed
boundaries around its conceptions of Roman identity.

Rice, Carl Ross. Diocletian’s “Great Persecutions”: Minority Religions and the Roman Tetrarchy. (Under the Direction of Professor Thomas Parker.)

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