Diocletian, like most of the short-lived emperors of the previous half-century, was a soldier from the Balkan peninsula, then called Illyricum. Level-headed and shrewd, Diocletian commanded the respect of those who knew or met him. His original name Diocles meant “Zeus’s Glory,” and he took it seriously, showing a special devotion to the king of the gods throughout his life. It was also a Greek name, though he Latinized it to Diocletian. Apparently he felt at ease speaking either Latin or Greek, the one the language of the army and government and the other the common tongue of the polyglot natives of the eastern part of the empire. In 284, at the age of about forty, he was head of the imperial bodyguard when he seized power in the East, while claiming someone else had murdered his predecessor. The next year, in a bloody battle in Illyricum, Diocletian disposed of his last rival, the brother of the emperor he had succeeded.
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