Diocletian has always been one of the most fascinating of emperors. Finally dropping the centuries old pretence of being primus inter pares, he strengthened the position of emperors by turning into a king in all but name, ruling by divine right. This was undoubtedly more a matter of political expediency to put an end to decades of civil war and near collapse than something he genuinely believed; he himself after his 21 years at the helm undoubtedly saw through all the vanity of power and chose to retire into a life of pastoral bliss. In the years afterwards when the civil strife between rival emperors began to reappear, his former co-emperor Maximian attempted to get him to return. In response he is said to have remarked, "If Maximian could see for himself these beautiful cabbages which I have grown with my own hands, he would not ask me to exchange this true happiness for the illusory promises of pomp and power".
Stephen Williams' analysis of the life and times of Diocletian is masterful. Whether he is discussing military structure and reforms, political structure and reforms, government and the nature of emperorship, finance and economics or the religious persecutions, he always does so with an expert eye and insightful analysis. This is a book suitable for both serious students of history and, because it is so well written, the general reader too - it could easily fit into the "popular history" genre.