Galerius and the will of Diocletian is a superb book. It is largely about the little-known and much vilified (by the early Christians, for whom he was the main persecutor alongside Diocletian) Galerius, the loyal and capable Caesar to Diocletian and his successor as senior Augustus. It is also about Diocletian himself who looms as a colossus dominating his colleagues and his, and the Empire's, political ideology, and how the Christians threatened it. Finally, it is about the unravelling of Diocletian's political construct, compromised and then destroyed by the usurping sons of two of Diocletian's colleagues who were not supposed to reign: Maxentius `(on of Maximius) and Constantine (son of Constance).
The book is a political history of the period between AD 284, when Diocletian seized power to December 311 and his death. Galerius, his chosen successor, had died a few months before after failing to defeat Maxentius and avenge Severus, his own nominee as Augustus in the West, and after having passed an Edict of Toleration that stopped the Persecution of Christians. One of the main interests of this book is to present a clear and very plausible explanation of the causes of Galerius' failure to perpetuate Diocletian's ruling system. According to the author, it was not, as often mentioned, because Diocletian's system was not dynastic. Rather, it was because the key ingredient - Diocletian's domination of the college and his unquestionable supremacy - was missing. Despite Galerius' qualities, and Bill Leadbetter shows that he had many, he was unable to exercise a similar level of authority and attract the same kind of respect from his colleagues as his former Emperor had.
As the author shows rather well, Galerius' problems started straight after Diocletian's rather exceptional abdication, as he was confronted with Constance Chlorus, who had also become Augustus and who was older (and therefore senior) than him. Galerius, despite his efforts, had to accept Constantine's usurpation and concede to him the title of Caesar and the rule in Gaul, Spain and Britain after the death of Constance Chlorus. He was also unable to put down the rebellion of Maxentius. The later seems to have been a rather shrewd political operator. He called his father Maxentius out of his semi-forced retirement (he had rather reluctantly complied with Diocletian's orders and abdicated at the same time as the Senior Augustus) to benefit from his military experience.
The overall assessment of Galerius' reign as Diocletian's Caesar (AD 293 to AD 305) and then as senior Emperor (AD 305 to AD 311) is far from being entirely negative. However, his major achievements seemed to have occurred during the former period, during which he was Diocletian's faithful and talented lieutenant, particularly his crushing victory over the Persians, which Diocletian converted into a diplomatic triumph, and on the Danube frontier. In other words, the core thesis of the author is that he was at his best when being Diocletian's henchman, but he was unable to step into his shoes.
Related to this assessment is a detailed and fascinating explanation regarding the causes and the responsibilities of such a failure. There are also careful analyses and explanations provided about specific key events such as Diocletian's amazing abdication - the only Roman Emperor to ever renounce the supreme power and retire - and the Great Persecution. Contrary to the very biased and misleading views of Lactancius, which many historians still tend to promote, both events were, according to the author, very much Diocletian's decisions,
A further benefit of this book is that it also draws interesting portraits of the actions and characters of most of the other less well-known key players, none of which were insignificant. One of these is Constance Chlore, Constantine's remarkable and quite formidable father whose own achievements are occulted by those of his son. Another impressive character was Diocletian's colleague as Augustus (and friend). As the author makes clear, Diocletian and these two (and possibly Galerius, although he seems to have much younger than the others) probably knew each other ever since Diocletian's accession which they are supported. As Bill Leadbetter shows very well, it is this knowledge, predictability and trust between the old comrades in arms which was entirely missing with both Maxentius and Constantine. Neither of the two was intended or supposed to reign and neither seems to have been trusted by either Diocletian or by Galerius, his number two.
Once again: a superb, original and convincing read, which is well worth five stars.