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He originally followed his father's occupation, that of a herdsman, where he got his surname of Armentarius (Lat. armentum, herd). He served with distinction as a soldier under Aurelian and Probus, and in 293 at the establishment of the Tetrarchy, was designated Caesar along with Constantius Chlorus, receiving in marriage Diocletian's daughter Valeria, and at the same time being entrusted with the care of the Illyrian provinces.
In 296, at the beginning of the Persian War, he was removed from the Danube to the Euphrates; his first campaign ended in a crushing defeat, near Callinicum, which lost Mesopotamia to Rome. However, in 297, advancing through the mountains of Armenia, he gained a decisive victory over Narses, with an enormous amount of booty that included Narses' harem. Following up his advantage, he took the city of Ctesiphon and in 298 Narses sued for peace. Mesopotamia was returned to Roman rule and even some territory east of the Tigris, which marks the greatest extension of the Roman Empire in the east.
Christians had lived in peace during most of the rule of Diocletian. The persecutions that began with an edict of February 24, 303, were credited by Christians to the influence of Galerius. Christian houses of assembly were destroyed, for fear of sedition in secret gatherings.
In 305, on the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian, he at once assumed the title of Augustus, with Constantius his former colleague, and having procured the promotion to the rank of Caesar of Flavius Valerius Severus, a faithful servant, and (Maximinus II Daia), his nephew, he hoped on the death of Constantius to become sole master of the Roman world. Having Constantius' son Constantine as guest at Galerius' court in the east helped to secure his position.
His schemes, however, were defeated by the sudden elevation of Constantine at Eboracum (York) on the death of his father, and by the action of Maximianus and his son Maxentius, who were declared co-Augusti in Italy.
After an unsuccessful invasion of Italy in 307, he elevated his friend Licinius to the rank of Augustus, and, moderating his ambition, devoted the few remaining years of his life "to the enjoyment of pleasure and to the execution of some works of public utility."
It was at the instance of Galerius that the last edicts of persecution against the Christians were published, beginning on the February 24, 303, and this policy of repression was maintained by him until the appearance of the general edict of toleration, issued from Nicomedia in April 311 apparently during his last illness, in his own name and in those of Licinius and Constantine. Lactantius gives the text of the edict in his moralized chronicle of the bad ends to which all the persecutors came, De Mortibus Persecutorum ("On the Deaths of the Persecutors", chapters 34, 35). This marked the end of official presecution of Christians.
According to Lactantius, Galerius had affirmed his Dacian identity, and he had avowed himself the enemy of the Roman name; and he proposed that the empire should be called, not the Roman, but the Dacian empire - exhibiting an anti-Roman attitude as soon as he had attained the highest power, treating the roman citizens with ruthless cruelness, like the conquerors treated the conquered, all in the name of the same treatment that the victorious Trajan applied to the conquered Dacians (forefathers of Galerius) two centuries before.
Galerius is remembered in Romanian religious-folk songs as Ler Imparat (Emperor Ler).
See also Arch and Tomb of Galerius
- Medieval Sourcebook: Edict of Toleration by Galerius, 311 CE.
- Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus
- Lactantius about Galerius in his "De Mortibus Persecutorum" chapter XXIII & XXVII
A previous version of this article was adapted from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica text.
| Preceded by:|
Diocletian and Maximian
| Roman Emperor|
with Constantius Chlorus, Constantine I, Licinius and Maximinus
| Succeeded by:|
Constantine I, Licinius and Maximinus|years=305 (Caesar from 293)–311
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