Lactantius, Diocletian, Constantine and Political Innovations in the Divine Institutes

Laurent Jean Philippe Cases


In Book 5 of the Divine Institutes, the fourth century rhetor Lactantius provides an attack on Roman jurists. The starting point of Lactantius’s attack is a criticism of the Golden Age. This paper argues that Lactantius’s deployment of the myth of the Golden Age in the Divine Institutes does not carry a purely literary, philosophical or even theological dimension; rather, Lactantius is explicitly critical of the emperor Diocletian, who had claimed in his propaganda to restore the res publica. Couching his criticism in language of innovation, Lactantius carefully lays out a diatribe meant to recast Diocletian as Jupiter a reformer and, by extension, to place the emperor Constantine as the restorer of the divine res publica.


Lactantius; Diocletian; Divine Institutes; Innovation

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Ancient Editions Used

Div. Inst. = Lactantius Firmianus, Opera Omnia, vol 1. Ed. by Samuel Brand and George Laubmann. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum. Leipzig, Preytag 1890

DMP = Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum. Ed. and trans. By J.L. Creed. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984.

Ecl. = Virgil, A Commentary on Virgil, Eclogues. Ed. and trans. By Wendell Clausen. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.

RIC 6= The Roman Imperial Coinage, vol 6. ed. by Sutherland, C.H.V. and Carson, R.A.G. London, Spink and Son, 1967.

Zos. = Zosime, Histoire Nouvelle, vol. 1. Ed. and trans. By François Paschoud. Paris: Belles Lettres, 2000.

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