Galerius, emperor. ( Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus on his coinage; called Maximus in some Acts of martyrs, that having apparently been his name until Diocletian changed it; see Lact. Mort. 18; nicknamed Armentarius from his original occupation.) He was a native of Near Dacia, on the S. of the Danube. His mother Romula had fled thither for refuge from the predatory Carpi, who pillaged her own country on the N. side (Lact. Mort. 9; Aur. Vict. Epit. xl. 17). As a youth he was a neatherd, but soon joined the army under Aurelian and Probus. Without education or virtues, he raised himself by undoubted military gifts, until he was selected (together with Constantius) by Diocletian to fill the office of Caesar of the East in Diocletian's famous scheme for the reorganization of the empire, a.d. 292. He married Valeria, the Christian daughter of Diocletian. There were no children of the marriage, which was anything but happy, but the gentle Valeria adopted her husband's bastard son Candidian. Galerius had none of the gifts of a ruler, nor any appreciation of his father-in-law's policy, but his authority with the army made him a useful coadjutor. Five years after his call to the Caesarship (a.d. 297) he was sent to conduct the chief war of the reign of Diocletian, the last which ever gave the Capitol a triumph, against Narses, king of Persia. After an unsuccessful first campaign, he utterly routed Narses, and forced him to purchase peace at the cost of five provinces near the source of the Tigris.
The year 303 brought Galerius prominently into contact with the church. He had conceived a hatred for the Christians, originating (so far as we can see) almost wholly in his fanatical superstition and aversion to Christian morality. His mother was a noted votaress of the Phrygian orgies, and plied her son continually with entreaties to demolish Christianity. She was supported by the magician and so-called Platonist THEOTECNUS (Cedr. vol. i. p. 47, ed. Bonn), who had also acquired an ascendancy over Galerius. The winter of 302â€“303 was spent by Galerius at Nicomedia, where he used every effort to compel the reluctant Diocletian to annul the legislation of GALLIENUS, to break the forty years' amity between the empire and the church, and to crush Christianity. Step by step he gained his points, until Diocletian consented to proscribe the open profession of Christianity and to take all measures to suppress it, short of bloodshed (Lact. Mort. ii, "rem sine sanguine transigi"). The first edict of Diocletian, however, was not strong enough to content Galerius. The demolition of buildings which proclaimed the power of the church, the prohibition of synaxis, the burning of the books used in the Christian ritual, the civic, social, and military degradation of Christians, were too slow ways of abolishing it. His one desire was to remove Diocletian's expressive clause, that "no blood was to be shed in the transaction." A fire broke out in the part of the palace where Diocletian lived. Lactantius, then resident at Nicomedia, asserts that it was set alight by Galerius, whose object was to persuade the Augustus that his trusty Christian chamberlains were conspiring against him; but on application of torture to the whole household, they were acquitted. A fortnight later another occurred, and Galerius (who, ostensibly to escape assassination, perhaps really to avoid discovery, immediately departed) convinced Diocletian of the existence of a Christian plot, and the emperor signed his second edict, ordering the incarceration of the entire clergy , though even now there was to be no bloodshed.
In putting these edicts into execution Galerius shews occasional signs of a reluctant intention to adhere to the principles of Diocletian's legislation. His return to his own province in 304 was marked by a sudden crowd of martyrdoms where the edicts had before not even been published, but his conduct in the case of St. ROMANUS shews that, when directly appealed to, he felt bound to forbid the capital punishment of even obstreperous Christians (Eus. Mart. Pal. ii.). The time was coming, however, when Galerius was to have more liberty of action. In 304, probably during a total collapse of Diocletian's health, the so-called Fourth Edict was issued by Maximian, no doubt in conjunction with Galerius, making death the penalty of Christianity. Diocletian began to recover in March 305, and abandoned his long-held intention of abdicating on May 1 in that year, not improbably because of the commotion which had been caused by the Fourth Edict. Galerius, who had long coveted the promised diadem, would brook no more delay, and with much violence compelled the enfeebled Augustus to retire, leaving himself nominally second to Constantius, whose death in July 306 left Galerius supreme.
Political troubles which followed did not divert Galerius from persecution. On Mar 31, 308, he issued, in conjunction with his nephew Maximin, a bloody edict against the Manicheans (Cod. Greg. ed. Hanel, lib. xiv. p. 44). The same year saw an order to substitute mutilation for death in cases of Christianity; as Eusebius says ( Mart. Pal. ix ), "The conflagration subsided, as if quenched with the streams of sacred blood." But the relaxation was only for a few months. The autumn of 308 saw a new edict issued, which began a perfect reign of terror for two full years, the most prolific in bloodshed of any in the history of Roman persecutions; and the vast majority of persons who in the East (for the persecution in the West had ceased with the accession of Constantine and usurpation of Maxentius) are celebrated as "martyrs under Diocletian" really suffered between 308 and 311. This part of the persecution bears marks, however, of the influence of Maximin Daza rather than of Galerius. Towards the close of 310 Galerius was seized with an incurable malady, partially caused by his vicious life. This gradually developed into the frightful disease vulgarly known as being "eaten of worms." The fact rests not only on the authority of the church historians (Eus. H. E. viii., xvi. 3 ff.; Lact. Mort. 33), but also upon that of the pagan Aurelius Victor ( Epit. xl. 4) and the fragment known as Anonymous Valesii. Galerius, face to face with so awful a death, thought (apparently) that a compromise might be effected with the God of the Christians, whom he undoubtedly recognized as an active and hostile power. From his dying-bed was issued his famous Edict of Toleration, bearing the signatures also of Constantine and of Licinius, which virtually put an end to the "Persecution of Diocletian." This most extraordinary document may be read in full in Eus. H. E. viii. 17, and Lact. Mort. 34. The origin of the persecution is ascribed to the fact that the Christians had wilfully departed from the "institutions of the ancients which had peradventure been first set on foot by their own forefathers," and had formed schismatical assemblies on their own private judgment. Primitive Christianity is here meant by the phrase instituta veterum, and the edicts were asserted to have had no object but to bring the Christians back to it. But Galerius was now determined, under certain unspecified conditions, to allow Christianity once more and to permit the building of churches. In return, the Christians are told to pray to their God for the recovery of Galerius.
Thus did the dying persecutor try to pose as a kind reformer, and to lead the God of the Christians to remit his temporal punishment. "The Unknown God to Whom he had at last betaken himself gave no answer to his insolent and tardy invocation" (De Broglie, i. 207). The edict was posted at Nicomedia on April 30; he died on May 5 or 13, 311.