PERSPECTIVErnThe Conspiracy of Conspiraciesrnby Thomas FlemingrnThe scene is Rome, about A.D. 300. The Augustus Maximianrnhas returned to the ancient capital to oversee the constructionrnof the lavish baths that will bear the name of the seniorrnAugustus, Diocletian. Although Maximian is a rough customerrnfrom the Balkans and speaks a tough-gu’ Latin that soundsrnmore like Rumanian than the language of Cicero, his limitedrnbrain does have room enough for one big idea: the grandeur ofrnRome that has been preserved by the pagan gods since the da}’srnof Romulus and the pious Numa. A better soldier than Diocletian,rnhe has lived with death so long that fear is onh’ a memory,rnand yet Maximian is afraid. He is afraid that his palefacedrnCaesar, Constantius, is soft on the one group that poses therngravest threat to Rome since the Gauls sacked the cih in ancientrntimes: the heretic sect of Jews who call themselves Christiansrn—though if truth be told, there are more Romans andrnGreeks than Jews in that conspiracy these days.rnA few years earlier, Maximian and the Caesar Galerius hadrntalked Diocletian into cranking up the persecution of these nuisances.rnThe meeting between Galerius and the Augustus hadrntaken hours, but the yoimg Constantius had been dragging hisrnfeet in Gaul, executing the worst troublemakers when he had tornbut showing little enthusiasm —much less initiative —for therntask. Worse, there were rumors that his first wife (or concubine)rnwas a convert to this unmanly, effeminate sect, and thoughrnConstantius had obediently put her av’ay for Maximian’s ownrndaughter, there was something about Constantius that Maximianrndid not like. “Yeah,” he had admitted to Diocletian, “he’s arngood soldier all right and makes an excellent administrator, butrnthe man is too nice. He acts as if justice were something thatrncould be weighed and measured like barle in the market andrnnot a fat Dalmatian pig to be taken at swordpoint and canedrnup.”rnConstantius would irot have posed a problem if Diocletianrnhad not been talking about retiring and insisting that the twornAugusti get out of the way at the same time, making this ChristsymprnConstantius not only Augustus, but senior Augustus.rnSuch a man was bound to relax the persecutions, perhapsrneven legalize this so-called church (or rather churches, sincernthere vere so many competing sects among these Christiansrnthat, if one got into power, it would be sure to persecute the other).rnDivided or not, these Christians had seemed to thrive onrnpersecution, multiplying to the point that they might soonrnmake up a fourth of the population. Given any encouragement,rnthey might take over the whole empire, which—withoutrnthe gods’ protection —vould be doomed. Imagine an army ofrnChristians all expecting to enjoy peace on earth with Germans.rnAs soon expect the lion to lie down with the lamb!rnWith a gloomy sense of foreboding, the emperor had convenedrna secret meeting to discuss the Christian threat. He hadrninvited his son, Maxentius, whom he wanted to succeed him.rnThe bo’ was hrx and a little wild, but he was more of a manrnthan Constantius would ever be and infinitely preferable to thatrnprett’-bo’ son of his, Constantine. He had also brought in thernCaesar Galerius, who at least was very sound on the Christianrnissue, and for additional support he summoned some intellectualrnfirepower. Porphyry, a student of Plotinus and the grandrnold man among the Platonists, had written a devastating workrn(in 15 books!) against the Christians. This was no cheap propagandarn(at least that is what he had been told —Maximian wasrnnot much of a reader), but solid argument based on fact.rnlamblichus was Porphyry’s student, but he had broken withrnhis master on the subject of magic. Porphyry, like Plotinus, wasrna rigorous philosopher who despised the everyday gods as lowerrndemons who demanded blood sacrifice. lamblichus, by conlO/rnCHRONICLESrnrnrn