Life: AD c. 253 – 284
- Name: Marcus Aurelius Numerius Numerianus
- Born AD ca. 253.
- Became emperor in spring AD 283.
- Died near Nicomedia, November AD 284.
Marcus Aurelius Numerius Numerianus was the younger son of the later emperor Carus, born in about AD 253.
Numerian and his elder brother Carinus were raised to the rank of Caesar in AD 282, soon after their father became emperor.
In AD 282 Numerian accompanied his father to the Danube to defeat the Sarmatians and the Quadi.
Then in December AD 282 or January AD 283 Carus took Numerian with him on his expedition against the Persians to re-conquer Mesopotamia. Meanwhile Carinus stayed in Rome to rule the west.
When Carus died, Numerian succeeded him, thereby becoming joint emperor with his brother Carinus who had been granted the rank of Augustus shortly before Carus’ death.
At first, immediately after his father’s death, Numerian sought to continue the Persian campaign.
Apparently this was much favoured by Arrius Aper, the prefect of the praetorians and suspect in Carus’ death. Conditions for war were favourable. The Persian side was still thought to be weak. But Numerian’s initial efforts were not followed by success.
Numerian was to all effect appeared more of an intellectual than a man of war. He wrote poetry, some of which won him critical acclaim in his day.
This lack of ruthless military talent might well have been the reason why Carinus alone had been promoted Augustus, while Numerian remained Caeasar (junior emperor).
And so, after these initial setbacks, Numerian decided it unwise to continue the war.
He sought instead to return back to Rome and the army was not displeased to pull back into Syria were it spent the winter of AD 283.
Thereafter the army set out on its march back west through Asia Minor (Turkey).
Numerian fell ill near Nicomedia, suffering from an eye disease, which he might have caught while still on campaign in Mesopotamia with his father. The illness was explained with severe exhaustion (Today it is believed this was a serious eye infection. This left him partly blind and he had to be carried in a litter.
Somewhere at this time it is believed Arrius Aper, Numerian’s own father in-law, had him killed. It;s widely believed that Aper hoped that it would be assumed that Numerian had simply succumbed to his illness and that he, the praetorian prefect, would succeed to the throne in his place.
But why he should have kept up the charade that Numerian was still alive remains a mystery. Perhaps he was waiting for he right moment.
For several days the death went unnoticed, the litter being carried along as usual. Soldiers inquired about their emperor’s health and were reassured by Aper, that all was well and that Numerian simply was too ill to appear in public.
Eventually though the stench of the corpse became too much. Numerian’s death was revealed and the soldiers realized that Rome had lost yet another emperor (AD 284).
Had it been Aper who hoped to fill the vacancy, then it was Diocletian (still known as Diocles at the time), commander of the imperial bodyguard, who emerged the victor. It was Diocletian who was made emperor by the troops after Numerian’s death. It was he who sentenced Aper to death and even executed the sentence himself. Therefore it was he who, benefited most from the deaths of Carus and Numerian. And in his role as body guard he held a key position, enabling him to prevent or enable any action against the emperor. Hence it is unlikely that Diocletian did not have anything to do with the murder of Numerian.
Historian Franco Cavazzi dedicated hundreds of hours of his life to creating this website, roman-empire.net as a trove of educational material on this fascinating period of history. His work has been cited in a number of textbooks on the Roman Empire and mentioned on numerous publications such as the New York Times, PBS, The Guardian, and many more.