3rd Century Rome (67th Caesar): Carus Billon Aurelianianus, c.282-283AD, NGC CHXF


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Carus (Marcus Aurelius Carus Augustus, c. 222–July or August 283) was Roman Emperor from 282 to 283. Carus was born in Narbo (modern day Narbonne, France), and was educated in Rome. He served the Empire as a senator and held several civil and military positions before his appointment as prefect of the Praetorian Guard by the Emperor Probus in 276. It was in 282, while Carus was inspecting troops in Ractia and Noricum in preparation for Probus’s warfare against the Persians, that discontent of the army with the emperor hit a fever pitch and they hailed Carus as emperor. It has been alleged that Carus at first rejected this offer out of loyalty to Probus. Nonetheless when Probus heard of the betrayal, he sent forces to seize the day. But soldiers sent to fight Carus joined to fight alongside him. Morale in Probus’s encampment sunk so low that the emperor was killed by his own men.

When Carus heard of the death of Probus, he sent a messenger to inform the Senate that Probus was dead and that he was taking his place on the throne. Carus did not seek the approval of the Senate, as was the tradition. Carus simply told the Senate that he was now emperor. He established his dynasty. He had two sons, Carinus and Numerian, both of whom were elevated to the rank of Caesar (junior emperor). These promotions seem to have been arranged without Carus visiting Rome. When news reached him that the Sarmatians and the Quadi had crossed the Danube and invaded Pannonia, Carus and his son Numerian hurried there and decisively beat the barbarians. Some reports from that time tell of around 16,000 barbarian casualties with 20,000 prisoners captured. The winter of 282/3 saw Carus, accompanied by Numerian, set out towards Persia, announcing that he planned to re-conquer Mesopotamia. Carus invaded Mesopotamia unopposed, and later defeated a Persian army, capturing first Seleucia and then Ctesiphon, the Persian capital. Rome now reoccupied Mesopotamia. In honor of this, his son Carinus was raised to the rank of Augustus and made co-emperor.

He had planned to drive further into Persian territory, but Carus suddenly died. He was found dead in his tent outside of Ctesiphon. Different versions of his death include his being hit with lightning, dying of an illness, or being poisoned by Arrius Aper, Praetorian Prefect and father-in-law of his son Numerian, who may have wanted to be emperor. Yet another rumor says that Diocletian, the then commander of the imperial bodyguard, may have been involved in Carus’s death.