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Numerianus (283-284 A.D.)

William Leadbetter

Edith Cowan University

coin of Numerian (c)2001 VCRC

The younger son of the Emperor Carus, he was proclaimed Caesar soon after his father's accession to power in the Fall of 282.[[1]] Like his elder brother Carinus, he took the titles nobilissimus Caesar and princeps iuventutis.[[2]] He was manifestly the junior of the two Caesars. Carinus held an ordinary consulship in 283 with his father and was promoted to the rank of Augustus; Numerian remained with his father in the junior office.

In an endeavour further to bolster his new dynasty, Carus arranged a match between Numerian and the (unnamed) daughter of the Praetorian Prefect, (Flavius?) Aper.[[3]] When Carus left for Persia early in 283, he took both Numerian and Aper with him and after the sudden death of Carus later in that year, it may have been Aper who arranged the orderly acclamation of Numerian as Augustus.

Numerian was left with the task of leading the army back from Persia. His father's sudden death had put an end to the campaign and there is no evidence that there was any formal closure of hostilities. Negotiations with Persia conducted early in his reign by Diocletian may instead reflect this.[[4]]  To mark his accession, Numerian was nominated for the ordinary consulship of 284 which he held with his brother. In March he was in Emesa, and apparently in good health.[[5]] Some Christian traditions also place him in Antioch at an indeterminate point, where he is said to have ordered the martyrdom of St Babylas.[[6]]

More factually, Numerian is better known for the bizarre manner of his death. At some point soon after he visited Emesa, he fell ill. His staff, including Aper, spread the word that he was suffering an inflammation of the eyes and hence, was travelling in a closed litter. The soldiers who waited upon him apparently noticed noting until the distinctive odour of decay began to issue from the place of his concealment. Tearing open the curtains of the litter, they discovered the body of the emperor, already some days dead.[[7]] In all likelihood, the youth had succumbed to illness, and his senior officers were colluding in keeping the matter quiet so that the loyalty of the army might not be tested. The premature discovery of the body led to a military assembly in which the commander of the imperial bodyguard, Valerius Diocles accused Aper of having encompassed Numerian's death. Diocles then vindicated his claim by running Aper through with his sword. The assembled troops took the hint and proclaimed Diocles emperor. Diocles became Diocletian.

Numerian's death occurred early in November 284. The assembly at which his succession was decided took place on November 20th.[[8]]  He had reigned for about fourteen months, but in all probability ruled for very little of that time. While the Historia Augusta records (or invents) a tradition of Numerian as amiable young man and excellent orator nothing of his personality is in any way betrayed by the scant records of his life and reign that survive.[[9]]


Barnes, T.D., The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (Cambridge Mass. 1982).

Bird, H.W., "Diocletian and the deaths of Carus, Carinus and Numerian", Latomus, 35 (1976) pp. 123 - 132.

Dodgeon, Michael H. and. Lieu , Samuel N.C., The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars AD 226 - 363: A Documentary History (London, 1991).

Jones, A.H.M., J.R. Martindale, and J. Morris. "Numerian"; "Aper:; "Diocletian" The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire Vol. I (Cambridge, 1971) pp. 634; 81; 254.

Kienast, Dietmar. Römische Kaisertabelle: Grundzüge römischen Kaiserchronologie (Darmstadt, 1990).

Lieu, S.N.C., The Emperor Julian: Panegyric and Polemic, second edition (Liverpool, 1986).

Meloni, P., Il Regno di Cari Numeriano e Carino (Cagliari, 1948).

Peachin, M., Roman Imperial Titulature and Chronology, A.D. 235 - 284, (Amsterdam, 1990).

Pond, E.A., Inscriptional Evidence for the Illyrian Emperors: Claudius Gothicus through Carinus, 268 - 284 AD (Diss. Mich. 1970).


[[1]] PLRE 1, p. 634; Kienast (1991) p. 256; Peachin (1990) p. 98 f.

[[2]] Kienast (1991) p. 256.

[[3]] The sources only identify the Prefect as "Aper" (Aur. Vict. de Caes. 38.6; Ep. de Caes. 38. 4 - 5; Eutr. 9. 18). Jones, Martindale and Morris (PLRE I, p. 81) plausibly identify him with an officer known from more or less contemporary inscriptions as L. Flavius Aper.

[[4]] See here T.D. Barnes (1982) p. 5.

[[5]] CJ 5.52.2; Kienast (1991) p. 256.

[[6]] Malalas 12. 35. See here Lieu (1986) p. 48 f.

[[7]] SHA Vita Cari 12 - 13; Aur, Vict. de Caes. 38.1; Ep. de Caes. 38.6; Zonaras 12. 30 - 1; see here Bird (1976) pp. 127 - 130.

[[8]] This is Diocletian's dies imperii (PLRE I p. 254).

[[9]] SHA Vita Cari 11.

Copyright (C) 2001, William Leadbetter. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.
Comments to: William Leadbetter.

Updated: 16 September 2001

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