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Portrait of Numerian on an Antoninianus
Portrait of Numerian on an Antoninianus
Minerva on Reverse of Antoninianus of Claudius
Pax on Reverse of Antoninianus of Numerian
Marcus Aurelius Numerianus
283 - 284 AD

Early Years
Born in about AD 254, Marcus Aurelius Numerianus was the younger son of the Emperor Carus. He was proclaimed as Caesar shortly after his father's accession in the autumn of AD282. Like his elder brother Carinus, he took the titles nobilissimus Caesar and princeps iuventutis (Prince of the Youth). In an attempt to secure his new dynasty, Carus arranged for Numerian to marry the daughter of the Praetorian Prefect, Flavius Aper. When Carus set off on his campaign against Persia early in AD283, he took both Numerian and Aper with him and after the sudden death of Carus later in the same year, it may have been Aper who arranged for the immediate acclamation of Numerian as Augustus.

A Suspicious Death..
Numerian was left with the unenviable task of leading the army back from Persia. His father's death had put a sudden end to the campaign against the Persians and there is no evidence that there was any formal closure of hostilities. To mark his accession to power, Numerian was nominated for the consulship of AD284 which he held with his brother. In March he had reached the city of Emesa and he was apparently in good health. The strangest aspect of Numerian's reign was the bizarre manner of his death. At some point soon after he visited Emesa, he fell ill. His close advisors, including Aper, spread the word that he was suffering an inflammation of the eyes and therefore, he was travelling in a closed litter. The soldiers in the emperor's immediate retinue apparently noticed nothing until they detected a awful stench coming from the litter. Tearing open the curtains, they discovered the body of the emperor; he had been dead for several days.

...An Untried Emperor
Despite the apparent mystery surrounding his death, it is highly likely that Numerian died from natural causes. The senior staff officers had probably agreed to keep the news of the emperor's death secret so that the loyalty of the army might not be undermined. The early discovery of the body led to an impromptu meeting of the military in which the commander of the imperial bodyguard, Valerius Diocles accused Aper of having assassinated the emperor. Before Aper could reply to the charge, Diocles ran him through with his sword. The Praetorian commander fell dead to the floor and the stunned troops took the hint; Diocles was proclaimed emperor, changing his name to Diocletian.

Numerian's death occurred early in November AD284, Diocletian being hailed as emperor about three weeks later. Numerian had reigned for about fourteen months, too short a period to form a constructive opinion about his strengths and weaknesses. The primary records are very sketchy about the reign although the Historia Augusta records (or possibly invents!) a tradition of Numerian as a likeable young man and excellent orator.

Featured Coin
Antoninianus of Numerian as Augustus, dating this between 283 and 285 AD. the reverse type is Pax Aug.

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