Carus

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Carus01
Carus turns his back on an article about him.

How and why Carus became Roman emperor is a big unanswered question - at least for those cobwebby historians who think about these matters whilst day dreaming at a tutorials. By all accounts he was a grasper and grabber, a man who wouldn't think even once to knife an opponent in the back and rewarded a promotion by killing his boss.

Up the Greasy Pole

Carus was about 60 when he appointed himself emperor. He was Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, the ancient 'emperor maker/breakers' who is the past had got through a lot of their bosses since their creation by Emperor Augustus 300 years previously. The Praetorians hadn't been so influential of late, the soldier-emperors like Valerian hadn't need of their services. Carus for his part had been close to both to emperors Gallienus and Probus, observing from distance and noting down their failures. Where exactly Carus came from isn't clear, he was probably another of the emperors from the Balkans but no one appears to have made much of an investigation.

Carus's opportunity for higher office came through the efforts of Emperor Probus to retrain the Roman army to do something more useful besides fighting and looting. Old soldiers like dogs are not good at learning new tricks so Probus was killed. Carus offered his services and became the new emperor.

Emperor and Revenge

Once he was emperor, Carus quickly associated his sons Carinus and Numerian with imperial power. Evidently they were already in the 20s and therefore old enough to be trusted with responsibilities and writing out cheques. The Roman Senate said they should have been consulted or encouraged to express favour (read:'bribe us to cheer for you') but Carus turned away the toga mafia and made clear to his associates that he wanted quick military glory to cement the new "Carinian Dynasty .

The usual way to start a reign had been to pick a fight against a beatable bunch of barbarians and drag their sorry corpses through Rome's victory arches. Carus also said he wanted to restore Dacia to the Roman empire after it had been abandoned by Aurelian a few years earlier. No doubt the looming presence of emperor Trajan on his column and its strip panel celebration of conquering the province influenced Carus.

Out along the Danube frontier, Carus went searching for the Goths, Vandals and the Sarmatians until he got news that the Persian empire was in the midst of a vicious family quarrel. For Carus this looked a much more promising field of activity. It would also offer an opportunity to extract revenge for the defeat and humiliation of Valerian in 260.

Thunderbolt to my heart

With his son Numerian, Carus crossed with his army into Persia. For the first time in a long time, there was no army to greet the Romans. Onwards they marched until they reached the capital Ctesiphon. The Persian shah Bahram was out in Afghanistan fighting his brother Hormizd and appears to have taken virtually his entire army with him. For Carus this was his 'Trajan moment'. As his soldiers helped themselves to the Shah's best furniture and carpets, Carus strode around the luxurious surroundings with a poet to record his emotions and prepare a victory speech for that great triumph he could look forward to. Perhaps he would be able to re-annex Mesopotamia.

Yet something was disturbing Carus. Before emarking on the campaign to Persia, he had consulted an oracle which warned him 'not to stay under permanent shelter'. Taking this as a warning about staying inside a palace, Carus had taken the precaution of living inside a fully equipped tent. He was also wary of assassination and so slept in his armour.

Following one night of drinking and toasting further imperial success, Carus retired to his tent. A fierce thunderstorm then arose and a bolt stuck Carus in his tent. Fried like a can of Fray Bentos, the smoking remains of Carus were found the next day. His son Numerian was proclaimed solo emperor in the East and made the decision to return to Rome.


Preceded by:
Probus
Roman Emperor
282-283
Succeeded by:
Numerian and Carinus



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