Numerian:Poet-emperor. Death by dodgy eyes?

To start at the end. Roman Emperor Numerian (250-284) succeeds his father amongst the looted remains of a Persian palace and dies somewhere along a Roman road in Asia Minor. One report says he died from an eye infection but then his father-in-law Aper is accused of murder and the legions select a Greek speaking soldier called Diocles who immediately 'latinizes' his name to Diocletian. Diocletian's first act as emperor is to cut Aper in half with a sword. Case closed. The caravan moves on.

For those without comedic tastes, the "questionable parody" of this website called Wikipedia have an article about Numerian.

Poets DayEdit

Numerian was 33, presumably on his first very military campaign when his father Emperor Carus was killed by a lightening strike whilst they were in Mesopotamia. His only known qualifications for this - besides family influence - was that as a 'poet'. Numerian's work was evidently so well known that not a single line has survived over the centuries. So perhaps the description of 'poet' meant he was a late night drinker, never up before midday, lounging around in his underpants type of artist.

That he could enjoy that lifestyle shows that Numerian was unlikely someone with any great political-military ambition but in 282 this changed when his father became emperor. His elder brother Carinus became emperor within in a few days whilst Numerian got the post of Caesar, meaning he was on a lesser level. A bit like being Vice-Emperor which considering some of the candidates who got the title was very apt.

Go EastEdit


Midday. Numerian has yet to stir from his tent.

When Carus decided he needed military glory to enhance his dynasty's reputation, he chose to take Numerian with him whilst leaving Carinus in the west. Numerian had no choice but probably packed all his 'poet gear' in case something he saw would inspire a few cantos or an ode or two. Numerian also took along his father-in-law, an oddly named individual called Aper who had been appointed by Carus as Praetorian Prefect. Since this had been Carus's job before he had helped to stab Emperor Probus, it was a military position with some pre-set political ambitions. Numerian married Aper's daughter but she wasn't brought along for the campaign. Indeed, she sinks without trace of even a name to be remembered by.

The war in Persia went very well, a Roman army once again was running around Mesopotamia in lands which hadn't seen a Roman sandal since the days of Trajan. That the shah was away in Afghanistan trying to squash a rebellious brother helped enormously but then Carus died. He at least had been a soldier, Numerian's experience as a thruster and slasher being zero.

It was a tricky situation, Roman soldiers hated having 'civilians' in charge of them and were still keen to mash up more of the Persians. Aper persuaded them to accept Numerian as emperor and possibly hinted that any 'mucking around with rival candidates' would be trouble. In addition, since Numerian's brother Carinus was in control of the Western half of the Roman empire, he would be bound to support his own kin in preference to another rough-shaven imperial aspirant.

I Wandered Lonely as an EmperorEdit


Saints Chrysanthus and Daria. Sexless marriage, death and martyrdom.

Once he became emperor, the dynamic Numerian and the army moved with the speed of a sick slug. Considering he was emperor in November 283, Numerian took at least five months to reach Antioch. Unless the weather was particulary bad it was a trip that should have taken a few weeks along the excellent Roman roads. Perhaps Numerian was working on some poetry and needed to time to 'find himself' amongst the desert vistas of Syria.

On arriving in Antioch, Numerian sat for his imperial portrait to be used on by the Roman mint on new coinage. Numerian also had time to condemn to death a rare husband and wife saintly pair, Saints Chrysanthus and Daria. Chryanthus (from Chrysanthemum where everyone lived on flowers) had met Daria, a Vestal Virgin and married her with the promise of no toga snake on their nuptials. Daria had agreed but she had broken her pagan contract with the Vestals. That carried the death penalty, though in typical pagan manner (apparently) this involved torture, beheadings and more torture until everyone went home.

Numerian remained in Syria, perhaps waiting to see if the Persians were going to attack in revenge for the Roman invasion. It certainly gave the emperor more time to finish off a few more books of poetry and wander around. It wasn't until October 284 that Numerian or perhaps someone else gave the order to move out and head closer to the Western half of the Roman empire. Perhaps Numerian planned to meet his brother somewhere but then he disappears from public view. An excuse was put out that Numerian needed 'eye rest' and would be taking it easy in a litter, a sofa bed like structure with curtains and carried by slaves.

Smelly Murder?Edit


Roman litter bug. Out of the way you dirty slaves!

Numerian's army headed towards the city of Nicomedia on the Bosphorus. Aper acted as Numerian's spokesman and kept the curtains tightly closed to keep the light out. The emperor was said to be 'improving' and was said to have advanced plans to write some excellent poetry. Then within a few days the slaves carrying the litter started to gag and even a thick centurion realised something was up. Commander Diocles insisted he talk to Numerian and pushing aside Aper (or his assistants), open the curtain to be greeted by a swarm of flies. Numerian was stinky dead. Moreover, he had been dead for sometime which was funny as it was only a day before he had apparently asked Aper how far it was to go to Nicomedia.

Aper expressed shock that his son-in-law had died and said it must have been sudden. He suggested that either the the army recognise Carinus as sole emperor or make him caesar to 'smooth the transition'. Instead Diocles was proclaimed emperor and killed Aper before he could protest. What was left of Numerian (and Aper) were presumably buried at some scruffy temple and the army continued its march west.


CSI:Ancient Rome. The missing episode.

Preceded by:
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by: