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 so-called experts at 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 becoming emperor - besides family influence - was that Numerian was 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 wordsmith.

That Numerian could enjoy being a stay-in-bed-stoned-student strongly suggests he wasn't cut out to be a military leader. This all changed when Carus became emperor in 282 and associated his sons with imperial responsibility. Numerian's elder brother Carinus became emperor within in a few days whilst Numerian got the post of 'Caesar'. It meant he ranked below his father and brother but above say a senator, tribune or military commander.

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 and leave Carinus in Rome. 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 disappears without trace of even a name to be remembered by.

The imperial target for this campaign were the Persians. The Roman army crossed the frontier along the Euphrates river and entered Mesopotamia. The Shah of Persia wasn't at home which made it easier for the Roman army to grab loot without paying. Then Carus got struck with a thunderbolt (a bad omen for Romans, was Jupiter pissed off with this war?). Numerian's imperial number had turned up.

It was a tricky situation. Roman soldiers hated having 'civilians' in charge of them, let alone unpublished poets. Aper persuaded them to accept his son-in-law 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' opted to leave Mesopotamia before the Persians returned. Surprisingly, the army agreed and they moved west towards Antioch in Syria. It was hardly a brisk march, the army moved at the speed of a sick slug.

The reasons for this leisurely meander remain obscure. Numerian took five months to reach Antioch in a journey that should have taken a few weeks at most 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 supplied the guilty verdict for which he got a proverbial bucket of shit poured over his head by subsequent Christian writers.

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.

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Roman Emperor
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