Numerian

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Numerian01
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.

Poets Day

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, type of guy.

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 East

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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 dozen. He 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 help to knife emperor Probus, it was a military position with some pre-set political ambitions. Numerian married his 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 Emperor

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 visas of Syria.

On arriving in Antioch, Numerian sat for his imperial portrait to be used on by the Roman mint. He also took time out (apparently) to condemn a Christian trouble maker called St.Babylas to death for refusing him entry into a church - though why a thorough pagan like Numerian wanted to enter isn't clear.

Numerian appears to have stuck around 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?

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

Numerian's headed towards the city of Nicomedia. 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 asked 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.

Whodunnit?

CSI:Ancient Rome. The missing episode.

Preceded by:
Carus
Roman Emperor
283-284
Succeeded by:
Diocletian



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