The Short-Lived Dynasty of Carus
282 - 285 CE
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With two adult sons, Carus was a pre-packaged dynasty. He quickly promoted his two sons, Carinus and Numerian to Caesar (sort of "junior Emperor") with him. But others had designs on the emperorship, and they weren't about to be put off by the fact that they'd have to make a triple play to win the game ...

Carus (282 - 283 CE) Egyptian Tetradrachm
About this coin:

Taking advantage of strong disaffection in the military toward Probus, Carus was able to "leverage" what at first seemed a pathetic attempt at usurpation into a major success. Probus didn't take his rebellion seriously, sending troops ahead without him to suppress the uprising. But these troops defected to Carus. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Probus's remaining troops quickly did him in.

Carus and his sons (Numerian and Carinus) then headed back to Rome, where Carus's accession to Emperor was confirmed and his sons were both appointed to the rank of Caesar. Shortly thereafter, he raised his older son, Carinus, to the rank of Augustus and sent him to take charge of the western provinces while he and Numerian headed east to execute the long-awaited invasion of Persia.

Under the clever and aggressive Sasanian king Shapur I, Persia had been a formidable foe. But Shapur had been dead for some 11 years, and the current king Varhran II was having enough trouble just holding on to his crown. Persia was no longer a serious threat, and the whole thing was somewhat of an anti-climax, though the Romans did seem to enjoy finally being able to trample at will through territory that had eluded them for several hundred years under first the Parthians, then the Sasanians. They marched practically unopposed through Mesopotamia and easily took the capitol city.

But though the fruit was finally ripe for the picking, the sudden death of Carus prevented the Romans from plucking it. The official story is that he was struck by lightning, but it seems highly unlikely. The more commonly accepted theory is that the "lightning" was actually the hand of either Aper, the Praetorian commander, or Diocletian, the head of the Imperial bodyguard.

Numerian (283 - 284) Egyptian Tetradrachm
About this coin:

With daddy dead, power in the Roman east fell briefly in the hands of Carus's lesser son, Numerian. But he was already suffering from an eye infection that he'd contracted during the Persian campaign, and wasn't really up to leading further military campaigns deeper into Persia. With the recent successes, he was able to order an honorable withdrawal, and they pulled back to winter in Syria.

The following year, with Numerian still incapacitated, he ordered a slow trip to link up with his brother. Numerian spent ever more of his time inside his closed litter, and so no one missed him when he didn't come out for several days in a row. Finally, the smell grew too strong to ignore, and it was discovered that Numerian was dead. The commander of the Imperial Bodyguard, Diocletian, quickly accused Aper, the Praetorian commander. The troops proclaimed Diocletian as emperor to replace Numerian, and his first official act was to execute Aper.

Carinus (283 - 285) Egyptian Tetradrachm
About this coin:

Meanwhile, in the Roman west, Carinus was still alive and kicking. He had racked up military successes against the Germans and the Quadi, and had led successful campaigns in Britain. Word of his father's and brother's death led to an uprising in Northern Italy, but he was able to deal with that as well. Then he found himself face to face with the army of the east, led by Diocletian.

The ancient sources paint Carinus as being a man of perversion and cruelty to match Caligula and Commodus, though it's not clear how much is true and how much was the invention of the propaganda machine of his successor, Diocletian. In his short reign, or so it is written, he took nine different wives (dumping some of them while they were pregnant), committed countless homosexual acts with young boys, killed various office holders so he could appoint his friends to the positions they held, and molested and/or seduced the wives of several of his officers.

It's hardly credible that he'd have had time in his short reign to do all of which he is accused. And yet there is evidence that at least some of it is true. Diocletian may have embellished considerably, but Carinus's end demonstrates that it wasn't total invention.

The army with which Carinus confronted Diocletian was considerably larger, and it seemed that Carinus would win handily. But then one of his own officers (one of many who bore grudges against him for his behavior toward their wives) killed him at his moment of triumph. At that point, the rest of his army went over to Diocletian, thus avoiding further bloodshed. The memory of Carinus, his two sons, and his one official wife were all condemned. It may not have been apparent at the time, but a new age of the Roman Empire had begun.

Inflation, Roman Style
About these coins: In theory, these two coins are the same denomination. Both are tetradrachms fom Roman-controlled Egypt. But they were minted more than two centuries apart, the first under Otho around the middle of the first century CE, and the second under Numerian late in the third century. Not only is the Otho coin much larger and heavier, but it is also solid (if low grade) silver, a considerably more valuable metal than the Numerian coin's bronze.

The Roman monetary system was fairly stable until the middle of the third century, when the emperors, near financial ruin, started increasing the amount of base metals in the coinage. Gallienus finally made the break, creating "silver" coins that were in fact bronze coins with a thin silver wash on the surface. Compare the antoninianii (minted just 15 years apart) of the emperors who preceded and followed Gallienus,
Aemilianus and Claudius II. Aemilian's is already of much lower grade silver than earlier coins, but Claudius's has so little silver as to appear to be simply a bronze coin. The silver layer was so thin that on most of these coins all traces of it have worn away.

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