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Carus

Roman Emperor A. D. 282 - 283

Carus was quite different from his two predecessors Aurelian and Probus, and much more like most of the other Third Century emperors. He did not politely ask the Senate to confirm his elevation to the throne as these two others did, but simply announced that he was filling the vacant throne. He was elevated by the soldiers after they had rebelled and murdered Probus for putting them to work on a domestic vineyard cultivation project.

The first item of business for the new emperor was to confer onto both his sons Carinus and Numerianus the title of Caesar and have them share power with him. He sent Carinus to deal with some troubles in Gaul and then to establish his residence at Rome. Meanwhile, Carus and Numerian fought another series of battles with the wild and barbarous Sarmatians and quickly defeated them. The next step was to finally undertake the war with Persia that had been planned by both Aurelian and Probus. The Roman armies caught the Persians at a bad time. There were several factions struggling for power in the Persian government, their King Varanes was weak, and most of the Persian army was far away on the border with India. Two ambassadors came to the Roman camp and found what a tough old soldier Carus was. He was seated on the ground in front of his tent eating the same rancid bacon and hard peas for supper that the rest of his army was eating. Only a ragged purple robe signified that it was the Roman emperor with whom they were speaking. Carus told them that unless the king acknowledged that the Romans were their masters, Carus' army would render their country as bare of trees as the emperor's own bald head! They made good on much of their threat. Several major Persian cities, including the ancient capital of Ctesiphon, surrendered without a fight. Prospects for total Roman victory and immense plunder were looking extremely good.

According to official records, a freak accident killed Carus. While on campaign in Persia, a violent storm came up. The storm broke full upon the Roman camp, with wild flashes of lightning throughout the night. After one momentous clap of thunder, the cry came that Carus had been killed by a lightning strike. This event filled the hearts of these tough Roman soldiers with superstitious horror. There was an ancient prophecy that stated that the River Tigris was to be the Eastern boundary of the Roman Empire and that Roman conquest was to go no further. The army therefore pressured the young Numerianus, now Emperor, to march out of Persia with total victory almost within their grasp. A person struck by lightning was considered by the ancients to have provoked the extreme wrath of the gods in some way. The Weak Numerian had no option but to comply with the wishes of the army and the Persians were spared a humiliating defeat and the sacking of their cities.


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