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Antoninianus of Carus.jpg
Antoninianus of Emperor Carus
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign 282–283 (alone);
283 (with Carinus)
Predecessor Probus
Successor Carinus and Numerian
Co-emperor Carinus (283)
Born c. 222
Narbo, Gallia Narbonensis
Died July or August 283 (aged 61)
Beyond the River Tigris, Sasanian Empire
Issue Carinus, Numerian, Aurelia Paulina
Full name
Marcus Numerius Carus
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Carus Augustus

Carus (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Carus Augustus;[1][2] c. 222 – July or August 283) was Roman Emperor from 282 to 283, and was 60 at ascension. During his short reign, Carus fought the Germanic tribes and Sarmatians along the Danube frontier with success.

He died while campaigning against the Sassanid Empire, probably of unnatural causes, as he was reportedly struck by lightning.[3] He was succeeded by his sons Carinus and Numerian, creating a dynasty which, though short-lived, provided further stability to the resurgent empire.


An Antoninianus of Carus.

Carus, whose name before the accession may have been Marcus Numerius Carus,[4] was born, according to differing accounts, either in Gaul, Illyricum or Africa.[5] Modern scholarship inclines to the former view, placing his birth at Narbo (modern Narbonne) in Gaul[6][7] though he was educated in Rome.[8] Little can be said with certainty of his life and rule. Due to the decline of literature, the arts, and the want of any good historians of that age, what is known is almost invariably involved in contradiction and doubt.[9] He was apparently a senator[10] and filled various posts, both civil and military, before being appointed prefect of the Praetorian Guard by the emperor Probus in 282.[11]

After the murder of Probus at Sirmium, Carus was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers.[12] Although Carus severely avenged the death of Probus, he was suspected as an accessory to the deed.[13] He does not seem to have returned to Rome after his accession, contenting himself with an announcement to the Senate.[14] This was a marked departure from the constitutionalism of his immediate predecessors, Tacitus and Probus, who at least outwardly respected the authority of the senate, and was the precursor to the formal establishment of military autocracy under Diocletian.[15]

Campaign against the Sassanids and death[edit]

Panels at Naqsh-e Rustam, symbolizing the victories of Bahram II over Carus (top) and Hormizd I Kushanshah (bottom).[16]

Bestowing the title of Caesar upon his sons Carinus and Numerian,[17][18] he left Carinus in charge of the western portion of the empire to look after some disturbances in Gaul [19] and took Numerian with him on an expedition against the Persians, which had been contemplated by Probus.[20] Having inflicted a severe defeat on the Quadi and Sarmatians on the Danube,[21] for which he was given the title Germanicus Maximus,[22] Carus proceeded through Thrace and Asia Minor, annexed Mesopotamia, pressed on to Seleucia and Ctesiphon, and marched his soldiers beyond the Tigris.[23]

The Sassanid King Bahram II, limited by internal opposition and his troops occupied with a campaign in modern-day Afghanistan, could not effectively defend his territory.[24] The Sasanians, faced with severe internal problems, could not mount an effective coordinated defense at the time; Carus and his army may have captured the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon.[3] The victories of Carus avenged all the previous defeats suffered by the Romans against the Sassanids, and he received the title of Persicus Maximus.[25] Rome's hopes of further conquest, however, were cut short by his death; Carus died in Sasanian territory, probably of unnatural causes, as he was reportedly struck by lightning.[3]


Like the splendid conquests of Trajan, 160 years before, Carus' gains were immediately relinquished by his successor. His son Numerian, naturally of an unwarlike disposition, was forced by the army to retreat back over the Tigris.[26] The report of the lightning strike was evidently widely accepted in the camp, and the superstitious awe of the troops inclined them to ascribe Carus' death to the wrath of the Gods. Rumors had been spread of dark oracles, affixing the limits of the Empire on the Tigris, and threatening destruction against the Roman who should presume beyond the river in arms. Persia was abandoned to her rightful possessors, and not till Diocletian, a decade later, was the Persian contest decided in Rome's favor, by that emperor's decisive victory.

In the sphere of civil affairs, Carus is remembered principally for the final suppression of the authority of the senate, which had been partially restored under Tacitus and Probus. He declined to accept their ratification of his election, informing them of the fact by a haughty and distant dispatch. He was the last emperor to have united a civil with a military education, in that age when the two were increasingly detached; Diocletian (Imp. 284-305), who succeeded Carus after the brief reign of the latter's sons, was to confirm and formalize the separation of professions, and the autocratic foundation of the imperial rule.[27]

Though Carus was known throughout his life for his austere and virtuous manners, the suspicion of his complicity in Probus' death, along with his haughty conduct towards the senate, tarnished his reputation before his death, and Julian, as Gibbon observes, conspicuously places him among the tyrants of Rome, in his catalogue of The Caesars.[28]

See also[edit]


Primary Sources[edit]

Secondary Sources[edit]

  • Leadbetter, William, "Carus (282–283 A.D.)", DIR
  • Jones, A.H.M., Martindale, J.R. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol. I: AD260-395, Cambridge University Press, 1971
  • Potter, David (2013). Constantine the Emperor. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199755868.
  • Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, 2001
  • Gibbon. Edward Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (1888)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carus, Marcus Aurelius". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.


  1. ^ In Classical Latin, Carus' name would be inscribed as MARCVS AVRELIVS CARVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. ^ Jones, pg. 183
  3. ^ a b c Potter 2013, p. 26.
  4. ^ Jones, pg. 183
  5. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), ch. XII., p. 292
  6. ^ Victor, 38:1
  7. ^ The tradition that he was one of the so-called "Illyrian Emperors", based on the unreliable vita Cari embedded in the Augustan History, was accepted uncritically by Joseph Scaliger, who assumed the other sources were wrong, and followed by Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (Tom B. Jones, "A Note on Marcus Aurelius Carus" Classical Philology 37.2 (April 1942), pp. 193–194).
  8. ^ Historia Augusta, "Vita Cari", 4:2
  9. ^ Gibbon, ibid; and ch. XIII., p. 340
  10. ^ Historia Augusta, "Vita Cari", 5:4
  11. ^ Gibbon, ch. XII., p. 292
  12. ^ Zonaras, 12:29
  13. ^ Historia Augusta, "Vita Cari", 6:1
  14. ^ Southern, pg. 132
  15. ^ Gibbon, p. 293; and ch. XIII., pp. 328, 329
  16. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica [1]
  17. ^ Zonaras, 12:30
  18. ^ Victor 38:2
  19. ^ Gibbon, ch. XII., p. 293
  20. ^ Historia Augusta, "Vita Cari", 7:1
  21. ^ Gibbon, p. 294. Enemy casualties are given at over 36,000.
  22. ^ Leadbetter,
  23. ^ Zonaras, 12:30
  24. ^ Leadbetter,
  25. ^ Southern, pg. 133
  26. ^ Gibbon, p. 296
  27. ^ Gibbon, ch. XIII., pp. 328-33.
  28. ^ Gibbon, ch. XII., p. 293 and note.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Carinus (283)
Succeeded by
Carinus and Numerian
Political offices
Preceded by
Probus ,
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Carinus
Succeeded by