Europe 283: Carus’ Persian campaign

Political map of Europe & the Mediterranean on 26 Jul 283 (The Crisis of the Third Century (II): Carus’ Persian campaign), showing the following events: Hormizd of Sakastan; Overthrow of Probus; Principate of Carus; Carus’ Sarmatian War; Co-principate of Carinus; Carus’ Persian campaign.

In late 282 Probus was assassinated and succeeded by Carus. Learning that the Persians were in civil war, Carus rushed east with his army, placing his son Carinus in charge of the West. Carus’ invasion of Persia proved to be a great success—that is, until he fell ill and was apparently struck dead by lightning in the summer of 283.


Agri Decumates

The Agri Decumates was lost to the Romans in c.262, regained by Aurelian and Probus in 275–8, and lost again sometime between 290 and 310. The losses here seem not so much due to any rise in power of the local Alemanni tribe, but Roman internal division. When rival Roman factions controlled Gaul and Raetia, as was the case in 262–274 and 306, the limes of the Agri Decumates were no longer defensible and had to be abandoned.

Main Events

281?–285? Hormizd of Sakastan

In the early 280s full-scale civil war broke out in Sasanian Persia when Shah Bahram II’s cousin and brother-in-law, Hormizd, revolted in Sakastan and gained support in the eastern provinces as far west as Gilan. This Hormizd also seems to have been aligned with Bahram’s brother, another Hormizd, who had rebelled a few years earlier as the shah of the Kushano-Sasanians. Although Bahram’s initial moves against the Hormizd of Sakastan were disrupted when the Romans invaded Persia in 283, he eventually defeated and executed the usurper, and appointed his own son Bahram III as governor of wikipedia

Aug–Sep 282 Overthrow of Probus

In around August 282 the Roman army in Raetia revolted and proclaimed the praetorian prefect Carus as emperor. Allegedly Carus was reluctant and tried to warn Probus, but when Probus sent troops to deal with the situation they defected to the rebels. Meanwhile, in Sirmium, Probus’ remaining forces—angered at being forced to work on land improvement—turned against him, chased him into an iron tower, and killed him. Carus had the assassins executed, then curtly informed the Senate that he was now wikipedia

Sep 282–?? 283 Principate of Carus

Carus was perhaps 60 when he succeeded Probus as Roman emperor and had his two adult sons, Carinus and Numerian, immediately made Caesars. When Carus then marched east to face the Persians, Carinus remained in the west and was promoted to co-emperor. It seems likely that Carus never visited Rome during his reign and he died in Persia, either of illness or lightning-strike, after less than one year in wikipedia

282 Carus’ Sarmatian War

Shortly after his accession to power, Carus faced an invasion of Quadi and Sarmatians into Pannonia. Carus easily defeated the intruders, apparently killing 16,000 of them, and capturing 20,000, of both sexes. The presence of women among the captives suggests that the invasion may have been part of a tribal migration in response to pressure from interior wikipedia

?? 283–Nov 284 Co-principate of Carinus

In early 283 Carus appointed his eldest son Carinus as co-emperor and ruler in the West, so that he and his other son Numerian could march against Persia. Although Carinus dealt successfully with some incursions on the Danube, he was generally accused by ancient historians—no doubt at least partially under the influence of Diocletian’s later propaganda—of spending his time in Rome, indulging in cruelty and decadence. In 284 he was in Britain, when he learned of Diocletian’s seizure of power in the wake of the deaths of Carus and Numerian, and immediately marched east to deal with wikipedia

283 Carus’ Persian campaign

Having learned that Persia was in civil war in late 282, Carus marched rapidly to the East and invaded Mesopotamia via Armenia in spring 283. The Romans successfully stormed Ctesiphon and Seleucia but, in around July 283, Carus fell ill. The emperor was found dead some days later, apparently after lightning had struck his tent, prompting his son Numerian to abandon the wikipedia