Coin Relief 25 – Carus and family

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown examines the coinage of Carus and his family.

Carus and family, AD 282-285

In a previous edition, we looked at the emperor Carinus and his links with Britain. Even though he may
have campaigned in Britainnia and was afforded the title
Britannicus Maximus (along with his brother, Numerian),
his coinage is rare, particularly so as single finds recorded
through the PAS. But this is only part of the story. He belonged to a short-lived Roman dynasty that began with his father, Carus (AD 282-283), and included his brother,
Numerian (AD 283-284), and son Nigrinian (c.AD 284-285), surviving until AD 285 when the unsettled times of the 3rd century were stabilised under Diocletian who, as we shall see, may well have also had a hand in the demise of Carus and family! Coinage of Carus and his family is rare on the PAS and on British sites generally, although does appear in small quantity in hoarded assemblages. The majority comprise the reformed radiates, aureliani, struck after Aurelian’s coinage reforms in AD 274 and are generally identifiable given the slightly better quality of production, the short period of issue, and the few mints that are represented. 

However, as Sam Moorhead highlighted in his discussion of Carinus, there is also an interesting spike in gold coinage during this period, with at least one PAS example (see below).
There are currently just 47 coins recorded on the PAS for Carus and his family – I have excluded from this total a further 129 coins from the Welsh IARCW dataset, since these include hoard coins, notably from the Rogiet hoard, which gives a slightly misleading perspective on their distribution.

When identifying coins of this period RIC V.2 remains an important reference, although there are several hoard catalogues and mint studies that have greatly enhanced the data within the RIC volume. For British finds, the catalogues from the Gloucester and Rogiet hoards are vital, to which can be added the
publication of the la Venèra hoard and P. Bastien’s study of the Lyon mint.

The numbers of coins from this group are very low and, as Sam demonstrated with Carinus, while the aureliani are generally scarcer than the debased and barbarous radiates of the AD 260s-270s, there is a definite drop in numbers on the PAS when compared to contemporary emperors like Tacitus and Probus, or against hoarded assemblages. If we consider all of the PAS coins from the central emperors of this period (c.AD 275-285) by
emperor/issuer, however, it is remarkable how closely the relative percentages of each follow the patterns of the two hoards of Gloucester and Rogiet, and more recently, Frome. Removing the IARCW data (which includes the Rogiet material of course!) gives us 647 PAS coins issued for the period from Tacitus to Carinus, compared to 927 from Frome, 2,145 from Rogiet, and 11,141 from Gloucester. Certainly, a much smaller PAS total. However, the relative frequency with which each emperor/empress appears is in fact very similar, as the
percentages in the table below demonstrate.

As E. Besley notes in his discussion of the Rogiet hoard (pp. 51-53), Gloucester and Rogiet are remarkably consistent in their composition and, with the exception of some mint variation, have similar makeup to other contemporary (but much smaller) hoards in Britain. It is interesting that the PAS data follows a similar trend and this may well suggest that the relative numbers of examples recorded through the PAS are fairly representative of the coins in circulation within the province at that time. A slight exception to this perhaps might be the coins of Magnia Urbica (See below), which appear much rarer on the PAS, with just one
recorded example. Given the similarities between her coinage and that of Severina, for example, it is plausible that on very worn or corroded coins Magnia Urbica might be missed.
I suspect these numbers in general are liable to adjust slightly with refinement of the dataset and addition of new examples, but I think the overall picture unlikely to change drastically.


For the few years of coinage issued by Carus and his family, several mints were in operation that are often identifiable based on the mintmarks on individual coin issues. Coins from the
western mints are much more common, although there are a few PAS examples struck at mints from Siscia eastwards.
Lyon – Striking in four officinae with mint letters in Latin
o A, B, C, D (in the field)
o I, II, III, IIII (in exergue) used for the posthumous issues of Carus
o LVG (in exergue and also combined with letters in the field, e.g. A -//LVG)
o Carus and Carinus sometimes spelt Karus and Karinus
Rome – The mint of Serdica closed at the end of Probus’ or very early in Carus’ reign
and it is suggested in RIC (V.2, p. 124) that the mint was moved to Rome with Carus.
As a result, the Greek mark of value KA is used instead of the Latin XXI to denote
the value of the reformed radiates.
o Seven officinae: A, B, Γ, Δ, Ε, ς, Z
o -//RA, -//RB, -//RΓ, etc. (R is only used in the earliest issues)
o -//AK, -//BK, -//ΓK, etc.
o -//AAK, -//BAK, -//ΓAK, etc.
o -//AKA, -//BKA, -//ΓKA, etc.
o -//KAA, -//KAB, -//KAΓ, etc.
o Some issues use a crescent, e.g. -//KAA, -//KAA, -//KA A etc.
Ticinum – Striking from six officinae, the letter T used to denote the mint
o -//PXXIT, -//SXXIT, -//TXXIT etc.
o -//PXXI, -//SXXI, -//VIXXI, etc.
o As with Lyon occasionally Karus and Karinus
Siscia – Three officinae with the Latin mintmark XXI in exergue, typically with
letters or star in the fields
o P -//XXI, II -//XXI, T -//XXI ; * P//XXI, * II//XXI, * T//XXI ; */P/XXI, etc.
o A -//XXI, B -//XXI, Γ -//XXI
o After Carus’ death also the addition of SMS (sacra moneta sisciensis) to the
XXI, e.g. -//SMSXXIA, Γ//SMSXXI, etc.
Cyzicus – Up to six officinae
o Greek numerals A, B, Γ, Δ, E, ς in exergue
o Also A//XXI to ς//XXI
Antioch – Nine officinae using Greek numerals with the Latin mark of value
o A//XXI, B//XXI, Γ//XXI, Δ//XXI, E//XXI, ς//XXI, Z//XXI, H//XXI,
o Sometimes a star in the field
Tripolis – Striking from just two officinae
o TR//XXI, */TR//XXI

Gold and rarities

Gold coinage in general is rare in Britain during the 3rd century, and especially so from the period spanning c.AD 270-285. However, as Sam noted previously, there is a small spike in gold during the period that Carus and his sons were in power, with five aurei recorded nationally comprising half of the total known examples and including the wonderful piece of Carinus as augustus from Nottinghamshire. If this is associated with Carinus’ activity in Britain during this period then there is always the possibility another may turn up, but these remain extremely rare coins on the PAS, with just the single example to date.

Aureus of Carinus, c.AD 284. Record ID is DENO-3B3AF6 (Rights holder is the finder, License: CC-BY-SA).

While the coins struck for Carus and family recorded through the PAS are, with the exception of the aureus, reformed radiates (aureliani), these were not the only denomination struck.
Indeed, the mints of Lyon and Siscia issues slightly larger radiates, often with less usual bust types or double radiate crowns, bearing the mark of value X ET I at Lyon or XI,
X I ,  X I I  at Siscia. S. Estiot notes that the tarrif of the aureliani marked XXI may have become untenable and that these larger examples are an attempt by the Roman authorities to introduce a double aurelianus, hence the value XI (and so 10 to 1, or c.10%
silver) rather than XXI at 5%. These are rare coins and so
far there appear to be no PAS examples, but they are worth noting, not least because their types carry often quite unusual legends that in some instances nicely demonstrate the creation
of Carus’ dynasty. This is further replicated in issues of scarce radiates from Lyon, as well as aurei and base silver denarii with double heads, first of Carus and Carinus and subsequently, following Carus’ death in AD 283, Carinus and Numerian.

There do not appear to be any smaller module denarii recorded through the PAS at present either – as with Aurelian, these can appear with just the single bust of Carus, Carinus, or Numerian and will be laureate rather than radiate. Do look out for them, they could easily be missed in larger batches of poorly
preserved coins! Alongside the aurei, double aureliani, and base silver denarii, several other smaller fractional and bronze denominations were issued during this period, but to date none
appear to have been recorded through the PAS.

Carus, AD 282-283

Marcus Aurelius Carus was probably born in Narbo (Gaul) in c.AD 224 and by the late-AD 270s had attained the rank of praetorian prefect under the emperor Probus. While on the
Danube in September AD 282, in advance of Probus’ intended campaign east, the legions there revolted and declared their support for Carus as emperor. Probus dispatched troops to
restore order, but they too sided with Carus and shortly afterwards Probus was assassinated by his own forces outside Sirmium (Serbia).

Following his elevation to emperor, in his late-50s, and with the support of the northern legions, Carus embarked on an eastern campaign, leaving his eldest son, Carinus, in Rome to look after the western empire, but taking his younger son, Numerian, with him. Both sons had been given the rank of caesar in AD 282 shortly after Carus became emperor, but at about 33 years old, Carinus was given the honour before his 28(?)-year-old brother. Carus himself held the titles of consul in AD 282 and 283 as well as tribunician powers in both years, and after his suppression of the Quadi and Sarmatians along the Danube en route to Persia, also became Germanicus Maximus.

Radiate of Carus, c.AD 282-283. Record ID is BH-F86640 (St. Albans District Council, License: CC-BY-SA).

By AD 283, Carus and Numerian had crossed into Persian territory and both sons were elevated to the full rank of augustus by the middle of that year, again with Carinus’ seniority demonstrated by him taking the title prior to his younger brother. The Roman legions led by Carus and Numerian pushed deep into Persian territory, reaching the capital of Ctesiphon and even advancing beyond it in what was a relatively successful campaign up until this point (see Eutropius IX.18). However, Carus met with a sudden and untimely death! In his camp on the banks of the Tigris near Ctesiphon, probably around August AD 283, his tent was supposedly struck by lightning during a storm killing him. As with many things Roman, the picture isn’t entirely clear. Some sources suggest he died of illness, while in others there is the suggestion that the ‘lightning’ was a convenient cover story for his assassination perhaps by his praetorian guard, Lucius Flavius Aper, or even one of his commanders, a certain Diocletian!
Of the 10 lifetime issues of Carus recorded on the PAS, six can be attributed to specific mints while three are not definitively Carus and cannot be verified due to lack of images. Of those attributable to mints, three are issues from the Lyon mint, two from Ticinum
(Fig. 11), and a single example from Antioch, which may be a more recent rather than ancient loss.

Note that Carus is typically depicted remarkably realistically, slightly austere but imperial and more conservative than the huge variety of elaborate bust types seen with his predecessor
Probus. Most notably, he is usually distinguishable by his balding head! Some coins, probably struck early in Carus’ reign, have reverse legends simply ending AVG that indicate he is the sole augustus at this time, but many end AVGG to denote the elevation of Carinus (and therefore two augusti), and rarely at the end of Carus’ reign AVGGG for the inclusion of Numerian.

The radiates from Antioch all have the same reverse type depicting the emperor receiving Victory on a globe. Antioch is also the only mint to issue radiates for Carus with reverse
legends ending AVGGG to indicate the authority of the three male members of the Imperial family, Carus, Carinus, and Numerian – the first time this occurs really since Severus, Caracalla, and Geta. According to RIC (V.2, p. 131), Carus was likely in Antioch when the two sons were conferred with the higher rank and so this would explain why it appears here, not long prior to Carus’ death, and not elsewhere. When news of Carus’ death reached Rome and Carinus, Carus was deified and a posthumous consecration issue of coins was struck, probably between c.AD 284-285. Carus
also received the titles Parthicus and Persicus for his eastern campaigns.

Radiate of Divus Carus, c.AD 284-285. Record ID is BERK-C6FB9E (Berkshire Archaeology, License: CC-BY).

Although Carus appears to have generally been liked as an emperor, his establishment of Carinus as successor combined with suggestion of his involvement in ousting Probus cast a
long shadow and, as we shall see, resulted in him being looked at in a less favourable light later on. Almost all of the Roman mints issued coins under Carinus for the deified Carus between
c.AD 284-285. As well as demonstrating Carus’ deification, these may well have been a useful tool for Carinus in demonstrating his divine legitimacy through Carus as the new emperor, particularly so following the death of his brother Numerian in AD 284 and in the face of usurpation and challenge to his position on two fronts (see below). There are just five PAS examples of Carus’ consecration issues, all from the Lyon mint and of the same reverse type depicting an eagle. These were by no means the only type struck and in other mints we see the typical presence of an altar, for example, and variations on both obverse and reverse legends, but these appear unrepresented within the PAS dataset at present.

Numerian, AD 282-284

Eutropius (IX.18) describes Carus’ younger son, Marcus Aurelius Numerianus, as ‘a young man of very great ability’, although it is notable that when Carus rose to power it was the elder brother, Carinus, and not Numerian who was (perhaps reluctantly on Carus’ part) entrusted with ruling the western provinces (e.g. Historia Augusta, Vita Cari, 7). According to some sources, he seems to have been an accomplished poet and rhetorician. Numerian accompanied his father east in AD 282, first in a junior role as caesar and then by mid-AD 283 as augustus along with his elder brother. He was consul in AD 283 and 284, also taking
his tribunician powers in both years too.

Radiate of Numerian, c.AD 283-284. Record ID is BM-C33636 (British Museum, License: CC-BY).

In the east, Numerian accompanied his father on the successful campaigns to Ctesiphom, but during this time developed a serious eye infection that was ultimately to contribute to his downfall. Carus’ sudden death after the Persian victory placed Numerian in
charge of the legions in the east and he began the slow withdrawal back to Rome. During the course of the march west, Numerian was carried in a closed litter due to his eye problems and it is reported that his father-in-law and praetorian prefect, Aper, seized on the opportunity to assassinate the young emperor in his litter and take control himself. Literary sources suggest
that “his death, though attempted craftily to be concealed until Aper could seize the throne, was made known by the odour of his dead body; for the soldiers, who attended him, being struck by the smell, and opening the curtains of his litter, discovered his death some days after it had taken place” (Eutropius IX.18). This discovery was made towards the end of AD 284 (probably in November) once the legions had reached the Bosphorus, close to Heraclea or Nicomedia. Aper’s treachery was reportedly revealed at a military assembly where he was put to death (perhaps at Diocletian’s hand) and the troops declared for the commander of the Imperial bodyguard, Diocletian. The situation is a little convenient for Diocletian(!) and it has to be wondered how manufactured this was on his part too. The not impartial Historia
Augusta (Vita Cari, 14) even recounts an omen Diocletian had received from a druidess that conveniently provides his authority some legitimacy, stating “Do not jest, Diocletian, for you will become emperor when you have slain a Boar” – Diocletian supposedly remarking “at last I have killed my fated boar” following Aper’s execution, Aper meaning ‘boar’ in Latin!

Coins of Numerian are generally very rare as single finds recorded through the PAS, although do occasionally occur in small quantity within hoarded assemblages. Nine coins are
present on the PAS database, two of Numerian as caesar, the remainder from his period of co-rule as augustus with Carinus (one of which is not securely identifiable to Numerian and
lacks an image to check). The two coins of Numerian as Caesar are both from the mint of Rome and with PRINCIPI IVVENT (‘leader of the youth’) reverse type that is characteristically associated with the rank of caesar as heir to the imperial throne.

By late-AD 283 Numerian is augustus and following Carus’ death co-ruler with his brother Carinus. There is a notable change in reverse types for issues that are more fitting a senior emperor rather than a caesar and the obverse legends change to identify him as both imperator (IMP) and augustus (AVG). These issues were, of course, short-lived until his death the following year. The PAS has seven examples as single finds, two coins from each of the mints of Lyon, Rome, and Ticinum, five of which have photographs.

After Numerian’s death in AD 284, Carinus struck a small posthumous issue at the mint of Rome for his deified younger brother. Much like the examples of Carus, this reinforced Carinus’ position as part of a Roman dynasty with divine links and legitimacy as the proper rulers of Rome. As we shall see, this was at a time when Carinus was exposed to external threat and pressure on his position. There appear to be none of these very rare Divo Nvmeriano issues recorded through the PAS, but if you do see an example of a consecration issue it is worth double checking just in case you have a Numerian!

Carinus, AD 282-285

The coinage of Carinus has already been looked at by Sam Moorhead in a previous edition. Carinus, of course, remained in Rome while his father and younger brother campaigned in the
east. As with Numerian he was first caesar and then by AD 283 augustus, holding tribunician powers and as consul each year between AD 283 and his death in AD 285. As we have seen in Sam’s piece, there are just seven PAS examples of Carinus as caesar, like Numerian the reverse types typical of coins struck for junior partners. After Carus’ death, with Carinus as augustus, there are a further 14 coins including the aureus
from Nottinghamshire.

Radiate of Carinus as caesar, c.AD 282-283. Record ID is WILT-D8E15C (Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License: CC-BY).

Carinus campaigned in northern Gaul and then probably in Britannia, where in AD 284 he received the title Britannicus Maximus. It was at this time that he received news of his
brother’s death and subsequent revolt by the legions who had elected one of their own, Diocletian, as new emperor. Carinus set out to meet Diocletian’s forces but before he could deal with the legions returning from the east, he first had to suppress a second usurpation in northern Italy. This was led by Marcus Aurelius Julianus, who revolted in Pannonia and took control of Siscia for a short period of time issuing aurei and radiates from the mint. These are rare coins and there are no examples of Julian yet recorded on the PAS. Carinus was quick to suppress Julian’s revolt, defeating him on the battlefield near Verona
early in AD 285.

Following success against Julian, Carinus marched to meet Diocletian who posed the greater and real threat to his rule. With a much larger force, Carinus engaged with Diocletian’s
legions at the Battle of Margus (Moesia) in the spring of AD 285. The size of his force seems to have resulted in initial victory for Carinus, however, we are told in some sources that Carinus’ past discretions caught up with him and he was either killed by a tribune whose wife he had seduced or by his own forces following the battle. In either case, the outcome was the same and Carinus’ death brought about the end of the short-lived dynasty established by Carus and heralded the emergence of Diocletian’s authority and ultimately greater stability within the empire.

The literary sources for Carinus are far from flattering. The Historia Augusta (Vita Cari, 16) describes him as “the most polluted of men, an adulterer and a constant corrupter of youth” who “defiled himself by unwonted vices and inordinate depravity”, while Eutropius (IX.19) remarks that disgraced himself by all manner of crimes…formed illicit connexions with the wives of noblemen…Incurring the hatred of all men.”. The Historia Augusta goes on to state that by “marrying and divorcing he took nine wives in all and he put away some even while they were pregnant. He filled the Palace with actors and harlots,
pantomimists, singers and pimps”! Much of the vitriol in these sources likely contains a substantial element of propaganda in support of Diocletian, designed to discredit his predecessor (albeit Carinus had successfully maintained control in the western empire for several years up until this point, so presumably also had some competency as a ruler). The eventual result, and no doubt reflected in contemporary depictions of Carinus, saw him
subjected to damnatio memoriae after his death, probably along with both Carus and Numerian. The dynasty was effectively and very definitely brought to a close, “after whom the gods gave us Diocletian and Maximian to be our princes, joining to these great men Galerius and Constantius” (Historia Augusta, Vita Cari, 18).

Despite disparaging accounts of Carinus’ life and marriages, at least one of his wives was afforded recognition in the coinage of this period – Magnia Urbica. Little is known about her, and there has been some discussion regarding whether she was the wife of Carus or Carinus, but coins were struck in her name as augusta by the mints of Lyon, Rome, Ticinum, and Siscia, from c.AD 283 onward. It remains unclear whether she outlived Carinus
or not, but that she was his wife is perhaps indicated by the presence of coin types bearing busts of both Carinus and Magnia Urbica.

Radiate of Magnia Urbica, c.AD 283-285. Record ID is ASHM-BD682D (Ashmolean Museum, License: CC-BY).

Coins of Magnia Urbica are understandably rare. The Gloucester Hoard contained 38 examples, while there were just six in Rogiet, and to date two identified in Frome. A solitary example has been recorded through the PAS – a Lyon mint coin found in Oxfordshire and of the same type as 19 of the Gloucester coins.

One further member of the dynasty is represented in the coinage alone and is presumed to be Carinus’ son, Nigrinian. He is known from rare posthumous issues struck at the mint of Rome towards the end of Carinus’ reign, his young features suggesting a son. These are very rare as British finds, there was one each in the Gloucester and Rogiet hoards, none in Frome, and just a single example recorded to date through the PAS.

Radiate of Divus Nigrinian, c.AD 284-285. Record ID is SUR-1BA203 (Surrey County Council, License: CC-BY).

References and further reading

R. Abdy, E. Besly and F. López-Sánchez, ‘Gloucester, Gloucestershire’, in Coin Hoards from Roman Britain XIII, 2010: pp. 21-113; see also the Blackmoor Hoard: R Bland, ‘The Blackmoor Hoard’ CHRB III, 1982

E M Besly, ‘The Rogiet Hoard and the Coinage of Allectus’, BNJ 76, 2006: pp. 45-146 – available online here:

D Gricourt, Ripostiglio della Venèra. Caro – Diocleziano Vol. IV. Verona, 2000.

P Bastien, Le monnayage de l’atelier de Lyon de la réouverture de l’atelier par Aurélien à la mort de Carin
(274-285). Wetteren, 1976.

R. Bland and X. Loriot Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland, 2010

S. Estiot ‘The Later Third Century’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage, 2012: p. 552