Portraiture of Numerian
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Preceded by (and son of) Carus
Succeeded by (and brother of) Carinus
Storage and Laura Maish
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Marcus Aurelius Numerianus (born ~250, died. November, 284), was Emperor from December 283 to November, 284.
Edward Gibbon had a low opinion of Numerian, finding him feeble and a stranger "to that conscious superiority, either of birth or of merit, which can alone render the possession of a throne easy, and, as it were, natural."  Fortunately, we need not rely on Gibbon's overconfident and imaginative prose; we have access to the same meager primary sources on Numerian from which Gibbon drew his odd conclusions, as it were.
Most of what the ancients wrote about Numerian deals with his strange death during a Persian campaign.
Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus, explains:
Eutropias (Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita, Boox IX, Brian Gibbons translation) tells us that Numerian was of excellent character, and that Aper was the instigator of the plot that killed him:
The unreliable Historia Augusta Lives of Carus, Carinus and Numerian (Loeb Classical Library, 1921) adds to the above account that Aper concealed the dead Numerian from his soldiers claiming that Numerian was ill and that his eyes could not stand daylight; but at last the stench of his body betrayed the lie. It also praises Numerian's eloquence:
A few scattered marble heads have been proposed as possible portraits of Numerian - most significantly, one in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (58.1005), identified convincingly by Cornelius Vermeule  on the basis of style, similarity to numismatic portraits, and elimination of other contemporary identities already established. The style of the Boston head fits nicely between that of late Gallienus portraits and those of the early Constantinian period. It differs from the Capitoline Museum's Carinus (Numerian's brother) in several ways that could be seen as a consequence of geography. I.e., the Numerian head has more eastern (Greek or western Asiatic) elements, and Numerian's career, unlike that of Carinus, was in the eastern empire (western Asia). Vermeule also notes that Numerian's family name, Marcus Aurelius, might be grounds for the portrait's late-Antonine elements.
For other coins of Numerian, see the
online reference at
 The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire By Edward Gibbon, David Womersley, Henry Hart Milman. Chapter 12, (Accession of Carinus and Numerian) Penguin Classics, ISBN:0140437649.
A Graeco-Roman Portrait of the
Third Century A. D. and the Graeco-Asiatic Tradition in Imperial Portraiture
from Gallienus to Diocletian. Cornelius C. Vermeule III. Dumbarton Oaks Papers,
Vol. 15, (1961), pp. 1-22
Keywords: portraits of Numerian,
Bill Storage, Laura Maish iconography, imperial portraits, Rome, Roman Empire,
ancient Rome, numismatics, coin portrait, Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Copyright 2008 by William Storage. All rights reserved.