Deposition of Romulus Augustulus

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Deposition of
Romulus Augustulus
Romulus Augustulus surrenders the crown
Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor, surrenders the crown to Odoacer (1880 illustration).
Date 476 AD
Location Ravenna, Italy
Participants Odoacer
Flavius Orestes
Romulus Augustulus
Zeno
Julius Nepos
Theodoric the Great
Outcome The overthrow of Romulus Augustulus, considered to have been the final Western Roman Emperor.

Odoacer's deposition of Romulus Augustulus, occurring in 476 AD, marked the end of the period during which Western Roman Emperors exercised sovereignty.

Background[edit]

Rome is sacked twice[edit]

Ancient Rome had twice been submitted to sack in the fifth century A.D., after a lengthy decline which followed more than a millennium of dominance, first over central Italy and then over an empire that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.[1][2] First, in 410, a Visigothic army under the command of Alaric besieged, entered, and looted the city, and in 455, the Vandals attacked Rome after their king, Genseric, believing himself to have been snubbed by an usurper emperor, voided a peace treaty. Still the seat of the Roman Senate, and a gem of the Western Empire, Rome was not what it had once been – the emperors had moved their courts to the more secure Ravenna in the wake of the two pillages and the Hun incursions.

The Vandals were allowed to enter the city after promising the Pope to spare its citizens, but they carried off many of the unfortunate Romans, some of whom were sold into slavery[3] in their captors' North African realm. The widow of the emperors Valentinian III and Petronius Maximus, Licinia, was herself taken to Carthage, where her daughter was married to Genseric's son.

Rome not only lost a portion of its population during the Vandal rampage – a fairly large amount of its treasures was plundered by the barbarians. This loot was later recovered by the Byzantines.[4] At the time, however, its loss was a major blow to the Western Empire.

Ricimer and other generals dominate[edit]

After Rome's weaknesses were exposed by the Vandals' invasion, the barbarian tribes of Gaul, once a secure province loyal to the Empire, began to rebel against their former overlords.[5] The Ravenna-based emperors now began to lose the respect of many of their subjects, and powerful generals, often of barbarian origin themselves, were forced to defend them. Among the more successful of these commanders, the most senior of whom were called magistri militum, were Avitus, who would eventually be crowned emperor, and Ricimer (who was part-Suevi and half-Visigoth). Ricimer grew so powerful that he was able to choose and depose weak emperors almost at will.[6]

In 475, the Western emperor, Julius Nepos (nephew of the Eastern empress), was overthrown by his magister militum, the aristocratic Flavius Orestes, who had once been a trusted official of Attila, the Hun ruler.[7] Rather than take the throne himself, Orestes had his young son, Romulus Augustulus, crowned emperor.

Odoacer's coup and accession[edit]

The Western (blue) and Eastern (red) Roman Empires by 476

Death of Orestes and overthrow of his son[edit]

Orestes, who ruled in his son's name, found an enemy in the persons of his non-Roman mercenary-soldiers. When, led by an auxiliary general called Odoacer, they demanded estates and were refused,[8] they swept into Italy. Informing his soldiers that, if they followed and obeyed him, they would, in the words of Gibbon, "extort the justice that had been denied to their dutiful petitions," the Germanic, Arian Odoacer confirmed his leadership of the revolt. Barbarian soldiers in Italian cities and garrisons "flocked" to the audacious general's standard, and Orestes fled to fortified Pavia.

Odoacer laid siege to Pavia, which fell in due course. The bishop of that city, Epiphanius, managed to ransom many of the captives taken during this invasion,[9] but was unable to save Orestes, who was executed.

Orestes's brother was killed near Ravenna by Odoacer's forces, who entered the imperial capital soon afterward. The young monarch Romulus Augustulus was, on September 4, compelled to abdicate before the Senate. That body requested that the Eastern Roman Emperor, Zeno, reunite his realm with the West, with Odoacer as his governor. The auxiliary commander, now master of Ravenna, encouraged the senators in this effort.[10][11] The emperor was somewhat hesitant to give Odoacer what would be relative autonomy, citing the fact that his wife's nephew Julius Nepos, still alive and recognized as caesar in Dalmatia, should be restored to the throne. Zeno, however, did not want to use force to support his relation, so, while still urging Odoacer to recognize Nepos's claim, granted the general the rank of Patrician[12] and accepted the general's gift of the Western imperial standards.

The hapless ex-emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was still present in Ravenna, and Odoacer rid himself of the boy by exiling him. The fate of this final Western Roman emperor is somewhat uncertain, but it is believed that he retired to the Lucullan Villa in Campania[13] and died before 488, when the body of the saint Severinus was brought there. In 480, the second of Odoacer's Roman rivals, Nepos, was assassinated by "retainers."[14] Until Nepos's murder, even the confirmation of Odoacer's patrician rank and authority had been undermined by the presence of Zeno's nephew.[15]

The Kingdom of Italy is established and overrun[edit]

Odoacer now proclaimed himself king of Italy, and formed alliances with other barbarians, a prime example being the Visigoths. He proved himself to be a capable ruler, and, although Italy was beset by disasters such as plagues and famines during the turbulent end of the 5th century, historians such as Edward Gibbon have attested to Odocaer's "prudence and humanity."[16]

Despite possessing these qualities, Odoacer was unable to defeat the Ostrogoths and their monarch, Theodoric the Great, who invaded the Kingdom of Italy and overcame the forces that defended it. After four years of fighting, Odoacer, with some pressure from his citizens and his soldiers, decided in 493 that it would be useless to continue fighting and surrendered. The conqueror of the Western Roman Empire was himself conquered, and, unlike Romulus Augustulus, he was not spared. While enjoying a banquet, he was murdered by an Ostrogoth, who may have been Theodoric himself.[17]

Temporary reestablishment of Roman control over Italy[edit]

When the Ostrogothic queen Amalasuntha, a Byzantine ally, was executed by her chosen successor Theodahad in 535, the Eastern Emperor, Justinian, did not hesitate to declare war. Under the command of the general Belisarius, an army landed in Sicily and subdued that island before invading Italy proper.[18] When he did invade the peninsula, he took the city of Naples, then attacked and captured Rome. For nearly twenty years,[19] the Ostrogoths and Romans fought for control of the peninsula. The suspicions of the Eastern empress, Theodora, often led her husband Justinian to withhold reinforcements from Belisarius, who was recalled several times. Some historians[20] have concluded that the war's successful conclusion was the victory of Belisarius, but the honor of defeating the Ostrogoths went to Narses, who was trusted far more by his superiors in Constantinople. Eventually, after the Roman reconquest, various barbarian tribes, including the Lombards, invaded and settled in Italy.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Robinson, Cyril E. A History of Rome from 753 B.C. to A.D. 410. Methuen, 1963.
  2. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003.
  3. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, Pg 623. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  4. ^ Brownworth, Lars. Lost to the West. 2010, Crown Publishing Group.
  5. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, Pg 624. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  6. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  7. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, Pg 636. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  8. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  9. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, Pg 638. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  10. ^ Hill, David Jayne. A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe, Vol. 1, Pg. 32. Longmans, Green, and Co, 1905.
  11. ^ Bryce, Viscount James. The Holy Roman empire, Pg 27.
  12. ^ Bury, J.B. History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I, Vol. 1, Pg. 407. Dover Publications, 1958.
  13. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, Pg 640. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  14. ^ Bury, J.B. History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I, Vol. 1, Pg. 410. Dover Publications, 1958
  15. ^ Bury, J.B. History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I, Vol. 1, Pg. 410. Dover Publications, 1958
  16. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 3, Pg 641. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  17. ^ Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 4, Pg 692. Ed. Hans-Friedrich Mueller. Modern Library, 2003
  18. ^ Young, George Frederick. East and West Through Fifteen Centuries, Vol. 2, Pg. 220. Longmans, Green and Co, 1916
  19. ^ Young, George Frederick. East and West Through Fifteen Centuries, Vol. 2, Pg. 220. Longmans, Green and Co, 1916
  20. ^ Brownworth, Lars. Lost to the West. 2010.