Flavius Orestes

Flavius Orestes

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Orestes was a Roman general and politician of Germanic ancestry, who was briefly in control of the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 in 475–6.

Early life


Born an aristocrat
Aristocracy (class)
The aristocracy are people considered to be in the highest social class in a society which has or once had a political system of Aristocracy. Aristocrats possess hereditary titles granted by a monarch, which once granted them feudal or legal privileges, or deriving, as in Ancient Greece and India,...

 of Pannonia Savia
Pannonia Savia
The Pannonia Savia, also known as Savia and Pannonia Ripariensis, was an ancient Roman province. It was formed in the year 296, during the reign of emperor Diocletian. The capital of the province was Siscia . Pannonia Savia included parts of present-day Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia and...

, Orestes was probably at least partly of Germanic descent. He was son of Tatulus, a pagan, and son-in-law to Romulus who served as comes
Comes
Comes , plural comites , is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus, especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum. The word comes derives from com- "with" +...

in the Western Roman Empire. After Pannonia was ceded to Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun
Attila , more frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. During his reign he was one of the most feared...

, Orestes joined Attila's court, reaching high position as a secretary (notarius) in 449 and 452. In 449 Orestes was sent by Attila twice to Constantinople as envoy to Emperor Valentinian III
Valentinian III
-Family:Valentinian was born in the western capital of Ravenna, the only son of Galla Placidia and Flavius Constantius. The former was the younger half-sister of the western emperor Honorius, and the latter was at the time Patrician and the power behind the throne....

.

In 475, Orestes was appointed magister militum
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

and patricius by Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos
Julius Nepos
Julius Nepos was Western Roman Emperor de facto from 474 to 475 and de jure until 480. Some historians consider him to be the last Western Roman Emperor, while others consider the western line to have ended with Romulus Augustulus in 476...

. This proved to be a mistake on the part of Nepos. By August 28, 475, Orestes, at the head of the foederati
Foederati
Foederatus is a Latin term whose definition and usage drifted in the time between the early Roman Republic and the end of the Western Roman Empire...

, managed to take control of the government in Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

, which had acted as the capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402. Julius Nepos fled without a fight to Dalmatia
Dalmatia (Roman province)
Dalmatia was an ancient Roman province. Its name is probably derived from the name of an Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae which lived in the area of the eastern Adriatic coast in Classical antiquity....

, where he would continue to reign until his assassination in 480. With the emperor far away, Orestes elevated his son Romulus to the rank of Augustus, so that the last Western Roman emperor is known as Romulus Augustulus meaning "little Augustus" as the emperor was only a 12 year old boy.

Short reign


The new administration was not recognized by the rival Eastern Roman Emperors Zeno
Zeno (emperor)
Zeno , originally named Tarasis, was Byzantine Emperor from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491. Domestic revolts and religious dissension plagued his reign, which nevertheless succeeded to some extent in foreign issues...

 and Basiliscus
Basiliscus
Basiliscus was Eastern Roman Emperor from 475 to 476. A member of the House of Leo, he came to power when Emperor Zeno had been forced out of Constantinople by a revolt....

, who still considered Julius Nepos to be their legitimate partner in the administration of the Empire. But as they were engaged in a civil war
Civil war
A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly-united nation state....

 with each other, neither emperor was about to oppose Orestes in battle.

Orestes was free to issue new solidi
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

 in the mints
Mint (coin)
A mint is an industrial facility which manufactures coins for currency.The history of mints correlates closely with the history of coins. One difference is that the history of the mint is usually closely tied to the political situation of an era...

 of Arles
Arles
Arles is a city and commune in the south of France, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, of which it is a subprefecture, in the former province of Provence....

, Milan
Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

, Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

 and Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, enabling him to pay the barbarian
Barbarian
Barbarian and savage are terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage...

 mercenaries
Mercenary
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

 who constituted most of the contemporary Roman Army
Roman army
The Roman army is the generic term for the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the kingdom of Rome , the Roman Republic , the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire...

.

However Orestes denied the demands of Heruli
Heruli
The Heruli were an East Germanic tribe who are famous for their naval exploits. Migrating from Northern Europe to the Black Sea in the third century They were part of the...

, Scirian and Torcilingi mercenaries to be granted Italian lands in which to settle. The dissatisfied mercenaries revolted under the Germanic chieftain Odoacer
Odoacer
Flavius Odoacer , also known as Flavius Odovacer, was the first King of Italy. His reign is commonly seen as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire. Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of Julius Nepos and, after Nepos' death in 480, of the...

, whom they declared to be their king on August 23, 476. Odoacer led them against their former employer. Orestes was captured near Piacenza
Piacenza
Piacenza is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Piacenza...

 on August 28 and was swiftly executed. Within weeks, Ravenna was captured and Romulus Augustus was deposed, the event that has been traditionally considered the fall of the Western Roman Empire
Decline of the Roman Empire
The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the gradual societal collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Many theories of causality prevail, but most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with foreign invasions and usurpers from within the...

.

In popular culture

  • Orestes was played by Andrew Pleavin
    Andrew Pleavin
    Andrew Pleavin is an English actor known for his appearances in the TV film Attila, Unstoppable, Batman Begins, Attack of the Gryphon, Return to House on Haunted Hill and his roles in the British police dramas Messiah III: the Promise and the Bill...

     in the 2001 miniseries Attila
    Attila (TV Miniseries)
    Attila was an American TV miniseries set during the waning days of the Western Roman Empire, in particular during the invasions of the Huns in Europe.-Synopsis:...

    , which depicts his time in service of the Hunnic king.

  • The character of Orestes was played by Iain Glen
    Iain Glen
    Iain Glen is a Scottish film and stage actor.Iain Glen was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and trained at RADA where he won the Bancroft Gold Medal. He was married to Susannah Harker from 1993 to 2004; they have one son, Finlay...

     in the 2007 historical-fiction film The Last Legion
    The Last Legion
    The Last Legion is a 2007 film directed by Doug Lefler. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and others, it is based on a 2003 Italian novel of the same name written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi...

    , which shows the character during his period of rule in Rome, although the film deviates significantly from the historical record of these events.

External links