Odoacer

Odoacer

Overview
Flavius Odoacer also known as Flavius Odovacer, was the first King of Italy
King of Italy
King of Italy is a title adopted by many rulers of the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire...

. His reign is commonly seen as marking the end 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....

. Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of 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...

 and, after Nepos' death in 480, of the Emperor in Constantinople. Odoacer is referred to as a king (Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 rex) in many documents and he himself used it at least once and on another occasion it was used by the consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

 Basilius
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius was a Roman official under Odoacer's rule.- Biography :He was the son of Caecina Decius Basilius and the brother of Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius and of Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius, all of them Consuls...

.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Odoacer'
Start a new discussion about 'Odoacer'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Flavius Odoacer also known as Flavius Odovacer, was the first King of Italy
King of Italy
King of Italy is a title adopted by many rulers of the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire...

. His reign is commonly seen as marking the end 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....

. Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of 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...

 and, after Nepos' death in 480, of the Emperor in Constantinople. Odoacer is referred to as a king (Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 rex) in many documents and he himself used it at least once and on another occasion it was used by the consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

 Basilius
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius was a Roman official under Odoacer's rule.- Biography :He was the son of Caecina Decius Basilius and the brother of Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius and of Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius, all of them Consuls...

. Odoacer introduced few important changes into the administrative system of Italy. He had the support of the Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 at 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...

 and was able to distribute land to his followers without much opposition. Unrest among his warriors led to violence in 477–478, but no such disturbances occurred during the later period of his reign. Although Odoacer was an Arian Christian
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

, he rarely intervened in the affairs of the Roman Catholic church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

.

Probably of Scirian descent, Odoacer was a military leader in Italy who led the revolt of Herulians
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...

, Rugians
Rugians
"Rugi" redirects here. For the Romanian villages by this name, see Păltiniş, Caraş-Severin and Turcineşti.The Rugii, also Rugians, Rygir, Ulmerugi, or Holmrygir were an East Germanic tribe migrated from southwest Norway to Pomerania around 100 AD, and from there to the Danube River valley...

, and Scirians that deposed the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus on 4 September AD 476. In 480 Odoacer invaded Dalmatia
Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

 (in present Croatia) and within two years conquered the region. When Illus
Illus
Illus was a Byzantine general, who played an important role in the reigns of the Byzantine Emperors Zeno and Basiliscus.Illus supported the revolt of Basiliscus against Zeno, then switched sides, supporting the return of Zeno...

, master of soldiers of the Eastern Empire, asked for Odoacer’s help in 484 in his struggle to depose Zeno, Odoacer invaded Zeno’s westernmost provinces. The emperor responded by inciting the Rugi of present Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 to attack Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. During the winter of 487–488 Odoacer crossed the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 and defeated the Rugi in their own territory. In 488, the Ostrogothic king Theodoric
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

, who was appointed king of Italy by Zeno in order to prevent the Ostrogoths from raiding in the Eastern Empire. Theodoric invaded Italy in 489 and by August 490 had captured almost the entire peninsula, forcing Odoacer to take refuge 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...

. The city surrendered on March 5, 493; Theodoric invited Odoacer to a banquet and there killed him.

Odoacer is the earliest ruler of Italy for whom an autograph of any of his legal acts has survived to the current day. The larger portion of a record of Odoacer granting properties in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 and the island of Melita
Melita
Melita may refer to:Places* Malta, a European country in the Mediterranean sea * Melita, California, former town* Melita, Manitoba, Canada* Mljet, People...

 on the Adriatic coast to Pierius, and issued in 488, was written in his reign.

Ethnic affiliation


Except for the fact that he was not considered "Roman", Odoacer's ethnic origins are unknown. Both the Anonymus Valesianus
Anonymus Valesianus
Anonym[o]us Valesianus is the conventional title of a compilation of two fragmentary vulgar Latin chronicles, named for its 17th-century editor, Henri Valois, or Henricus Valesius , who published the text for the first time in 1636, together with his first printed edition of the Res Gestae of...

and John of Antioch
John of Antioch
John of Antioch was Patriarch of Antioch and led a group of moderate Eastern bishops during the Nestorian controversy. He is sometimes confused with John Chrysostom, who is occasionally also referred to as John of Antioch. John gave active support to his friend Nestorius in the latter's dispute...

 state his father's name was Edeko
Edeko
Edeko was for some time the chief of the Skirs. He was the father of Odoacer, who became magister militum in the Roman Army and king of Italy....

; however, it is unclear whether this Edeko is identical to one—or both—men of the same name who lived at this time: one was an ambassador of Attila to the court in Constantinople, and escorted Priscus
Priscus
Priscus of Panium was a late Roman diplomat, sophist and historian from Rumelifeneri living in the Roman Empire during the 5th century. He accompanied Maximinus, the ambassador of Theodosius II, to the court of Attila in 448...

 and other Imperial dignitaries back to Attila's camp; the other, according to Jordanes
Jordanes
Jordanes, also written Jordanis or Jornandes, was a 6th century Roman bureaucrat, who turned his hand to history later in life....

, is mentioned with Hunulfus as chieftains of the Scirii
Scirii
The Scirii were an East Germanic tribe of Eastern Europe, attested in historical works between the 2nd century BC and 5th century AD.The etymology of their name is unclear...

, who were soundly defeated by the Ostrogoths at the river Bolia in Pannonia sometime in the late 460s. Since Sebastian Tillemont in the 17th century, all three have been considered to be the same person, while ignoring the corollary that Odoacer was a Hun and assuming he was a member of one of the subject Germanic tribes of Attila's empire. Jordanes describes Odoacer as king of the Turcilingi
Turcilingi
The Turcilingi, Torcilingi, or Thorcilingi were an obscure barbarian people who first appeared on the historical scene in Gaul in the mid-fifth century and last appeared in Italy during the reign of Romulus Augustulus...

 (Turc-ilingi or Torcilingorum rex). However, Jordanes in his Romana
Romana (Jordanes)
The Romana is a Latin book written by Jordanes in the 6th century, being a short compendium of the most remarkable events from the creation down to the victory obtained by Narses, in AD 552, over king Teia...

 also describes him as a member of the Rugii (Odoacer genere Rogus). The Consularia Italica
Consularia Italica
The Consularia Italica are a collection of consular fasti published in 1892 by Theodore Mommsen. They are composed of:# Anonymi valesiani pars posterior# Fasti vindobonenses priores# Fasti vindobonenses posteriores...

calls him king of the 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...

, while Theophanes
Theophanes
-Saints:*Theodorus and Theophanes , called the Grapti, proponents of the veneration of images during the second Iconoclastic controversy*Theophanes the Confessor Byzantine 8th-9th century historian*Theophan the Recluse Russian saint...

 appears to be guessing when he calls him a Goth.
Marcellinus Comes
Marcellinus Comes
Marcellinus Comes was a Latin chronicler of the Eastern Roman Empire. An Illyrian by birth, he spent most of his life at the court of Constantinople, which is the focus of his surviving work.-Works:...

 calls him "the king of the Goths" (Odoacer rex Gothorum).

However, Reynolds and Lopez explored the possibility that Odoacer was not Germanic in their 1946 paper published by the American Historical Review, making several convincing arguments that his ethnic background might lie elsewhere. One of these is that his name, "Odoacer", for which an etymology in Germanic languages had not been convincingly found, could be a form of the Turkish "Ot-toghar" ("grass-born" or "fire-born"), or the shorter form "Ot-ghar" ("herder"). "If Ratchis could become Radagaisus, why could Ot-toghar or Ot-ghar not have become Odoacer or Odovacer?" they ask.

Odoacer's identity as a Hun was then accepted by a number of authorities, such as E.A Thompson and J.M. Wallace-Hadrill—despite J. O. Maenchen-Helfen's reasonable objection that personal names were not an infallible guide to ethnicity. Then in reviewing the primary sources in 1983, Bruce Macbain pointed out several uncomfortable silences in the primary sources, and proposed that while his mother might have been Scirian and his father Thuringian, in any case he was not a Hun.

Before Italy


Possibly the earliest recorded incident involving Odoacer is from a fragment of a chronicle preserved in the Decem Libri Historiarum of Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours
Saint Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul. He was born Georgius Florentius, later adding the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather...

. Two chapters of his work recount, in a confused or confusing manner, a number of battles fought by King Childeric I
Childeric I
Childeric I was a Merovingian king of the Salian Franks and the father of Clovis.He succeeded his father Merovech as king, traditionally in 457 or 458...

 of the Franks, Aegidius
Aegidius
Aegidius was a Gallo-Roman warlord of northern Gaul. He had been promoted as magister militum in Gaul under Aëtius around 450. An ardent supporter of Majorian, Aegidius rebelled when Ricimer deposed Majorian, engaging in several campaigns against the Visigoths and creating a Roman rump state that...

, Count Paul, and one "Adovacrius" or "Odovacrius". If this is an account of Aegidius' victory over the Visigoths, otherwise known from the Chronicle of Hydatius
Hydatius
Hydatius or Idacius , bishop of Aquae Flaviae in the Roman province of Gallaecia was the author of a chronicle of his own times that provides us with our best evidence for the history of the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century.-Life:Hydatius was born around the year 400 in the...

, then this occurred in 463. Reynolds and Lopez in their article mentioned above, suggested that this "Adovacrius" or "Odovacrius" may be the same person as the future king of Italy. This suggestion has been accepted by some scholars; it appears to explain why Lewis Thorpe named this person "Odoacer" in his translation of Gregory's work.

The first certain act recorded for Odoacer was shortly before he arrived in Italy. Eugippius
Eugippius
Eugippius was a disciple and the biographer of Saint Severinus of Noricum. After the latter's death in 492, he took the remains to Naples and founded a monastery on the site of a 1st century Roman villa, the Castellum Lucullanum .While at Naples, Eugippius compiled a 1000-page anthology of the...

, in his Life of Saint Severinus, records how a group of barbarians on their way to Italy, had stopped to pay their respect to the holy man. Odoacer, at the time "a young man, of tall figure, clad in poor clothes", learned from Severinus that he would one day become famous. When Odoacer took his leave, Severinus made one final comment which proved prophetic: "Go to Italy, go, now covered with mean hides; soon you will make rich gifts to many."

Leader of the foederati



By 470, Odoacer had become an officer in what remained of the Roman Army. Although Jordanes writes of Odoacer as invading Italy "as leader of the Sciri, the 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...

 and allies of various races", modern writers describe him as being part of the Roman military establishment, based on John of Antioch's statement that Odoacer was on the side of Ricimer
Ricimer
Flavius Ricimer was a Germanic general who achieved effective control of the remaining parts of the Western Roman Empire, during the middle of the 5th century...

 at the beginning of his battle with the emperor Anthemius
Anthemius
Procopius Anthemius was Western Roman Emperor from 467 to 472. Perhaps the last capable Western Roman Emperor, Anthemius attempted to solve the two primary military challenges facing the remains of the Western Roman Empire: the resurgent Visigoths, under Euric, whose domain straddled the Pyrenees;...

 in 472. Procopius
Procopius
Procopius of Caesarea was a prominent Byzantine scholar from Palestine. Accompanying the general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian I, he became the principal historian of the 6th century, writing the Wars of Justinian, the Buildings of Justinian and the celebrated Secret History...

 goes as far as describing him as one of the Emperor's bodyguards.

When Orestes
Flavius Orestes
Orestes was a Roman general and politician of Germanic ancestry, who was briefly in control of the Western Roman Empire in 475–6.-Early life:...

 was in 475 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 patrician by the 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...

, he became head of the Germanic 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...

of Italy (the Scirian – Herulic foederati). However, Orestes proved to be ambitious, and before the end of that year Orestes had driven Nepos from Italy to exile at Salona
Salona
Salona was an ancient Illyrian Delmati city in the first millennium BC. The Greeks had set up an emporion there. After the conquest by the Romans, Salona became the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia...

 in Dalmatia
Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

 (28 July). Orestes then elevated his young son Romulus to the rank of Augustus, to become emperor as Romulus Augustus
Romulus Augustus
Romulus Augustus , was the last Western Roman Emperor, reigning from 31 October 475 until 4 September 476...

 (31 October).

About this time the foederati, who had been quartered on the Italians all of these years, had grown weary of this arrangement. In the words of J. B. Bury
J. B. Bury
John Bagnell Bury , known as J. B. Bury, was an Irish historian, classical scholar, Byzantinist and philologist.-Biography:...

, "They desired to have roof-trees and lands of their own, and they petitioned Orestes to reward them for their services, by granting them lands and settling them permanently in Italy". Orestes refused their petition, and they turned to Odoacer to lead their revolt against Orestes. Orestes was killed at Placentia
Placentia
Placentia may refer to:* Palace of Placentia, an English Royal Palace* Placentia, California, United States* Placentia, Italy* Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada* Battle of Placentia* Placentia Bay, the name of two ships of the Royal Navy...

 and his brother Paulus outside 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...

. The Germanic foederati, the Scirians and the Heruli, as well as a large segment of the Italic Roman army, then proclaimed Odoacer rex Italiae ("king of Italy"). In 476 Odoacer advanced to Ravenna and captured the city, compelling the young emperor Romulus to abdicate on 4 September. According to the Anonymus Valesianus, Odoacer was moved by Romulus' youth and his beauty to not only spare his life but give him a pension of 6,000 solidii
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:...

and sent him to Campania
Campania
Campania is a region in southern Italy. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km² makes it the most densely populated region in the country...

 to live with his relatives.

Soon after Romulus Augustus' deposition, upon hearing of the ascension of 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...

 to throne, according to the historian Malchus (historian)
Malchus (historian)
Malchus was a Byzantine historian. According to Suda Malchus was a Byzantine; but Photius states that he was a native of Philadelphia; and his Syriac name makes it probable that Philadelphia was the ancient Rabbah in the country of Ammonitis, east of the River Jordan.Malchus probably followed his...

 the Senate in Rome sent an embassy to bring him the message that they had no need of a separate empire, "but that a single common emperor would be sufficient for both territories." They also brought the imperial decorations and insignia as proof of their sincerity of their intentions. In response, Zeno accepted their gifts observing "the Western Romans had received two men from the Eastern Empire and had driven out one and killed the other, Anthemius." He offered to make Odoacer a Patrician, and suggested that Odoacer should receive Nepos back as Emperor "if he truly wished to act with justice." Although he accepted the title of Patrician, Odoacer did not invite Julius Nepos to return to Rome, and the latter remained in exile until his death.

Although Bury disagrees that Odoacer's assumption of power marked the fall of the Roman Empire, "It stands out prominently as an important stage in the process of the dismemberment of the Empire. It belongs to the same catalogue of chronological dates which includes A.D. 418
418
Year 418 was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Honorius and Theodosius...

, when Honorius settled the Goths in Aquitaine, and A.D. 435
435
Year 435 was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Theodosius and Valentinianus...

, when Valentinian ceded African lands to the Vandals. In A.D. 476 the same principle of disintegration was first applied to Italy. The settlement of Odovacar's East Germans, with Zeno's acquiescence, began the process by which Italian soil was to pass into the hands of Ostrogoths and Lombards, Franks and Normans. And Odovacar's title of king emphasised the significance of the change."

King of Italy




In 476, Odoacer became the first Germanic King of Italy
King of Italy
King of Italy is a title adopted by many rulers of the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire...

, initiating a new era. Unlike most of the last emperors, he acted decisively. According to Jordanes, at the beginning of his reign he "slew Count Bracila at Ravenna that he might inspire a fear of himself among the Romans." He took many military actions to strengthen his control over Italy and its neighboring areas. He achieved a solid diplomatic coup by inducing the Vandal king Gaiseric to cede to him Sicily. Noting that "Odovacar seized power in August of 476, Geiseric died in January of 477, and the sea usually became closed to navigation around the beginning of November", F.M. Clover dates this cession to September or October 476. When Julius Nepos was murdered by two of his retainers in his country house near Salona (May, 480), Odovacar assumed the duty of pursuing and executing the assassins, and at the same time established his own rule in Dalmatia.

As Bury points out, "It is highly important to observe that Odovacar established his political power with the co-operation of the Roman Senate, and this body seems to have given him their loyal support throughout his reign, so far as our meagre sources permit us to draw inferences." He regularly nominated members of the Senate to the Consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

ate and other prestigious offices: "Basilius
Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius
Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius , was a Roman politician. He was the first consul appointed under Odoacer's rule , and afterwards was Praetorian prefect of Italy. He is best known for presiding over the papal election of Pope Felix III....

, Decius
Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius
Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius was a Roman politician under Odoacer's rule. He was consul and Praefectus urbi of Rome in 486 and Praetorian prefect of Italy from 486 to 493.- Life :...

, Venantius
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius
Decius Marius Venantius Basilius was a Roman official under Odoacer's rule.- Biography :He was the son of Caecina Decius Basilius and the brother of Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius and of Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius, all of them Consuls...

, and Manlius Boethius
Manlius Boethius
Nar. Manlius Boethius was a Roman aristocrat, who was appointed consul for 487.- Life :He was probably the son of the Boethius who was the Praetorian prefect of Italy put to death by emperor Valentinian III in 454, and probably the father of the famous philosopher Boethius; if this identification...

 held the consulship and were either Prefects of Rome or Praetorian Prefects; Symmachus
Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus
Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus was a Roman aristocrat and a historian of the 6th century. Prominent during his lifetime for as a patron of secular learning, consul for the year 485, and for his support of Pope Symmachus in the schism over his election, Memmius Symmachus was executed with his...

 and Sividius
Rufius Achilius Sividius
Rufius Achilius Sividius was a Roman politician.- Biography :He is defined as "quaestor" in the inscription on his seat at the Colosseum. Later he was appointed praefectus urbi of Rome and then patricius...

 were consuls and Prefects of Rome; another senator of old family, Cassiodorus, was appointed a minister of finance." A.H.M. Jones also notes that under Odoacer the Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 acquired "enhanced prestige and influence", in order to counter any desires for restoration of Imperial rule. The most tangible example of this renewed prestige was that, for the first time since the mid-third century copper coins were issues with the legend S(enatus) C(onsulto). Jones describes these pieces as "fine big copper pieces", which were "a great improvement on the miserable little nummi
Nummus
Nummus , plural nummi is a Latin term meaning "coin", but used technically for a range of low-value copper coins issued by the Roman and Byzantine empires during late Antiquity....

hitherto current", and not only were copied by the Vandals in Africa, but formed the basis of Anastasius
Anastasius
Anastasius is derived from the Greek ἀνάστασις meaning "resurrection". Its female form is Anastasia.-Byzantine emperors:*Anastasius I – Byzantine emperor 491–518*Anastasios II – Byzantine emperor 713–715...

' currency reform in the Eastern Empire.

Although Odoacer was an Arian Christian
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

, his relations with the Roman Catholic church hierarchy were remarkably good. As G.M. Cook notes in her introduction to Magnus Felix Ennodius
Magnus Felix Ennodius
Magnus Felix Ennodius was Bishop of Pavia in 514, and a Latin rhetorician and poet.He was one of four fifth to sixth-century Gallo-Roman aristocrats whose letters survive in quantity: the others are Sidonius Apollinaris, prefect of Rome in 468 and bishop of Clermont , Ruricius bishop of Limoges ...

' Life of Saint Epiphanius, he showed great esteem for Bishop Epiphanius
Epiphanius
Epiphanius was the name of several early Christian scholars and ecclesiastics:*Epiphanius of Pavia *Epiphanius of Salamis , bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, author of the Panarion, or Medicine Chest against Heresies*Epiphanius of Constantinople, , Patriarch of Constantinople*Epiphanius Scholasticus ,...

: in response to the bishop's petition, Odoacer granted the inhabitants of Liguria
Liguria
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy, the third smallest of the Italian regions. Its capital is Genoa. It is a popular region with tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque little towns, and good food.-Geography:...

 a five-year immunity from taxes, and again granted his requests for relief from abuses by the praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...

. "One wonders at his [Ennodius'] brevity," observes Cook. "To the thirteen years of Odovacar's mastery of Italy... a period which embraced nearly half the episcopate of Epiphanius -- Ennodius devotes but eight sections of the vita (101-107), five of which are taken up with the restoration of the churches." Cook uses Ennodius' brevity as an argumentum ex silentio to prove Odoacer was very supportive of the Catholic Church. "Ennodius was a loyal supporter of Theodoric. Any oppression, therefore, on the part of Odovacar would not be passed over in silence." She concludes that Ennodius' silence "may be construed as an unintentional tribute to the moderation and tolerance of the barbarian king." The biography of Pope Felix III in the Liber Pontificalis
Liber Pontificalis
The Liber Pontificalis is a book of biographies of popes from Saint Peter until the 15th century. The original publication of the Liber Pontificalis stopped with Pope Adrian II or Pope Stephen V , but it was later supplemented in a different style until Pope Eugene IV and then Pope Pius II...

openly states that the pontiff's tenure fell during Odoacer's reign without any complaints about the king.

In 487 Odoacer led his army to victory against the Rugians
Rugians
"Rugi" redirects here. For the Romanian villages by this name, see Păltiniş, Caraş-Severin and Turcineşti.The Rugii, also Rugians, Rygir, Ulmerugi, or Holmrygir were an East Germanic tribe migrated from southwest Norway to Pomerania around 100 AD, and from there to the Danube River valley...

 in Noricum
Noricum
Noricum, in ancient geography, was a Celtic kingdom stretching over the area of today's Austria and a part of Slovenia. It became a province of the Roman Empire...

, taking their king Feletheus into captivity; when word that Feletheus' son, Fredericus, had returned to his people, Odoacer sent his brother Onoulphus
Onoulphus
Onoulphus, also Onoulf, Unulf and Hunulf was a Roman general of Scirian origin, magister militum per Illyricum from 477 to 479.- Biography :...

 with an army back to Noricum against him. Onoulphus found it necessary to evacuate the remaining Romans and resettled them in Italy. The remaining Rugians fled and took refuge with the Ostrogoths; the abandoned province was settled by the Lombards
Lombards
The Lombards , also referred to as Longobards, were a Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin, who from 568 to 774 ruled a Kingdom in Italy...

 by 493.

Fall and death


As Odoacer's position improved, 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...

, the Eastern Emperor, increasingly saw Odoacer as a rival. According to John of Antioch, Odoacer exchanged messages with Illus
Illus
Illus was a Byzantine general, who played an important role in the reigns of the Byzantine Emperors Zeno and Basiliscus.Illus supported the revolt of Basiliscus against Zeno, then switched sides, supporting the return of Zeno...

, who had been in revolt against Zeno since 484. Thus Zeno sought to destroy Odoacer, and promised Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great
Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 and his Ostrogoths the Italian peninsula if they were to defeat and remove Odoacer. As both Herwig Wolfram
Herwig Wolfram
Herwig Wolfram is an Austrian historian. Professor emeritus at the University of Vienna, from 1983 until 2002 he was Director of the Austrian Institute for Historical Research ....

 and Peter Heather point out, Theodoric had his own reasons to agree to this offer: "Theodoric had enough experience to know (or at least suspect) that Zeno would not, in the long term, tolerate his independent power. When Theodoric rebelled in 485, we are told, he had in mind Zeno's treatment of Armatus
Armatus
Flavius Armatus was a Byzantine military commander, magister militum under Emperors Leo I, Basiliscus and Zeno, and consul. He was instrumental in the rebellion of Basiliscus against Zeno, and in his subsequent fall.- Origin and early career :...

. Armatus defected from Basilicus to Zeno in 476, and was made senior imperial general for life. Within a year, Zeno had had him assassinated."

In 489, Theodoric led the Ostrogoths across the Julian Alps
Julian Alps
The Julian Alps are a mountain range of the Southern Limestone Alps that stretches from northeastern Italy to Slovenia, where they rise to 2,864 m at Mount Triglav. They are named after Julius Caesar, who founded the municipium of Cividale del Friuli at the foot of the mountains...

 and into Italy from the west. On 28 August, Odoacer met him
Battle of Isonzo (489)
The Battle of Isonzo is the name given to the battle fought on August 28, 489 on the banks of the Isontius River, not far away from Aquileia. This river is now known as the Isonzo in Italian, and Soča in Slovene...

 at the Isonzo, only to be defeated. He withdrew to Verona
Verona
Verona ; German Bern, Dietrichsbern or Welschbern) is a city in the Veneto, northern Italy, with approx. 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven chef-lieus of the region. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of North-Eastern Italy. The metropolitan area of Verona...

, reaching its outskirts 27 September where he immediately set his men to throwing up a fortified camp. Theodoric followed him and three days later defeated him once again. While Odoacer took refuge 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...

, Theodoric continued across Italy to Mediolanum
Mediolanum
Mediolanum, the ancient Milan, was an important Celtic and then Roman centre of northern Italy. This article charts the history of the city from its settlement by the Insubres around 600 BC, through its conquest by the Romans and its development into a key centre of Western Christianity and capital...

, where the majority of Odoacer's army, including his chief general Tufa, surrendered to the Visigothic king. Theodoric had no reason to doubt Tufa's loyalty and dispatched his new general to Ravenna with a band of elite soldiers, Herwig Wolfram observes. "But Tufa changed sides, the Gothic elite force entrusted to his command was destroyed, and Theodoric suffered his first serious defeat on Italian soil." Theodoric recoiled by seeking safety in Ticinum
Ticinum
Ticinum was an ancient city of Gallia Transpadana, founded on the banks of the river of the same name a little way above its confluence with the Padus ....

. Odoacer emerged from Ravenna and started to besiege his rival. While both were fully engaged, the Burgundians
Burgundians
The Burgundians were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr , and from there to mainland Europe...

 seized the opportunity to plunder and devastated Liguria
Liguria
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy, the third smallest of the Italian regions. Its capital is Genoa. It is a popular region with tourists for its beautiful beaches, picturesque little towns, and good food.-Geography:...

. Many Romans were taken into captivity, and did not regain their freedom until Theodoric ransomed them three years later.

The following summer, the Visigothic king Alaric II
Alaric II
Alaric II, also known as Alarik, Alarich, and Alarico in Spanish and Portuguese or Alaricus in Latin succeeded his father Euric on December 28, 484, in Toulouse. He established his capital at Aire-sur-l'Adour in Aquitaine...

 demonstrated what Wolfram calls "one of the rare displays of Gothic solidarity" and sent military aid to help his kinsman, forcing Odoacer to raise his siege. Theodoric emerged from Ticinum, and on 11 August 490, the armies of the two kings clashed on the Adda River
Adda River
The Adda is a river in North Italy, a tributary of the Po. It rises in the Alps near the border with Switzerland and flows through Lake Como. The Adda joins the Po a few kilometres upstream of Cremona. It is 313 kilometres long...

. Odoacer again was defeated and forced back into Ravenna, where Theoderic besieged him. Ravenna proved to be invulnerable, surrounded by marshes and estuaries and easily supplied by small boats from its hinterlands, as Procopius later pointed out in his History. Further, Tufa remained at large in the strategic valley of the Adige
Adige
The Adige is a river with its source in the Alpine province of South Tyrol near the Italian border with Austria and Switzerland. At in length, it is the second longest river in Italy, after the River Po with ....

 near Trent
Trent
-Places:* Trento in northern Italy, site of the Council of Trent* Trent, Dorset, England, United Kingdom* Trent, Germany, a municipality on the island of Rügen* Trent, California, USA* Trent, Kentucky, USA* Trent, South Dakota, USA* Trent, Texas, USA...

, and received unexpected reinforcements when dissent amongst Theodoric's ranks led to sizable desertions. That same year, the Vandals
Vandals
The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the late Roman Empire during the 5th century. The Vandals under king Genseric entered Africa in 429 and by 439 established a kingdom which included the Roman Africa province, besides the islands of Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearics....

 took their turn to strike while both sides were fully engaged, and invaded Sicily. While Theodoric was engaged with them, his ally Fredericus, king of the Rugians, began to oppress the inhabitants of Pavia, whom the latter's forces had been garrisoned to protect. Once Theodoric intervened in person in late August, 491, his punitive acts drove Fredericus to desert with his followers to Tufa. Eventually the two quarreled and fought a battle which led to both being killed.

By this time, however, Odoacer had to have lost all hope of victory. A large-scale sortie out of Ravenna on the night of 9/10 July 491 ended in failure, with the death of his commander-in-chief Livilia along with the best of his Herulian soldiers. On 29 August 492, the Goths were about to assemble enough ships at Rimini to set up an effective blockade of Ravenna. Despite these decisive losses, the war dragged on until 25 February 493 when John, bishop of Ravenna, was able to negotiate a treaty between Theodoric and Odoacer to occupy Ravenna together and share joint rule. After a three-year siege, Theodoric entered the city 5 March; Odoacer was dead ten days later, slain by Theodoric while they shared a meal. Theodoric had plotted to have a group of his followers kill him while the two kings were feasting together in the palace called Ad Laurentum ("At the Laurel Grove"); when this plan went astray, Theodoric drew his sword and struck him on the collarbone. In response to Odoacer's dying question, "Where is God?" Theodoric cried, "This is what you did to my friends." Theodoric was said to have stood over the body of his dead rival and exclaimed, "There certainly wasn't a bone in this wretched fellow."

According to one account, "That same day, all of Odoacer's army who could be found anywhere were killed by order of Theodoric, as well as all of his family." Odoacer's wife Sunigilda was stoned to death, and brother Onoulphus was killed by archers seeking refuge in a church. Theodoric exiled Odoacer's son Thela to Gaul, but when he attempted to return to Italy Theodoric had him killed.

The events around the Battle of Ravenna were used in the Germanic heroic saga of Dietrich von Bern (Theodoric of Verona). The event in which Theodoric kills Odoacer with his own hands is mirrored in the saga in the episode in which Dietrich kills the Dwarf King Laurin.

Odoacer's donation to Pierius


Odoacer is the first ruler of Italy for whom the original text of any of his legal acts has survived. This is a grant by Odoacer to Pierius of properties in Sicily near Syracuse
Syracuse
Syracuse, as a place name, may refer to:In Italy:* Syracuse, Sicily* the Province of SyracuseIn the United States:* Syracuse, New York* Syracuse, Indiana* Syracuse, Kansas* Syracuse, Missouri* Syracuse, Nebraska* Syracuse, Ohio* Syracuse, Utah...

 and on the island of Melita in Dalmatia
Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

, worth in total 690 solidi. The grant itself was made 18 March 488, but this document, which is on papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

, was written shortly afterwards. The opening section is missing and the text is in two parts, one now in the Biblioteca Nazionale
Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
The Biblioteca nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III is a national library of Italy. It occupies the eastern wing of the 18th century Palazzo Reale in Naples, at 1 Piazza del Plebiscito, and has entrances from piazza Trieste e Trento...

 in Neapolis and the other in the Austrian National Library
Austrian National Library
The Austrian National Library , is the largest library in Austria, with 7.4 million items in its collections. It is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna; since 2005 some of the collections are located in the baroque Palais Mollard-Clary...

 in Vienna, but the bulk of the act itself and the subscriptions by witnesses and officials survive.

Pierius, comes domesticorum, was given these properties as a reward for his achievements in the war against Theodoric. None of the parties involved in this transaction—not Pierius, Odoacer, nor the witnesses—could foresee that the recipient would die the following year in the battle of the Adda River.

Pierius' grant is the lone surviving document which has survived from the civic scriptorium of Syracuse prior to the Byzantine reconquest. Scipione Maffei made the unconfirmed assertion that both pieces were owned by the poet Giovanni Gioviano Pontano; it had already lost the beginning by then. The second part is known to have been in the possession of Cardinal Pasquale de Aragon during the 1660s, but Tjäder notes the two parts were reunited at the library of the Monastery of San Paolo in Neapolis in 1702. In 1718, the second part was presented to Emperor Charles VI
Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles VI was the penultimate Habsburg sovereign of the Habsburg Empire. He succeeded his elder brother, Joseph I, as Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia , Hungary and Croatia , Archduke of Austria, etc., in 1711...

 in 1718, through whom that fragment found its way to Vienna.

See also


  • Germanic peoples
    Germanic peoples
    The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

  • Barbarian invasions

Further reading