Romulus Augustus

Romulus Augustus

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Romulus Augustus was the last Western Roman Emperor, reigning from 31 October 475 until 4 September 476. His deposition by 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...

 traditionally marks 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....

, the fall of ancient Rome
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...

, and the beginning of the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 in Western Europe.

He is also known by his nickname "Romulus Augustulus", though he ruled officially as Romulus Augustus. The 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...

 suffix -ulus is a diminutive
Diminutive
In language structure, a diminutive, or diminutive form , is a formation of a word used to convey a slight degree of the root meaning, smallness of the object or quality named, encapsulation, intimacy, or endearment...

; hence, Augustulus effectively means "Little Augustus". Some Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 writers even went so far as to corrupt his name sarcastically into "Momylos", or "little disgrace".

The historical record contains few details of Romulus' life. He was installed as emperor by his father Orestes, the 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...

 (master of soldiers) of the 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...

 after deposing the previous 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...

. Romulus, little more than a child, acted as a figurehead
Figurehead (metaphor)
In politics, a figurehead is a person who holds de jure an important title or office yet de facto executes little actual power, most commonly limited by convention rather than law. The metaphor derives from the carved figurehead at the prow of a sailing ship...

 for his father's rule. Reigning for only ten months, Romulus was then deposed by 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...

 and sent to live in the Castellum Lucullanum in 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...

; afterwards he disappears from the historical record.

Life


Romulus' father 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 a Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 citizen, originally from Pannonia
Pannonia
Pannonia was an ancient province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia....

, who had served as a secretary and diplomat for 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...

 and later rose through the ranks of the Roman army. The future emperor was named Romulus after his maternal grandfather, a nobleman from Poetovio 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...

. Many historians have noted the coincidence that the last western emperor bore the names of both Romulus
Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus are Rome's twin founders in its traditional foundation myth, although the former is sometimes said to be the sole founder...

, the legendary founder and first king of 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 Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

, its first emperor.

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...

 by 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...

 in 475. Shortly after his appointment, Orestes launched a rebellion and captured 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 capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402, on 28 August 475. Nepos fled 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 his uncle had ruled a semi-autonomous state in the 460s. Orestes, however, refused to become emperor, "from some secret motive", according to historian Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

. Instead, he installed his son on the throne on 31 October 475.

The empire they ruled had shrunk significantly over the previous 80 years. Imperial authority had retreated to the Italian borders and parts of southern Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

: Italia and Gallia Narbonensis
Gallia Narbonensis
Gallia Narbonensis was a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France. It was also known as Gallia Transalpina , which was originally a designation for that part of Gaul lying across the Alps from Italia and it contained a western region known as Septimania...

, respectively. The Eastern Roman Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 treated its western counterpart as a client state
Client state
Client state is one of several terms used to describe the economic, political and/or military subordination of one state to a more powerful state in international affairs...

. The Eastern Emperor Leo, who died in 474, had appointed the western emperors 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;...

 and 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 Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 never recognized the new government. Neither 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...

 nor 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....

, the two generals fighting for the eastern throne at the time of Romulus' accession, accepted him as ruler.

As a proxy for his father, Romulus made no decisions and left no monuments, though coins bearing his name were minted in Rome, 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 Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

. Several months after Orestes took power, a coalition 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 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...

 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...

 demanded that he give them a third of the land in Italy. When Orestes refused, the tribes revolted under the leadership of the Scirian 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...

. 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 28 August 476 and swiftly executed.

Odoacer advanced to Ravenna, capturing the city and the young Emperor. Romulus was compelled to abdicate the throne on 4 September 476. This act has been cited as the end of the Western Roman Empire, although Romulus' deposition did not cause any significant disruption at the time. Rome had already lost its hegemony over the provinces, Germanics dominated the Roman army and Germanic generals like Odoacer had long been the real powers behind the throne
Power behind the throne
The phrase power behind the throne refers to a person or group that informally exercises the real power of an office. In politics, it most commonly refers to a spouse, aide, or advisor of a political leader who serves as de facto leader, setting policy through influence or manipulation.The...

. 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...

 would suffer far greater devastation in the next century when Emperor Justinian I
Justinian I
Justinian I ; , ; 483– 13 or 14 November 565), commonly known as Justinian the Great, was Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the Empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western half of the classical Roman Empire.One of the most important figures of...

 re-conquered it.

After Romulus' abdication, the Roman 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...

, on behalf of Odoacer, sent representatives to the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno. Zeno was asked by the Senate to formally reunite the two halves of the Empire: "the west… no longer required an emperor of its own: one monarch sufficed for the world". He was also asked to make Odoacer a Patrician, and administrator of Italy in Zeno's name. Zeno pointed out that the Senate should rightfully have first requested that Julius Nepos take the throne once more; but he nonetheless agreed to their requests. Odoacer then ruled Italy in Zeno's name.

Later life


Romulus' ultimate fate is unknown. 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...

wrote that Odoacer, "taking pity on his youth", spared Romulus' life and granted him an annual pension of 6,000 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:...

 before sending him to live with relatives in 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...

. Jordanes
Jordanes
Jordanes, also written Jordanis or Jornandes, was a 6th century Roman bureaucrat, who turned his hand to history later in life....

 and 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:...

, however, say Odoacer exiled Romulus to Campania, and do not mention any reward from the Germanic king.

The sources do agree that Romulus took up residence in the Lucullan Villa
Castel dell'Ovo
Castel dell'Ovo is a castle located on the former island of Megaride, now a peninsula, on the gulf of Naples...

, an ancient castle originally built by Lucullus
Lucullus
Lucius Licinius Lucullus , was an optimate politician of the late Roman Republic, closely connected with Sulla Felix...

 in Campania. From here, contemporary histories fall silent. In the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

 notes that the disciples of Saint Severinus of Noricum were invited by a "Neapolitan lady" to bring his body to the villa in 488, "in the place of Augustulus, who was probably no more." The villa was converted into a monastery before 500 to hold the saint's remains.

Cassiodorus
Cassiodorus
Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator , commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname, not his rank.- Life :Cassiodorus was born at Scylletium, near Catanzaro in...

, then a secretary to 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...

, wrote a letter to a "Romulus" in 507 confirming a pension. Thomas Hodgkin
Thomas Hodgkin (historian)
Thomas Hodgkin , British historian, son of John Hodgkin , barrister and Quaker minister, and Elizabeth Howard ....

, a translator of Cassiodorus' works, wrote in 1886 that it was "surely possible" the Romulus in the letter was the same person as the last western emperor. The letter would match the description of Odoacer's coup in the Anonymus Valesianus, and Romulus could have been alive in the early sixth century. But Cassiodorus does not supply any details about his correspondent or the size and nature of his pension, and Jordanes, whose history of the period abridges an earlier work by Cassiodorus, makes no mention of a pension.

Last Emperor



As Romulus was an usurper, Julius Nepos claimed to legally hold the title of emperor when Odoacer took power. However few of Nepos' contemporaries were willing to support his cause after he fled 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...

. Some historians regard Julius Nepos, who ruled in Dalmatia until being murdered in 480, as the last lawful Western Roman Emperor.

Following Odoacer's coup, the Roman 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...

 sent a letter to 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...

, which stated that "the majesty of a sole monarch is sufficient to pervade and protect, at the same time, both the East and the West". While Zeno told the Senate that Nepos was their lawful sovereign, he did not press the point, and accepted the imperial insignia brought to him by the senate.

In popular culture

  • The 2007 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...

    , and the novel on which it is based, includes a heavily fictionalized account of the reign and subsequent life of Romulus Augustus; escaping captivity with the aid of a small band of loyal Romans, he escapes to Britain, where he takes a place in what will become Arthurian legend as Uther Pendragon
    Uther Pendragon
    Uther Pendragon is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur.A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae , and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in...

    , the father of King Arthur
    King Arthur
    King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

    , and a previous wielder of Excalibur
    Excalibur
    Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur, sometimes attributed with magical powers or associated with the rightful sovereignty of Great Britain. Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. The sword was...

     (Here the sword of Julius Caesar
    Julius Caesar
    Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

    ).

  • The Marvel Comics
    Marvel Comics
    Marvel Worldwide, Inc., commonly referred to as Marvel Comics and formerly Marvel Publishing, Inc. and Marvel Comics Group, is an American company that publishes comic books and related media...

     character known as Tyrannus
    Tyrannus (comics)
    Tyrannus is an immortal supervillain in the Marvel Universe. He first appeared in Incredible Hulk vol. 1 #5 , and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.-Fictional character biography:...

     has the "real name" of "Romulus Augustus", and originates in ancient Rome.

  • The play Romulus the Great (1950), by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
    Friedrich Dürrenmatt
    Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a Swiss author and dramatist. He was a proponent of epic theatre whose plays reflected the recent experiences of World War II. The politically active author's work included avant-garde dramas, philosophically deep crime novels, and often macabre satire...

    ; an "Ungeschichtliche historische Komödie" (Unhistorical historical comedy) about "Romulus Augustus's" reign, and the end of the Roman Empire in the West.

Sources

  • Bryce, James Bryce.The Holy Roman Empire, Schocken Books, 1961.
  • Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3, David Womersley, ed. London; Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Heather, Peter. The fall of the Roman Empire, 2005
  • Hollister, C. Warren, Medieval Europe: A Short History. New York; McGraw Hill, 1995.
  • Murdoch, Adrian, The Last Roman: Romulus Augustulus and the Decline of the West, Stroud; Sutton, 2006.
  • Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: A Short History. New York, Vintage, 1997
  • Ralph, and Geoffrey Nathan, "Romulus Augustulus (475–476 A.D.)--Two Views", De Imperatoribus Romanis

External links




As Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...