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Roman Emperor - Romulus Augustulus

Updated on November 1, 2009

An Empire Declines

The hundred years preceding the end of the W. Empire had been marked by a series of Teutonic invasions, resulting in loss of territory on every side. In 378 the Visigoths (W. Goths) decisively defeated the Romans at Adrianople. Under Honorius and Arcadius, the feeble sons of Theodosius the Great, the divided Empire began to disintegrate.

In the mid-winter of 407, a host of Vandals, Sueves and Alans crossed the Rhine into Gaul and turned that province into what has been called "one vast smoking funeral pyre". The Vandals wandered through Gaul, Spain and Africa, finally crossing to Rome in 455. On June 2 their leader Gaiseric was received by Pope Leo, who persuaded him to confine the plunder to portable goods in the palaces and temples. For a fortnight this looting went on. The whole of the Western Empire was now dissolving in ruin. By 450 another barbarian people, the Huns, had set up a great empire extending from southern Russia to the Rhine. But the West Goths, who by this time had long been settled in the Empire, joined with the Emperor in a great battle against the Huns under their leader Attila, known as the "Scourge of God", in the year 451.

By the end of the Theodosian dynasty (456) Rome had abandoned Britain, Gaul, and Spain. Kingdoms had been founded by the Visigoths and Burgundians in Southern Gaul (the rest of the province passing to the Franks), and by the Vandals in Northern Africa, while Spain was shared between the Visigoths and the Suevi.

Not long before the Western Empire had expired, its dominion hardly extended beyond the frontiers of Italy.

Romulus Augustulus may have been the last emperor of Western Roman Empire, but it had already disintegrated by the time it had reached him.

Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown before Odoacer
Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown before Odoacer

An Empire Falls

Romulus Augustulus is known as the last Roman emperor of the West, he reigned from 475 to 476. The 14-year-old emperor was the son of patrician Orestes, master of the soldiers of the emperor Julius Nepos. Orestes deposed Nepos, an appointee of Leo, the emperor of the East, and then placed his son on the throne in 475. The Romans changed the boy's name from Augustus to the diminutive Augustulus.

German mercenaries led by Odoacer demanded that they, like their predecessors, be given lands in Italy. When they were refused the Herulian chief Odoacer raised a revolt, killed Orestes, captured the boy emperor at Ravenna and deposed Romulus who retired to Campania.

It is a strange irony that the founder of Rome herself had been called Romulus, and the founder of the Roman Empire had been called Augustus, while the deposition of the boy who bore both names marks the end of the Roman Empire of the West.

Odoacer took the title of king, and the barbarians assumed control of the western empire. The boy, being of too little importance to be put to death, was sent to a villa near Naples, with a yearly pension of 6,000 soldi.


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