(c. 433-493)
   Germanic warrior of the Scirian tribe who rebelled against the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, and Romulus's father, the master of the soldiers, Orestes. Odovacar deposed Romulus and is thus traditionally said to have ended the line of emperors ruling the Western Empire. Unlike earlier rebellious military commanders, he neither declared himself emperor nor promoted someone else as emperor. Instead, he recognized the authority of the emperor in Constantinople, Zeno, and established himself as king in Italy. His reign of seventeen years was plagued by a long war with his eventual successor, Theodoric the Great, who murdered Odovacar but benefited from the traditions of Odovacar's monarchy.
   Odovacar was born probably in 433, and was the son of Edica-Edikon, a servant of the great Hunnish ruler, Attila. Edica-Edikon prospered greatly under Attila, and created an independent Germanic kingdom after the death of the Hun and collapse of his empire. The kingdom did not last long, however, as Edica-Edikon was killed in battle in 469. Odovacar and his brother Hunnulf both fled the kingdom, with Odovacar going to Italy, followed by many of his father's supporters. In Italy, Odovacar entered the service of the western emperor as a member of the imperial guard, but sided with the emperor's powerful general, Ricimer, when civil war broke out between them in 472. His support for Ricimer was crucial to Ricimer's victory, and Odovacar learned much from his example, even though Ricimer died shortly after his victory.
   In 476, Odovacar led a revolt of Germanic soldiers against the emperor, Romulus Augustulus, the son and puppet of Orestes. Orestes had earlier forced the emperor Julius Nepos into exile and declared his son emperor. The claim was not recognized in Constantinople, but Orestes strove to make it effective in Italy. He faced the rebellion led by Odovacar because he was unwilling to grant Germanic soldiers in the army equal status with Roman soldiers. Odovacar defeated Orestes and executed him on August 28, 476. Odovacar deposed and exiled Romulus rather than execute him because, according to a contemporary, of his youth and beauty. But Odovacar compelled Romulus to send a delegation of senators to Zeno, the emperor in Constantinople, declaring that no new emperor was needed and that they welcomed the rule of Odovacar. The Germanic warrior was willing to give up the title king for patrician and authority to rule in Italy. Zeno was in an awkward position, since the legitimate western emperor still lived, but he addressed Odovacar as patrician nonetheless. Odovacar sought accommodation with the emperor during his reign, and as a sign of good faith executed the murderer of Julius Nepos. Despite his best efforts, and willingness to recognize the sovereignty of the emperor in the east, Odovacar was not able to sign a treaty with the emperor. He did, however, establish peace in Italy and an important and effective royal administration that was built on cooperation with the senatorial aristocracy.
   Although somewhat eased by the death of Julius Nepos in 480, relations between Zeno and Odovacar remained tense; they became highly strained in 486. The emperor faced a rebellion, and Odovacar, if not openly supporting the rebel, seems at least to have been in negotiations with him. In response, Zeno encouraged the Rugians, who had settled just north of Italy, to attack Odovacar. In 487, however, Odovacar struck first and destroyed the kingdom, thus ending the possibility of the establishment of a rival kingdom in Italy. His victory, however, had very negative consequences for Odovacar; the king's wife was an Ostrogoth, and her death and the flight of her children came to the attention of Theodoric the Great.
   In 488, Theodoric negotiated a secret treaty with Zeno that granted Theodoric the right to rule Italy in the emperor's place if he defeated Odovacar. In the following year, Theodoric's armies reached Italy, and Odovacar, sensing treachery on Zeno's part, took steps to break formally with the emperor. He established his son as caesar and hoped that the break would be welcomed by the aristocracy, which had become increasingly alienated from the emperor over religious issues. Odovacar and Theodoric fought two bloody battles, in 489 and 490, which cost both sides numerous casualties but which were both won by Theodoric. The second victory was, in some ways, a worse defeat for Odovacar, because the senatorial aristocracy shifted its support to Theodoric. But the invader's victory was not sealed; Odovacar made a stand in Ravenna, a near impregnable stronghold. Theodoric besieged the city, and Odovacar held fast from August 490 until February 493. In July 491, Odovacar launched a ferocious but unsuccessful assault on the besiegers. Finally, the bishop of Ravenna negotiated a treaty between the two rulers that would allow the two to rule Italy together. Odovacar submitted, and Theodoric entered Ravenna on March 5, 493. A few days later, Theodoric murdered Odovacar, claiming that his rival was plotting against him. On that same day, according to a contemporary chronicler, "all Odovacar's soldiers were slain wherever they could be found, and all his kin"(Bury 1959, 426). Odovacar and his family and people were thus annihilated by Theodoric, but Odovacar left his murderer an important foundation for the establishment of a great kingdom in Italy.
   See also
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ Lot, Ferdinand. The End of the Ancient World and the Beginning of the Middle Ages. 1931. Reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1961.
 ♦ Randers-Pehrson, Justine Davis. Barbarians and Romans: The Birth Struggle of Europe, a.d. 400-700. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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