Romulus Augustulus

Romulus Augustulus
(fifth century)
   Last of the Roman emperors of the western part of the empire, Romulus Augustulus, or in full Flavius Momyllus Romulus Augustus, assumed the imperial throne while still a boy and reigned from October 31, 475, until August 28, 476. He was placed on the throne by his father, Orestes, the master of soldiers, who ruled in his name. His reign was cut short by the Germanic warrior, Odovacar. His deposition traditionally has marked the "fall of the Roman Empire"; no emperor reigned over the Western Empire after his fall.
   Romulus Augustus, known as Augustulus (little Augustus) because of his youth, was placed on the throne by his father, the powerful and ambitious general Orestes, after Orestes rebelled against the reigning emperor in Italy, Julius Nepos (d. 480). Orestes ruled for nearly a year in the name of his son, but the emperor in Constantinople, Zeno, refused to recognize Romulus as the legitimate emperor in the west. An even more serious problem for Orestes and Romulus arose among the Germanic soldiers who made up such a large part of the Roman army. They demanded equal status with Roman soldiers, which Orestes refused to grant. Odovacar, a leading Germanic prince, did agree to raise the barbarian soldiers' status should he gain power, and a rebellion then broke out against Orestes. He was quickly overpowered and executed at Odovacar's order on August 28, 476. Romulus, however, was spared. A contemporary chronicler noted that Odovacar spared him because of his youth and fair looks and sent him to live out his days in Campania. And it was with his relatives that Romulus Augustulus lived out his life in anonymity.
   After deposing Romulus Augustulus, Odovacar returned the imperial seal and other trappings of the imperial office to the emperor Zeno and did not appoint an emperor to rule in the west. The year 476, therefore, has traditionally been seen as the "end" of the Roman Empire. Of course, this view fails to consider several things about the empire. It continued until 1453 in the east with its capital Constantinople. Moreover, although the line of western Roman emperors came to an end in 476, a number of other Roman traditions continued for some time to come. The language of the former Western Empire, Latin, continued to be the language of learning and government until the end of the Middle Ages. Christianity remained the predominant religion of the west and was gradually made the official religion of the Germanic rulers who rose to power in the old empire. The majority of the population were Roman or descended from Roman citizens, and many vestiges of the old Roman administration were preserved by the barbarian successors of the emperors. Although the deposition of Romulus Augustulus brought an end to the line of emperors in the west, it did not "end" the empire or its influence.
   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.
 ♦ Randers-Pehrson, Justine Davis. Barbarians and Romans: The Birth Struggle of Europe, a.d. 400-700. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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