Sunday, September 4, 2016

Today in History

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Western Rome Ends and the Middle Ages Begins

Today in 476, the young emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by Odoacer, and thereby ended the line of Western Roman Emperors. Most historians mark this as the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Romulus Augustus was around 14 when his father, Orestes, master of soldiers (Magister Militum) of the Roman Army, himself deposed Emperor Julius Nepos and installed his young son as Emperor. Romulus was very young and an obvious puppet of his father, so he was soon nicknamed Augustulus (little Augustus).

However, Orestes made the mistake of denying the foederati - the Germanic mercenaries - their petition to be granted lands and to settle in Italy. As you might expect, mercenaries are not inclined to take no for an answer, their leader, Flavius Odoacer, a Scirian (one of the German tribes) decided to take what they would not be given.

Odoacer led the foederati in revolt, defeated and killed Orestes. He forced the young Augustulus to abdicate, and the teen then slips into the crannies of history. Upon Augustulus' abdication, the Senate sent a delegation to Zeno, the emperor of the Eastern Empire, giving him the Western imperial insignia. Zeno accepted with a token "you should really invite Julius Nepos back to rule Rome" disclaimer and bestowed on Odoacer the title of Patrician.

Odoacer was careful to observe the formality of ruling in the Emperor's name while keeping all power to himself. He did not allow Julius Nepos to return but he styled himself as a client of Nepos, and minted coins with Nepos face on it. After Nepos death in 480 he then styled himself as a client of   Emperor Zeno. He was also proclaimed King of Italy when he deposed Augustulus, and he kept that title.

The documentary mini-series Rome: Power and Glory is pretty good. The series starts with The Rise and it gets to Augustulus and Odoacer in The Fall.

If you are in the mood for a not at all historically accurate re-imagining of Romulus Augustulus, you might enjoy the 2007 period action movie The Last Legion. It stars Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, and a young Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Romulus Augustulus who, in the movie, escapes post-abdication imprisonment then goes to Brittania and grows up to be Uther Pendragon.

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