Romulus Augustulus (approx. 463–ok. 536) – the last emperor of the Western Empire and….nothing more

Odoacer and Emperor Romulus Augustulus, reproduction of a drawing by an unknown author, pic. Wikipedia

Odoacer and Emperor Romulus Augustulus, reproduction of a drawing by an unknown author, pic. Wikipedia

His name – Romulus Augustus – could have brought real hope for a better future. Its first part was a reference to the legendary founder of the city of Rome, the second to the first emperor, Octavius Augustus. However, quickly he was nicknamed Augustulus, meaning Little Augustus, which was an allusion to his age, but also to the rank and significance. This boy, will be remembered in history, only because he was the last emperor of the Western Empire, while his dethronement in 476 A.D. was the beginning of a new era.

Odoacer and Emperor Romulus Augustulus, reproduction of a drawing by an unknown author, pic. Wikipedia

His name – Romulus Augustus – could have brought real hope for a better future. Its first part was a reference to the legendary founder of the city of Rome, the second to the first emperor, Octavius Augustus. However, quickly he was nicknamed Augustulus, meaning Little Augustus, which was an allusion to his age, but also to the rank and significance. This boy, will be remembered in history, only because he was the last emperor of the Western Empire, while his dethronement in 476 A.D. was the beginning of a new era.

However, in order to see how it happened let us transport ourselves to Rome twenty years prior. The Western Empire after the death of Valentinian III (454) was experiencing a period of chaos, constant changes of emperors, struggle for influence among its leaders, as well as everlasting rebellions of badly paid or unpaid confederated regiments of barbarians fighting in the Roman army. Let us remind ourselves that, in 455 Rome was just coming back to life after 14 years of plunder by the Vandals under the leadership of Genseric. Everything of any material value, including figures made of bronze and even part of the roof of the Temple of Jupiter was taken to Carthage, while hunger prevailed in the city. The following emperor, Avitus, surrounded by groups of Gauls and Visigoths, ordered all bronzes to be taken off public buildings and smelted in order to obtain money for the imperial treasury. And even if these were pagan structures, it still aroused the contempt of senators and the uncertainty of Romans. More than a year later, another ruler ascended to the throne, while after him  others as well. At that time the city experienced another siege (471) and a wave of hunger. It lasted until the reign of  Julius Nepos, who took on the imperial crimson in 474. He did not enjoy it very long since less than a year later a revolt erupted, started by one of the generals of his army Orestes. Nepos fled the city and returned to his homeland of Dalmatia, while Orestes appointed his under-age son Romulus Augustus as emperor. And thus a teenage boy, or more appropriately his father started his eleven-month reign on the 31 October, 475.

As can be seen in the second half of the V century the reputation and prestige of the imperial majesty and its significance were at an all-time low. At the same time, within the borders of the former Western Empire there were no fewer than six barbarian kingdoms, not counting other tribes which were unable to create such structures. The Western Empire itself shrunk drastically and at the time when Romulus assumed power, it encompassed only Italy and part of Narbonne Gaul.

At that time the Goth general Odoacer, serving in the Roman army, unable to force Orestes to pay his soldiers, carried out a revolt, which concluded with killing the latter and dethroning his son Romulus Augustus, while assuming power in Italy. Odoacer dealt with the emperor of the Western Empire in a rather civilized way – he provided him with estates and an annual pension, sending him to a seaside residence in an area around Naples. This pension was paid out to Romulus regularly even after the death of Odoacer, when rule of Italy was taken over by Theodoric the Great – leader of the Ostrogoths.

We do not know the exact date of the death of Romulus – it is assumed he died around the year 536 in a kind of exclusive imprisonment, attaining an elderly age. His only claim to fame was the fact that he managed to stay alive, while losing his power, which in the history of the Roman Empire was a rare occurrence indeed.