Emperor Romulus Augustus

Life: c. 465 – after 511?

Romulus Augustus
  • Became emperor on 31 October AD 475.
  • Abdicated 4 September AD 476.
  • Date of death unknown.

Romulus Augustus was the son of Orestes who once had been an assistant to Attila the Hun, and who had at times been sent on diplomatic visits to Constantinople.

After Attila’s death, Orestes joined the service of the Western empire and quickly achieved a senior position. In AD 474 emperor Julius Nepos made him ‘Master of Soldiers’ and raised him to the rank of patrician.

In this elevated position, Orestes enjoyed far greater support by the troops than the emperor himself. For by now almost the entire garrison of Italy consisted of German mercenaries. They felt very little allegiance to the empire at all. If they had any allegiance then it was to their fellow German ‘Master of Soldiers’. For Orestes was half German, half Roman.

Seeing his chance, Orestes launched a coup d’état and marched his troops on Ravenna, the seat of the emperor.

Julius Nepos fled in August AD 475, leaving Italy to Orestes.

Romulus Augustus as the Emperor

Emperor Romulus Augustus
emperor romulus augustus 7

But Orestes did not take the throne himself. With his Roman wife, he had a son Romulus Augustus. Perhaps Orestes decided that the Romans would be more willing to accept his son, who bore more Roman blood in him than he himself did. In any case, Orestes made his young son emperor of the west on 31 October AD 475. The eastern empire refused to recognize the usurper and continued to support Julius Nepos who remained an exile in Dalmatia.

Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of Rome, was a target of much mockery, already in his own day. For his name alone invited ridicule. Romulus was the legendary first king of Rome, and Augustus was its glorious first emperor. Hence both his names were at times transformed to reflect the public’s disrespect for him. ‘Romulus’ was changed to Momyllus, which means ‘little disgrace’. And ‘Augustus’ was turned into ‘Augustulus’, meaning ‘little Augustus’ or ‘little emperor’.

It was the latter version that stuck with him throughout history, with many historians today still referring to him as Romulus Augustulus. But only ten months after Romulus’ accession to the throne, a serious mutiny of the troops arose. The reason for the troubles was that in other parts of the Western Empire landowners had been obliged to hand over possession of up to two-thirds of their estates to allied Germans within the empire.

Emperor Romulus Augustus
Roman Coin – Romulus Augustus

The Abdication

But this policy had never been applied to Italy. Orestes had at first made promises of such land grants to the German soldiers if they would help him depose Julius Nepos. But once this had been done he had chosen to forget such concessions. But the German troops were not willing to let the issue be forgotten and demanded ‘their’ third of the land.

The man who led their protest was one of Orestes’ own senior officers, Flavius Odoacer (Odovacar). Faced with such a wide-scale mutiny, Orestes withdrew behind the well-fortified walls of the city of Ticinum (Pavia). But the mutiny was not to be a short-lived affair. Ticinum was besieged, captured, and sacked. Orestes was taken to Placentia (Piacenza) where he was executed in August AD 476.

Emperor Romulus Augustus
emperor romulus augustus 8

Orestes’ brother (Paul) was soon after killed during fighting near Ravenna. Odoacer thereafter captured the city of Ravenna and forced Romulus to abdicate on 4 September AD 476. The deposed emperor was retired to a palace at Misenum in Campania with an annual pension of six thousand solidi. The date of his death is unknown. However, some accounts indicate that he may still have been alive in AD 507-11.

Emperor Romulus Augustus
Odoacer – Painting

People Also Ask:

What happened after Romulus Augustus?

With Romulus Augustus deposed, Odoacer took the bold step of declaring himself King of Italy, rather than assuming the title of emperor. He also sent the imperial regalia to the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno, essentially acknowledging the end of the Western Roman Empire’s separate existence.

Who finally destroyed the Roman Empire?

The West was severely shaken in 410 when the city of Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, a wandering nation of Germanic peoples from the northeast. The fall of Rome was completed in 476 when the German chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustus.

Did Rome fall in a day?

It’s the 4th of September, 476 AD. A young barbarian king named Odoacer forces the last Roman emperor in the West, Romulus Augustus, to abdicate the throne.