A small introduction
In the last decades before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the emperors in power had to deal with many tasks, both internal and external. This is the desire to return the territories of Gaul and North Africa, which are very significant for Rome, under the control of the imperial power, and the protection of the Apennine Peninsula from the invasion of Germanic tribes, and maintaining at least some kind of relationship with Byzantium.
The territory of the Roman Empire in the IV century AD. e.
And the most disturbing thing in this situation for the state was that the Roman legions stationed on the borders of the empire were often the very danger from which Italy had to be protected. The fact is that already in the XNUMXth century the “barbarian problem” for Rome was so serious that all Roman military leaders were of barbarian origin.
The barbarians ...
During the time of the power of Rome, the Roman legions serving on the borders of the empire either completely subjugated the local barbarians, or drove them far beyond the state border. Then, gradually starting to weaken, Rome had already stopped expanding its possessions and went on the defensive. Thus began the great migration of peoples, which brought for the Romans a complete loss of control over their borders, and numerous Germanic and Slavic tribes poured into the territory of the Roman Empire in an endless stream.
Barbarian raids on Roman cities
By this time, on the territory of the already weakened Western Roman Empire, the process of crowding out some tribes that had previously settled on its lands by others was taking place. And it was precisely this resettlement that he described in his work “Roman история» Ammianus Marcellinus*, saying that
"The Germans are settling all over the Rhine, occupying the lands of Gaul, Illyria, and right up to the very borders of Italy."
Barbarians in defeated Rome
By the middle of the XNUMXth century, almost the entire territory of the Western Roman Empire was occupied by various Germanic tribes that invaded its territory, who, having gained a foothold there, formed the so-called. "barbarian kingdoms" that continuously felt the growth of their power and influence. But the creation of these "barbarian kingdoms" was legally formalized a little earlier by the Roman authorities themselves, who transferred the German tribal leaders the full right to manage these territories as federates.
After a long period of invasions and peaceful settlement of barbarians, a new period of formation of the “barbarian kingdoms” begins, and it turned out to be not the sheer number of barbarians who settled there, but the capture of new territories, the expansion of the boundaries of their possessions and liberation from imperial guardianship. But the lands occupied by the barbarians who settled on them and created their “kingdoms” on them were not able to replenish the empty treasury of the empire, on the contrary, Rome annually paid certain amounts under agreements concluded earlier with the barbarians in order to prevent the uprising of the federates.
Soldiers of the Roman Empire in the XNUMXth century
Here is what Paul the Deacon, a historian and writer of the Carolingian era, wrote two centuries later:
"Destructive forces were at work everywhere..."
The economy of the empire, which had long and completely depended on the import of food and materials from the provinces, was also not all right. With their loss, the emperors had great difficulty relying on the scarce resources available, but the most unpleasant was the loss of access to the grain that came to Rome from North Africa and had long replenished the Roman stocks.
In the last two decades of the existence of the Western Roman Empire, nine emperors were replaced, and the borders of the state during this time were reduced to the size of the Apennine Peninsula, on the territory of which internal contradictions were increasingly concentrated. It even got to the point that the rebellious citizens of Rome went over to the barbarian army!
The Sack of Rome by the Barbarians
But the most basic task of the policy of all the emperors of the Western Roman Empire was to prevent the strengthening of the barbarian tribes settled on the territory of the empire, because the transition of the barbarians to a settled way of life began to cause a significant increase in population.
The Germans, who had already mastered the fertile lands of the empire, experienced serious pressure from other, even more distant tribes, whose lack of food and clothing became the reasons for new military campaigns and within which various internal processes also took place, pushing them to further resettlement.
The empire was fading, its citizens refused to join the army, and the emperors had to hire barbarians to serve in their legions, which led to the final collapse of the entire Roman army. Mixing with the Germanic tribes, the Romans formed the basis of the future European peoples, and the barbarian leaders, having strengthened themselves on the former lands of the empire and extending their power to the entire Roman population living there, gradually begin to present themselves not as the leaders of a separate people, but as the rulers of a certain territory.
Barbarians in Rome...
And in this difficult time, our hero lived, in 476 he put an end to the main state formation of antiquity - the Western Roman Empire and opened the era of the Middle Ages ...
And in this difficult historical era of pulling the empire into separate pieces, it is necessary to pay close attention to Odoacer. And not only because he formed a new kingdom in the very heart, one might say, in the very cradle of the empire, and not only because he mustered up the courage to dethrone the weakened, but still emperor, but mainly because of the political significance his act, which went down in history as the fall of the Roman Empire.
Being the son of Idiko (Edekon), who once belonged to the close circle of the legendary leader of the Huns Attila, the future officer of the Roman army Odoacer in 470 left the Danube shores of the province of Norik (the territory of modern Austria and Slovenia) and went to Italy, where he turned out to be one of the many barbarians , whom the emperors of the Western Roman Empire recruited for military service, and rose to a command position, and by 476 he was among the imperial bodyguards!
Odoacer in Rome
There are several versions of Odoacer's early biography in modern historiography. Odoacer's father, as mentioned above, belonged to Attila's entourage and may have died in the battle of the Bolia River.* in 469, fighting Theodimir, leader of the Ostrogoths and father of the future Theoderic the Great (451–526). The death of Odoacer's father could be one of the reasons for the blood rivalry between the two future leaders of the barbarian world.
Note. It is believed that Odoacer belonged to the Germanic tribe of the Rugs, who waged an uncompromising struggle with another Germanic tribe - the Goths, with whom they always flared up enmity wherever they happened to meet (the Baltic, the Danube and Northern Italy). The sources that have come down to us show us a picture of a real blood feud that passed from one generation to another.
When the Roman patrician Flavius Orestes (a former official of Attila, a German), appointed by Nepos as the leader of the German federates of Italy and the commander-in-chief of the Roman troops (master of the army, magister militum), consisting mainly of German mercenaries, in August 475, having the entire strength of the army behind him, overthrew the emperor Julius Nepos* (the penultimate emperor of the Western Roman Empire) and elevated his own son, the young Romulus Augustulus, to emperor (Romulus Augustulus, "small August" or "August").
Titus Flavius Orestes (Titus Flavius Orestes)
Julius Nepos, who fled to Dalmatia, continued to rule in exile in the East and ordered Odoacer to put down the rebellion. Meanwhile, the troops of the federates informed Orestes that they wanted to settle in their new territory and asked to be granted land. Orestes, although he was a usurper, still remained a Roman patrician and could not distribute land in Italy to the barbarians, so he refused them, then the former Roman federates of the Skira, Heruli and Torcilingi elected Odoacer their new leader, like most of the Italo-Roman army, choosing him king of Italy on August 23, 476. So, instead of putting down the mercenary rebellion, he led it!
Julius Nepot. The last Roman emperor
Odoacer, with his new army, moved on the rebellious Orestes and killed him outside of Placentia (modern Piacenza). Then he moved to the capital of the empire, Ravenna, captured it and forced Romulus Augustus to abdicate. Sources that have come down to us report that Odoacer was so carried away by the young emperor that he not only left him alive, but also sent him to Campania (the area around Rome in the Lazio region) to relatives and assigned a pension of 6 solidi (Roman gold coin ), however, establishing supervision over him.
Odoacer and Romulus Augustus
Here are the words of Edward Gibbon*:
"The son of Orestes adopted and disgraced the names of Romulus and Augustus, but the first of these names was perverted by the Greeks into Romila, and the second was changed by the Latins into a contemptuous diminutive Augustulus."
Taking control of all of Italy, destroying the rebellious Orestes and sending his young son Romulus Augustulus into exile, Odoacer, with the support of the Roman Senate, attempted to somehow legalize his actual position in Italy, for which in 476-477. he organized an embassy to the Eastern Roman emperor Zeno, during negotiations with which the envoys asked the emperor to give Odoacer the title of Roman patrician and give him full power over Italy.
Byzantine Emperor Flavius Zeno
It has not come down to us whether Odoacer received the title of patrician or not, but throughout his reign, Odoacer minted money with a portrait of the legitimate emperor Julius Nepos lost somewhere in Dalmatia and ruled Italy on behalf of Emperor Zeno. And in order to show the barbarians that there were no emperors so hated by them in Italy, Odoacer sent insignia - age-old signs of imperial power in Rome (ivory chair, golden crown and others) to Constantinople - as a sign that the Roman Empire was again united under the rule of one ruler. This gesture itself is considered by historians, not without reason, as a sign of the end of the Western Roman Empire.
Coins depicting Emperor Julius Nepos
Having distributed to his soldiers in Italy the lands they desired so much and renouncing the useless, dangerous and so hated title of emperor by the barbarians, he retained many Roman orders and even revived some to please the Romanesque population.
In 476, having suppressed the rebellion of Orestes and expelled the infant emperor from Rome, Odoacer became the first barbarian king of Italy, thus marking the beginning of a new era. And with the support of a completely tame Roman Senate, Odoacer has since ruled Italy autonomously, lip-synching to the authority of the last Western emperor, Julius Nepos, who was hiding in Dalmatia, and Zeno, the emperor of Eastern Rome.
Although Odoacer ruled on behalf of Emperor Zeno, he ambitiously began to expand his territory. He took control of Sicily from the Vandal king Gaiseric. And when Julius Nepos was killed in Dalmatia*, he pursued the killers and, having caught them, executed them, not forgetting to take control of this territory as well. In 487, Odoacer defeated the Rugians at Noricum, capturing their king, Feletius. Then Prince Fredericus, who led the Rugians, rebelled, and Odoacer sent his brother Onulf (Gunulf)* deal with them. In the end, he had to settle them in Italy, which left the province open, and only later other Germans - the Lombards, invaded and settled there, creating their own barbarian "kingdom".
Kingdom of Odoacer
Noticing the constantly growing and strengthening power of Odoacer, Emperor Flavius Zeno was well aware of how his main rival in the West was strengthening, although Odoacer never took any action to challenge the power of the Eastern Roman emperor. Zeno, who well remembered the ancient rule Divide and conquer - "Divide and conquer", turned to the Ostrogothic "King" Theodoric with a request to defeat Odoacer, promising him power over Italy in return.
Theodoric - King of the Ostrogoths
Although Theodoric did not trust Emperor Zeno, he still had his own reasons for accepting his proposal. Theodoric, who planned to first take Constantinople, nevertheless, on August 28, 489, led his Ostrogoth army to the Isonzo River (modern Slovenia), where he defeated Odoacer, who retreated with the remnants of his soldiers to Verona, where he immediately set up a fortified camp. Theodoric began the pursuit, won again, and Odoacer retreated, locking himself in his last stronghold - Ravenna*. Ravenna, surrounded by swamps and estuaries and easily supplied by small boats from the hinterland, Theodoric proved invulnerable.
Ravenna. Baptistery of the Orthodox, circa 450
Note. Meanwhile, when the armies of Odoacer and Theodoric fought each other, other barbarians, the Burgundians, invaded Italy, capturing Liguria.* in the farthest western part of Italy.
In the summer of 490, the Visigoths, led by their "king" Alaric II, joined forces with Theodoric and together opposed Odoacer, fighting on the Adda River (the left tributary of the Po River), forcing Odoacer to retreat again to Ravenna. Due to its favorable geographical position, Odoacer was able to hold Ravenna until a major clash occurred on the evening of July 9, 491, where Theoderic was victorious, and Odoacer lost many soldiers loyal to him.
Note. A little later, in the same year, the vandals led by Geiseric, taking advantage of the war between Odoacer and Theodoric, did not miss the opportunity and attacked Sicily.
Odoacer and Theodoric
Nevertheless, despite such significant losses, the war dragged on until February 25, 493, when John, Bishop of Ravenna, still managed to conclude a peace treaty between Theoderic and Odoacer, which provided for their joint occupation and joint administration of Ravenna. And after a three-year siege, Theoderic entered the city on March 5th. Here it should be noted that during this siege, Odoacer proclaimed his son emperor!
Fall and death
Ten days later, determined to celebrate the peace, Theoderic invited Odoacer to a conciliatory feast at the former imperial palace. Ad Laurentum ("In the laurel grove") and, having put him in the place of the guest of honor, Theodoric drew his sword and with one blow cut Odoacer from the collarbone to the thigh. In response to Odoacer's dying question:
"Where is God?"
"That's what you did to my friends."
It is said that Theodoric stood over the body of his dead rival and exclaimed:
“There was not a single bone in this unfortunate one!”
The relatives of Odoacer were treated just as cruelly. His brother, the commander Gunulf, was shot with a bow, his son Telu, whom Odoacer proclaimed emperor, was executed, and his wife was thrown into prison, where she died of starvation. Theodoric justified his act as revenge for the execution of his relatives Feletheus and Guizot.
Assassination of Odoacer by Theodoric
Theodoric, who later became the Great, remained king of the Ostrogoths until his death in 526.
Odoaker Street in Wuppertal, Germany. North Rhine-Westphalia
*Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330 - c. 391/400). A Roman soldier and historian who lived in a crucial era, key to the entire subsequent history of Europe. He wrote a major historical narrative - "Roman History", preserved from Antiquity.
*Battle of Bolia (469). The battle on the banks of the Bolia River in Pannonia (the territory of modern Hungary), in which the Ostrogoths of King Theodemir defeated the tribe of the Danube Suebi. It is considered one of the most important events in the history of the era of the Great Migration of Nations.
*Theodemir (reigned 469-474) - king of the Ostrogoths from the Amal family (Ermanarich was from this family). Father of Theodoric the Great.
*Flavius Orestes (420-476) - German, former secretary of the king of the Huns Attila, Roman patrician, father of the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, master of the Italian troops (commander-in-chief). On August 28, 475, Flavius Orestes seized power in the imperial capital and elevated his son Romulus to emperor. Executed on August 28, 476.
* Julius Nepot (430-480) - the penultimate emperor of the Western Roman Empire (474-475). A native of Dalmatia. During his short reign, Vandal raids resumed, and in order to avoid them, Julius Nepos acknowledged the Vandal conquests in North Africa, Sicily, and other Mediterranean islands. After the revolt of Flavius Orestes left Italy and returned to Dalmatia. In 480, Nepos was killed by komites (high officials).
*Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) - famous British historian and memoirist. Author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in six volumes.
*Dalmatia. Historical region located in the north-west of the Balkan Peninsula, on the territory of modern Croatia and Montenegro on the Adriatic coast. The name of the region comes from the Illyrian tribe called "Dalmatians", who lived in this area in antiquity. This region later became a Roman province.
*Onulf or Gunulf (430–493). Brother of Odoacer, Roman general, magister militum of Illyria in 477-479 He grew up at the court of Attila. He took part in the war of Odoacer with Theodoric and was killed along with Odoacer in March 493 in Ravenna.
*Liguria. The region of northwestern Italy is located on the coast of the Ligurian Sea (Riviera). The territory was inhabited by an ancient people - the Ligurians - from about the fifth millennium BC.
*Ravenna. It was originally an Etruscan settlement. In the II century BC. e. the Romans came here. In 402, after the raids of the leader of the Visigoths Alaric - the capital of the Western Roman Empire, later the capital of the state of the Ostrogoths and the Lombard "kingdom".