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Romulus Augustulus

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Deposed in the year 476, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire. His reign was purely nominal. After the murder of Valentinian III (455) the Theodosian dynasty was extinct in Western Europe and the Suevian Ricimer, a grandson of Wallia, a king of the West Goths, governed the Western Empire for sixteen years as its real ruler. Like Stilicho and Aëtius he raised five shadowy emperors to the throne and then deposed them, partly in agreement with the Eastern Empire. After his death in 472 his nephew Gundobad succeeded. At Ravenna Gundobad appointed the soldier Glycerius as emperor, but Leo, the Eastern Roman Emperor, chose Julius Nepos, a relative of Empress Verina, who had succeeded his uncle Marcellinus as Governor of Dalmatia. Nepos advanced with the fleet to Ravenna and forced Glycerius to become Bishop of Salona. Leo's successor, Zeno the Isaurian, withdrew the fleet which Nepos had had, and thus the latter was forced to depend upon his own resources, while the turmoil in Rome and Gaul constantly increased. Nepos appointed Orestes "magister militum" and made him a patrician. Orestes had been minister of Attila, after whose death he had come to Rome. Nepos commissioned Orestes to advance into Gaul to restore order with the troops still available. Orestes however prevailed upon the mercenaries to march against Ravenna instead of going to Gaul. Nepos fled to Dalmatia while Orestes entered Ravenna on 28 August, 475.

Orestes allowed two months to pass without appointing a new emperor, and the troops growing impatient proclaimed his son. On account of the boy's youth (he was only thirteen years old) he was called Augustulus, the little emperor. The administration was carried on cautiously and shrewdly by Orestes. He obtained the recognition of his son by the emperor of the Eastern Empire, made treaties for the protection of Italy with the German princes in Africa, Gaul, and Spain, and thus gained a few years of peace for the country. However, the German warriors in his army, who had driven out the Emperor Nepos in the belief that they would receive grants of land, now demanded a third of the territory of Italy, according to the custom existing in the Roman army. When Orestes refused the troops mutinied under the leadership of the Skyrian Odoacer. Orestes advanced against them, but was obliged to fall back on Pavia, which city was stormed by Odoacer; Orestes was taken prisoner and beheaded at Piacenza in 476. Odoacer was proclaimed king by his troops and marched against Ravenna where Romulus waited in fear. Odoacer spared his life, gave him a year's income, and sent him with his relatives to Cape Misenum opposite Baia. Odoacer now reigned as first King of Italy, while three deposed emperors dragged out inglorious and powerless lives: Romulus Augustulus in private life on his estate in Campania, Glycerius as Bishop of Salona, and Julius Nepos as commander in Dalmatia. The Roman Empire of the West had ceased, and the conception of imperial power was henceforth exclusively connected with the person of the Eastern emperor.

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