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Romulus Augustus

Romulus Augustus (460s/470s – after 511) was the last of the Western Roman Emperors.

He was born Flavius Romulus to Flavius Orestes, a Roman politician considered to be at least partly of Germanic descent. Orestes was appointed " master of soldiers" by Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos in 475. On August 28, 475, a coup d'état led by Orestes managed to take control of the government in Ravenna (the capital of the Western Roman Empire since 402). Julius Nepos had to flee to Dalmatia. He would continue to reign there till his death in 480.

Orestes became the de facto ruler of the Roman provinces west of Dalmatia. He was not however considered eligible for the throne himself, so he proclaimed his son Emperor on October 31, 475. The proclaimation was not accepted by the rival Eastern Roman Emperors Zeno and Basiliscus.

Romulus was either a child or in his early adolescence at the time of his appointment, though he acted merely as a figurehead to his father's rule. Shortly after Orestes refused to grant lands for settlement to Heruli, Scirian and Torcilingi mercenaries. A decision which led to their revolt under Germanic chieftain Odoacer. Orestes was captured near Piacenza on August 28, 476 and was swiftly executed.

Odoacer advanced to Ravenna, capturing the city along with the youthful Emperor. Romulus was compelled to abdicate the throne on September 4, 476. This act was long considered the end of the Western Roman Empire, but the Eastern Roman Empire continued until 1453. By 476 however, Rome had already lost its hegemony over the provinces, and Germanic generals like Odoacer had long been the real power behind the throne.

He is frequently known by the nickname "Romulus Augustulus." The Latin suffix -ulus is a diminutive; hence, Augustulus effectively means "the Little Augustus." However, he ruled officially as Romulus Augustus.

Unlike many of the previous late Western Roman Emperors, Romulus' life after abdication seems to have been a good one. Because of his youth, Odoacer spared his life, and sent him to the district of Campania to live with relatives. He also granted him an annual pension, which was later confirmed by Odoacer's conqueror Theodoric the Great in 507 and again in 511. Romulus founded a monastery that lasted for hundreds of years, but he does not appear to have lived to see the restoration of Roman authority in Italy in 536.

His legitimacy as the last Roman emperor is often questioned. He never received recognition from the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno who continued to recognize Julius Nepos as Roman Emperor till Nepos' death in 480. However, most modern accounts consider Romulus, not Nepos, the last Western Roman Emperor.

Romulus Augustus in fiction

Romulus Augustus is the main character of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play Romulus der Große (translated to English as "Romulus"), which revolves around the last days of Romulus' emperorship. He is also one of the characters in Valerio Massimo Manfredi's book, The Last Legion .

Romulus has also appeared as an apparently immortal supervillain of the Marvel Universe, known as Tyrannus . He debuted in Incredible Hulk vol. 1 #5 (January, 1963) and has since plagued several superheroes. His most consistent enemy however has been fellow supervillain Mole Man.

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 06:05:46
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04