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King of Italy
Coin of Odoacer, Ravenna, 477, with Odoacer in profile, depicted with a "barbarian" moustache.
Reign 476 - 493
Predecessor Romulus Augustus
Successor Theodoric the Great
Father Edeko
Died 493

Odoacer (435–493) , also known as Odovacer, was a Germanic foederati general who on 4 September 476 AD deposed Romulus Augustus, who some consider to have been the last Western Roman Emperor.

Odoacer is considered to have been the first non-Roman ruler of Italy. However, though the real power was in his hands, he ruled as a nominal client of Julius Nepos and, after Nepos' death in 480, as a client of the Emperor in Constantinople. Odoacer is referred to as a king (Latin rex) in many documents, but the title appears to be informal, though he himself used it at least once and on another occasion it was used by the consul Basilius.[1]



Odoacer background is not certain. He may have been the son of the Scirii chieftain, Edeko, a vassal of the Huns under Attila. His name itself is Germanic, and Odoacer's mother may have been Germanic herself, but her name and nationality are unknown. John of Antioch considers Odoacer to have been a Scirian, Jordanes refers to him as a Rugian. However, Jordanes also describes him as king of the Turcilingi (Torcilingorum rex). The Consularia Italica calls him king of the Heruli, while Theophanes appears to be guessing when he calls him a Goth.

Leader of the foederati

Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown.

In 470, Odoacer was appointed leader of a band of foederati. There were about 30,000 foederati, plus their families, who had lived on the Italian peninsula for several years. However, they had only received scraps of land in relatively unfertile areas around the Apennine mountains.

When Orestes was in 475 appointed Magister militum and patrician by the Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos, he became head of the Germanic foederati of Italy (the Scirian - Herulic foederati). To win their support in his attempt to take over the Empire, Orestes promised them a third of the Italian peninsula if they led a revolt against Emperor Nepos. The foederati accepted the offer and led the revolt as planned.

On 28 August 475, they defeated Nepos, who fled to Dalmatia. Orestes then elevated his infant son Romulus to the rank of Augustus, to become emperor as Romulus Augustus. Orestes, as magister militum, then organized his own army. He felt secure enough to rescind his pledge to the foederati. Odoacer then led the foederati in a revolt against Orestes, who was defeated, captured and executed. After the revolt, the Germanic foederati, the Scirians and the Heruli, as well as a large segment of the Italic Roman army, proclaimed Odoacer rex Italiae ("king of Italy").[2] In 476, Odoacer then advanced to Ravenna, captured the city and the young emperor. Romulus was compelled to abdicate on 4 September 476, but otherwise unharmed.

In the same year Odoacer renounced the meaningless title of Emperor, avoiding a conflict with Constantinople. He sent the imperial insignia to the Eastern Emperor Zeno and declared himself Patrician of the Western half, which by this time was no more than the Italian peninsula, Dalmatia and an exclave in northern Gaul. The rightful Western Roman Emperor, Julius Nepos, ruled powerless in Dalmatia, where he would live until his assassination in 480. During this four-year interval Odoacer recognized Nepos as Western emperor and even made coins in his name.

King of Italy

Odoacer's Kingdom in 480 AD, after he annexed Sicily and Dalmatia.
Odoacer solidus struck in the name of Emperor Zeno. This coin testifies to the formal submission of Odoacer to Zeno.

In 476, Odoacer officially became the first Germanic King of Italy and a new era began. Odoacer was an Arian Christian and is said to have been illiterate. The warriors and the families in Odoacer's foederati received lands in Italy and became beneficiaries of a special tax policy. Odoacer retained the Roman administration, senate, law and tax system of Italy. In return, he won a high level of support from the senate and people.

Odoacer raised an Italic-Germanic army with which he defeated the Vandals in Sicily. He was able to conquer the whole island by 477. By 480, he and his Italic-Germanic army annexed all of ancient Dalmatia, after the death (possibly by assassination) of Western Emperor Julius Nepos. After this, he received the right to appoint a council and to issue his own coinage. He made pacts with the Visigoths and Franks and joined them in battle against the Burgundians, Alamanni, and Saxons.

As Odoacer's kingdom expanded, his popularity among the Italic people grew, and his pacts with the Franks and Visigoths gave him increased influence. All these things started to worry Zeno, the Eastern Emperor, who increasingly saw Odoacer as a rival. In 487 Odoacer led his army to victory against the Rugians in Noricum, but he did not incorporate it into his own kingdom. The remaining Rugians fled and took refuge with the Ostrogoths. Rugiland was left open and by 493 was settled by the Lombards. In 488, Emperor Zeno started a mostly verbal campaign against Odoacer, accusing him of playing a major part in the revolt of Illus in 484. With these claims, Zeno convinced his Ostrogothic vassals that Odoacer was an enemy and should be removed. Zeno promised Theodoric the Great and his Ostrogoths the Italian peninsula if they were to defeat and remove Odoacer. In the same year, 488, Theodoric led the Ostrogoths across the Julian Alps and into Italy. With this betrayal, the Byzantines killed two birds with one stone. They removed the Ostrogoths from the Balkans and their border and at the same time conveniently caused Odoacer to disappear from the scene.


Theodoric and his Ostrogoths defeated Odoacer at Aquileia in 488, at Verona in 489, and at the Adda River in 490. In that same year, Theodoric besieged Odoacer at Ravenna. The siege lasted three years and was marked by dozens of attacks on both sides. In the end, neither side could conclusively prevail, and so on 2 February 493, Theodoric and Odoacer signed a treaty that ensured a shared rule over Italy. A banquet was organized in order to celebrate this treaty. It was at this banquet that Theodoric, after making a toast, killed Odoacer with his own hands.

Theodoric became the new king of Italy and established an Ostrogothic kingdom that was ruled from Ravenna. The remainder of Odoacer's foederati joined the Ostrogoths and were allowed to remain in Italy. Many of the fathers of these warriors and a number of the warriors themselves had fought together with the Ostrogoths at the Battle of Nedao in 454.

The events around the Battle of Ravenna were used in the Germanic heroic saga of Dietrich von Bern (Theodoric of Verona). The event in which Theodoric kills Odoacer with his own hands is mirrored in the saga in the episode in which Dietrich kills the Dwarf King Laurin.


  1. ^ Marcellinus, Cassiodorus, and some Papal documents, which come the closest to implying officiality of the title, all refer to him as rex (or one of its declensions). Jordanes at one point refers to him as Gothorum Romanorum que regnator: ruler of the Goths and the Romans. He is called an autokrator (autocrat, dictator) and a tyrranos (usurper, tyrant) in Procopius' Bellum Gothicum. The only reference to Odoacer as "King of Italy" is in Victor Vitensis: Odouacro Italiae regi.
  2. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I, Chap. XXXVI (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), p. 590.


  • Thompson, E. A. Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982. ISBN 0 299 08700 X.
Preceded by
Romulus Augustus
as Western Roman Emperor
King of Italy
Succeeded by
Theodoric the Great

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ODOACER, or Odovacar (c„ 434-493), the first barbarian ruler of Italy on the downfall of the Western empire, was born in the district bordering on the middle Danube about the year 434. In this district the once rich and fertile provinces of Noricum and Pannonia were being torn piecemeal from the Roman empire by a crowd of German tribes, among whom we discern four, who seem to have hovered over the Danube from Passau to Pest, namely, the Rugii, Scyrri, Turcilingi and Heruli. With all of these Odoacer was connected by his subsequent career, and all seem, more or less, to have claimed him as belonging to them by birth; the evidence slightly preponderates in favour of his descent from the Scyrri.

His father was Aedico or Idico, a name which suggests Edeco the Hun, who was suborned by the Byzantine court to plot the assassination of his master Attila. There are, however, 1 Odo must be distinguished from two English prelates of the same name and also from an English earl. Odo or Oda (d. 959), archbishop of Canterbury, was bishop of Ramsbury from 927 to 94 2, and went with King fEthelstan to the battle of Brunanburh in 937. In 942 he succeeded Wulfhelm as archbishop of Canterbury, and he appears to have been an able and conscientious ruler of the see. He had great influence with King Edwy, whom he had crowned in 956. Odo (d. 1200), abbot of Battle, was a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury, and was prior of this house at the time when Thomas Becket was murdered. In 1175 he was chosen abbot of Battle, and on two occasions the efforts of Henry II. alone prevented him from being elected archbishop of Canterbury. Odo or Odda (d. 1056), a relative of Edward the Confessor, during whose reign he was an earl in the west of England, built the minster at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire.

some strong arguments against this identification. A certain Edica, chief of the Scyrri, of whom Jordanes speaks as defeated by the Ostrogoths, may more probably have been the father of Odoacer, though even in this theory there are some difficulties, chiefly connected with the low estate in which he appears before us in the next scene of his life, when as a tall young recruit for the Roman armies, dressed in a sordid vesture of skins, on his way to Italy, he enters the cell of Severinus, a noted hermit-saint of Noricum, to ask his blessing. The saint had an inward premonition of his future greatness, and in blessing him said, " Fare onward into Italy. Thou who art now clothed in vile raiment wilt soon give precious gifts unto many." Odoacer was probably about thirty years of age when he thus left his country and entered the imperial service. By the year 472 he had risen to some eminence, since it is expressly recorded that he sided with the patrician Ricimer in his quarrel with the emperor Anthemius. In the year 475, by one of the endless revolutions which marked the close of the Western empire, the emperor Nepos was driven into exile, and the successful rebel Orestes was enabled to array in the purple his son, a handsome boy of fourteen or fifteen, who was named Romulus after his grandfather, and nicknamed Augustulus, from his inability to play the part of the great Augustus. Before this puppet emperor had been a year on the throne the barbarian mercenaries, who were chiefly drawn from the Danubian tribes before mentioned, rose in mutiny, demanding to be made proprietors of one-third of the soil of Italy. To this request Orestes returned a peremptory negative. Odoacer now offered his fellow-soldiers to obtain for them all that they desired if they would seat him on the throne. On the 23rd of August 476 he was proclaimed king; five days later Orestes was made prisoner at Placentia and beheaded; and on the 4th of September his brother Paulus was defeated and slain near Ravenna. Rome at once accepted the new ruler. Augustulus was compelled to descend from the throne, but his life was spared. Odoacer was forty-two years of age when he thus became chief ruler of Italy, and he reigned thirteen years with undisputed sway. Our information as to this period is very slender, but we can perceive that the administration was conducted as much as possible on the lines of the old imperial government. The settlement of the barbarian soldiers on the lands of Italy probably affected the great landowners rather than the labouring class. To the herd of coloni and servi, by whom in their various degrees the land was actually cultivated, it probably made little difference, except as a matter of sentiment, whether the master whom they served called himself Roman or Rugian. We have one most interesting example, though in a small way, of such a transfer of land with its appurtenant slaves and cattle, in the donation made by Odoacer himself to his faithful follower Pierius.2 Few things bring more vividly before the reader the continuity of legal and social life in the midst of the tremendous ethnical changes of the 5th century than the perusal of such a record. The same fact, from a slightly different point of view, is illustrated by the curious history (recorded by Malchus) of the embassies to Constantinople. The dethroned emperor Nepos sent ambassadors (in 477 or 478) to Zeno, emperor of the East, begging his aid in the reconquest of Italy. These ambassadors met a deputation from the Roman senate, sent nominally by the command of Augustulus, really no doubt by that of Odoacer, the purport of whose commission was that they did not need a separate emperor. One was sufficient to defend the borders of either realm. The senate had chosen Odoacer, whose knowledge of military affairs and whose statesmanship admirably fitted him for preserving order in that part of the world, and they therefore prayed Zeno to confer upon him the dignity of patrician, and entrust the " diocese " of Italy to his care. Zeno returned a harsh answer to the senate, requiring them to return to their allegiance to Nepos. In fact, however, he did nothing for the fallen emperor, but accepted the new order of things, and even addressed Odoacer as patrician. On the other hand, the latter I Published in Marini's Papiri diplomatici (Rome, 1815, Nos. 82 and 83) and in Spangenberg's Juris Romani Tabulae (Leipzig, 1822, pp. 164-173), and well worthy of careful study.

sent the ornaments of empire, the diadem and purple robe, to Constantinople as an acknowledgment of the fact that he did not claim supreme power. Our information as to the actual title assumed by the new ruler is somewhat confused. He does not appear to have called himself king of Italy. His kingship seems to have marked only his relation to his Teutonic followers, among whom he was " king of the Turcilingi," " king of the Heruli," and so forth, according to the nationality with which he was dealing. By. the Roman inhabitants of Italy he was addressed as " dominus noster," but his right to exercise power would in their eyes rest, in theory, on his recognition as patricius by the Byzantine Augustus. At the same time he marked his own high pretensions by assuming the prefix Flavius, a reminiscence of the early emperors, to which the barbarian rulers of realms formed out of the Roman state seem to have been peculiarly partial. His internal administration was probably, upon the whole, wise and moderate, though we hear some complaints of financial oppression, and he may be looked upon as a not altogether unworthy predecessor of Theodoric.

In the history of the papacy Odoacer figures as the author of a decree promulgated at the election of Felix II. in 483, forbidding the pope to alienate any of the lands or ornaments of the Roman Church, and threatening any pope who should infringe this edict with anathema. This decree was loudly condemned in a synod held by Pope Symmachus (502) as an unwarrantable interference of the civil power with the concerns of the church.

The chief events in the foreign policy of Odoacer were his Dalmatian and Rugian wars. In the year 480 the ex-emperor Nepos, who ruled Dalmatia, was traitorously assassinated in Diocletian's palace at Spalato by the counts Viator and Ovida. In the following year Odoacer invaded Dalmatia, slew the murderer Ovida, and reannexed Dalmatia to the Western state. In 487 he appeared as an invader in his own native Danubian lands. War broke out between him and Feletheus, king of the Rugians. Odoacer entered the Rugian territory, defeated Feletheus, and carried him and " his noxious wife " Gisa prisoners to Ravenna. In the following year Frederick, son of the captive king, endeavoured to raise again the fallen fortunes of his house, but was defeated by Onulf, brother of Odoacer, and, being forced to flee, took refuge at the court of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, at Sistova on the lower Danube.

This Rugian war was probably an indirect cause of the fall of Odoacer. His increasing power rendered him too formidable to the Byzantine court, with whom his relations had for some time been growing less friendly. At the same time, Zeno was embarrassed by the formidable neighbourhood of Theodoric and his Ostrogothic warriors, who were almost equally burdensome as enemies or as allies. In these circumstances arose the plan of Theodoric's invasion of Italy, a plan by whom originated it would be difficult to say. Whether the land when conquered was to be held by the Ostrogoth in full sovereignty, or administered by him as lieutenant of Zeno, is a point upon which our information is ambiguous, and which was perhaps intentionally left vague by the two contracting parties, whose chief anxiety was not to see one another's faces again. The details of the Ostrogothic invasion of Italy belong properly to the life of Theodoric. It is sufficient to state here that he entered Italy in August 489, defeated Odoacer at the Isontius (Isonzo) on the 28th of August, and at Verona on the 30th of September. Odoacer then shut himself up in Ravenna, and there maintained himself for four years, with one brief gleam of success, during which he emerged from his hiding-place and fought the battle of the Addua (11th August 490), in which he was again defeated. A sally from Ravenna (loth July 491) was again the occasion of a murderous defeat. At length, the famine in Ravenna having become almost intolerable, and the Goths despairing of ever taking the city by assault, negotiations were opened for a compromise (25th February 493). John, archbishop of Ravenna, acted as mediator. It was stipulated that Ravenna should be surrendered, that Odoacer's life should be spared, and that he and Theodoric should be recognized as joint rulers of the Roman state. The arrangement was evidently a precarious one, and was soon terminated by the treachery of Theodoric. He invited his rival to a banquet in the palace of the Lauretum on the 15th of March, and there slew him with his own hand. " Where is God? " cried Odoacer when he perceived the ambush into which he had fallen. " Thus didst thou deal with my kinsmen," shouted Theodoric, and clove his rival with the broadsword from shoulder to flank. Onulf, the brother of the murdered king, was shot down while attempting to escape through the palace garden, and Thelan, his son, was not long after put to death by order of the conqueror. Thus perished the whole race of Odoacer. LITERATURE. - The chief authorities for the life of Odoacer are the so-called ' `Anonymus Valesii," generally printed at the end of Ammianus Marcellinus; the Life of Severinus, by Eugippius; the chroniclers, Cassiodorus and " Cuspiniani Anonymus " (both in Roncalli's collection); and the Byzantine historians, Malchus and John of Antioch. A fragment of the latter historian, unknown when Gibbon wrote, is to be found in the fifth volume of Mailer's Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum. There is a thorough investigation of the history of Odoacer in R. Pallmann's Geschichte der Volkerwanderung, vol. ii. (Weimar, 1864). See also T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, vol. iii. (Oxford, 1885). (T. H.)

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Simple English

]]Odoacer (Flavius Odoacrus/Odovacar/Odowaker/Odoacer; b. around 435, † probably March 15, 493 in Ravenna) was a soldier in the army of the West Roman Empire. Perhaps he was of Germanic descent. When he forced the last Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus to quit in 476, he became King of Italy. That event is considered the end of Ancient history and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

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