Olybrius: Wikis


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Emperor of the
Western Roman Empire
Olybrius 01.jpg
Olybrius, as depicted on the obverse of a gold Roman coin, minted during his reign.
Reign March 23 or July 11 – October 23 or November 2, 472
Full name Anicius Olybrius
Died October 23, 472 (aged 41)
Predecessor Anthemius
Successor Glycerius
Wife Placidia
Offspring Anicia Juliana

Anicius Olybrius[1] (died October 22 or November 2, 472), was Western Roman Emperor from April or May 472 to his death. He actually was a puppet, put on the throne by the Roman general of barbaric descent Ricimer, and was mainly interested in religion, while the actual power was held by Ricimer and his nephew Gundobad.




Family and early career

Olybrius was born in Rome, in the ancient and powerful gens Anicia,[2] of Italian descent.

According to an hypothesis, which gathers the consensus of the historians, he was related to the Consul Flavius Anicius Hermogenianus Olybrius, whose wife and cousin, Anicia Juliana, had the same name Olybrius gave to his own daughter. Other historians consider this a weak clue, as "Juliana" was a common name in the gens Anicia, and because Hermogenianus seems to have begotten only one daughter, who took chastity votes; other possible fathers have therefore been proposed: either Flavius Anicius Probus or, according to some clues, Petronius Maximus.[3][4]

In 454, Olybrius married Placidia, younger daughter of Western Emperor Valentinian III and of his wife Licinia Eudoxia, thus creating a bond between a member of the senatorial aristocracy and the House of Theodosius.[5]

Gaiseric sacks Rome, by Karl Briullov. After the sack of Rome (455), the Vandals took Licinia Eudoxia and her two daughters, among which also Olybrius' wife Placidia, to Africa; at that time Olybrius was in Constantinople.

In 454, the same year of Olybrius' marriage, Valentinian III killed the powerful Magister militum Aetius, the only man who could be as influential as the Emperor himself. The following year, however, Valentinian was killed by some soldiers who had served under Aetius, probably instigated by the Patricius Petronius Maximus, who succeeded to obtain the throne. Petronius, who was a high-ranking imperial officer and a member of a family belonging to the senatorial aristocracy, married Licinia Eudoxia, widow of Valentinian; he also elevated his own son Palladius to the rank of Caesar, and had him marry to Eudocia, elder daughter of Valentinian's. According to those historians who believe that Olybrius was Petronius' son, it was in 455 that Olybrius married Placidia, in particular between April 17, when Petronius was acclaimed Emperor, and May 31, when he died; in this case, the marriage between Olybrius and Valentinian's younger daughter was a move in Petronius' marriage policy.[4]

Twice candidate for the throne

The Vandals, led by King Gaiseric, took advantage of the confusion and the weakness of the Western Empire in the wake of Valentinian's turbulent succession, moved to Italy and sacked Rome. Before returning to Africa, the Vandals took Licinia Eudoxia and her two daughter as hostages: according to the 6th century historian John Malalas, at the time Olybrius was in Constantinople.

During his residence in the Eastern capital, Olybrius expressed his interest in religious matters: in this period he met Daniel the Stylite, who, according to Christian tradition, prophesied the liberation of Licinia Eudoxia. In the meantime, in the Western Empire there was a fast succession of Emperors. After Petronius, the Gallic-Roman senator Avitus was proclaimed Emperor by the Visigoth king Theodoric II and ruled for two years, then was deposed by Majorian, who ruled for four years, before being killed by his general Ricimer (461).

With the Western throne vacant, Gaiseric supported Olybrius for the purple; the reason for this decision was that Gaiseric's son Huneric and Olybrius had married the two daughters of Valentinian III (Petronius' son, Palladius, had been killed during the sack of Rome), and therefore, with Olybrius on the throne, Gaiseric could exert great influence on the Western Empire. Therefore Gaiseric freed Licinia Eudoxia (thus fulfilling Daniel's prophesy) and her daughter Placidia (Olybrius' wife), but did not stop his raids on Italian's coasts, in order to press for the election of his candidate on the Western throne, but his project failed, because the Magister militum of the West, Ricimer, chose Libius Severus as new Emperor (461-465). However, Placidia was now free, and re-joined her husband at Constantinople, where, a year later, gave him a daughter, Anicia Juliana.

Olybrius come close to the Western throne also in 465, when Libius Severus died. Once again, Gaiseric was his major supporter, but once again his hopes were shattered, as the Eastern Emperor Leo I the Thracian chose the noble Procopius Anthemius. Being Gaiseric's candidate, however, did not harm Olybrius' career: in 464 the Eastern court chose him for the high honour of the consulate.

Rise to the throne, rule, and death

All the sources agree on the point that Olybrius rose to the Western throne thanks to the Western Magister militum, the powerful general of barbaric descent Ricimer; however, there exist two different versions around the timing and the succession of the facts that led Olybrius to wear the purple.

According to a first version, in 472 Olybrius was sent to Italy by the Eastern Emperor, Leo I the Thracian, with the task to play the peacemaker role between Ricimer and the Western Emperor, Anthemius; after this task, Leo's orders also required Olybrius to go to Gaiseric, in offer a peace treaty to the King of the Vandals. However Leo, fearing that Olybrius could ally to Gaiseric, had his ambassador followed by another envoy, with a letter for Anthemius in which the Eastern Emperor suggested his Western colleague to have Ricimer and Olybrius killed. However, the letter was found when the envoy arrived at Ostia (Rome's sea port) and showed by Ricimer to Olybrius, who was thus convinced to accept the purple; from Ricimer's point of view, Olybrius was a good candidate, being a member of the Roman senatorial aristocracy and because of his marriage to Placidia, which makes him the last Emperor of the House of Theodosius. Ricimer had Anthemius killed and Olybrius acclaimed Emperor (July 11, 472).[6]

According to a second version, Olybrius' proclamation happened several months before Anthemius' death, in April or May 472, when he was chosen as Emperor by Ricimer. Then Ricimer put under siege Rome, where Anthemius was closed, for several months, until the lawful Emperor was left alone by his partisans, captured in a church and put to death by Gundobad, Ricimer's nephew.[7]

Olybrius' reign was short and uneventful. Few days after the death of Anthemius, also Ricimer died, on August 9 or 19; Olybrius elevated his nephew Gundobad Magister militum in his place. Very little is known of his policy, but it is known that he was a pious man and that he acted accordingly. An important clue in this direction is the fact that he had minted a new series of gold coins, in which he put a cross and the new legend SALVS MVNDI ("Welfare of the World") instead of the usual SALVS REIPVBLICAE ("Welfare of the State").[8] It is also noteworthy that Olybrius is depicted on his coins without helm and spear, common symbols on his predecessors' coinage, as to mark his little interest in military matters.[9]

Olybrius died of dropsy after only seven months of rule. The sources do not agree on the day of his death, reporting either October 22[10] or November 2[11].

Olybrius in culture

Olybrius had a palace in Constantinople, in the Tenth region, at one end of the Mesa, the main street, along the Constantinianae. Olibrius also restored at his expenses the nearby church of Saint Euphemia, a famous church, which had been chosen by Pulcheria, sister of Theodosius II, for the Council of Chalcedon in 451: this choice was a sign of the bond between Olybrius, a Roman senator, with the imperial House of Theodosius.[12]

In 1707, Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Pariati wrote a libretto entitled Flavio Anicio Olibrio. The story told in the opera is quite different from the real one, despite the fact that Zeno claimed to use several historical sources (Evagrius l.2.c.7, Procopius of Caesarea, Historia Vandalorum, l.1, Paul the Deacon, vi): Ricimer captures Rome, frees his sister Teodolinda and enslaves Placidia, daughter of Valentinian III; a little later, Olybrius frees Rome and Placidia, and marries her.[13] The libretto was written for a dramma per musica in three acts by Francesco Gasparini, performed that same year in the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice, but the same libretto was put in music also by Nicola Porpora (1711, in Neaples, as Il trionfo di Flavio Anicio Olibrio)[14] and Leonardo Vinci (Naples, 1728, as Ricimero),[15] and Andrea Bernasconi (1737, Wien, as Flavio Anicio Olibrio o La tirannide debellata).[16] The libretto was also rewritten for the Ricimero by Niccolo Jommelli, performed at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in 1740.[17]


  1. ^ Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire II.796.
  2. ^ His relationship with such a family was so noteworthy, that on his coins he spelled his family name in full (Philip Grierson, Melinda Mays, Catalogue of late Roman coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection: from Arcadius and Honorius to the accession of Anastasius, Dumbarton Oaks, 1992, ISBN 088402193, p. 262).
  3. ^ Settipani.
  4. ^ a b Drinkwater, pp. 119—120.
  5. ^ Mathisen.
  6. ^ John Malalas, Chronicon, 373-375.
  7. ^ John of Antioch, fragment 209.1-2; Fasti vindobonenses priores, n. 606, sub anno 472; Cassiodorus, sub anno 472.
  8. ^ Grieson, ibidem. It is possible that this theme was chosen to mark an opposition to Anthemius, who had studied in a Neo-platonic school and was suspected to restore the Pagan cults.
  9. ^ Grieson, ibidem.
  10. ^ Fasti vindobonenses priores, n.609: "et defunctus est imp. Olybrius Romae X kl. Novemb."
  11. ^ Paschale campanum: et Olybrius moritur IIII non. Novemb.
  12. ^ Necipoğlu, Nevra, Byzantine Constantinople: monuments, topography and everyday life, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 9004116257, pp. 58-60.
  13. ^ Apostolo Zeno, Poesie drammatiche, Volume 10, Giambattista Pasquali, 1744, Venezia, p. 385.
  14. ^ Performed in Rome in 1722, it was the début in that city of the then seventeen-years-old Farinelli (Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Volume 5, SIU Press, 1978, ISBN 0809308320, p. 146).
  15. ^ Kurt Sven Markstrom, The operas of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano, Pendragon Press, 2007, ISBN 1576470946, p. 259.
  16. ^ Eleanor Selfridge-Field, A new chronology of Venetian opera and related genres, 1660-1760, Stanford University Press, 2007, ISBN 0804744378, p. 284.
  17. ^ Letizia Norci Cagiano, Lo specchio del viaggiatore. Scenari italiani tra Barocco e Romanticismo, Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, 1992, pp. 54-55.


  • Drinkwater, John, e Hugh Elton, Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity?, Cambridge University Press, 1992, ISBN 0521529336.
  • Mathisen, Ralph W., "Anicius Olybrius", De Imperatoribus Romanis
  • Christian Settipani, Les Ancêtres de Charlemagne (France: Éditions Christian, 1989).
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Western Roman Emperor
Succeeded by

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

OLYBRIUS, Roman emperor of the West from the 11th of July to the 23rd of October 472, was a member of a noble family and a native of Rome. After the sack of the city by Genseric (Geiseric) in 455, he fled to Constantinople, where in 464 he was made consul, and about the same time married Placidia, daughter of Valentinian III. and Eudoxia. This afforded Genseric, whose son Hunneric had married Eudocia, the elder sister of Placidia, the opportunity of claiming the empire of the West for Olybrius. In 472 Olybrius was sent to Italy by the emperor Leo to assist the emperor Anthemius against his son-in-law Ricimer, but, having entered into negotiations with the latter, was himself proclaimed emperor against his will, and on the murder of his rival ascended the throne unopposed. His reign was as uneventful as it was brief.

See Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. xxxvi.; J. B. Bury, Later Roman Empire.

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