On this day (September 4th) in 476CE, the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Goth warlord Odoacer.
When Romulus, who was little more than a boy, stepped down from the throne in Ravenna (then capital of the Western Empire), Odoacer took the Imperial regalia and sent it to the Eastern Emperor, Zeno, claiming that Italy no longer needed a Caesar and that the Goths would rule Italy in Zeno’s name, as his vassals.
It’s a fascinating moment in time, one often misinterpreted as marking the “fall” of Rome – a fallacy created in large part by the great historian Edward Gibbon. The truth is much more complex!
In reality the Western Empire had ceased to exist, in all but name, decades before. Yet at the same time the essence of Rome would continue in its former Western territories for centuries to come. And Italy herself would be brought formally back into the Empire during the reign of Justinian, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of General Flavius Belisarius. There she would remain until after Justinian’s death.
Nonetheless, the day the boy Emperor abdicated and retired to live peacefully on a Goth-provided pension in the Castellum Lucullanum at Neapolis (Naples) was indeed a turning point in human history and deserves to be remembered.
On a final note, though the Roman fortifications on the site were subsequently replaced by the Normans in the 12th century (see image to the right), one can’t help but imagine the melancholic Caesar looking out from the battlements, dreaming of Empire lost…
Though nothing is known of Romulus’ death he could not have lived to have witnessed Belisarius’ reconquest of Italy (completed in in 540CE).
Following is a post in today’s “New Historian” for those looking for more on the Last Western Emperor.