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Romulus Augustus (463 – 525), was a Western Roman Emperor, reigning from the 31 October 475 until his death on the 12th of August 515. His reign on the throne of the Western Roman Empire is generally held to mark the end of ancient Rome and its rebirth, the beginning of the First New Age in Western Europe as well as the time period in which the previously rapidly declining Western Empire not only ceased declining, but quickly began a shockingly quick return to prestige and power, serving as a catalyst for the future of Rome.
Despite his importance, historical records contain few details of Romulus' early life. He was installed as emperor by his father Orestes, the Magister militum of the Roman army after deposing the previous emperor Julius Nepos. Romulus, little more than a child, acted as a figurehead for his father's rule in his early days, but after his father's death, still only 14, Romulus took true power and began to systematically restore the Empire's dominance in Italy with the help of his advisers. Reigning for 49 years, Romulus reigned longer than both Augustus and Theodosius II, becoming the longest reigning Roman Emperor of his time. He would later become revered by the revived Imperial Cult, which worshiped him as the restorer of Rome and savior of civilization. Today he is still held as one of Rome's greatest Emperors, a true rival for his namesakes as well as all of his predecessors.
Romulus' father Orestes was originally from Pannonia and had served as a secretary and diplomat for Attila the Hun. Later on Oresetes rose through the ranks of the Roman army. Romulus was names after his maternal grandfather, though most believe his true namesake as being that of the founder of Rome. He later, after taking on the title of Augustus (the official title at the time for a senior Roman Emperor), became known officially as Romulus Augustus, though during his early life, especially while his father was still alive, he was known as Romulus Augustulus (meaning little Romulus Augustus, signifying his age and his reduced prestige in comparison to both of his namesakes)
His father was appointed Magister militum by Julius Nepos in 475. Shortly after his appointment, Orestes rebelled and captured Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire at the time, on 28 August 475. Nepos fled to Dalmatia, where his uncle had ruled a semi-autonomous state in the 460s. Orestes, however, refused to become emperor, instead installing his son on the throne on 31 October 475.
The western empire had shrunk significantly over the previous century, reduced to merely comprising of Italy, southern Gaul, the Alps and Dalmatia. The much more stable Eastern Roman Empire treated its western counterpart as a client state, with its emperors previously appointing the Western Emperors for the last few years, and thus did not recognize the overthrow of Julius Nepos, who still ruled in Dalmatia.
As a proxy for his father, Romulus made no decisions and had no true power. Several months after Orestes took power, a coalition of Heruli, Scirian and Turcilingi mercenaries demanded that he give them a third of the land in Italy. When Orestes refused, the tribes revolted under the leadership of the Scirian chieftain Odoacer. Orestes was captured near Piacenza on 28 August 476 and swiftly executed.
Odoacer quickly advanced to Ravenna, arriving before the gates with a great army. Romulus, on the advice of his advisers, offered Odoacer co-emperorship in exchange for lifting the siege. Odoacer ultimately accepted the position and became the effective leader of the Western Empire for the brief period. By this point a power struggle in Constantinople which had kept the Eastern Empire from interfering with affairs in the west ended, and an Eastern Roman army, led by Emperor Zeno himself alongside Julius Nepos, arrived in Italy.
Odoacer and Romulus (despite his age) brought forth an army to meet Zeno and Nepos' forces near Mediolanum, where they clashed. Ultimately, Odoacer would be slain on the field, and both Zeno and Julius Nepos were slain as well. Romulus himself got directly involved in the battle and, despite his small size and young age, managed to survive. At this point his Barbarian legions heralded him as a true warrior worthy of ruling, leading to him receiving direct control over his Barbarian forces, instead of controlling them through a proxy.
With the death of Odoacer bringing a free hand in the west and control over the Barbarians within his borders, the death of Nepos bringing him legitimacy and the death of Zeno bringing him new found influence even in the distant eastern empire, the boy-emperor began working to re-consolidate Roman authority in the west. As a result of this initiative, instead of overstretching himself through trying to claim the East, Romulus simply threw his support behind Armatus, another relative of Zeno and one of the pivotal members of the major rebellion against him, in exchange for monetary support from the east and the permanent transfer of numerous legions to Romulus' control. Due to the newly weakened state of the east and the overestimation of Romulus' military power, this deal was accepted, and the east further weakened as a large number of its forces and a massive chunk of its treasury went to the west.
Re-consolidation of the West and Romanization of the Germanics in Italy
After receiving considerable aid from Constantinople, Rome under Romulus began re-consolidating imperial authority within its own shrunken borders. To accomplish this, the Emperor encouraged the Barbarians of various descents within Italy to learn to become Roman, offering them as individual, private citizens considerable bits of land. As he did this, he began to split up the barbarians, separating tribes, only allowing immediate family members to stay together, mixing the barbarians in with normal Romans. Romulus also began to rebuild the order of the legions, ensured that the frontiers were guarded and worked to re-establish some form of normality to the Empire. However, despite his success in beginning the (in the long-run) successful romanization of the barbarians in his lands, Romulus would be faced with yet another obstacle.
Scourge of Theodoric
Armatus, the Roman Emperor in the East, had been humiliated earlier on by Romulus, forced to give up a significant number of soldiers permanently and provide the west with monetary "aid", which was truly more of a tribute than anything else, and at the same time had an, if allied, increasingly troublesome tribe of Barbarians called the Ostrogoths within his borders. To solve both his problems with the Ostrogoths and to be rid of Romulus, Armatus requested that Theodoric, the chieftain of the Ostrogoths, go and conquer Italy so that his people could have a place of their own to live in. Theodoric and his people, anxious for a true place to live, accepted. However, due to spies that Romulus had placed in the east, he was aware of the coming advance of the Ostrogoths and therefore readied both his armies as well as prepared a bribe for a rather insidious, if ingenious, means of avoiding the risks of facing the Ostrogoths and putting them to good work. When Theodoric was near enough to the Western Roman Empire's borders in 481, western diplomats met with him and proposed that, with a small financial contribution from the west, the Ostrogoths could, with Romulus' consent and blessing, return to the East to conquer it as their own lands, offering Theodoric emperorship in the east as well as the right to govern it under his own laws. Theodoric, faced with armies potentially strong enough to defeat him as well as a hefty bribe and powerful political support, reluctantly decided to return to the East in order to conquer it. While Armatus would attempt to bribe Theodoric with an even more generous offer, Theodoric decided it was too unrealistic and stuck with his deal with Rome. Theodoric would ultimately conquer much of the European territory of the Eastern Empire, picking up defectors from them to add to his armies along the way. However, when faced with the walls of Constantinople, he would be stalled for five years, forced to fight a war of attrition in Thrace and northwestern Anatolia, which would become known as the scourge of Theodoric. During this time, Romulus managed to reconquer additional parts of Gaul, though he continued to focus primarily on re-consolidating Western Roman authority within its own borders rather than active expansion.
Fall of Constantinople
In 486, after five brutal years under siege during which the armies of Theodoric ravaged much of the eastern empire, Constantinople at last fell to Theodoric amidst a bloody battle. Armatus, however, had managed to escape to the southern fringes of the Eastern Roman Empire, eventually formalizing his base of power in Alexandria, Egypt. However, despite the Eastern Emperor's survival, alongside his continued control of Eastern Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt, the fall of Constantinople effectively destroyed the Eastern Empire's prestige and power, and brought Theodoric great riches. Theodoric, having grown up as a, if well treated, hostage in Constantinople took a large degree of pleasure from now ruling from it. With the Eastern Empire's territories in the Balkans, as well as western and most of northern and southwestern Anatolia under his control, Theodoric had firmly established his power and prestige. With Romulus' prior consent, Theodoric declared himself to be Emperor of the east and Romulus withdrew all forms of recognition from Armatus, leaving him with only a small group of supporters and his unrecognized rump state in the south. Soon Theodoric would conquer the rest of Anatolia and being to move into the Levant, but the assassination of Theodoric in 487, largely believed to have been ordered by Romulus, ultimately shattered the unity of the Barbarian-led Eastern Empire, leading to several scores of petty kings and emperor-claimants, both Roman and Barbarian in origin, to begin to crop up all throughout the East as it tore itself to shreds. Armatus, despite leading the largest of the "empirelets" and being the original Eastern Roman Emperor before Theodoric's invasion, was unable to reconquer any of his former domains beyond a small portion of the Levant due to lack of support and thinly spread legions. He ultimately would have no further chances to restore himself as he too was assassinated in early 488, openly ordered by Romulus. Afterward, due to the additional assassinations of numerous important Eastern officials who had served Armatus, as well as his heir and all of his close relatives, the territories of Armatus shattered into petty claimant states as well, losing their last shed of true power. Romulus had dealt away with the eastern empire as last, leaving only disorganized, broken up petty kingdoms and states, many still Roman or Romano-German in nature, to squabble over-top of its broken remains. While Romulus hoped for one of his successors to be able to reconquer the East, he himself had no intention of doing so, he himself still occupied with re-consolidation and growth of the army. However, soon Romulus would put his efforts of re-consolidation to even greater use in restoring the Western Empire.
Reconquest of Gaul
Romulus, having regrown the army considerably already, was boosted further by refugees from the east, most of whom he forced to serve in the army, promising land and wealth for them, a promise he had grand and, to many, unrealistic plans to deliver on.
With his soldiers in tow, Romulus entered into barbarian controlled areas of southern Gaul. Within days, he was confronted with two large scale battles, both of them ending favorably for the Romans with little casualties.
Romulus began to advance through Gaul, systematically exterminating every barbarian tribe he encountered, intent on "cleansing" Gaul of its invaders. At last, after nearly a year of campaigning, in 490, Romulus entered the town once known as Lutetia Parisiorum, restoring it to Roman Control. While some of Eastern Gaul as well as a small exclave in the northwest remained unconquered, Romulus had effectively brought Gaul back into the empire. As he left, he ordered his troops to complete the conquest of the remaining barbarian pocket in the northwest, and ordered them to take what lands they could on the east but not to overstretch their lines as he wished to ensure that the Empire would have a strong frontier.
Return to Ravenna
Romulus, having reconquered much of Gaul, was granted a triumph upon his return and was declared to be an equal to Trajan in greatness, even if his territories did not quite reflect it yet. Romulus then, during that year, married a Romanized-Germanic girl whom had been renamed to Claudia. Within a year of being married, their first child, as well as Romulus' eventual successor, Tiberius, was born on September the 7th 492, sparking delight all throughout the Empire. Two months after the child's birth, Romulus granted the child the title of Caesar, making him a Junior Emperor and therefore Romulus' official heir.
With Gaul now under his control, the Emperor began planning out a future set of invasions in Hispania and North Africa, plans which he doubted he would be alive to see acted out but nevertheless cared to lay out all the same. The Emperor also furthered his work on romanizing the barbarian citizens of the Empire as well, as to ensure Rome's long-term return in the west. Meanwhile, while the East still remained deeply divided and broken, the petty-states began to decrease in numbers as the stronger ones of them began to conquer the weak, eventually leaving five different factions in the east contending over the throne. Romulus himself, while indirectly responsible for the divisions in the first place, was nevertheless relieved that the East was, if still in deep civil war, at last getting nearer to a (weak) united state once more, as he feared that the lands might be lost forever to barbarians.
The 490s passed by with little fuss, as did the majority of the first decade of the 6th century. Romulus ultimately ordered minor conquests in Hispania and made further preparations for a future invasion of North Africa, which would restore considerable wealth and food production to the Empire. He also worked to, as a result of the effective collapse of the eastern navy, build more ships and invest more into the navy, which maintained its dominance over the Mediterranean Sea.
In 520, the instability over the throne in the East neared their end. At this point, one of the two remaining faction heads died, leaving his claims to Romulus' second son, named Marcus, who, with some support from Romulus, began the final stages of the Eastern Civil War. As battles raged in the East, Romulus, knowing his time would be up sooner or later, had made all of the preparations for full scale invasions of Hispania and North Africa, and had groomed and trained his son to be a worthy successor to his long and illustrious reign.
As early August of 525 arrived, Romulus fell gravely ill. Slightly less than two days before his death, his son, Marcus, successfully defeated his rival in the east, and became the undisputed Eastern Emperor. Romulus, however, would not live to here of it, dying before word reached him on the 12th of August 525. While Romulus hardly ruled over the largest of domains for any Roman Emperor, he had commanded great power, and accomplished the near impossible task of begining to restore the Western Roman Empire from the brink of extinction back to glory. The Emperor's image would ultimately become even greater in death, distorted positively and increased in stature. Ultimately, the emperor once dubbed "little Augustus" would turn out to be what many regard as one of Rome's greatest Emperors, and the initial architect of its impossibly glorious future.
Upon ascending to the throne, his son, Tiberius II, was told not that he should be "as lucky as Augustus, and as good as Trajan", but rather that he should seek to be "as great as Romulus Augustus".
|Predecessor:||Romulus Augustus Orestius (Western Roman Glory)||Successor:|
|Julius Nepos||Romulus Augustus||Tiberius II|