odoacer

Odoacer Inscription

A commemorative Latin inscription of Odoacer the German, King of Italy, proclaiming his hostility and violence (and Germanness) towards the local cenobitic community.

In situ rock carving with flanged edges.

Made in 477 in the Early Christian catacombs at Salzburg in Austria. Associated with Saint Severinus of Noricum, a holy hermit who advised Odoacer. Notable for mentioning Odoacer, who as a historical figure epitomizes the fall of the Roman Empire. Currently located in St. Peter’s cemetery at Nonnberg Abbey.

 

Pope Saint Simplicius was Pope from 468 to March 10, 483.

He was born in Tivoli, Italy, the son of a citizen named Castinus. Most of what is known of him is derived from the Liber Pontificalis.

Simplicius defended the action of the Council of Chalcedon against the Eutychian heresy, labored to help the people of Italy against the marauding raids of barbarian invaders, and saw the Heruli mercenaries revolt and proclaim Odoacer king of Italy in 476, having deposedRomulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor. Odoacer made few changes in the administration in Rome, firmly in the hands of its Bishop, St. Simplicius. He worked to maintain the authority of Rome in the West.

Simplicius is credited for the construction of a church named in memory of the virgin and martyr St. Bibiana.

St. Simplicius's feast day is celebrated on March 10, the day of his death.


 

3

Julian Nepos, the other last Roman Emperor,

Generally speaking history names Romulus Augustulus as the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.  However among historians the title of “last Roman Emperor” is not so clear.  Not that it really matters, by 457 AD the Roman Emperor was no longer a person who had any real authority, but instead was the puppet of Germanic leaders, notably Ricimer, and later Odoacer.  Being Germans who were not  Roman citizens, they could not rule directly and maintain any semblance of legitimacy with the Roman people, but instead ruled through a series of puppet emperors who had been approved by the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople.  Generally speaking these puppet emperors were fairly disposable, their reigns lasting no more than a year of two.

In the year 474 Julian Nepos was hailed as Emperor under the patricianship of Odoacer.  Julian Nepos’ reign saw the utter collapse of Rome as more and more territories broke away from the empire and became independent. By the end of his reign, the Empire consisted of little more than Italy, some parts of Gaul (France), and Dalmatia (now the former Yugoslav republics) In addition, he was very unpopular with the Roman Senate. Disgusted with the collapse of the empire, and the sham emperorships of the Germans, one of his ministers, a half Roman, half German man named Orestes rebelled against Julian Nepos.  After being overthrown by Orestes in 475, Nepos fled to Dalamatia, the once province which he still controlled.

In the meantime, Orestes set about cementing his own authority with goal of restoring the Western Roman Empire.  In 475 he placed his son, Romulus, on the throne, giving him the ancient Imperial title “Augustus”.  Of course, Odoacer did not approve of Orestes or the emperorship of Romulus Augustus. The Eastern Roman Emperor also saw Orestes and Romulus as illegal usurpers.  Shortly afterwards, Odoacer quickly crushed Orestes and forced Romulus Augustus off the throne in 476.  Odoacer declared himself King of Italy, a title which was recognized by the Eastern Roman Emperor, but on the condition that Odoacer serve under Julian Nepos and recognize him as Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.  Odoacer agreed, paying lip service to the Eastern Roman Emperor by issuing coins in Nepos’ image. However Odoacer refused to invite Nepos back to Italy, instead he maintained his own rule over Rome while Julian Nepos maintained his rule over Dalmatia as Emperor of Rome.  Thus Dalamatia became one of three Roman “rump states” (remnant states) along with the Roman Moorish kingdoms (North Africa) and the Dominion of Soissons (France).  

Julian Nepos continued his rule in Dalmatia until he was murdered by his own soldiers in the year 480. Nepos had planned to invade Italy with the goal of wresting Italy away from Odoacer.  However, the people of Dalmatia were not happy about this as they were enjoying a measure of peace and prosperity. Thus they revolted against Nepos, replacing him with one of his generals, a man named Ovida.  The overthrow of Nepos gave Odoacer a solid pretext for war, and acting out of a supposed duty to Nepos and the Eastern Roman Emperor invaded Dalamatia, quickly defeating Ovida and his army.  Dalmatia was then absorbed into Odoacer’s kingdom.  Hence, Julian Nepos was the last man to hold the title “Western Roman Emperor”.  After Nepos’ death the Eastern Roman Emperor formally did away with the title of “Western Roman Emperor”, and named himself as the one true Roman Emperor.  Thus the Western Roman Empire was officially dissolved.

“Go to Italy, go, now covered with mean hides; soon you will make rich gifts to many.” - Severinus of Noricum

August 22, 476- Odoacer becomes the first German King of Italy, signalling the end of the Western Roman Empire. Though nominally a subject of the Eastern Roman Emperor on Constantinople, Odoacer’s aggressive behavior would eventually turn the Emperor, Zeno, against him.

Picture from Project Gutenberg’s Young Folks’ History of Rome, by Charlotte Mary Yonge

 

The Classical Calendar: December 9

480 CE

Odoacer occupies Dalmatia

We’ve met Odoacer (or Odovacer) before… He was among those responsible for the final downfall of the Western Roman Empire and took up the title of King of Italy in the wake of the deposition of Romulus Augustulus.

On this day in 480 CE, he occupied Dalmatia, and with (perhaps not) the support (more probably the co-operation) of the Senate, he consolidated his grasp on power. By the late fifth century the Western Empire had already fallen apart with alarming speed, and Odoacer took advantage of the fractured nature of the former empire in order to create a kingdom for himself.

His kingdom extended across the entire Italian peninsula, contained most of Sicily and much of the land on the West of the Adriatic.

Hello Odoacer!

Hello sis! I-activate mo yung ask section mo sa Tumblr or yung every post mo may REPLY button. Just in case if you like. Hehe.  

Edward Gibbon, Part VII

In Part I of this near-random collection of jottings, I remarked that Edward Gibbon, despite his near-obsessive concern with politeness and polish, tells you more about the sex lives of historical figures than virtually any modern historian. I also remarked that his modern-day fans, despite their frequently amazing levels of erudition and enthusiasm, studiously avoid the slightest mention of this aspect of his great work. Having done “Gibbon on Sex,” I decided to do “Gibbon on Everything Else” as well, which, for whatever reason, turned out to be more demanding than I expected. Today’s piece is the last of Edward. For the first six, listed, alas, in reverse order, go here.

When Gibbon reached 490 AD, with the “Reign of Odoacer, the First Barbarian King of Italy,” he had achieved the goal he had set for himself “amidst the ruins of the Capitol,” but, he discovered, he didn’t want to stop writing. Voltaire, with his enthusiasm for the arts, had declared that only four periods of human history really merited study: Periclean1 Athens, Augustan Rome, Renaissance Italy, and the France of Louis XIV.2 Gibbon, having finished off the “real” Roman Empire, evidently decided to write the history of “everything else,” or “how we got to where we are now”—the path that humanity, or at least “Europe”, followed from the decline of learning—or “letters”, as Gibbon would have it—to their revival with the Italian Renaissance. Since Constantinople did not fall to the Turks until 1453, Gibbon gave himself more than eight hundred years to play around with, writing about the Byzantine Empire until it got boring,3 and then writing about anything and everything that impinged upon it as long as he found it interesting, including Charlemagne, Mahomet, and Genghis Khan.

Until the sixties, which though they did not change everything, did change a lot of things, Gibbon was considered one of the very greatest of English authors, as securely on the top shelf as Shakespeare. His omnipresent irreligion, deeply felt and frivolously expressed, shocked the Victorians but they could not deny it, nor could they deny Gibbon’s greatness.4 His rationality offended the Romantics,5 but his authority was irrefutable, until the German scientific school unleashed an army of experts, besieging Gibbon as the Lilliputians besieged Gulliver, although in this case the Lilliputians were largely correct. So why read Gibbon today?

Gibbon represents a massive, if massively one-sided, attempt of the European mind to understand itself through historical narrative, though, to a remarkable extent, rather in the Enlightenment “tradition,” Gibbon doesn’t offer explanations as to why things turned out the way they did—why Europe, which for so long was on the “right” track, got off on the wrong one for even longer, and then suddenly got back on the right one again. Why did the Romans stop being “noble” and start being fanatics, or at least start allowing themselves to be ruled by them? Why did fanaticism rule men’s minds for so long, and why, having lasted so long—longer, really than Rome itself—did it ever stop? Why did “letters” revive when they did, and not sooner, or not at all? Hegel would provide answers—some fascinating, others laughable—but Gibbon did not. He was far more interested in character than causality,6 and his history presents an almost innumerable cast of characters, their vices and virtues—when such are present—carefully delineated with unwavering accuracy and diligence, the whole seen through that single, small, polished, gleaming lens.

Afterwords
What about the footnotes? Gibbon is famous for his footnotes, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit them in, other than in a footnote, which really wouldn’t be fair. In the passage I quoted on the Emperor Commodus, Gibbon footnotes his reckless statement regarding the long, bony neck of the ostrich with information drawn from the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (aka “Buffon”) that the ostrich’s neck is three feet long and has seventeen vertebrae. In the next footnote, Gibbon notes that Commodus also killed a giraffe, which virtually no European had ever seen since the Romans stopped their exotic slaughter, describing it as “the tallest, the most gentle, and the most useless of the large quadrupeds,” though how a giraffe could be considered more useless than a hippopotamus or a rhinoceros I do not understand. Most of Gibbon’s footnotes are not so curious. He hides occasional witticisms there, but for the most part they are, sometimes consciously, a testament to his own enormous scholarship and industry and to that of the eighteenth century as a whole, which, despite its many limitations, sought to understand “the world” with less bias and greater discrimination than any civilization had done before.

Further Reading
Peter Heather may not be the modern Gibbon, but his The Fall of the Roman Empire (2006) is very good reading. Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome covers the once-Roman world from 400 to 1000 CE. Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind (2002) is an excellent modern guide to the naked power struggles that once wore the visage of Christ.

The most recent edition of Gibbon, available from Penguin in three very fat paperbacks, is edited by David Womersley, author of The Transformation of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which probably contains more eighteenth century minutiae than most people can bear, but I enjoyed it. Edward Gibbon and Empire, edited by Rosamund McKitterick and Roland Quinault, is probably too inside for most, but I enjoyed it as well. There’s a convenient web edition of The Decline and Fall here


  1. Oh, yikes. Word doesn’t know how to spell “Periclean.” Bill Gates, you are so fucking ignorant. 

  2. Voltaire is on record, somewhere, of saying that Isaac Newton was the greatest man who ever lived. How he smuggled him into Versailles I’ll never know. 

  3. “Five centuries of the decline and fall of the empire have already elapsed; but a period of more than eight hundred years still separates me from the term of my labours, the taking of Constantinople by the Turks. Should I persevere in the same course, should I observe the same measure, a prolix and slender thread would be spun through many a volume, nor would the patient reader find an adequate reward of instruction or amusement. At every step, as we sink deeper in the decline and fall of the Eastern empire, the annals of each succeeding reign would impose a more ungrateful and melancholy task. These annals must continue to repeat a tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery; the natural connection of causes and events would be broken by frequent and hasty transitions, and a minute accumulation of circumstances must destroy the light and effect of those general pictures which compose the use and ornament of a remote history.” [From the introduction to chapter 48] 

  4. As I remarked in Part 1, Gibbon’s unembarrassed interest in sexuality—almost “scientific”—was ignored, and still is today, rather in the manner of Shakespeare’s occasional “cunt” and “fuck” jokes, which can be found in Act III, Scene 4 of Henry V, when Katherine, a French princess and Henry’s bride to be, is learning English, as well as in Hamlet’s line to Ophelia “Do you think I meant country matters?” (Act III, Scene 2) I have seen 13 versions of Hamlet, and in 1 of them has the actor playing Hamlet given a “correct” reading of this line. 

  5. Coleridge hated Gibbon, but Shelley loved him. When Shelley lived in Rome, he would go to the Coliseum, which was heavily overgrown and entirely “unimproved” in those days, find a particularly bosky spot, and spend the day lying in the warm Italian sun reading Gibbon. It does sound a bit like heaven. 

  6. It’s certainly inaccurate to say that Gibbon was not concerned with causality. He provides an elaborate discussion of the causes for Christianity’s success, but his compulsion for ridicule makes it difficult to know how seriously he takes his own arguments. He just has a hard time keeping a straight face when the topic is people who believe in talking snakes. Gibbon habitually assigns a great deal of emphasis to “character,” not only for individuals but for “races” and “peoples,” remarking, for example, on the place in the Roman empire of the Syrians and Egyptians: “The use of their ancient dialects, by secluding them from the commerce of mankind, checked the improvements of those barbarians. The slothful effeminacy of the former, exposed them to the contempt; the sullen ferociousness of the latter, excited the aversion of the conquerors.” Even after World War I, it was scarcely unusual for European historians to dismiss peoples and nations on the ground of effeminacy.