Romulus Augustulus

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Romulus Augustus (full name: Imperator Caesar Flavius Romulus Augustus, c. AD 460/61-after 476), nicknamed Romulus Augustulus, was the last emperor of the Roman Empire. His nickname translates to, "Romulus, the Little Augustus," a reference to his young age or small amount of power.

Romulus was put on the throne in 475 by his father, Orestes, a military general, after a coup against the previous Emperor, Julius Nepos. Orestes, a Roman citizen from Pannonia, had once served as a secretary and diplomat for Attila the Hun, later becoming magister militum under Julius Nepos, whom he soon betrayed and drove out of Italy. For unknown reasons, Orestes declined to become emperor in his own right, instead appointing his son Romulus, who was 14 or 15 at the time, on October 31, 475.

In light of his youth and the nature of his elevation, Romulus was a mere puppet ruler for his father. Although coins bearing his image were minted in Rome and other places, little is known about his reign, which was not recognized by the more powerful Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The only significant event was the revolt of Germanic mercenaries under their leader, Odoacer, demanding that Orestes hand over a third of the land in Italy to provide them economic security. Orestes' refusal triggered a rebellion that resulted in the capture and execution of Orestes near Piacenza on August 28, 476, followed on September 4 by the capture of Ravenna (then the imperial capital) and the emperor himself. Odoacer deposed Romulus, but rather than appoint another emperor (Germanic chieftains could not assume the imperial title), he ordered the Roman Senate to request that the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno assume authority over the two halves of the empire, while elevating Odoacer to the title of patrician. In effect, this was asking Zeno to recognize Odoacer as de facto ruler of Italy, to which Zeno soon agreed.

Odoacer's decision to forego taking the title Emperor marked the end of the Roman Empire in the West. In truth the Empire was only a shell of its former self in its last years, having no real influence outside of Italy.

Little is known of Romulus' later life as the sources are contradictory and unclear, though it is agreed that he was sent to an estate in Campania in southern Italy. He was either allowed to live well on a yearly allowance from Odoacer or died within a few years. The scholar Cassiodorus wrote a letter to a "Romulus" in 507 concerning a pension, and this has been put forward by some as proof the last western emperor was still alive at this time; but whether these two are the same person is unclear.

It should be noted that the Eastern Roman Empire, called the Byzantine Empire continued to rule from Constantinople for almost 1000 more years.