Skip to main content
Select Source:

Odoacer

Odoacer

The Germanic chieftain Odoacer (433-493), by deposing the Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus, is traditionally credited with ending the Western Roman Empire.

Odoacer was born into a Germanic tribe, the Scirians, and was probably the younger son of Edico, an important person under Attila the Hun. In 470 he and the Scirians entered Italy and, together with many Germanic warriors, took up military service under the Romans. In 472 these German troops, including Odoacer, rebelled and aided the powerful German Ricimer in his bid to make Olybrius emperor. Both Ricimer and Olybrius soon died, and in the ensuing struggle a Roman officer, Orestes, triumphed. In 476 he established his son Romulus Augustulus as emperor, dispossessing the existing Western emperor, Julius Nepos.

However, Orestes failed to satisfy the demands of the Germans, who turned to Odoacer, proclaiming him king on Aug. 23, 476. The Germans then followed him in a rebellion which led to Orestes' death and Romulus's deposition. Significantly Odoacer ceased using shadow emperors and instead claimed himself as the power in the West with whom Zeno, the Eastern emperor, had to deal. Defining the nature of that relationship would concern Zeno and Odoacer as long as Odoacer lived.

An Uneasy Throne

Zeno still claimed to support the deposed Julius Nepos, but he rewarded Odoacer with the title of patrician. In 480 Julius Nepos was murdered, and Odoacer punished his murderers. Zeno had no choice but to recognize Odoacer. Peace lasted until 487, when Odoacer corresponded with a certain Illus, a rebel against Zeno. Although Odoacer had not actually aided the rebel, Zeno regarded his actions as hostile and decided to break his power by sending the Germanic tribe of the Rugians against him (487). Odoacer defeated the Rugians, and Zeno turned for assistance to Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogoths.

Meanwhile, Odoacer sought to build up his power in Italy. To placate the Germans, he made large grants of land to them. He won the favor of the Roman Senate by awarding high offices to its members. By war and diplomacy, he managed to deal with Italy's two major external threats— Euric, King of the Visigoths, and Gaiseric, King of the Vandals. From 477 he even issued coins in his own name.

Theodoric remained the major threat. In 489 he entered Italy. After several major defeats, Odoacer in 490 lost the support of the Roman Senate. He fell back upon the capital at Ravenna, where he endured a siege of 2 years. In 493 a compromise was worked out; Odoacer and Theodoric agreed to rule Italy jointly. However, a few days after entering the city, Theodoric slew Odoacer.

Further Reading

Ancient sources for Odoacer are given in Colin Douglas Gordon, The Age of Attila (1960). The best accounts in English are in Thomas Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders (8 vols., 1880-1889), and J. B. Bury, A History of the Later Roman Empire (2 vols., 1889). More recent sources are Stewart Perowne, The End of the Roman World (1966), and Arnold H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602 (3 vols., 1964) and The Decline of the Ancient World (1966). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Odoacer." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Odoacer." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/odoacer

"Odoacer." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/odoacer

Odoacer

Odoacer (ōdōā´sər) or Odovacar (–vā´kər), c.435–493, chieftain of the Heruli, the Sciri, and the Rugii (see Germans). He and his troops were mercenaries in the service of Rome, but in 476 the Heruli revolted and proclaimed Odoacer their king. Odoacer defeated the Roman general Orestes at Piacenza, took Ravenna (the West Roman capital), and deposed Romulus Augustulus, last Roman emperor of the West (until the coronation in 800 of Charlemagne). The date 476 is often accepted as the end of the West Roman Empire. However, Odoacer's action made little difference in the status of Western Rome, which had long been prey to the barbarian armies; the emperors had been mere puppets. Emperor Zeno of the East, considering himself heir to the West Roman Empire, reluctantly recognized Odoacer's authority over Italy and granted him the title of patrician. The Roman administration of Italy continued to function under Odoacer, who retained the chief officers of state. In 488, Zeno sent Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, into Italy to expel Odoacer. Several times defeated, Odoacer consented (493) to a treaty by which he was to share his authority with Theodoric. Invited to a banquet by Theodoric, Odoacer and his son and chief officers were treacherously assassinated; thus Theodoric made himself master of Italy.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Odoacer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Odoacer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/odoacer

"Odoacer." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/odoacer

Odoacer

Odoacer (433–93) ( Odovacar) Chief of the Germanic Heruli people and conqueror of the Western Roman Empire. The Heruli were Roman mercenaries until 476, when they declared Odoacer king of Italy. After the Ostrogoths invaded in 489, Odoacer fled to Ravenna. King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths invited Odoacer to a banquet, where he was murdered.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Odoacer." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Odoacer." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/odoacer

"Odoacer." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/odoacer