Anthemius either had a death wish or was supremely confident of his own abilities. Either way, it would amount to the same thing, in that Anthemius was unwise to consider himself a genius.
Perhaps it's unfair to judge him too harshly. He became Roman Emperor in the West because the Roman Emperor in the East wished it so. Anthemius was also an arrogant prig and thoroughly Greek in outlook. The reason why Rome needed him in 467 because all the local Romans were useless cowards.
Anthemius was born in Constantinople. He spoke Greek first and Latin only when arm twisted to do so. His namesake maternal grandfather had ordered the construction of a massive defensive wall around his home city, large parts of which still stand today in Istanbul. However they're not called the 'Anthemian Walls' but the 'Theodosian Walls' after Anthemius's boss Emperor Theodosius II. Still, that is a lot more substantial than anything Anthemius junior would leave behind.
He joined the army and became friends with Marcian, later a Roman emperor. So good were the relations that Anthemius got to marry his mate's daughter Aelia Marcia Euphemia and would go on to produce four strapping sons. Marcian indicated to Anthemius that he had hoped to promote him as emperor in Rome as a replacement for the Visigothic glove puppet Avitus. However, before this could be arranged Marcian died. Now there was an imperial vacancy a lot closer to home.
So why didn't Anthemius get the job in the Eastern half of the empire? Anthemius had already gained an unwanted reputation as 'Arrogantus Anthemius' (or simply 'Arrogantus', everyone knew who was meant by this). He was also opposed by the barbarian military commander Aspar who had more or less run the Eastern Roman Empire since the mid 420s and disliked Anthemius intensely. Aspar backed one of his nominees, a soldier called Leo who became emperor Leo I. That Leo could barely write his name or that looked like a goggle eyed fish apparently made him a superior choice over Anthemius should have given the latter a strong hint that he needed to polish his likability more.
Despite his distaste for Leo, Anthemius carried on his military duties for the new boss. He seemed to be efficient, besting the Ostrogoths in a struggle over what was left of Attila the Hun's dying empire. Anthemius perhaps could have found motivation enough to deal with Leo but the later was well protected by Aspar.
The disappearance of Roman emperor Libius Severus and a threat of a renewed Vandal attack on both halves of the Roman empire persuaded Leo to act. The resident strong man of the West Ricimer declined to divulge what had happened to Severus, perhaps happy to collect his pay checks and pension pot. When Leo said he would come and find out, Ricimer declared Severus was dead and that he was pleased to help whoever Leo had in mind to support as a new colleague. Anthemius was summoned and handed his instructions by Leo. He was to sail to Rome and take up the job of Western Roman Emperor.
Operation: Kill the VandalsEdit
Anthemius seems to have been less than enthusiastic. He initially didn't bring his family with him except his daughter Alypia. Her life's purpose was apparently to be a diplomatic tool. She was also going to marry Ricimer, the bloody handed killer of emperors past. Anthemius hoped this would help him bond with Ricimer. The latter instead mocked Anthemius for his bad Latin and mincing walk.
Still, they were where they were. Enemies, frenemies..their mission was to organise a war against the Vandals and retake North Africa. For the first time in decades it would also be a joint mission by the Western and Eastern Roman empires. Together they should have crushed the Vandals. What could go wrong? Well, everything did.
At first the war went well. The Romans landed in North Africa and appeared to have got the better of the Vandals. Genseric looked trapped but then again as before, treachery and incompetence made their starry walk on stage. Anthemius's general Marcellinus got knifed in a bath house near Syracuse in Sicily by a colleague who was in the pay of Genseric. The Vandals had then sent fire ships against the Eastern Roman fleet who had been moored at an insecure mooring by their Anthemius-like commander Basiliscus. The Roman fleet went up like pile of matchsticks.
The expedition was over, the Vandals were staying exactly where they were but even more pissed and looking to get their own back. Anthemius losses had been less severe but he could expect little further help from his mentor Leo.
Return to GaulEdit
Seeing that the war against the Vandals had gone to poorly, Anthemius chose to renew conflict against the Visigoths. This wasn't such a daft idea. Anthemius saw he needed to restore Roman 'morale' and a fight with the Visigoths looked like a safer option. At least the Romans had beaten the Visigoths and there were allies in Gaul to assist. One of these could have been the supporters of the murdered Aegidius whose son Syagrius held Paris and the northern half of Gaul. However since Ricimer was still the power wielder in Rome, less likely to expect help from that quarter.
He could expect little help from the supporters of the murdered Aegidius who son Syagrius held Paris and the northern half of Gaul. Help did come from the newly immigrated Bretons whose recent ancestors had fled from Britain when the Anglo-Saxons were doing their worst to the country. But the Bretons got whacked by superior Visigothic forces. A further attempt to defend what was left of Roman Gaul (at least the bit that recognised Anthemius) saw some limited success under the command of the emperor's son Anthemiolus who was on a holiday work placement. However Anthemiolus over extended his luck and saw his army taken apart by king Euric of the Visigoths in 471. Anthemiolus died, permanently cutting short his internship.
With everything going tits up for Anthemius, not surprisingly his relations with Ricimer went sour. The generalissimo tried to promote another candidate called Romanus to be next emperor but the plot was found out and the pretender got cut down for his efforts. Grumpily, Ricimer sacrificed his political pawn, blaming Anthemius for being a Graeca stercus Anthemius vainly hoped Emperor Leo would send another army to help but nothing doing.
Enter that regular imperial pretender Olybrius. He decided to ditch the Vandals as his political sponsor and instead switched to Emperor Leo. Ricimer informed Constantinople that he wanted a new emperor and invited Olybrius over.
Anthemius may have been an arrogant s.o.b. but he wasn't going to give up quite yet. A war broke out and for awhile the struggle seemed even. However Anthemius's troops deserted and he was found in Rome hiding in a church dressed as tramp. The vain emperor had forgotten to roughen his soft manicured hands and so was easily identified. Ricimer's soldiers took him to their leader. Anthemius could expect no mercy and so got none. Ricimer declined to kill the emperor himself, handing over that task to his nephew Gundobad the Very Bad of Burgundy. Gundobad swiftly killed Anthemius. Ricimer's only comment was 'you've past the test' to Gundobad. It would also save Ricimer that awkward conversation with his wife Alypia about who killed her father.
Thanks to Sidonius 'Sid' Apollinaris, we have quite a bit of information of Anthemius's career. It's mostly hyperbolic verbiage which reads quite funny once you knew what happened to Anthemius. The main text was titled 'Stercus accidit' .
Olybrius (in the West)