Olybrius:'I do not have a secret bank account in Carthage'.

For someone who had spent so long chasing the battered throne of the Roman Empire, Olybrius would enjoy precious few months taking pride in the achievement in 474. That his position was owed entirely to Patrician Ricimer who had just help dispose of his predecessor seems not to have troubled Olybrius. Perhaps he already had a plan to restore the crumbling Western Roman Empire but it died with him.

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It had taken Olybrius nearly 20 years to park his arse on the throne. He had already tried at least twice before and maybe earlier as well. Olybrius wasn't a rough and ready soldier, he came from one of Rome's elite families known as the Anicii. Think of them like the Koch Brothers, Getty and Rockefeller families combined.


'You know we are sitting in a metaphor when comes to talking about the Roman Empire?"

In around the time the Huns were on the warpath, Olybrius put his name down to marry Emperor Valentinian III's youngest daughter Placidia. He was opposed by the true boss of the Western Roman Empire General Aetius and a centurion called Majorian. However, in rapid game of imperial musical chairs both Aetius and Valentinian were killed and Olybrius got his young bride, aged about 14. This suggests there was a family link with Petronius Maximus who had succeeded Valentinian as emperor. However before the honeymoon could commence, the Vandals dropped in uninvited to Rome and grabbed Placidia for a solo wedding cruise to Carthage.

Olybrius managed to escape Rome and sailed to Constantinople. He remained in contact with the Vandal ruler Genseric and offered to come to Carthage to 'claim his bride'. Genseric gave no promise of safe conduct so Olybrius dropped the idea and stayed where he was. However in around 461 Placidia and her mother Licinia Eudoxia were released by the Vandal King after a large ransom was sent by Emperor Leo I and moved back to the Eastern Empire.

First Imperial BidEdit


'Haven't I seen you on a coin?

Glad to see his wife returning (less keen on the mother-in-law), Olybrius was also surprised to see his name put around as the next Western Roman Emperor. His love rival for Placidia, Majorian had been killed by true power-behind-the-throne Ricimer and so there was a vacany in Rome. Olybrius was 'encouraged' to put his name forward but got rejected. Since Ricimer let it be known that Olybrius was 'in a smelly barbarian's pocket', the bid failed and Libius Severus got the job as emperor instead.

Second Imperial BidEdit

Olybrius was happy to stay where he was. Placida gave birth to their daughter Anicia Juliana but Olybrius still liked the idea of becoming an emperor. In 465 the opportunity again arose when Emperor Libius Severus in Rome disappeared from view. Again Genseric put a bid in for Olybrius and was rejected. Only now did Olybrius realised that perhaps he out to try a different patron, someone who hadn't just recently sacked Rome. Emperor Leo was convinced Olybrius was a Vandal asset and so ignored Olybrius's consistent lobbying and chose Anthemius to be his 'new man' in the West.

Third Imperial BidEdit


Just to prove that in Roman society, Olybrius was 'summo canis'.

Olybrius falls out of view again. Perhaps he was still working for the Vandals because the next great Roman Empire expedition to defeat Genseric is a spectacular disaster. This leads to another rebellion by Ricimer in 472 against his supposed 'boss' Anthemius. Now it is Ricimer's turn to offer Olybrius the throne. He takes up the offer but Placidia refused to go to Rome with him, unsurprisingly considering her past with the city. This doesn't deter Olybrius. In July 472 Anthemius is killed and Olybrius can finally get his dream of a throne. Even though the Western Roman Empire was now a scattering of frontier posts, chicken farms and broken down villas, Olybrius took the job. He was finally going to be big on coins.

Reign and deathEdit

Olybrius was fully aware of how long a Roman emperor lasted if Ricimer got upset with you. But in a matter of a few weeks Ricimer was dead, choking up blood and drowning in a bowl of Roman bran flakes. Cause of death was 'old age' but more likely the old bastard was bumped off.

The emperor's new boss was Ricimer's nephew Gundobad. His became Rome's new capo but said he was keen to return home to Burgundy as he missed the wine. Olybrius seemed ok with that decision but before anything else could happen, Olybrius was dead in November 472. He had been emperor for barely four months. The official cause of death was 'dropsy', perhaps the name of a pet rabbit who had bitten him.



Anicia checking to see if her party guests have on gravy stains on their tunics.

Olybrius was buried in Rome and then quickly forgotten. His wife Placidia lived at least another 12 years as the 'Dowager Empress of the West Roman Empire', a handy status that always got Placidia to the front of a queue when it came to getting the best seats in an upmarket restaurant. Their daughter Anicia Juliana became an important party hostess and design interior specialist in Constantinople. She was also fabulously wealthy, inheriting her father's secret Carthaginian bank accounts. Anicia lived long enough to witness the start of the reign Emperor Justinian before dying in 528.

References Edit

Preceded by:
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:
Glycerius (in the West)