“This Roman Imperial Line terminates here. Please take all your slaves and whips when leaving this chariot”
Romulus Augustulus is considered to be the 'Last Roman Emperor'. The child ruler who 'controlled' what was left of the old Roman Imperial heartland from 475-476 before he was retired and sent off to a villa to live on a generous pension. His deposition in 4th September 476 is usually regarded as the 'cut off' point marking the formal end of the Western Roman Empire.
Romulus Augustulus was born in around 460 in and around Naples. His father Orestes had once worked for Attila the Hun when the latter was living in tents in Pannonia (modern day Hungary). Orestes appears to have left Hunnic employment when his boss died after a drinking fit. He then moved to Noricum on the Roman frontier where he met his wife Barbaria, a blowsy broad with a sawdust floor level of humour.
Their only son 'Rommy' was brought up as their precious boy and seemed more fit for a religious posting than an imperial one. This could have been a good career move but Augustulus's father had other ideas.
In the confusing last years of the Western Roman Empire Orestes managed to wriggle his way to near the top of the pile. When Julius Nepos became the official emperor in 475, Orestes became 'his best buddy' and then betrayed him by leading a revolt.
The rebellion was successful. Nepos fled to Dalmatia but in a surprise move, Orestes chose not to become emperor himself and instead promoted his son to the post. This rather 'putting your boy in the firing line' approach by Orestes suggests that he considered himself 'insufficiently Roman'.
Romulus Augustulus was present to the unimpressed Roman Senate as their new figurehead. His full name with titles read Dominus Noster Romulus Augustus Pius Felix Augustus' (Our Lord Romulus Augustus Pious Pussycat Augustus). The reaction from Emperor Zeno in Constantinople was emphatic. Augustulus was a fraud.
Rebellion and the EndEdit
With Dalmatia staying loyal to Julius Nepos, the new Roman emperor basically held Italy and a few assorted territories. Orestes appears to have promised the Roman army lots of gold and bribes but failed to deliver. This lead to another rebellion, this time lead by the German Odoacer. He had a radical plan. Kill off the Western Roman Empire and let him become King of what was left.
In August 476 the revolt kicked off. Orestes and his brother Paul were killed. Romulus Augustulus attempted to hide in the lavatories at his imperial palace in Ravenna but was found in September 476. The victorious Odoacer could have killed Romulus to add his head collection of the emperor's late father and uncle but chose to spare his victim. He had another plan.
Odoacer - with Romulus in tow - moved down to Rome. In the Roman Senate, Romulus Augustulus formally resigned the imperial throne. A letter was to be sent to Zeno confirming this under Romulus Augustulus's imperial seal. With that, Romulus Augustulus formerly 'stepped down'.
The emperor's fate was to be sent to a retirement villa outside Naples. Odoacer also added a pension. Romulus Augustulus was happy with the arrangement. He had never wanted to be an emperor and blamed his dad for the mess. His mother Barbaria went with him to check he didn't wear dirty togas in public.
Romulus Augustulus appears to have had a thoroughly enjoyable retirement but quickly ran through his pension money. In about 492 his home was converted into a monastery by his religious mother for St. Severinus. Romulus was obliged to move to a small room above the kitchens.
Augustulus still cared for money and when Odoacer was killed in 493, he applied for a new settlement with the new ruler of Italy, the Ostrogoth Theodoric the Great. Theodoric agreed but in around 507 decided to stop Romulus Augustulus's post imperial entitlements. In an effective bit of pleading, Romulus Augustulus persuaded the hard hearted Goth to keep up the payments. So with that final haggle, Romulus Augustulus disappears. Perhaps he ended up in the church as a priest or bishop or a louche aristocrat around town trading on his diminishing career as 'the Last Emperor'.
Romulus Augustulus appears in a play 'Romulus the Great' as a unheroic idiot with a fondness for chickens - an apparent deliberate fusion of his story with that of earlier Emperor Honorius who was known for his fondness for feathered friends. A more recent film has Romulus Augustulus fleeing Rome and ending up in Britannia with a a few remaining Roman soldiers. There he becomes Uther Pendragon, the British king who got Merlin to weave his magic so that Romulus/Uther could get his end away with Igraine of Cornwall and became father of Arthur, 'King of the Bwittans'.