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Importance of the year 476—The Emperor Zeno recognises Odoacer as Patrician in Italy—Odoacer's position—Divisions of Europe in 476— The Vandals in Africa and King Gaiseric—Rule of Odoacer in Italy—His war with Theodoric, and fall.
In the summer of 477 A.D. a band of ambassadors, who claimed to speak the will of the decayed body which still called itself the Roman senate, appeared before the judgmentseat of the emperor Zeno, the ruler of Constantinople and the Eastern Empire. They came to announce to him that the army of the West had slain the patrician Orestes, and deposed from his throne the son of Orestes, the boy-emperor Romulus. But they did not then proceed to inform Zeno that another Caesar had been duly elected to replace their late sovereign. Embassies with such news had been common of late years, but this particular deputation, unlike any other which had yet visited the Bosphorus, came to announce to the Eastern emperor that his own mighty name sufficed for the protection of both East and West. They laid at his feet the diadem and purple robe of Romulus, and professed to transfer their homage and loyalty to his august person. Then, as if by way of supplement and addendum, they informed Zeno that they had chosen Flavius Odoacer for their governor, and trusted that their august master would deign to ratify the choice, and confer on Odoacer the title of Patrician. PERIOD I. A
It has often been repeated of late years that this date, 476 A.D., does not form a very notable landmark in the history of the world, that its sole event was the transfer of the nominal supremacy of the Western World from a powerless Caesar who lived at Ravenna to a powerless Caesar who lived at Constantinople. . We are reminded that the patrician Odoacer and the deputies of the Roman Senate assured the Eastern Emperor not that they had cast off allegiance to the imperial name, but that Italy no longer needed a separate Augustus, and that a single ruler might once more rule East and West, odoacer Pat as in the days of Constantine and Theodosius. rician in Italy. And if the representatives of the western realm then proceeded to recommend Zeno to appoint as his vicegerent among them “Odoacer, a mighty man of war, and a person well skilled in political matters, whom they had selected to defend their interests,’ they were, in truth, making no new or startling proposition; for similar embassies had often arrived at Constantinople to announce, not the choice of a mere patrician, but the election of an independent emperor.
In a purely formal way all this is true enough, and we must concede that the permanent establishment of a Teutonic ruler in Italy was only another instance of what had already occurred in Spain and Africa. As yet nobody in either of the three countries had asserted that the Roman Empire had died out and been replaced for all purposes by a Teutonic kingship. Documents were still dated and coins still struck with the name of a Roman Emperor upon them alike in Spain, Africa, and Italy. After 476 the subjects of the Visigoth Euric, no less than those of the Scyrrian Odoacer, proceeded to grave a rude portrait of Zeno on their moneys, just as they had done a few years earlier with a rude portrait of Valentinian III. What mattered it to them that the one dwelt east of the Adriatic and the other west?
But if the historians of the last century were too neglectful of the constitutional and theoretical aspect of affairs, when they bluntly asserted that the Roman Empire ceased in the West in 476, there is a danger that our own generation may become too much imbued with the formal aspect of things, and too little conscious of the real change which took place in that obscure year. The disappearance of the Roman Empire of the West was, in truth, a long process, which began as early as 411 when Britain—first of all the Occidental “dioceses'—was abandoned to the barbarian, and did not, perhaps, end till Francis II. of Austria laid down the title of Emperor in the year 1806. Yet if we must choose a point at which, rather than at any other, we are to put the breach between the old and the new, if we must select any year as the dividing-line between ancient history and the Middle Ages, it is impossible to choose a better date than 476. Down to the day on which Flavius Odoacer deposed Augustulus there was always at Rome or Ravenna a prince who represented in clear heritage the imperial succession that descended from Octavian and Trajan and Constantine. His crown might be fragile, his life in constant danger; his word might be less powerful in Italy than that of some barbarian Ricimer or Gundobad who stood behind the throne. Nevertheless, he was brought into real contact with his subjects, and was a visible, tangible personage whose will and character still made some difference in the governance of the state. The weakest Glycerius or Olybrius never sank into being a mere puppet, like an eighth century king of the Franks, or a seventeenth century Mikado. Moreover, there was till the last a possibility—even, perchance, a probability—that there would arise some strong emperor who would free himself from the power of his German prime minister. Majorian nearly succeeded in doing so; and the stories of the falls of the Goths, Gainas and Aspar, in the East show that such an attempt was not a hopeless undertaking. But when Odoacer seized the throne from the boy Augustulus, and became with the consent, if not the good-will, of the Constantinopolitan Caesar, the sole representative in the West of the imperial system, a very grave change took place in the status of the empire. Flavius Odoacer was something Practical, far more than a patrician ruling as the repre...: sentative of an absentee emperor. He was not position. only the successor of Ricimer, but the predecessor of Theodoric and Alboin. For, beside being a Roman official, he was a German king, raised on the shield and hailed as “Thiudans’ by the whole Teutonic horde who now represented the old legions of the West. If he never took the title of “king of Italy, it was because territorial appellations of the kind were not yet known. Euric and Gaiseric, his contemporaries, called themselves Kings of the Visigoths and Vandals, not of Spain and Africa. And so Odoacer being king of a land and an army, but not of a nation, may have been somewhat at a loss how to set forth his royal appellation. He would not have deigned to call himself “king of the Italians;’ to call himself king of the Scyrri or Turcilingi, or any other of the tribes who furnished part of his host, would have been to assume an inadequate name. Puzzled contemporary chroniclers sometimes called him king of the Goths, though he himself never used such a title. Still he was a king, and a king with a settled territory and an organised host; not a migratory invader of Italy, as Alaric had been, but a permanent ruler of the land. In this way he was undoubtedly the forerunner of the Ostrogoths and Lombards who took his place, and, though the title would have sounded strange in his own ears, we may fairly style him king of Italy, as we so style Theodoric, or Berengar, or Victor Emmanuel. For it was the will of Odoacer that was obeyed in the land, and not the will of his titular superior at Constantinople. It was Odoacer who appointed taxes and chose officials, and interfered in the election of bishops of Rome, and declared war on the Rugians or the Vandals. In the few documents of his time that have survived, the name of Zeno is seldom mentioned, and in signing grants he styles himself Odovacar Rex, and not Odovacar Patricius, as strict Roman usage should have prescribed. Similarly, an Italian official acknowledges his regia largitas, not his patricia magnitudo. It is, then, in every way correct, as well as convenient, to style him the first German king of Italy, and to treat his reign as the commencement of a new era. If we hesitate to do this, we are logically bound to refuse to recognise the Visigothic or Frankish kings in Spain and Gaul as independent sovereigns till the middle of the sixth century, and to protract the Roman Empire of the West till Leovigild and Theudebert formally disclaimed the imperial supremacy (540-70). In the year 476 the greater parts of the lands which had formerly composed the Roman Empire of the West had taken new forms in the shape of six large Teutonic kingdoms. Italy and Noricum formed the kingdom of Odoacer; North Africa the dominions of the Vandal Gaiseric. The Visigothic realm of Euric extended from the Loire to the Straits of Gibraltar. King Gundobad the Burgundian occupied the valleys of the Rhone and Saône, as far as their extreme head-waters. The Princes of the Franks reigned on the Meuse, Moselle, and lower Rhine. Last and smallest of the six Teutonic States was the kingdom of the Suevi in what would now be called north Portugal and Galicia. Interspersed among these German kingdoms were three or four remnants of the old Roman Empire, which had not yet been submerged by the rising flood of Teutonism, though they were destined ere long to disappear beneath its surface. The province of Britain had become a group of small state of west. and unhappy Celtic kingdoms, on whose borders ern Europe in the Angle and Saxon had not yet made any ” appreciable encroachment. Armorica, the modern Brittany, was also a rough confederacy of Celtic states. The Seine valley and the middle Loire formed a Romano-Gallickingdom under Syagrius, the last governor who had acknowledged the supremacy of the empire beyond the Alps. The Cantabrians and Basques in their hills above the Bay of Biscay had