Odoacer, also known as Odovacar or Audawakrs, was a mercenary chieftain
during the final days of the Western Roman Empire
, living from c.435-493 AD
. This Germanic
leader, ruling over the Heruli
and other barbarian
tribes in Western Europe
, was responsible for the final downfall of the Roman Empire in 476.
The empire was a pathetic remnant of its former glory by this late age, having been whittled away to a collection of holdings around Italy proper, in addition to fragmentary territories in the Balkans, and had not been in any position to defend itself for generations. As such, they were forced to make use of mercenary armies during those final years. The service of Odoacer and his mercenaries came to an abrupt end in 476, when he revolted against Roman authority - such as it was - and deposed the final emperor, Romulus Augustulus, sending him into obscure exile.
Alright, Odoacer may have thought on that day, I'm ruler of Italy. Cool. Now what? It wasn't a simple question. Odoacer certainly wanted to continue his rule over Italy, even adopting the title of Rex Italiae, but if he was too arrogant in his new position of power he risked angering the still-mighty Eastern Roman Empire, which loomed across the Adriatic. The new king decided to compromise with Constantinople, returning the imperial regalia and requesting recognition as dux of Italy from the eastern emperor, Zeno. Zeno agreed - not without reluctance, as he wanted the west for himself - and conferred upon Odoacer the title of patrician. This title no longer referred to the patrician class of the Roman Republic or early empire, but was used to name the de facto (or de jure) power behind (or on) the throne. Although Julius Nepos would continue to be the "official" emperor, even issuing coinage, the real power lay in Odoacer's hands, as it would for the rest of his life.
Thus secure on the throne, Odoacer set about trying to consolidate his new kingdom. He secured Italy proper, and then signed a treaty (probably in the same year he took power) with the Vandals which recovered Sicily, siezed from the Romans in 439. With a secure south and a resurgent military force at home, the Rex Italiae set about expanding his power in the north. Between 481 and 487, Odoacer fought several victorious campaigns against the Dalmatians, the Rugians, and other groups. Constantinople grew concerned, and Zeno began seeking a way to deal with this new threat before it could strike at the Eastern Empire itself.
In 488, Zeno convinced Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths and ally of the Eastern Empire, to attack Odoacer's growing kingdom. The war was an unmitigated disaster for Odoacer, who was defeated repeatedly - at the Isonzo and Milan in 489, again at the Adda the following year, and a final time in a lengthly siege at Ravenna in 493, where Odoacer and his surviving forces realized they were defeated. Odoacer negotiated an honourable surrender with Theodoric, and was invited to a banquet to consummate the treaty. Once there, however, Theodoric slew Odoacer with his own sword, and took Odoacer's dominions for himself. Thus did Rome pass through the hands of three seperate kingdoms in the space of only twenty years. Sic transit gloria mundi.