The last roman emperor

THE successor of Avitus was a great and heroic character, such as sometimes arise in a degenerate age to vindicate the honour of the human species. In the ruin of the Roman world he loved his people, sympathised with their distress, and studied by judicial and effectual remedies to allay their sufferings. He reformed the most intolerable grievances of the taxes, attempted to restore and maintain the edifices of Rome, and to establish a new and healthier moral code. His military abilities and his fortune were not in proportion to his merits. An unsuccessful attempt against the Vandals to recover the lost provinces of Africa resulted in the loss of his fleet, and his return from this campaign ended his reign. He was deposed by Ricimer, and five days later died of dysentery, on August 7, 461.

At the command of Ricimer, the senate bestowed the imperial title on Libius Severus, who reigned as long as it suited his patron. The increasing difficulties, however, of the kingdom of Italy, due largely to the naval depredation of the Vandals, compelled Ricimer to seek the assistance of the emperor Leo, who had succeeded Marcian in the East in 457. Leo determined to extirpate the tyranny of the Vandals, and solemnly invested Anthemius with the diadem and purple of the West (467). He was sent in state to Rome, and the powers of the eastern empire were strenuously exerted to deliver Italy and the Mediterranean from the assaults of Genseric. But the failure of the expedition, the increasing anarchy in Gaul and Spain, and the intrigues of Ricimer, hastened the storm of destruction.

In 472, Ricimer raised the senator Olybrius to the purple and, advancing from Milan, entered and sacked Rome and murdered Anthemius (July 11, 472). Forty days after this calamitous event, the tyrant Ricimer died of a painful disease, and two months later Olybrius also died.

The emperor Leo nominated Julius Nepos to the vacant throne. After suppressing a rival in the person of Glycerius, Julius succumbed, in 475, to a furious sedition of the barbarian confederates, who, under the command of the patrician Orestes, marched from Rome to Ravenna. The troops would have made Orestes emperor, but when he declined they consented to acknowledge his son Augustulus as emperor of the West.

The ambition of the patrician might have seemed satisfied, but he soon discovered, before the end of the first year, that he must either be the slave or the victim of his barbarian mercenaries. The soldiers demanded a third part of the land of Italy. Orestes rejected the audacious demand, and his refusal was favourable to the ambition of Odoacer, a bold barbarian, who assured his fellow-soldiers that if they dared to associate under his command they might soon extort the justice that had been denied to their dutiful petition. Orestes was executed and Odoacer, resolving to abolish the useless and expensive office of emperor of the West, compelled Augustulus to be the instrument of his own disgrace.

He signified his resignation to the senate, and that assembly, still affecting the spirit of freedom and the forms of the constitution, addressed a letter to the emperor Zeno, who had succeeded Leo in the East. In this letter they solemnly disclaimed the necessity, or even the wish, for continuing any longer the imperial succession in Italy, since, in their opinion, 'the majesty of a sole monarch is sufficient to pervade and protect, at the same time, both the East and the West.' The republics, they declared, might safely confide in the civil and military virtues of Odoacer, and they humbly requested that the emperor would invest him with the title of Patrician and the administration of the diocese of Italy.

So ended, in the year 476, the empire of the West, and the last Roman emperor lived out his life in the Lucullan villa on the promontory of Misenum.

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