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Odoacer, King of the Heruli

Rome was on the brink of collapse when Odoacer, a chieftain of the Scirii, Heruli, and Rugii tribes, rose from obscurity as a one of the many commanders in the Roman army. He is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History in 493 AD. Odoacer was to become the decayed Western Roman empire’s last ruler. He was the son of Edeco, one of the many commanders who was part of Attila the Hun’s ruthless army until the death of the great warlord. Odoacer was born in the Roman province of Pannonia in 433 or 435 AD. His father died after the Scirii warriors were defeated. Odoacer (who did not take part in the battle) went to Italy and enlisted with the Roman army. His brother Hunoulf went to Constantinople and went on to become the Master of Soldiers in Illyricum. In Italy, Odoacer led soldiers of mixed ethnic identities which consisted of Huns, Gepids, Goths, and other barbarian tribes.

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The Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos was deposed by General Orestes in 475 AD and forced to flee to Dalmatia. Orestes installed his young son, Romulus Agustulus, as the new emperor but it was the general himself who ran the empire. The reign of Romulus Augustulus was short-lived. Father and son were removed from power by Odoacer after Orestes failed to follow-through on his promise to distribute land to the tribal leaders who supported him. Odoacer was declared king by his troops, who then had Orestes killed and had his son exiled to Campania.

“Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown”

This forced Zeno, the Eastern Roman Emperor, to elevate him to the status of patrician. He never acknowledged Odoacer as an equal, but the new Western Roman ruler considered himself a legitimate king and even signed documents with the title “King Odoacer.” Italy was generally peaceful under this new king, and the Christians breathed a collective sigh of relief as the persecutions that hounded them before did not happen during his reign. His greatest accomplishment was the expansion of the Western Roman territory in Dalmatia (present-day Croatia).

The fragile relationship between Zeno and Odoacer was frayed. The Byzantine king encouraged other kings to attack Odoacer whom he still considered a usurper. Theodoric, the king of Ostrogoths and ally of Zeno, launched a series of attacks that were initially unsuccessful. Finally, in 493 AD, a treaty was brokered between the two and they agreed to be co-rulers of Italy. Theodoric invited Odoacer to a banquet, and there, the first barbarian king of Italy was killed by his rival.

Picture By Unknown – 19th century illustration, Public Domain,
Thompson, E. A. Romans, and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.
Magill, Frank N., Christina J. Moose, Alison Aves, Mark Rehn, and Steve Seddon. Dictionary of World Biography: 10 Volumes. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998.
Waldman, Carl, and Catherine Mason. Encyclopedia of European Peoples. New York: Facts On File, 2006
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