Flavius Odoacer
Odovacar Ravenna 477.jpg
Coin of Odoacer, Ravenna, 477, with Odoacer in profile, depicted with a "barbarian" moustache.
King of Italy
PredecessorNone (Title created after abolition of Western Roman Empire)
SuccessorTheoderic the Great
Bornc. 433
Pannonia, Western Roman Empire
Died15 March 493 (age 60)
Ravenna, Kingdom of Italy
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Flavius Odoacer (ər/;[1] c. 433[2] – 493 AD), also known as Flavius Odovacer or Odovacar[3] (Latin: Odoacer, Odoacar, Odovacar, Odovacris),[2] was a barbarian statesman who deposed Romulus Augustus and became King of Italy (476–493). His reign is commonly seen as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire.[4]

Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of the emperor in Constantinople. Odoacer generally used the Roman honorific patrician, granted by the emperor Zeno, but is referred to as a king (Latin: rex) in many documents. He himself used it in the only surviving official document that emanated from his chancery, and it was also used by the consul Basilius.[2][5] Odoacer introduced few important changes into the administrative system of Italy. He had the support of the Roman Senate and was able to distribute land to his followers without much opposition. Unrest among his warriors led to violence in 477–478, but no such disturbances occurred during the later period of his reign. Although Odoacer was an Arian Christian, he rarely intervened in the affairs of Trinitarian state church of the Roman Empire.

Of East Germanic descent, according to most opinions, Odoacer was a military leader in Italy who led the revolt of Herulian, Rugian, and Scirian soldiers that deposed Romulus Augustulus on 4 September AD 476. Augustulus had been declared Western Roman Emperor by his father, the rebellious general of the army in Italy, less than a year before, but had been unable to gain allegiance or recognition beyond central Italy. With the backing of the Roman Senate, Odoacer thenceforth ruled Italy autonomously, paying lip service to the authority of Julius Nepos, the previous Western emperor, and Zeno, the emperor of the East. Upon Nepos's murder in 480 Odoacer invaded Dalmatia, to punish the murderers. He did so, executing the conspirators, but within two years also conquered the region and incorporated it into his domain.

When Illus, master of soldiers of the Eastern Empire, asked for Odoacer's help in 484 in his struggle to depose Zeno, Odoacer invaded Zeno's westernmost provinces. The emperor responded first by inciting the Rugii of present-day Austria to attack Italy. During the winter of 487–488 Odoacer crossed the Danube and defeated the Rugii in their own territory. Zeno also appointed the Ostrogoth Theoderic the Great who was menacing the borders of the Eastern Empire, to be king of Italy, turning one troublesome, nominal vassal against another. Theoderic invaded Italy in 489 and by August 490 had captured almost the entire peninsula, forcing Odoacer to take refuge in Ravenna. The city surrendered on 5 March 493; Theoderic invited Odoacer to a banquet of reconciliation and there killed him.


Except for the fact that he was not considered Roman, Odoacer's precise ethnic origins are not known.[6] Most opinions consider him to be of Germanic descent, from one of several East Germanic tribes such as the Turcilingi, Scirii, Heruli, Rugii and Gothi, or possibly also of partial Thuringii descent; while a minority opinion holds that he was a Hun.

Both the Anonymus Valesianus and John of Antioch state his father's name was Edeko (Edika). However, it is unclear whether this Edeko is identical to one—or both—men of the same name who lived at this time: one was an ambassador of Attila to the court in Constantinople, and escorted Priscus and other Imperial dignitaries back to Attila's camp; the other, according to Jordanes, is mentioned with Hunulfus as chieftains of the Scirii, who were soundly defeated by the Ostrogoths at the Battle of Bolia in Pannonia about 469.[7][8] Since Sebastian Tillemont in the 17th century, all three have been considered to be the same person. In his Getica, Jordanes describes Odoacer as king of the Turcilingi (Torcilingorum rex).[9] However, in his Romana, the same author defines him as a member of the Rugii (Odoacer genere Rogus).[10] The Consularia Italica calls him king of the Heruli, while Theophanes appears to be guessing when he calls him a Goth.[11] The sixth-century chronicler, Marcellinus Comes, calls him "the king of the Goths" (Odoacer rex Gothorum).[12]

Reynolds and Lopez explored the possibility that Odoacer was not Germanic in their 1946 paper published by The American Historical Review, making several arguments that his ethnic background might lie elsewhere. One of these is that his name, "Odoacer", for which an etymology in Germanic languages had not been convincingly found, could be a form of the Turkish "Ot-toghar" ("grass-born" or "fire-born"), or the shorter form "Ot-ghar" ("herder").[13] Other sources believe the name Odoacer is derived from the Germanic Audawakrs, from aud- "wealth" and wakr- "vigilant".[14] This form finds a cognate in another Germanic language, the titular Eadwacer of the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer (where Old English renders the earlier Germanic sound au- as ea-).[15]

Odoacer's identity as a Hun was then accepted by a number of authorities, such as E. A. Thompson and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill—despite Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen's objection that personal names were not an infallible guide to ethnicity.[16] Subsequently, while reviewing the primary sources in 1983, Bruce Macbain proposed that while his mother might have been Scirian and his father Thuringian, in any case he was not a Hun.[17]