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Coin portrait of Odoacer, half siliqua from the mint in Ravenna, British Museum

Odoaker , also Odowakar or Odovakar , in Old High German glosses Otacher and in the Hildebrandslied in the form of Otachre , Latin Flavius ​​Odovacer , Odovacar or Odovacrius , (* around 433 ; † probably March 15, 493 in Ravenna ) was a Western Roman officer of Germanic origin and according to the Deposition of Romulus Augustus 476 King of Italy (Rex Italiae) . He was killed in 493 as part of the power struggle with the Ostrogoth king Theodoric .

The kingdom of Odoacer in 488


Odoacer was a son of Edekon (Edika) , who was in the service of the Hun Attila , and a woman from the Skiren tribe . Odoacer himself probably grew up at the court of Attila. He was an Arian and is said to have been illiterate . The Central Byzantine lexicon Suda gives at least indirect information about the origin of Odoacer . There it is said about Odoaker's brother Hunulf that on his father's side he descended from the Thuringians ( θεούριγγοι ), on his mother's side from the Skiren. According to Wolfram Brandes, this source indicates the origin of Onoulf and thus also Odoaker as half Thuringian. This interpretation is supported by a statement about Odoacer himself: Jordanes reports in the Getica that Odoacer is Torcilingorum rex habens sicum Sciros, Heruls diversarumque gentium auxiliarios , ie the rex of the Torcilingi , who also had Skiren, Heruler and other gentes to support him. The name Torcilingi , which occurs only in Jordanes, is not infrequently viewed in research as a prescription for Toringi (Thuringian).

Little is known about Odoacer's early years. The assumption, sometimes expressed, that he could be equated with a military leader named Adovacrius , who commanded Saxon looters in Gaul in the 1960s, is probably incorrect (see Paulus ). It is certain that Odoacer served in the bodyguard of the Western Roman emperor Anthemius around 470 . In the power struggle between the latter and General Ricimer , he adhered to the latter. After the army master Orestes had forced the last legitimate emperor of West Rome , Julius Nepos , to flee in 475, Orestes raised his son Romulus to the new "shadow emperor ". Romulus was derided in the sources as "Augustulus" (little emperor) because of his youth. Soon afterwards the barbaric auxiliaries ( foederati ) mutinied in Italy. The warriors were dissatisfied with their payment and demanded from Orestes either land in Italy or financial equality with the Roman soldiers of the greatly shrunken Exercitus Romanus , the remaining Western Roman army; it is certain that Orestes rejected the demands and Odoacer placed himself at the head of the mutineers. Presumably personal differences also played a role, because Orestes had once served Attila, and it is said that there was a dispute between him and Odoaker's father, who are said to have been rivals at the Hunnenhof. As there were hardly any regular Western Roman troops left, the barbaric federates under the command of Odoacer represented the strongest military power in Italy and now enforced their demands by force. The majority of these soldiers elected 476 Odoacer as their leader on August 23 ( rex , a "barbaric" title).

Odoacer killed Orestes in a decisive battle at the end of August 476, and shortly afterwards his brother Paulus too. Romulus, on the other hand, was unusually not killed; Odoacer deposed him, but promised him an annual allowance and a luxurious country residence near Naples, where Romulus seems to have lived years later. Above all, it was crucial that he neither reached for the purple himself nor, like Orestes, appointed at least one emperor who was dependent on him. Instead, Odoacer sent the imperial regalia to Constantinople and declared that there was no longer any need for an Augustus in the West , but that they were directly subordinate to the Eastern Roman Emperor, who on the one hand pointed out in his reply that there was still a legitimate Western Emperor, Odoacer, in the form of Julius Nepos but on the other hand addressed him as patricius and thus - at least in Odoacer's eyes - in fact recognized him as regent of the Western Roman Empire. Generals with the title of patricius had held actual power in Ravenna for decades ; Odoacer joined this tradition. This de facto ended the Western Roman Empire, even if Julius Nepos lived until 480 and later there were repeated attempts to install a Western Emperor. The western Roman administration and also the now imperial court in Ravenna remained. Then Odoacer apparently appointed himself rex Italiae ("King of Italy") and was recognized by the Eastern Roman Emperor Zenon as a (de facto independent) ruler of Italy under Eastern Roman aegis after the death of Julius Nepos (480) at the latest . Partial resistance, starting from rival Germanic troop leaders, was quickly put down so that Italy could be considered secure. Odoacer was able to come to an understanding with the powerful empire of the Vandals in North Africa; the Vandals failed to continue their attacks on Italy until 491 and even leased rich Sicily to patricius . Odoacer's kingship, however, was not very stable, especially since he could not distinguish himself as an army king before his elevation , which is why he must have been interested in recognition by the Eastern Roman emperor.

Odoaker either awarded land or (more likely, because land expropriation would only have been possible against the fierce resistance of the influential senatorial upper class) shares in the tax income to his warriors (probably mainly Heruler , Skiren and Thuringia). However, he left the Roman legal and tax system and the Senate intact, with which he apparently maintained a good relationship. The senators probably saw the removal of the last emperor in Italy as an opportunity to regain influence and were glad that the time of turmoil was over for the time being. Odoaker assigned important administrative posts to leading senators, but (as was usual before) for a limited time. At the same time, Teutons rose to military leadership positions: The warriors of Odoacer had taken the place of the Western Roman army, but they were dependent on the Roman state structures to maintain their annona militaris . Odoacer had coins minted, but on which he did not appear as emperor, thus explicitly recognizing the position of eastern emperor. Although an Arian Christian himself, the relationship with the church appeared to be quite smooth. The culture of late antiquity thus persisted in Italy, and the deposition of the powerless Western Roman emperor was unlikely to have made an impression on contemporaries, since Italy had formally come under the rule of the emperor in Constantinople and thus still belonged to the Roman Empire (cf. also Migration of Nations as well as the end of antiquity ).

Through treaties and wars, Odoaker was able to significantly expand his sphere of influence: in 477 he leased Sicily from the Vandals , in 481 he conquered Dalmatia after the death of Julius Nepos . Thereupon Emperor Zenon incited the King of the Rugians Feletheus on to a campaign against Odoacer in Italy. Before the project could be carried out, Comes Pierius entered Rugiland in the winter of 487 . Feletheus and his Ostrogothic wife Giso, an Amal woman and cousin of King Theodoric , were captured and beheaded in Ravenna in 487. In 488 Odoacer's brother Onoulf finally destroyed the Rugier empire in Noricum . The Romansh population in the northern border area was forcibly evacuated in order to remove the economic basis for any new empire formation. The surviving Rugians, among them Fredericus, the son of the Rugian royal couple, fled to the Ostrogoths Theodoric. What Zeno did not succeed with the Rugians, he achieved with the Ostrogoths. As the master of Ostrom, Theodoric set out in 489 with his army, among them Fredericus and the rugged cavalry, from Lower Moesia to Italy.

From 489 Odoacer had to fend off the advancing Ostrogoths , who were supported by Ostrom, where Odoacer perhaps resented the conquest of Dalmatia. At the end of August 489, Odoacer's first defeat occurred on the Isonzo Bridge. Odoacer broke off contacts with Constantinople and probably elevated his son Thela in 490 as Caesar to the counter-emperor ( he evidently shied away from making him Augustus ). Several defeats, for example at Verona and on August 11, 490 at the Adda , were followed by a two-year siege by Odoacer in Ravenna . In July 491 the last great attempt to break out failed, and a large part of the Heruli in Odoacer's service were killed, as was his loyal magister militum Livila. After the end of the battles for Ravenna, which later tradition kept in memory as the "battle of ravens ", Odoacer concluded a peace treaty with the Ostrogothic King Theodoric on February 27, 493, not least because of an impending famine. A few days later, however, he was murdered by Theodoric himself in Ravenna. The pretext was a personal blood revenge by the Goth against Odoacer for the murdered Rugian royal couple. Thela probably escaped first to Gaul, but was killed that same year while attempting to return to Italy.

A memorial plaque for Odoacer was placed in the Walhalla near Regensburg .


Web links

Commons : Odoacer  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. RIC X, p. 442 No. 3501; Kay Ehling : When does Odovacar begin to mint itself? In: Schweizer Münzblätter . Volume 48–49, 1998–1999, pp. 33–37, here: p. 33 with Fig. 1.
  2. For the name variants cf. also Assunta Nagl, Odoacer , in: RE XVII, Sp. 1888.
  3. ^ Moriz Schönfeld: Dictionary of Old Germanic Persons and Names of Nations . Heidelberg 1911. pp. 174 ff .; Hermann Reichert: Lexicon of Old Germanic Names . Böhlau, Vienna 1987. P. 999 ff.
  4. See e.g. B. The Hildebrand song. in: Walther Haug , Benedikt Konrad Vollmann : Early German and Latin Literature in Germany. 800-1150. Frankfurt am Main 1991, pp. 9-15, here p. 10 (v. 18 and 25).
  5. AE 1967, 00007 , on his coins the abbreviated name Fl. Odovac , Odovacar rex in a document from the year 489 (PDF; 4.2 MB).
  6. Suda , keyword Kata patera kai mêtera , Adler number: kappa 693 , Suda-Online Research sees the passage in this regard as fragment 8a from the historical work of Malchus of Philadelphia (fragment 13 in the edition by Roger C. Blockley ). Wolfram Brandes translates the passage as follows: Onoulf comes from the Thuringian tribe on his father's side and from the Skiren on his mother's side . Cf. Wolfram Brandes: Thüringer / Thüringerinnen in Byzantine sources. In: Helmut Castritius (ed.): The early days of the Thuringians. Berlin 2009, here p. 293; Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Theodoric the great. King of the Goths, ruler of the Romans. Munich 2018, pp. 165f.
  7. Jordanes, Getica 46, 242 In: Theodor Mommsen (ed.): Auctores antiquissimi 5.1: Iordanis Romana et Getica. Berlin 1882, p. 120 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
  8. Cf. Wolfram Brandes: Thüringer / Thüringerinnen in Byzantine sources. In: Helmut Castritius (ed.): The early days of the Thuringians . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-021454-3 , pp. 291–328. See also Alexander Demandt : Die Spätantike. Roman history from Diocletian to Justinian. 284-565 AD 2nd edition. Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 3-406-55993-X , p. 211, note 64.
  9. ^ Gregory of Tours , Historiae II 18.
  10. See also Halsall (2007), p. 270 f. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Theodoric the Great is also rather negative . King of the Goths, ruler of the Romans. Munich 2018, p. 167.
  11. See Walter A. Goffart : Barbarian tides. The migration age and the later Roman Empire. Philadelphia 2006, pp. 162ff.
  12. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Theodoric the Great. King of the Goths, ruler of the Romans. Munich 2018, p. 163.
  13. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Theodoric the Great. King of the Goths, ruler of the Romans. Munich 2018, p. 164f.
  14. The most important source, Malchus of Philadelphia , is only preserved fragmentarily in a later, contradicting summary (Malch. Frg. 14 [Blockley]), so that some things remain unclear.
  15. See Henning Börm: The Western Roman Empire after 476 . In: Josef Wiesehöfer u. a. (Ed.): Monumentum et instrumentum inscriptum . Stuttgart 2008, pp. 47-69.
  16. Cf. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Theodorich der Große. King of the Goths, ruler of the Romans. Munich 2018, p. 169ff.
  17. ^ Wilhelm Enßlin : Theodoric the Great . 2nd edition Munich 1959, p. 62.
  18. Wilfried Menghin : The Longobards. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 1985, p. 23.
  19. Hans-Ulrich Wiemer: Theodoric the Great. King of the Goths, ruler of the Romans. Munich 2018, p. 180ff.
  20. Wilfried Menghin: The Longobards. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 1985, p. 23.
predecessor Office successor
- Rex Italiae
Theodoric the Great