Romulus the Great

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Title: Romulus the Great
Genus: An unhistorical historical comedy in four acts
Original language: German
Author: Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Publishing year: 1949
Premiere: April 25, 1949
Place of premiere: City Theater Basel
Place and time of the action: Villa of the Emperor Romulus in Campania

From the morning of March 15th to the morning of March 16th, 476 AD

  • Romulus Augustus , Emperor of Western Rome
  • Julia, his wife
  • Rea, his daughter
  • Zeno the Isaurian , Emperor of Eastern Era
  • Ämilian, Roman patrician
  • Mares, Minister of War
  • Tullius Rotundus, Minister of the Interior
  • Spurius Titus Mamma, Equestrian Prefect
  • Achilles, valet
  • Pyramus, valet
  • Apollyon, art dealer
  • Caesar Rupf, industrialist
  • Phylax, actor
  • Odoacer , Prince of the Teutons
  • Theodoric , his nephew
  • Phosphoridos, chamberlain
  • Sulphurides, chamberlain
  • A cook, servants, Germanic tribes

Romulus the Great is a comedy by Friedrich Dürrenmatt that premiered in 1949 . It takes place from the morning of March 15th until the morning of March 16, 476 in the villa of Emperor Romulus in Campania .


The drama revolves around the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, although Dürrenmatt allows himself a very free approach to historical realities. With him, the decline of Western Rome takes place with the active support of the last Western Roman emperor Romulus , who despises the Roman Empire and its own culture for its bloody past and longs for the invasion of the Teutons by their general Odoacer , as this would mean the end of the cruel empire.

He lives on his country estate, happily breeds chickens and drinks asparagus wine , while his wife Julia, the escaped Emperor of Ostrom , Zeno , and his designated son-in-law, General Ämilian , as well as the last remaining ministers beg him to put a stop to the Germanic invasion .

Julia, a born aristocrat , does not want to give up her position out of ambition and pride, which can only be secured for her through the existence of the empire. Ämilian, once an educated Roman patriot, has returned from Germanic captivity, cruelly desecrated and now only has in mind the continuation of the empire, to whose ideal he clings, and the annihilation of the hated barbarians. Despite his dignity, Zeno the Isaur is a fearful weakling who has fled from a usurper from Constantinople and is now dominated by his chamberlains ; he hides his weakness under a cloak of grandiose phrases. Romulus' daughter (and Ämilian's lover) Rea wants to marry the trouser manufacturer Caesar Rupf instead of Ämilian in order to save the empire, but Romulus refuses, who thinks that love for a person is more important than that for the fatherland. Mares and Tullius Rotundus, the ministers, simply want to keep their positions. But all of her attempts to change Romulus’s mind fail, and even a revolt against the inactive emperor, which began as an assassination attempt, fails: They flee when the Teutons arrive and all (with the exception of Zenos) all die during a raft trip to Sicily , from where they actually are wanted to continue the resistance.

But when the Teutons finally arrive at Romulus' country estate, he has to realize that he was wrong - his counterpart, Odoacer, is a war-weary ruler like him, who was only forced to conquer by his violent people and his bloodthirsty nephew Theodoric and actually after the Longs for the (supposed) blessings of Roman civilization. Romulus' plan to destroy the empire fails and he is retired.

Historical background

Dürrenmatt takes a lot of poetic liberties in his tragicomic adaptation - in reality the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus was only a puppet of his father, the general Orestes , who had overthrown the emperor Iulius Nepos in 475 and in his place his 15-year-old son on the throne set because he did not want to submit himself to the rules and constraints of the empire. The young emperor was ridiculed by political opponents as "Romulus Augustulus" - the little emperor. He did not rule for many years, as with Dürrenmatt: Orestes was overthrown and killed by his rival Odoacer as early as 476, and Romulus was deposed, but spared because of his youth. Odoacer was also not Theodoric's uncle, nor was he even related to him: Odoacer belonged to the Skiren tribe (in other opinion the Rugians ), Theodoric to the Ostrogoth tribe . The Eastern Emperor Zeno was 475/76 long indeed a year his rival Basiliskos been ousted from the throne, but did not stop during this time in Italy and Romulus was located at the time of dismissal already back in power.


In order to demonstrate Dürrenmatt's generally self-confident handling of Swiss High German, an anecdote is often quoted according to which the Helvetism Morgenessen was criticized during a rehearsal of the piece ; Dürrenmatt used it in the text instead of the word breakfast . The criticized quickly rewrote the original scene and immortalized the exchange of words in the dialogue between Pyramus and Romulus, who now instructs his servant in the first act:

“The morning meal. I determine what classical Latin is in my house . "

Individual evidence

  1. For the historiographical background and the rich history of reception of this habit, which was wrongly related to Romulus Augustulus and actually attributed to Emperor Flavius ​​Honorius , see David Engels , The Cock of Honorius and the Dog of Aemilia. On the survival of pagan omens in Prokop. In: Antike und Abendland 55, 2009, pp. 118–129.
  2. Thomas Hägler: Dürrenmatt and Swiss German ( Memento from January 16, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) . On:
  3. Lotti de Wolf-Pfänders: Vom (German–) Swiss (writers) and his language . In: Jattie Enklaar, Hans Ester (ed.): Vivat Helvetia - The challenge of a national identity . Rodopi, Amsterdam - Atlanta 1998, pp. 75-76. ISBN 9042006749
  4. ^ Hans Bickel: German in Switzerland as a national variety of German . (PDF; 188 kB) In: Sprachreport . Issue 4, pp. 21-27