Julius Nepos

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Julius Nepos
Gold coin with portrait
Tremissis profile portrait of Nepos; mint of Milan
Roman emperor of the West
Reign
  • June 474 – 28 August 475
  • 475 – c. May 480, in Dalmatia
PredecessorGlycerius
SuccessorRomulus (in Italy)
Position abolished after Nepos' death
Co-emperors
BornCirca 430
Diedc. May 480 (aged 50)
Spalatum, Dalmatia
SpouseNiece of Leo I
FatherNepotianus
MotherSister of Marcellinus

Julius Nepos (c. AD 430 – 480) was de jure and de facto Roman emperor of the West from 474 to 475 and then only de jure until his death in 480. Born to a distinguished family, he succeeded his uncle, Marcellinus, as military governor of the province of Dalmatia in 468. With support of the Eastern Empire, Nepos overthrew his predecessor Glycerius without a fight and proclaimed himself western emperor in June 474. Orestes, the Magister Militum, turned his forces on Nepos in August 475, forcing him to flee by ship to Dalmatia.[1] Orestes crowned his son Romulus as Emperor in Nepos's absence, but neither the Eastern Emperor Zeno nor many Western provinces recognized Romulus, regarding him as a usurper.[2][3] Nepos never relinquished his imperial title and sought a compromise with the barbarian king Odoacer who deposed Romulus. Odoacer ambiguously recognized his claim but refused him any role in government outside of Dalmatia.[4] Nepos was assassinated in 480 while plotting his own restoration, and Zeno formally abolished the Western division of the Empire.

Rise to office[edit]

Solidus of Emperor Julius Nepos; mint in Ravenna, 474-5

Julius Nepos[5] became the governor of Dalmatia after the murder of his uncle, Marcellinus, and he ruled from AD 468.[6] From this, Nepos inherited the remainder of the Illyrian field army where, with the eastern Emperor Zeno's blessing and no actual resistance, Nepos landed his forces just outside Rome in early summer AD 474.[6] Nepos overthrew Glycerius without a fight and proclaimed himself western emperor on 19 or 24 June AD 474, with historian A.H.M Jones stating the date as 24 June.[6][7] Nepos spared Glycerius's life and appointed him Bishop of Salona.[8]

There is scarce historical evidence which depicts Nepos' political activity.[9] But the evidence available shows Nepos' actions were focused on Gaul and the Visigothic King Euric.[9] Nepos embarked on a diplomatic offensive against the Visigoths where he sent two embassies in an attempt to consolidate the remaining imperial holdings in Gaul.[4] Nepos sent bishop Epiphanius of Pavia, who had previously brokered a truce between Anthemius and Ricimer, in the spring of 475 to Toulouse.[4] Later on in 475, Nepos dispatched a delegation of four bishops to Toulouse from southern Gaul whose job may have been to work out the actual terms of the treaty.[4] This shows that Nepos did have some political and military success as Euric agreed to retro-cede Arles and Marseilles in return for Civitas Arvernorum (Clermont-Ferrand) whose resistance could not last for much longer anyway.[7] However, after Nepos' fall, Euric quickly reoccupied Arles and Marseilles.[10] Further political activity from Nepos included renewed Vandal attacks. In a similar fashion to the negations with the Goths, Nepos attempted to negotiate a settlement.[4] But, in this case, Nepos could do little more than recognise Vandal possession of all the territories they occupied in Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearics.[7]

Deposition and reign in Dalmatia[edit]

Independent Dalmatia; approximate extent of Marcellinus' reign from AD 454 to 468) and Julius Nepos' reign from 468–480; external polities are shown as during Nepos' late period.

Nepos' rule only lasted a year due to the actions of General Orestes. Orestes was appointed Patrician by Nepos himself with the aim of clearing up the mess in Italy.[7] But, Orestes, who had previously played the role of ambassador to Attila after Flavius Aetius handed over the province of Pannonia to the Huns,[11] turned his Barbarian troops[8] on Nepos instead.[12] As a result, on the 28 August 475, Nepos left Ravenna and sailed back to Dalmatia thus abandoning the Roman West for a while.[12] On 31 October AD 475, Orestes appointed his son the new Western Roman Emperor with the regnal name "Romulus Augustus" but it was Orestes and his brother Paul who were the real eminences grises.[1] Romulus had never been recognised in Constantinople with the western emperor still alive and well.[13]

Romulus's reign also did not last long. The reliance on bands of barbarian federates by the government instead of their own regular regiments caused problems for Orestes.[7] In 476, these federal tribes demanded that they be given a third of the land, much like the federal tribes in Gaul.[7] Orestes refused their demand which caused the federal tribes to rebel and to appoint a Scirian officer named Odoacer as their king.[7] There is some debate about the position of Odoacer with modern scholars describing him as being part of the Roman military establishment. This is based on John of Antioch's statement that Odoacer was on the side of Ricimer at the beginning of his battle with the emperor Anthemius in 472.[14] Similarly, Procopius describes him as one of the Emperor's bodyguards.[15] Moreover, Odoacer is described as Nepos' Count of Domestics by historian Peter Heather.[1]

Nevertheless, Odoacer tried to set up another short-lived regime in August AD 476.[1] He captured and killed Orestes and his brother Paul in Piacenza[16] but Romulus still technically remained as the Western Emperor. Odoacer had no interest in preserving the position of this notional ruler who controlled nothing beyond the Italian peninsula.[17] So, Odoacer sent an embassy to Zeno proposing that he assume sovereignty over Italy as the sole Roman emperor but that Odoacer would control the administration.[17] Nepos never returned to Italy, although not through lack of trying. While Zeno was considering the proposition from Odoacer, he received an embassy from Nepos asking for his assistance in reclaiming the throne.[17] Zeno had little interest in western affairs and had no intention of sparing money and men upon Nepos' behalf.[18] Yet he could not overtly disavow Nepos, especially due to the relation between Nepos and the empress mother Verina. Therefore, Zeno unfolded a two-sided plan.[18] The first side was to lecture the senators for having killed and expelled the two emperors they had sent and urge them to take Nepos back.[18] On the other side Zeno told Odoacer's personal representatives that Odoacer ought to seek his appointment from Nepos. He praised Odoacer for the good beginning he had made in preserving the authority of Rome and addressed Odoacer as Patrician who should acknowledge Nepos's de jure Imperial status.[18] Zeno then replied to Nepos that the western Empire was over.[17]

Following this reply, Odoacer quickly deposed Romulus and, in consideration of his youth, sent him away to an estate in Campania with a pension of 6,000 solidi a year.[2][7] Odoacer then declared himself King and adopted the title of rex, an action that many previous military commanders had done previously.[16][18] He reigned as an increasingly independent King of Italy, nominally recognising the suzerainty of the Eastern Roman Empire. Nepos attempted a campaign to restore his authority in 479/480.[19] Theodoric offered to lead his Ostrogoths into Dalmatia and fight for Nepos' cause.[9]

Assassination[edit]

Around AD 480, whilst plotting a campaign to restore his authority in Italy, Nepos was murdered by two retainers. Guy Halsall states this was at the 'instigation of the Bishop of Salona, that same Glycerius whom Nepos had deposed and driven into the church six years previously'.[19] Odoacer then took over Dalmatia.[19] However, there is a debate surrounding the assassination of Nepos. Another theory proposed by historians is that Nepos was murdered by one of his own soldiers in AD 480, on either 25 April, 9 May, or 22 June.[20] He was reportedly stabbed in his villa near Salona. Since Diocletian also had a residence in the area, it is presumed to have taken place in his ancient palace.[9] Marcellinus Comes blames "the treachery of his comes Viator and Ovida" for the murder. Malchus also implicates the former Emperor Glycerius in the conspiracy because, as Nepos had appointed Glycerius as Bishop of Salona, he was in the vicinity of the murder.[21] Adding to the suspicions of Glycerius is a report that Odoacer later made him Bishop of Milan.

Ovida served as the next ruler of Dalmatia for a few months, but Odoacer used Nepos' assassination as a pretext to invade.[21] Odoacer defeated Ovida's forces on 9 December and added the province to his kingdom. After Nepos' death, Zeno became the only emperor of the Roman empire[18] and ending the last serious legal claim of a separate Western Roman Empire until the reign of Charlemagne.

Family[edit]

As is the case with many Roman Emperors who reigned for only a short period of time, especially those from the final decades of the Western Roman Empire, only limited information about Nepos is extant in surviving records. Historians claim[22] that Julius Nepos was son of the comes Nepotianus, a general (Magister Utriusque Militiae) who served the Western Roman Empire between AD 458 and 461 during the reign of Majorian. Historian R. W. Burgess denies this identification. Burgess observes that the claim is premised on one passage from Jordanes' Romana. He proceeds to argue that, while Nepos came from an important family, the general Nepotianus was a mercenary commander working for the Visigoths, from which came his title of Magister Militiae. Thus, Burgess concludes that Nepotianus, father of Nepos, and the military commander Nepotianus, should be considered as different persons.[22]

Nepotianus is mentioned as having been active in southern Gaul and Hispania, eventually dying in 465.[23] His unnamed mother was a sister of Marcellinus, the Magister Militum of Dalmatia.[24] There are numerous historians who certify that Nepos was the nephew of Marcellinus.[6][16][25] Nepos was certainly married to a relative of Verina, with most historians assuming it was to her niece.[26]

The AD 6th-century chronicler Marcellinus Comes mentions Nepos as "son of the sister of Marcellinus, once patrician".[27] This identification of Nepos is repeated by a passage in Jordanes' Getica.[5][28] Since Jordanes often uses Marcellinus Comes as a source, the passage might have been copied verbatim.[27]

Marcellinus was a powerful figure in the Western Roman Empire, rebelling in 454 against the Emperor Valentinian III after the latter's assassination of Flavius Aetius. He established himself as an autonomous ruler in Dalmatia, despite accepting the authority of the emperors Majorian and Anthemius. Under Anthemius he was raised to the rank of patrician, becoming a possible threat to Ricimer, the powerful kingmaker behind the western throne. In 468, Marcellinus died in Sicily, probably at the hands of Ricimer.[29][30][31] Nepos inherited control of Dalmatia from his uncle with the title magister militum Dalmatiae,[32] and which was the basis for his future in exile.

Nepos may have been a member of an enduringly prominent Dalmatian family. Four memorial inscriptions commemorating similarly named individuals, from the same region and falling within an appropriate time-frame, have been identified: Aelia Nepotes, Aelia Nepos, Julius Nepos, and Nepotes. The name also seems to be preserved in a church inscription of Salona, dating to the early 5th century.[33] Although the association of the agnomen "Nepos" with his connection to the Leonid dynasty seems to be fairly clear, the origins of and relationships between all these similar-sounding names, including his father's, are less clear. Also unclear is what role Nepos' ties of kinship with Marcellinus might have played in the acquisition of his agnomen.

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Heather, Peter (2007). The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the barbarians. Oxford: New Oxford Press. p. 427.
  2. ^ a b Heather, Peter (2007). The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the barbarians. Oxford: New Oxford Press. p. 430.
  3. ^ Bury, J. B. (2013). History of the Later Roman Empire, Volume 2: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. Newburyport: Dover Publications. p. 190.
  4. ^ a b c d e Mathisen, Ralph W. "Julius Nepos". Online Encyclopaedia of Roman Emperors.
  5. ^ a b Martindale 1980, s.v. Iulius Nepos (3), pp. 777–8
  6. ^ a b c d Heather, Peter (2007). The Fall of the Roman Empire: A new history of Roma and the barbarians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 426.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Jones, A.H.M (1964). The Later Roman Empire: 284-602. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 244.
  8. ^ a b Mitchell, Stephen (2015). A History of the Later Roman Empire AD 284-641: Second Edition. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. p. 124.
  9. ^ a b c d Demo, Zeljko (1988). "The Mint in Salona: Nepos and Ovida (474-481/2)". Studia numismatica Labacensia Alexandro Jelocnik oblata. 26: 247 – via Academia.edu.
  10. ^ Jones, A.H.M. (1964). The Later Roman Empire: 284-602. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 246.
  11. ^ Heather, Peter (2007). The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the barbarians. Oxford: New Oxford Press. p. 314.
  12. ^ a b Heather, Peter (2007). The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the barbarians. Oxford: New Oxford Press. p. 426.
  13. ^ Halsall, Guy (2007). Barbarian migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 281.
  14. ^ John of Antioch, fragment 209; translated by C. D. Gordon, Age of Attila, p. 122.
  15. ^ History of the Wars, 5.1.6. Text and translation in H.B. Dewing, Procopius (London: Heinemann, 1968), vol. 3 p. 5.
  16. ^ a b c Halsall, Guy (2007). Barbarian migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280.
  17. ^ a b c d Heather, Peter (2007). The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and the barbarians. Oxford: New Oxford Press. p. 429.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Jones, A.H.M. (1964). The Later Roman Empire: 284-602. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 245.
  19. ^ a b c Halsall, Guy (2007). Barbarian migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 282.
  20. ^ Wilhelm Ensslin, "Julius Nepos", in Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Band XVI, 2 (1935), S. 1505–1510.
  21. ^ a b MacGeorge (2002), p. 62
  22. ^ a b Drinkwater & Elton 2002, pp. 24–25
  23. ^ Martindale 1980, s. v. Nepotianus (2), p. 778
  24. ^ Ralph W. Mathisen, "Julius Nepos (19/24 June 474 – [28 August 475 – 25 April/9 May/22 June 480)"
  25. ^ Heather, Peter (March 2008). "The western empire, 425-76". The Cambridge Ancient History. 14: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, AD 425-600: 19 – via Cambridge Histories Online.
  26. ^ McCormick, Michael (March 2008). "Emperor and court". The Cambridge Ancient History. 14: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, AD 425-600: 149 – via Cambridge Histories Online.
  27. ^ a b MacGeorge (2002), p. 29
  28. ^ Jordanes, "The Origins and Deeds of the Goths". Chapter XLV (45). 1915 translation by Charles C. Mierow
  29. ^ Martindale 1980, pp. 708–710, s.v. Marcellinus (6)
  30. ^ A. Kazhdan 1991, p. 1081, s.v. Julius Nepos
  31. ^ O'Flynn 1983, pp. 116–118
  32. ^ PLRE II, pp. 777
  33. ^ MacGeorge (2002), p42

General references[edit]

  • Burgess, R. W., "From Gallia Romana to Gallia Gothica: the view from Spain" in Drinkwater, J.F. & Elton, Hugh (eds.), Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity?, 2002, pp. 19–27
  • Bury, J.B., History of the Later Roman Empire Volume 2: From the Death of Theodosius I to the death of Justinian, Dover Publications, (Newburyport, 2013).
  • Demo, Zeljko (1988). "The Mint in Salona: Nepos and Ovida (474-481/2)". Studia numismatica Labacensia Alexandro Jelocnik oblata. 26: 247–270 via Academia.edu.
  • MacGeorge, Penny (2002). Late Roman warlords. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925244-0.
  • Ralph W. Mathisen, "Julius Nepos (19/24 June 474 – [28 August 475 – 25 April/9 May/22 June 480)"
  • Halsall, Guy, Barbarian migrations and the Roman West, 376-568, (Cambridge, 2007).
  • Heather, Peter, The Fall of the Roman Empire: a new history of Rome and barbarians, Oxford New Press, (Oxford, 2007).
  • Heather, Peter (March 2008). "The western empire, 425–76". The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 14: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, AD 425–600: – via Cambridge Histories Online.
  • Jones, Arnold Hugh Martin: The Later Roman Empire 284–602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey. 3 Volumes, Oxford 1964, S. 244 f. (Reprinted in 2 Volumes, Baltimore 1986).
  • Kazhdan, A. (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Martindale, John R. (ed.), Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume II A.D. 395–527, 1980
  • McCormick, Michael (March 2008). "Emperor and court". The Cambridge Ancient History. 14: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, AD 425-600: – via Cambridge Histories Online.
  • Mitchell, Stephen, History of the Later Roman Empire AD 284-641, Second Edition, Wiley Blackwell, (Chichester 2015).
  • O'Flynn, John Michael. Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire

External links[edit]

Julius Nepos
Born: 430 Died: 480
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Glycerius
Western Roman emperor
474–480
With: Romulus Augustulus (475–476)
Vacant
Position abolished, Zeno becomes
sole Roman emperor
Preceded by
Marcellinus
Military ruler of Dalmatia
468–480
Succeeded by
Ovida
Preceded by
Romulus Augustulus
ruler of Gaul
476–480
Succeeded by
Syagrius
as Magister militum of Gaul