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Romans of various ethnicities ultimately rose to be Emperor, such as the Illyrians during the Crisis of the Third Century, of which a notable example is Aurelian. But as far as I know, no Germans did so, even when they were in a (military) position to do so, such as Ricimer. One could argue that the Eastern Emperor would have opposed this, but that is exactly my question: Why would he? What was wrong with a German Emperor, since there had previously been Illyrians and others?

My suspicion is culture. The Emperors of other ethnicities were heavily Romanized, the Germans less so. They were too 'foreign' to be Emperor.

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    What are your reasons for thinking that Germans were not "acceptable" (and to whom)? That none happened to become one doesn't mean they couldn't per se. Perhaps you could focus this question around why Ricimer specifically did not take the imperial title? – Semaphore Nov 27 '14 at 6:43
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    Interesting. Does anyone know a specific reason that Theodoric the Ostrogoth did not claim the Western imperial title? – Mike Supports Monica Nov 28 '14 at 15:17
  • No Germans I'm aware of did, even those in a position to do so, hence the question. My question was prompted by Mike Duncan's "History of Rome" podcast, where he makes a similar claim. I am trying to discover the source for his assertion. Frankly, I should have done so before I asked the question, or perhaps rephrased it to say, "Why did no ethnic Germans become Roman Emperor, even when they seemed to have had the opportunity?" – Gregory Higley Nov 28 '14 at 18:23
  • In the Wikipedia article on Anthemius, the following appears: "As Aspar could not sit on the throne because of his barbaric origin, he opposed Anthemius whose prestige would have made him independent and chose a low-ranking military officer, Leo; in the West, as his barbaric origin barred Ricimer from the throne, it was Majorian who received the purple." This information came from "Mathisen", who I believe is Prof. Ralph W. Mathisen. I've emailed him for comment. – Gregory Higley Nov 28 '14 at 23:57
  • Of course, this says nothing about Germans, only barbarians, so perhaps that was the real impediment. – Gregory Higley Nov 28 '14 at 23:58
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In the Wikipedia article on Anthemius, the following appears:

As Aspar could not sit on the throne because of his barbaric origin, he opposed Anthemius whose prestige would have made him independent and chose a low-ranking military officer, Leo; in the West, as his barbaric origin barred Ricimer from the throne, it was Majorian who received the purple.

That part of the Wikipedia article was attributed (incorrectly it seems) to Prof. Ralph W. Mathisen. I emailed him and here is his emailed response, with his permission:

Nobody's "barbaric origin" "barred" them from the throne. Theodosius II was the grandson of the barbarian general Bauto, and there are several other examples. The Illyrians are not good examples, as they were all perfectly good Roman citizens. Of course, barbarian generals also were Roman citizens. Ricimer and Aspar would have been every bit as good Romans as Aurelian, perhaps even better! On Aspar note a letter of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic to the Synods of Rome of 501 CE recalls, "at one time it was recommended to Aspar by the Senate that he himself become Emperor. He is reported to have given the response, 'I fear that through me a precedent in government be established.'"

As with anything from that time period, it is difficult to say anything for certain. If we can believe Theodoric's letter, we have to assume that if Aspar did indeed fear a precedent would be set, that a counter-precedent of some kind must have existed. It didn't absolutely bar anyone from the throne, but it was enough to make Aspar and Ricimer think twice.

Pure speculation, of course, which may not be appropriate for a Q&A site like this one, but in this case, what else do we have? There was some reason Aspar and Ricimer didn't take the thrones when they could have.

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