After deposing Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD, Odoacer became the king of Italy. Why did he choose not to be the next emperor of the Roman Empire? The Roman people were still around, and the Senate still existed. In fact, he had the backing of the latter to rule Italy.

  • 1
    This question would benefit from sources/citations.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 9:39
  • 1
    Including evidence for the actual use of the title of King of Italy by Odoacar.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 20:40

2 Answers 2


The basic problem is that to be a Roman emperor, you had to be Roman. Odoacer wasn't.

The background here is that in the Imperial era, it was fairly typical when an emperor died for the armies to "appoint" the next emperor. Most likely this would end up being the leader of the biggest and best legions, for obvious reasons. Either way, being emperor required at least the acquiescence of the Army.

The obvious issue here is that once the mercenary Germanic cavalry forces became the core of the army, this meant the real power in the Roman Empire often became non-Roman German military leaders, who could not themselves actually become Emperor. In those instances the typical solution had been for the "barbarian" to hand pick a suitably pliable and well-placed Roman citizen to be their puppet emperor.

Odoacer was a military leader of the Germanic mercenary foederati. Likely he was German himself, but in any case its agreed he was not Roman, so he could not be Roman Emperor. The Eastern emperor Zeno was willing to acknowledge Odoacer's authority in the Western domains, since he was willing to in turn acknowledge Zeno's theoretical authority, and there wasn't really a thing Zeno could really do about it if he didn't like it. However, Roman legalities required Zeno to consider the rightful Emperor to be Nepos, an emperor who Odoacer's armies had just finished deposing only the year before.

Nepos was no puppet, and Odoacer wasn't just going to hand the Purple back to him (Machiavelli's first rule of betrayal is if you do it to a superior, you can not leave him standing). So he chose this strange middle ground, where he had full authority in the West (minus Dalmatia, which Nepos still held). He was free to call himself King when it suited his purposes, and to pretend he was a mere patrician for Zeno when coddling imperial sensibilities was deemed necessary.


I would like to ask BJ Peter DeLaCruz and other members of this forum what evidence is there that Odoacer in 476 to 493 used the title of rex or konig (king) and if Odacer used a royal title what evidence is that Odoacer used a territorial title instead of an ethnic title or instead of a plain royal title.

During the Dark Ages and early middle ages rulers usually used ethnic titles.

The Anglo-Saxon kings of England from 927 to 1066 often used strange and fanciful titles but their most common title was Rex Anglorum "King of the Angles" or "King of the English". And this was continued by the Norman kings until the reign of of Henry II (1154-1189) the first Plantagenet King.

Henry II called himself "by the grace of God, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, Count of Anjou".

Henricus, Dei gratia rex Angliae, dux Normaniae et Aquitaniae, comes Andegavensis


The early Frankish kings in Gaul called themselves "Kings of the Franks".

For example Childebert I in 515:

Childebertus rex Francorum

Kings of the West Franks from 843 to 916 used the simple title of "King".

Charles the Bald, 844:

Karolus Dei gratia rex

http://eurulers.altervista.org/franks.html 2

The title of King of the Franks continued to be used at lest as late as 1573 in Latin versions:

Carolus, Dei gratia Francorum Rex

The title of "King of France" was used as early as 1223 in Latin:

Ludovicus, Dei gratia Francie rex

And as early as 1308 in French:

Philippe, par la grace de Dieu Roys de France

An inscription found at Chichester in 1723 has the following inscription:


to Neptune and Minerva, for the welfare of the Divine Temple, by the authority of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, great king of the Britons, the guild of smiths and those in it gave this temple at their own expense ...ens, son of Pudentinus, presented the forecourt.

So in the 1st century AD a client king in Britain used the title of "great king of the Britons" which is an ethnic and not a territorial title.


So I have to wonder what is the evidence of the use of the title Rex Italiae in late antquity and early medieval times?

Wikipedia says that Odoacar was proclaimed king of Italy.


But the source that it uses, J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, volume 1, page 406 says:

The soldiers had proclaimed Odovacar king.76

And note 76 says:

76 He is styled rex Herulorum in Cons. Ital. (Chron. Min. I p313, cp. p309).


There is a difference between Rex Herulorum, "King of the Heruls" and Rex Italiae "King of Italy".

So I ask for evidence of the use of the title of King of Italy by Odoacer or by his Ostrogothic successors.

  • 3
    Please do not use answers to ask questions. This does not answer the question - you may wish to ask a new question to explore this material.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 2:24
  • Long overdue answer to the question here: The only contemporary citation of Rex Italiae is in Victor of Vita: Gregory of Tours calls Theodoric the Great "Rex Italiae" later under similar circumstances. In the later case we know that Theodoric preferred "Rex Gothorum", as did his cousin Theodoric the Visigoth.
    – theodox
    Commented Jan 13, 2022 at 2:58

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