September 4, 476: The fall of the Western Roman Empire
For members of the ancient Western Roman Empire, September 4, 476 was a day that lived in infamy. It was on this day that a Germanic military leader named Flavius Odoacer, or simply Odoacer for short, took it upon himself to relieve Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus of his throne. Odoacer then went on to become known as the first king of Italy and his reign semi-officially marked the end of the Western part of the Empire formally known as Rome.
Western Rome’s downhill slide
Make no mistake, though Romulus Augustulus’ fall certainly didn’t help matters, the Fall of the Western Roman Empire wasn’t a random overnight affair. While the West’s counterpart, the Eastern Roman Empire (later known as the Byzantine Empire), managed to keep it together and thrive for several more centuries, things had been shaky in the west for some time.
After all, keeping even one directionally specific part of an Empire together was no easy task. Not only do you need a killer army, but a competent Emperor, a healthy population, a smooth economy, and control of your territory. 100 years before Western Rome’s eventual fall, the territory had begun to see a huge influx of Germanic tribes, such as the Goths, who were never really granted legit citizenship as Romans. Meanwhile, overpopulation was on the rise, and things weren’t all that great financially in Western Rome. As far as leadership, it’s easier to understand why Romulus Augustus wasn’t that strong an Emperor when you take into account that he was just sixteen years old.
The original showbiz dad
Romulus Augustus was actually dubbed Emperor by his dad, a guy named Orestes. Orestes had been a Roman military leader who had pretty much stolen the throne from Nepos, the former Western Roman Emperor. So when he handed the throne to his young son, the father/son duo was quick to discover that they had a hard time getting anybody outside of central Italy to take them seriously.
Meanwhile, the many tribes who had been immigrating to the territory got tired of being asked to fight for Rome without being granted lands of their own. So finally, led by Odoacer, the tribes rose up in rebellion, marched into Western Rome and took control. Fortunately for Romulus Augustulus, the invading Odoacer didn’t have to put up much of a fight in his quest to take over. In fact, he actually found young Romulus kind of cute and not only spared his life, but sent him off with money to start a new life elsewhere.