Flavius Ricimer

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Flavius Ricimer

Flavius Ricimer (died 472) was a Romanized German political chief and the central power in the Western Roman Empire in the mid-5th century.

Ricimer came from royal Germanic stock on both sides of his family. His father was the king of the Suevians; his mother was the daughter of the Visigothic king Wallia. He was a Christian but, like most Goths, belonged to the heretical Arian sect of Christianity. Along with many other Germans, he decided to make his career in the service of Rome. Details of his early career are not preserved, but he must have been successful in both the political and military spheres. He formed important friendships such as that with Majorian, the future emperor, and he was selected in 456 by the emperor Avitus to stop a threatened attack of the Vandals on Sicily. He succeeded and was awarded the rank of comes. Shortly thereafter he was raised to the rank of master of soldiers.

His Political Force

At the same time, Ricimer began to display his political strength. In 456 he cooperated with Majorian to depose Avitus. After a short interval Majorian was recognized as emperor by the Eastern Roman Empire. Ricimer was raised to the rank of patrician in 457, and in 459 Majorian rewarded him with the consulship. However, Majorian and Ricimer began to draw apart, and when the former failed in his expedition against Gaiseric and the Vandals, Ricimer had him deposed and executed (461). In November 461 Ricimer made Livius Severus emperor, but the appointment failed to win approval either in the East or with Gaiseric, who had emerged as an independent political force. In 464 Ricimer defeated Beorger, the king of the Alans, who had invaded Italy. In 465 Severus died, and a political compromise was worked out. Leo, the Eastern Roman emperor, sent Anthemius to the West to become emperor. Ricimer agreed to the appointment when he received the hand of Anthemius's daughter in marriage.

Hostility soon developed, however, and by 470 the split was complete. Anthemius executed friends of Ricimer, and Ricimer in turn attacked Anthemius at Rome. In 472 Anthemius was defeated and killed by Ricimer. Ricimer's next candidate for the emperorship was Olybrius, who was satisfactory to Gaiseric. Olybrius was installed as emperor but soon lost the services of Ricimer, who died in 472.

Ricimer was the last strong man in the Western Roman Empire. His military skill kept Italy relatively free of invasion. Being both a barbarian and a heretical Arian, however, he was forced to act behind a screen of temporary emperors whose rapid succession added little to the strength and stability of the Western Empire.

Further Reading

Some information on Ricimer appears in the poems of Sidonius Apollinaris. Colin Douglas Gordon, The Age of Attila: Fifth-century Byzantium and the Barbarians (1960), collects some of the fragments of the ancient historians on Ricimer. For the background of Ricimer's era see J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian, A.D. 395 to A.D. 565 (1923). □