In this part we will cover the Battle of Cape Bon, which was considered to have been the last chance for survival for the Western Roman Empire. And also, the ultimately ‘Fall of Western Rome.’
In 468 AD, in a effort to reconquer Africa, Emperor Leo I assembled a massive war fleet at Constantinople at the costs of more than 64,000 pounds of gold (more than a year’s revenue,) which almost brought Leo to bankruptcy. It consisted of over 1,100 ships carrying roughly 100,000 men and was the greatest fleet ever sent against the Vandals.
Meanwhile, Emperor Anthemius sent a Roman expedition under command of Marcellinus, who managed to expel the Vandals from Sicily and Sardinia.
Also, the Eastern general Heraclius of Edessa landed with a force on the Libyan coast, east of Carthage.
The combined forces of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires against the Vandal capital of Carthage were led by Basiliscus. However, while attempting to land near Carthage at the Cape of Mercury (Cape Bon) the Roman fleet sent by Leo I was thrown into disorder by a Vandal fireship attack, using small boats filled with brushwood and pots of oil, which according to historical records destroyed more than 700 of the 1,113 imperial galleys.
The attack and the confusion led to the Roman expedition being too scattered to land its troops and Basiliscus fled with his surviving fleet to Sicily. This left Heraclius with his small force to fight alone against the Vandals, and he ultimately retreated through the desert into Tripolitania, where he held his position for two years until being recalled.
Meanwhile, Marcellinus who successfully expelled the Vandals from the coast of Italy was murdered in Sicily, most likely at the instigation of Ricimer and the nobles of Rome to please the king of the Vandals and avoid retribution from the failed attack on Carthage. King Genseric of the Vandals replied in surprise and was pleased that such an abomination as Marcellinus had ben ridden from the world.
As Basiliscus returned to Constantinople after his failure, he sought sanctuary in the church of Hagia Sophia to escape the wrath of the people. Emperor Leo I gave him an imperial pardon, but banished him for 3 years to Heraclea Sintica (Thrace.)
Later the same year, Dengizich, son of Attila the Hun, sent an embassy to Constantinople to demand his tribute of gold. As Leo I was close to bankruptcy after the failed attack on the Vandals at Carthage, he offered the Huns settlement in Thrace instead. Dengizich refused and crossed the Danube where he later ran into Roman forces under Anagast. During a battle at the river Utus (Bulgaria,) Dengizich was killed and his head was paraded through the streets of Constantinople and then stuck on the end of a wooden pole to be put on display above the Xylokerkos Gate.
At the end of the year, the Vandals reconquered Sicily, but refrained from any other hostile activities.
In 469 AD, King Euric of the Visigoths declared himself independent from the Western Roman Empire. He extended the Visigothic power in Hispania, where he conquered the cities of Pamplona, Zaragoza and Mérida.
Meanwhile, The Vatican and the Catholic Church extended their influence by making a pact with the Salian Frankish king Childeric I, agreeing to call him “the new Constantine” on condition that he accepted conversion to (Catholic/Saturnian) Christianity.
In 470 AD, Emperor Anthemius appealed to the Britons for military help against the Visigoths. A Breton force of roughly 12,000 men under the Celtic leader Riothamus landed in Gaul, but was defeated by King Euric. During the remaining of the year, Euric expanded the Visigothic Kingdom further north, as far as the Somme River.
In 472 AD, relations between Ricimer, the de facto ruler of the Western Roman Empire, and his puppet, Emperor Anthemius, deteriorated completely. At this time in history, they had not mastered mind control tactics, and simply used intimidation, blackmail, promises or gold to control their puppets. Anthemius was caught while fleeing and was beheaded. Ricimer proclaimed Olybrius as the new emperor while his nephew, the Burgundian general Gundobad, assumed command of the Western army.
During autumn, Ricimer at the age of 54 died at his palace of what was said to be natural causes. Without a powerful and well-connected figure to guide it, the Western Roman Empire experienced an even more rapid decline and succession of emperors, none of whom was able to effectively consolidate power.
Meanwhile, as the Roman Empire was slowly collapsing, surrounded by enemies, the elite families operated through the Roman Catholic Church and was pondering new ways to survive, bind their time, and retake power and control.
Before the end of the year, Mount Vesuvius erupted and the whole of southern Europe was blanketed by ash. Also, Olybrius died after only four months of “rule.”
In 473 AD, Gundobad, the nephew of Ricimer, nominated Glycerius as emperor of the Western Roman Empire. However, Emperor Leo I refused to recognize him, and choose Julius Nepos as candidate instead.
Gundobad, fed up with Roman politics, returned to Burgundy, where his father Gondioc recently had died, and became king of the Burgundians.
Leo I signed a peace treaty with Gothic chieftain Theodoric Strabo, paying him an annual tribute of 2,000 pounds of gold, further emptying his treasury.
King Euric of the Visigoths tried to invade Italy, but was defeated by Glycerius. The Visigoths withdraw to Gaul, and conquered the cities of Arles and Marseille.
In early 474 AD, Emperor Leo I died of dysentery at Constantinople, after a 17-year reign. He was succeeded by his 7-year-old grandson Leo II, and his son, Zeno, father of Leo II, was crowned co-emperor and became the de facto ruler or the Eastern Roman Empire.
By June, Julius Nepos, previously chosen by Leo I, arrived at Portus and marched on Ravenna. He forced Glycerius to abdicate the throne, and proclaimed himself emperor of the Western Roman Empire.
By November, 7-year-old Leo II died of an unknown disease (possibly poisoned.) Zeno became sole Eastern Emperor.
In January of 475 AD, Emperor Zeno abdicated under pressure, as his wife’s uncle Basiliscus, the failed general from the Battle of Cape Bon, staged a coup d’état at Constantinople with the support of Zeno’s wife and his trusted advisor Illus.
In August, Magister Militum Orestes took control of the government in Ravenna, and forced Julius Nepos to flee to Dalmatia. He then proclaimed his son Romulus Augustus as Emperor. Augustus would ultimately rule for 10 months as the last Western Emperor, which brings us to the fateful year of 476.
In the summer of 476 AD, Odoacer, the chieftain of the Germanic tribes (Herulic/Scirian foederati,) visited the imperial palace at Ravenna to claim his reward of land in Italy for helping Orestes to dethrone Julius Nepos during the rebellion a year earlier. Orestes backed out on his promise, leaving Odoacer empty handed.
In early August, Basiliscus, the Roman usurper, was deposed and Zeno was restored as emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. Basiliscus was sent to a fortress in Cappadocia, where he later died from starvation.
On August 23, Odoacer was proclaimed ‘Rex Italiae’ (King of Italy) by his troops and returned with an Ostrogoth army, plundering the countryside while advancing on Ravenna.
By August 25, Orestes was arrested and executed near Piacenza by Odoacer.
In early September, Orestes’ son Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Odoacer at Ravenna. Odoacer spared the boy’s life and gave him a pension of 6,000 solidi, but exiled him to the “Castellum Lucullanum” (Castel dell’Ovo,) on the island of Megaride in the Gulf of Naples.
This event would later be romanticized in Western literature and history as the ‘Fall of Western Rome,’ and is nowadays traditionally used by historians to mark the beginning of the European Middle Ages.
The Roman Empire now became the Merovingian dynasty, who traced themselves back to the Trojans.
However, the continuation of the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman Empire with the Saturnian cult and solar worship survived and continued hidden as (Roman) Christianity with the Catholic Church and the elite families of Italy and Spain.
After taking control of the Western Roman Empire, Odoacer crossed the Maritime Alps with a Gothic army and invaded Provence (Southern Gaul.) He conquered the cities of Arles and Marseilles from the Visigoths.
The Visigoths under King Euric marched into Italy, but suffered defeat against the forces of Odoacer. However, Odoacer surrendered the newly conquered territory in Gaul and King Euric pledged himself to undertake no further hostilities.
At the end of the year, the Roman Senate petitioned the Eastern Emperor Zeno to recognize Julius Nepos as deposed and take the sole emperorship himself, abolishing the 81 year-long east and west division of the empire and recognizing Odoacer’s authority in Italy. Zeno declined the first request, but named Odoacer as ‘Patricius,’ investing his rule with Imperial legitimacy.
In 479 AD, Ambrosius Aurelianus, war leader of the Roman-British, was proclaimed king of the Britons, and continued the war against the Anglo-Saxons.
In Italy, Julius Nepos, the former emperor of the Western Roman Empire, plotted military plans against Odoacer, hoping to regain control of Italy himself.