Glycerius (fl. 470s) was Roman emperor of the West from 473 to 474. He served as comes domesticorum (commander of the palace guard) during the reign of Olybrius (r. 472), until Olybrius died in November 472. After a four-month interregnum, Glycerius was proclaimed Western Emperor in March 473 by the magister militum (master of soldiers) and power behind the throne Gundobad. Very few of the events of his reign are known other than that during his reign an attempted invasion of Italy by the Visigoths was repelled, diverting them to Gaul. Glycerius also prevented an invasion by the Ostrogoths through gifts.

Gold coin which depicts Glycerius
Solidus of Emperor Glycerius
Roman emperor of the West

(unrecognized in the East)
Reign3/5 March 473 – 24 June 474
SuccessorJulius Nepos
Leo I (473–474)
Leo II (474)
DiedAfter 474 (possibly 480)

Glycerius was not recognized by the Eastern Roman emperor Leo I (r. 457–474), who instead nominated Julius Nepos (r. 474–475/480) as Emperor and sent him with an army to invade the Western Empire. Glycerius was without allies because Gundobad had left to rule the Burgundians, and therefore was forced to abdicate on 24 June 474. He was appointed Bishop of Salona, which position he held until his death. He died sometime after 474, possibly in 480, and may have had a role in the assassination of Julius Nepos in 480.



Glycerius was born in Dalmatia,[1][2] his family is unknown, and may not have been an aristocratic family, but rather one of low birth.[3] He rose to the rank of comes domesticorum (commander of the palace guard) during the reign of Western Roman emperor Olybrius (r. 472). The Germanic magister militum (master of soldiers) Ricimer had deposed the Western Roman emperor Majorian (r. 457–461) in 461, and thereafter installed a series of Western Roman emperors as puppets: Libius Severus (r. 461–465), installed after the deposition of Majorian; Anthemius (r. 467–472), after the death of Libius Severus, possibly poisoned by Ricimer himself; and Olybrius, enthroned in July 472, after Ricimer overthrew Anthemius.[4] Ricimer died on 18 August 472, forty days after deposing Anthemius, and was succeeded as magister militum and kingmaker by his nephew Gundobad (r. 473–516).[5] Olybrius died shortly thereafter, on 2 November 472, and an interregnum ensued for nearly four months, before Gundobad convinced Glycerius to assume the throne, and proclaimed him as Western Roman emperor at Ravenna on either 3 or 5 March 473; the Fasti vindobonenses, a record of consular years, states that it was on the 5th, however, the Paschale campanum, also a consular record, asserts it was on the 3rd.[1][6][7][8]


Many events of Glycerius' reign are unknown;[7][9] the historian Penny MacGeorge summates that "almost nothing is known of Glycerius".[7] Glycrius is known from a few fragmented references from chronicles, as well as some small references provided by the 6th-century Jordanes and Ennodius.[10] Under Glycerius, the invasions of both the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths were repelled, through a mixture of diplomatic and military acts. In 473, the Visigoth King Euric (r. 466–484) ordered an invasion of Italy, but his commander, Vincentius, was killed by the armies of the comites Alla and Sindila. After Vincentius was killed, Euric chose instead to invade Gaul, occupying both Arles and Marseilles. The Ostrogoth King Videmir (r. 469–474) proposed to invade Italy, but Glycerius was able to dissuade him through the gift of 2,000 solidi,[11] and diverted them from Italy to Gaul, where surrounding groups later attacked them.[7][9][10] These actions to defend Rome may be the reason that Glycerius receives a generally favorable reception in Roman and Byzantine sources. The 9th-century Theophanes describes him only as a "not despicable man", but Ennodius, the bishop of Pavia, describes him more thoroughly in his Vita St. Epiphanius:[10]

After Olybrius, Glycerius ascended to the rule. With regard to whom I summarize, in my desire for brevity, the numerous things he did for the well being of many people. For, when the blessed man [Bishop Epiphanius of Pavia] interceded, he pardoned the injury done to his mother by some men under his authority.[10]

It is believed that Glycerius primarily reigned from northern Italy, as all but one coin found from his reign were minted in either Ravenna or Milan. The only law enacted by Glycerius which has survived was dated 11 March 473, and issued to Himilco, the Praetorian Prefect of Italy, and later reissued to the Praetorian Prefects of Illyricum, the East, and Gaul, regarding simony. It was adopted not just by the Prefects of Italy and Gaul, who were a part of the Western Roman Empire, but also by the Prefects of Illyricum and the East, despite the fact that he did not actually have the authority to issue laws to them. The law was designed to gain the support of the clergy,[10] but would likely also have appealed to the senatorial class, who were concerned with increasingly violent elections, as well as the usage of church funds by clergy for personal reasons.[12] This law was also the last one issued by a Western Roman emperor.[13]

It is possible that Glycerius attempted reconciliation with the Eastern Roman Empire, evidenced by the fact that Glycerius did not nominate a consul for 474, and instead accepted the eastern consul.[10] Despite this, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Leo I (r. 457–474), refused to recognize Glycerius as Western Emperor because he was merely a puppet of Gundobad. Emperor Leo instead chose to recognize one of his own men, Julius Nepos (r. 474–475/480), and sent him with a fleet to invade the Western Empire.[9] The 7th-century John of Antioch states that Leo made the decision to remove Glycerius after hearing that he had assumed the throne of the Western Roman Empire, but the historian Ralph Mathisen comments that Leo must have hesitated for some time, as the actual invasion was delayed by the onset of winter, and Julius Nepos was forced to wait until the beginning of spring to launch his invasion.[14]

Glycerius was without allies, as Gundobad left to become king of Burgundy, leaving him with no option but to surrender. After Nepos landed at Ostia in June 474, Glycerius abdicated on 24 June 474, in Ravenna.[9] The historian John Michael O'Flynn states that the "circumstances surrounding this speedy overthrow are obscure and, at first sight, puzzling", noting that while the forces of Nepos were likely small in number, Gundobad made no moves to counter them, but rather "disappeared entirely from the Italian scene." He speculates that, while Gundobad could have put up stiff resistance, rather than attempting to oppose the imperial legitimacy of Leo, he accepted Leo's authority to reject Glycerius as an imperial colleague and to install one of his own choosing. Additionally, Glycerius seems to have never to have attracted the favor of the Roman Senate or the Gallo-Roman aristocracy, which would make the decision to back him, and therefore alienate both, far less palatable for Gundobad.[15] Notably, as king of Burgundy, Gundobad enjoyed warm relations with the Eastern Roman Empire, who he served as a foederatus (treaty subject).[16] Mathisen suggests the alternatives that Gundobad was attempting to raise further troops in Gaul, or that he left to ensure he received his inheritance after the death of his father, King Gondioc (r. 437–473).[10]

Later lifeEdit

After being deposed, Glycerius was promptly ordained as Bishop of Salona, becoming Nepos' personal bishop.[9] According to Malchus, Glycerius had some part in organizing the assassination of Julius Nepos in 480, after Nepos had been forced to flee Italy and was ruling in exile in Dalmatia, although the historical records for the assassination are muddled.[10][17][18] Glycerius died sometime after 474, possibly in 480.[9][18] Some historians suggest he was made archbishop of Milan by King Odoacer (r. 476–493), but this is likely incorrect.[10] The source for the promotion of Glycerius to archbishop is an obscure line written by Ennodius, in which he praises an archbishop named Glycerius, among other archbishops of Milan, however, this section seems to have been either corrupted or added later, to identify the archbishop Glycerius with the emperor Glycerius.[18]


Primary sourcesEdit


  1. ^ a b Meijer 2004, p. 159.
  2. ^ Cooley, p. 508.
  3. ^ Grierson & Mays 1992, p. 77.
  4. ^ Martindale 1980, pp. 943–4.
  5. ^ Martindale 1980, pp. 524 & 945.
  6. ^ Lee 2013, p. 96.
  7. ^ a b c d MacGeorge 2002, p. 272.
  8. ^ Martindale 1980, pp. 514 & 524.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Meijer 2004, pp. 159–160.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i DIR Glycerius.
  11. ^ Grierson & Mays 1992, p. 263.
  12. ^ Harris & Chen 2021, p. 208.
  13. ^ Harris & Chen 2021, p. 205.
  14. ^ DIR Julius Nepos.
  15. ^ O'Flynn 1983, p. 130.
  16. ^ O'Flynn 1983, p. 131.
  17. ^ MacGeorge 2002, p. 31 & 62.
  18. ^ a b c Martindale 1980, p. 514.


  • Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84026-2.
  • Grierson, Philip; Mays, Melinda (1992). Catalogue of Late Roman Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection From Arcadius and Honorius to the Accession of Anastasius. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. ISBN 978-0-88402-193-3.
  • Harris, William V.; Chen, Anne Hunnell (2021). Late-Antique Studies in Memory of Alan Cameron. Leiden: BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-45279-4.
  • Lee, A. D. (2013). From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-748-66835-9.
  • MacGeorge, Penny (2002). Late Roman Warlords. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-191-53091-3.
  • Mathisen, Ralph W. "Roman Emperors - DIR Glycerius". Archived from the original on 6 July 2018. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  • Mathisen, Ralph W. (1998). "Julius Nepos (19/24 June 474 – [28 August 475] – 25 April/9 May/22 June 480)". De Imperatoribus Romanis. Archived from the original on 29 January 2023.
  • Martindale, John R., ed. (1980). The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume II, AD 395–527. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20159-4.
  • Meijer, Fik (2004). Emperors Don't Die in Bed. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-38405-1.
  • O'Flynn, John M. (1983). Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. ISBN 978-0-88864-031-4.

Further readingEdit

  • Gusso, Massimo (1992). "Sull'Imperatore Glycerio (473-474 d.C.". Studia et Documenta Historiae e Iuris (in Italian). LVIII: 168–193.
Regnal titles
Preceded by Western Roman emperor
Succeeded by