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Julius Nepos[1] (full name: Flavius Julius Nepos Augustus; c. AD 430 – 480) was de jure and de facto Western Roman Emperor from AD 474 to 475 and then only de jure until his death in AD 480. He was also the ruler of Roman Dalmatia from 468 to 480. Some historians consider Nepos to be the final Western Roman Emperor, while others consider the western line to have ended with Romulus Augustulus in 476. In contrast, the Eastern Roman Empire and its line of emperors survived this period.

Flavius Julius Nepos
Augustus of the Western Roman Empire
Julius Nepos Tremissis.jpg
Tremissis profile portrait of Nepos; mint of Milan
Emperor of the Roman Empire
ReignJune AD 474 – August 28, AD 475 (reigning from Italy)
475–480 (reigning in Dalmatia)
SuccessorRomulus Augustus (in Italy), Zeno (as sole Roman Emperor)
Romulus Augustus(Western Emperor, 475-6)
Zeno (Eastern Emperor, 474-80)
Basiliscus (Eastern Emperor, 475-6)
BornCirca 430
DiedApril 25, May 9, or June 22, 480 (aged 50)
Spalatum, Dalmatia
Full name
Flavius Julius Nepos
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Julius Nepos Augustus
MotherA sister of Marcellinus

Nepos was elevated as Western Roman Emperor in AD 474 by the Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I to replace the Western Emperor Glycerius, whom he had refused to recognize. Orestes, the Magister Militum, subsequently took the government in Ravenna on August 28, 475, and deposed Nepos, forcing him to flee by ship to Dalmatia. Orestes crowned his son, Romulus Augustus, as Emperor, but neither Nepos nor the Eastern Roman court acknowledged him. A few months later the mutinous general Odoacer defeated and killed Orestes and deposed Romulus.

Nepos continued to reign in Dalmatia claiming himself as Emperor of the West and the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople recognized him as such, but his power was limited to Dalmatia. Nepos was assassinated in 480, and the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno formally abolished the Western division of the Empire.


Rise to officeEdit

Solidus of Emperor Julius Nepos; mint in Ravenna, 474-5

Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I appointed Julius Nepos as Western Roman Emperor in early AD 474. Nepos was married to Leo's niece, but also himself was the nephew of the sovereign governor of Roman Dalmatia, Marcellinus, hence his agnomen of "Nepos" ("nephew"). Leo intended to replace the Western Emperor Glycerius, whom he regarded as a usurper. The Burgundian Magister Militum Gundobad had enthroned Glycerius in the Western capital of Ravenna. However, under Roman law, Leo was the sole, legitimate and de iure Eastern Roman Emperor and had the right to appoint a new Western counterpart.

Julius Nepos succeeded his uncle, Marcellinus, after the latter's murder in Sicily, as the Governor of the Province of Dalmatia, which was legally part of the Western Roman Empire but practically an autonomous region since at least Marcellinus' term of office. In June 474 Nepos entered Ravenna, forced Glycerius to abdicate, and secured the Western throne for himself. Nepos spared Glycerius' life and appointed him Bishop of Salona. Nepos reigned briefly over the whole of the remaining Western Roman Empire, centered in Italy and including his native Dalmatia and the remnant of Roman Gaul.

Deposition and reign in DalmatiaEdit

Independent Dalmatia; approximate extent of Marcellinus' reign from AD 454 to 468) and Julius Nepos' reign from 468–480; external polities are shown as during Nepos' late period.

The reign of Nepos in Italy ended in AD 475, when Orestes, his Magister Militum, deposed him and usurped the government at Ravenna on August 28, forcing Nepos to flee by ship to Roman Dalmatia. In the same year, Orestes enthroned his teenage son as the new Western Roman Emperor with the regnal name "Romulus Augustus". The boy was probably circa 15 years old when he became de facto Emperor and is known to history derisively as "Romulus Augustulus", which is to use the diminutive of the second name, denoting "little Augustus".

The reasons for Orestes' decision to crown his son as his puppet, rather than enthrone himself, are ambiguous. However, Romulus' de facto reign was not legal because the Eastern Roman Emperor had not recognized his accession, and therefore Nepos remained the sole and de iure Western Roman Emperor.[2] Romulus' short reign ended on September 4, AD 476, when Odoacer, head of the Germanic Foederati in Italy, captured Ravenna, executed Orestes, and deposed Romulus. Odoacer sent Romulus to exile or retirement in Campania, after which he disappears from the historical record.

Although his successor had been deposed, Nepos never returned to Italy. He continued to reign from Roman Dalmatia as "Emperor of the West", and he still enjoyed some support from Constantinople. Odoacer, attempting to bypass Nepos, used the Roman Senate to petition the newly restored Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno to grant him the title of "Patrician" and to terminate the office of Western Roman Emperor. Patrician rank was granted, but at Zeno's insistence Odoacer also grudgingly acknowledged Nepos' de iure Imperial status, and even issued coinage in Nepos' name. Practically, Odoacer reigned as an increasingly independent King of Italy, nominally recognizing the suzerainty of the Eastern Roman Empire; Nepos retained his Imperial title but practically exercised no power outside of Dalmatia. The Western Roman Empire nominally continued after 476 as a sop to Imperial tradition.


This political solution lasted approximately four years. In circa AD 479, Nepos began to plot against Odoacer, hoping to regain control of Italy for himself. Another possibility according to some sources is that Glycerius, who continued as Bishop of Salona, was plotting revenge. What is certain is that Odoacer perceived Nepos as a threat, and was determined to remove him.

Nepos, still residing in Roman Dalmatia, was murdered by one of his own soldiers in AD 480, on either April 25, May 9, or June 22; April 25 is most probable.[3] He was reportedly stabbed in his villa near Salona. Since Diocletian also had a residence in the area, it might have been in the same building. Marcellinus Comes blames "the treachery of his comes Viator and Ovida" for the murder. Malchus also implicates the former Emperor Glycerius in the conspiracy because, as Nepos had appointed Glycerius as Bishop of Salona, he was in the vicinity of the murder.[4] Adding to the suspicions of Glycerius is a report that Odoacer later made him Bishop of Milan.

Ovida served as the next ruler of Roman Dalmatia for a few months, but Odoacer used Nepos' assassination as a pretext to invade.[4] Odoacer defeated Ovida's forces on December 9, and added the province to his kingdom. After Nepos' death, Zeno formally abolished the Western division of the Empire,[citation needed] ending the last serious legal claim of a separate Western Roman Empire until the reign of Charlemagne.


As is the case with many Roman Emperors who reigned for only a short period of time, especially those from the final decades of the Western Roman Empire, only limited information of Nepos is extant in surviving records. Historians claim [5] that Julius Nepos was son of the comes Nepotianus, a general (Magister Utriusque Militiae) who served the Western Roman Empire between AD 458 and 461 during the reign of Majorian. Nepotianus is mentioned as having been active in southern Gaul and Hispania, eventually dying in 465.[6] His unnamed mother was a sister of Marcellinus, the Magister Militum of Roman Dalmatia.[7]

Historian R. W. Burgess denies this identification. Burgess observes that the claim is premised on one passage from Jordanes' Romana. He proceeds to argue that, while Nepos came from an important family, the general Nepotianus was a mercenary commander working for the Visigoths, from which came his title of Magister Militiae. Thus, Burgess concludes that Nepotianus, father of Nepos, and the military commander Nepotianus, should be considered as different persons.[5]

The AD 6th Century chronicler Marcellinus Comes mentions Nepos as "son of the sister of Marcellinus, once patrician".[8] This identification of Nepos is confirmed by a passage in Jordanes' Getica.[1][9] Since Jordanes often uses Marcellinus Comes as a source, the passage might have been copied verbatim.[8]

Marcellinus was a powerful figure in the Western Roman Empire, rebelling in 454 against the Emperor Valentinian III after the latter's assassination of Flavius Aetius. He established himself as an autonomous ruler in Dalmatia, despite accepting the authority of the emperors Majorian and Anthemius. Under Anthemius he was raised to the rank of patrician, becoming a possible threat to Ricimer, the powerful kingmaker behind the western throne. In 468, Marcellinus died in Sicily, probably at the hands of Ricimer.[10][11][12] Nepos inherited control of Dalmatia from his uncle with the title magister militum Dalmatiae,[13] and which was the basis for his future in exile.

Nepos may have been a member of an enduringly prominent Dalmatian family. Four memorial inscriptions commemorating similarly named individuals, from the same region and falling within an appropriate time-frame, have been identified: Aelia Nepotes, Aelia Nepos, Julius Nepos, and Nepotes. The name also seems to be preserved in a church inscription of Salona, dating to the early 5th century.[14] Although the association of the agnomen "Nepos" with his connection to the Leonid dynasty seems to be fairly clear, the origins of and relationships between all these similar-sounding names, including his father's, are less clear. Also unclear is what role Nepos' ties of kinship with Marcellinus might have played in the acquisition of his agnomen.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Martindale 1980, s.v. Iulius Nepos (3), pp. 777–8
  2. ^ J. B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, §4, p. 408.
  3. ^ Wilhelm Ensslin, "Julius Nepos", in Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Band XVI, 2 (1935), S. 1505–1510.
  4. ^ a b MacGeorge (2002), p. 62
  5. ^ a b Drinkwater & Elton 2002, pp. 24–25
  6. ^ Martindale 1980, s. v. Nepotianus (2), p. 778
  7. ^ Ralph W. Mathisen, "Julius Nepos (19/24 June 474 – [28 August 475 – 25 April/9 May/22 June 480)"
  8. ^ a b MacGeorge (2002), p. 29
  9. ^ Jordanes, "The Origins and Deeds of the Goths". Chapter XLV (45). 1915 translation by Charles C. Mierow
  10. ^ Martindale 1980, pp. 708–710, s.v. Marcellinus (6)
  11. ^ A. Kazhdan 1991, p. 1081, s.v. Julius Nepos
  12. ^ O'Flynn 1983, pp. 116–118
  13. ^ PLRE II, pp. 777
  14. ^ MacGeorge (2002), p42


  • MacGeorge, Penny (2002). Late Roman warlords. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925244-0.
  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Nepos, Julius" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  • Ralph W. Mathisen, "Julius Nepos (19/24 June 474 – [28 August 475 – 25 April/9 May/22 June 480)"
  • Arnold Hugh Martin Jones: The Later Roman Empire 284–602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey. 3 Volumes, Oxford 1964, S. 244 f. (Reprinted in 2 Volumes, Baltimore 1986).
  • Martindale, John R. (ed.), Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire: Volume II A.D. 395–527, 1980
  • R. W. Burgess, "From Gallia Romana to Gallia Gothica: the view from Spain" in Drinkwater, J.F. & Elton, Hugh (eds.), Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity?, 2002, pp. 19–27
  • A. Kazhdan (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1991
  • O'Flynn, John Michael. Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire

External linksEdit

Julius Nepos
Born: 430 Died: 480
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Western Roman Emperor
With: Romulus Augustulus (475-476)
Succeeded by
Zeno as Emperor of the whole empire
Preceded by
Military governor or ruler of Dalmatia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Romulus Augustulus
ruler of Gaul
Succeeded by
as Magister militum of Gaul