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The Heruli (spelled variously in Latin and Greek) were a nomadic Germanic people, who were subjugated by the Ostrogoths, Huns, and Byzantines in the 3rd to 5th centuries. The name is related to earl (see erilaz) and was probably an honorific military title. One of the Heruli, Odoacer the commander of the Imperial foederati troops, deposed the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus.



The 6th century chronicler Jordanes reports a tradition that they had been driven out of their homeland by the Dani, which places their origins in the Danish isles or southernmost Sweden. According to Procopius, they maintained close links with their kinsmen in Thule (Scandinavia). He relates that the Heruls killed their own king during their stay in the Balkans (cf. Domalde), and that they sent an emissary to Thule requesting a new king. Their request was granted, and a new king arrived with 200 young men.

The Heruls are first mentioned by Roman writers in the reign of Gallienus (260-268), when they accompanied the Goths ravaging the coasts of the Black Sea and the Aegean. The mixed warbands sacked Byzantium in 267, but their eastern contingent was decimated in the Balkans at the Battle of Naissus two years later. A western contingent of Heruli are mentioned at the mouth of the Rhine in 289.

By the end of the 4th century the Heruls were subjugated by the Ostrogoths. When the Ostrogothic kingdom of Ermanaric was destroyed by the Huns in about 375, the Heruls became subject to the Hunnic empire. Only after the fall of the Hunnic realm in 454, were the Heruls able to create their own kingdom in southern Slovakia at the March and Theiss rivers.

After this kingdom was destroyed by the Langobards, Herulian fortunes waned. Remaining Heruls joined the Langobards and moved to Italy, and some of them sought refuge with the Gepids. Marcellinus comes recorded that the Romans (meaning the East Romans or in modern naming the Byzantines) allowed them to resettle depopulated "lands and cities" near Singidunum (modern Belgrade); this was done "by order of Anastasius Caesar" sometime between June 29 and August 31, 512. After one generation, this minor federate kingdom disappeared from the historical records.

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