Ricimer

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Flavius Ricimer[1] (c. 405 – August 18, 472; Latin pronunciation: /ˈrɪkɪmɛr/) was a Germanic general who achieved effective control of the remaining parts of the Western Roman Empire, during the middle of the fifth century AD. His power was based on his military strength as Magister militum, "master of the troops", and he exercised political control through a series of "puppet emperors", whom he enthroned and eliminated.

Biography

Ricimer was of a royal lineage, an Arian Christian, the son of Rechila, Suevic King of Galicia; his mother was the sister or daughter of Wallia, king of the Visigoths.[2] His youth was spent at the court of the western Roman emperor Valentinian III, where he won distinction fighting under Flavius Aëtius, Valentinian's magister militum of the western portion of the Roman Empire.

The deaths of Valentinian and Aëtius in 454–55 created a power vacuum in the west. At first, Petronius Maximus attempted to seize control of the imperial throne, but he was killed when the Vandal king Geiseric sacked Rome in May of 455. Avitus was then made Emperor by the Visigoths. Following his arrival in Rome, Avitus appointed Ricimer as commander of the stricken Western Empire (by then reduced to Italy and a part of southern Gaul). He raised a new army and navy from among the Germanic mercenaries available to him.

After leaving Rome, Geiseric had left a powerful fleet blockading the Italian coast. In 456, Ricimer led his own fleet out to sea, and defeated the Vandals in a sea fight near Corsica. He also defeated the Vandals on land near Agrigentum in Sicily. Backed by the popularity thus acquired, Ricimer gained the consent of the Roman Senate for an expedition against the emperor Avitus, whom he defeated in a bloody battle at Piacenza on October 16, 456. Avitus was taken prisoner, forcibly made bishop of Piacenza, and shortly afterwards sentenced to death. Ricimer then obtained from Leo I, the eastern emperor at Constantinople, the title of Patricius.

Ricimer spent the rest of his life as the de facto ruler of what was left of the western empire. However, the way in which he exercised power made him one of the most controversial figures of his time. As a Germanic tribesman, he could not assume the title of Augustus (emperor) himself; on the other hand, power over the Augustus in Rome gave him prestige and offered him some influence over the other Germanic peoples occupying Gaul, Hispania, and Northern Africa. This left him with two options — dissolve the western imperial court and rule officially as a dux, or governor, of a single emperor in Constantinople, or set up his own figurehead emperors and rule through them. He chose to do the latter, even going so far as to have his name inscribed on the coinage along with the emperor.

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