7. Flavius Ricimer pulled the strings as the Roman Empire faded, installing and then deposing Emperors at will
The decline and ultimate fall of the Roman Empire was a messy time. Emperors came and went, territory was lost and sometimes regained, and over the period of just a few decades, the once-dominant global superpower vanished for good. Pulling the strings for several decades was Flavius Ricimer. Though his family background meant he was unable to become Emperor himself, he maneuvered himself into such a position of power that he was able to act as such. He used, and discarded, several puppet rulers before he died of natural causes.
Ricimer was born into wealth and privilege in around 405AD. While his ancestors were all European royalty, they were members of tribes and kingdoms conquered by Rome. As a result, Ricimer would never be able to stake a claim to the Emperor’s throne. But that didn’t stop him from aiming for the very top. As a young man, he joined the Roman Army. While serving as an officer, he befriended Flavius Julius Majorianus, a member of one of the leading families in the Western Empire. In 457, he was named Emperor, due in no small part to the fact he listed to the sage political advice of Ricimer. In return for his help, the new Emperor made Ricimer magister militum, literally the master of his soldiers.
It was a position the young man took full advantage of. When Majorian was defeated in battle by the Vandals, Ricimer convinced the Senate to have him deposed. What’s more, he made sure his former friend was arrested and executed. Ricimer then used his position to appoint a new Emperor. This time, the new man, Libius Servus, would be his puppet. He ruled from 461 to 465, with Ricimer in the background pulling the strings. Even when a new Emperor, Anthemius, came to power with the backing of the Eastern Roman Empire, Ricimer maintained his power simply by marrying the new man’s daughter.
Anthemius also fell foul of Ricimer. When he failed in his campaign against the Vandals, Ricimer had his own father-in-law arrested and beheaded. He then appointed another of his own men, Olybrius, as Emperor. Soon after, however, Ricimer, who was in his mid-60s, died. A few months late, Olybrus followed him. The Western Roman Empire was at an end, with a new King of Italy declared to replace the old system.