The Info List - Odoacer

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FLAVIUS ODOACER (c. 433 – 493 AD), also known as FLAVIUS ODOVACER or ODOVACAR (Italian : Odoacre, Latin : Odoacer, Odoacar, Odovacar, Odovacris ), was a soldier who in 476 became the first King of Italy (476–493). His reign is commonly seen as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
. Though the real power in Italy
was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of the Emperor in Constantinople
. Odoacer
generally used the Roman honorific patrician, granted by the Emperor Zeno , but is referred to as a king (Latin : rex) in many documents and he himself used it in the only surviving official document emanated from his chancery; also it was used by the consul Basilius . Odoacer
introduced few important changes into the administrative system of Italy. He had the support of the Roman Senate and was able to distribute land to his followers without much opposition. Unrest among his warriors led to violence in 477–478, but no such disturbances occurred during the later period of his reign. Although Odoacer
was an Arian Christian , he rarely intervened in the affairs of the orthodox and trinitarian state church of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire

Probably of Scirian descent, Odoacer
was a military leader in Italy who led the revolt of Herulian , Rugian , and Scirian soldiers that deposed Romulus Augustulus on 4 September AD 476. Augustulus had been declared Western Roman Emperor by his father, the rebellious general of the army in Italy, less than a year before, but had been unable to gain allegiance or recognition beyond central Italy. With the backing of the Roman Senate, Odoacer
thenceforth ruled Italy
autonomously, paying lip service to the authority of Julius Nepos , the last Western emperor, and Zeno, the emperor of the East. Upon Nepos's murder in 480 Odoacer
invaded Dalmatia , to punish the murderers. He did so, executing the conspirators, but within two years also conquered the region and incorporated it into his domain.

When Illus
, master of soldiers of the Eastern Empire, asked for Odoacer’s help in 484 in his struggle to depose Zeno, Odoacer invaded Zeno’s westernmost provinces. The emperor responded first by inciting the Rugi of present-day Austria
to attack Italy
. During the winter of 487–488 Odoacer
crossed the Danube
and defeated the Rugi in their own territory. Zeno also appointed the Ostrogoth Theoderic the Great who was menacing the borders of the Eastern Empire, to be king of Italy, turning one troublesome, nominal vassal against another. Theoderic invaded Italy
in 489 and by August 490 had captured almost the entire peninsula, forcing Odoacer
to take refuge in Ravenna . The city surrendered on 5 March 493; Theoderic invited Odoacer
to a banquet of reconciliation and there killed him.

is the earliest ruler of Italy
for whom an autograph of any of his legal acts has survived to the current day. The larger portion of a record of Odoacer
granting properties in Sicily
and the island of Melita on the Adriatic coast to Pierius and issued in 488, was written in his reign.


* 1 Ethnic affiliation * 2 Before Italy
* 3 Leader of the foederati * 4 King of Italy * 5 Fall and death * 6 Odoacer\'s donation to Pierius * 7 See also * 8 Notes * 9 Further reading * 10 Other resources * 11 External links


Except for the fact that he was not considered Roman, Odoacer's ethnic origins are not completely known. Both the Anonymus Valesianus and John of Antioch state his father's name was Edeko . However, it is unclear whether this Edeko is identical to one—or both—men of the same name who lived at this time: one was an ambassador of Attila
to the court in Constantinople
, and escorted Priscus
and other Imperial dignitaries back to Attila's camp; the other, according to Jordanes
, is mentioned with Hunulfus as chieftains of the Scirii
, who were soundly defeated by the Ostrogoths
at the river Bolia in Pannonia sometime in the late 460s. Since Sebastian Tillemont in the 17th century, all three have been considered to be the same person. In his Getica
, Jordanes
describes Odoacer
as king of the Turcilingi (Turc-ilingi or Torcilingorum rex). However, in his Romana , the same author defines him as a member of the Rugii
( Odoacer
genere Rogus). The Consularia Italica calls him king of the Heruli , while Theophanes appears to be guessing when he calls him a Goth
. Marcellinus Comes calls him "the king of the Goths" ( Odoacer
rex Gothorum).

Reynolds and Lopez explored the possibility that Odoacer
was not Germanic in their 1946 paper published by The American Historical Review , making several arguments that his ethnic background might lie elsewhere. One of these is that his name, "Odoacer", for which an etymology in Germanic languages
Germanic languages
had not been convincingly found, could be a form of the Turkish "Ot-toghar" ("grass-born" or "fire-born"), or the shorter form "Ot-ghar" ("herder"). Other sources believe the name Odoacer
is derived from the Germanic Audawakrs , from aud- "wealth" and wakr- "vigilant". This form finds a cognate in another Germanic language, the titular Eadwacer of the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer (where Old English renders the earlier Germanic sound au- as ea-).

Odoacer's identity as a Hun was then accepted by a number of authorities, such as E. A. Thompson and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill —despite Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen 's objection that personal names were not an infallible guide to ethnicity. Subsequently, while reviewing the primary sources in 1983, Bruce Macbain proposed that while his mother might have been Scirian and his father Thuringian , in any case he was not a Hun.


Possibly the earliest recorded incident involving Odoacer
is from a fragment of a chronicle preserved in the Decem Libri Historiarum of Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours
. Two chapters of his work recount, in a confused or confusing manner, a number of battles fought by King Childeric I of the Franks, Aegidius , Count Paul, and one "Adovacrius" or "Odovacrius". If this is an account of Aegidius' victory over the Visigoths
, otherwise known from the Chronicle of Hydatius , then this occurred in 463. Reynolds and Lopez in their article mentioned above, suggested that this "Adovacrius" or "Odovacrius" may be the same person as the future king of Italy. This suggestion has been accepted by some scholars; it appears to explain why Lewis Thorpe named this person "Odoacer" in his translation of Gregory's work.

The first certain act recorded for Odoacer
was shortly before he arrived in Italy. Eugippius , in his Life of Saint Severinus, records how a group of barbarians on their way to Italy
had stopped to pay their respect to the holy man. Odoacer, at the time "a young man, of tall figure, clad in poor clothes", learned from Severinus that he would one day become famous. When Odoacer
took his leave, Severinus made one final comment which proved prophetic: "Go to Italy, go, now covered with mean hides; soon you will make rich gifts to many."


By 470, Odoacer
had become an officer in what remained of the Roman Army. Although Jordanes
writes of Odoacer
as invading Italy
"as leader of the Sciri, the Heruli and allies of various races", modern writers describe him as being part of the Roman military establishment, based on John of Antioch 's statement that Odoacer
was on the side of Ricimer at the beginning of his battle with the emperor Anthemius
in 472. Procopius
goes as far as describing him as one of the Emperor's bodyguards. Romulus Augustus
Romulus Augustus
resigns the Crown (from a 19th-century illustration).

When Orestes was in 475 appointed Magister militum
Magister militum
and patrician by the Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos , he became head of the Germanic foederati of Italy
(the Scirian—Herulic foederati). However, Orestes proved to be ambitious, and before the end of that year Orestes had driven Nepos from Italy. Orestes then proclaimed his young son Romulus the new emperor as Romulus Augustus, called "Augustulus" (31 October). However, Nepos reorganized his court in Salona
, Dalmatia and received homage and affirmation from the remaining fragments of the Western Empire beyond Italy
and, most importantly, from Constantinople, which refused to accept Augustulus and branded him and his father as traitors and usurpers.

About this time the foederati, who had been quartered on the Italians all of these years, had grown weary of this arrangement. In the words of J. B. Bury
J. B. Bury
, "They desired to have roof-trees and lands of their own, and they petitioned Orestes to reward them for their services, by granting them lands and settling them permanently in Italy". Orestes refused their petition, and they turned to Odoacer
to lead their revolt against Orestes. Orestes was killed at Placentia and his brother Paulus outside Ravenna
. The Germanic foederati, the Scirians and the Heruli, as well as a large segment of the Italic Roman army, then proclaimed Odoacer
rex Italiae ("king of Italy"). In 476 Odoacer advanced to Ravenna
and captured the city, compelling the young emperor Romulus to abdicate on September 4. According to the Anonymus Valesianus, Odoacer
was moved by Romulus's youth and his beauty to not only spare his life but give him a pension of 6,000 solidii and sent him to Campania
to live with his relatives. Odoacer
solidus struck in the name of Emperor Zeno , testifying to the formal submission of Odoacer
to Zeno.

Following Romulus Augustus's deposition, according to the historian Malchus , upon hearing of the accession of Zeno to throne, the Senate in Rome sent an embassy to the Eastern Emperor and bestowed upon him the Western imperial insignia. The message was clear: the West no longer required a separate Emperor, for "one monarch sufficed the world". In response, Zeno accepted their gifts observing "the Western Romans had received two men from the Eastern Empire and had driven out one and killed the other, Anthemius." The Eastern Emperor conferred upon Odoacer
the title of Patrician and granted him legal authority to govern Italy
in the name of Rome. Zeno also suggested that Odoacer should receive Nepos back as Emperor in the West "if he truly wished to act with justice." Although he accepted the title of Patrician, Odoacer
did not invite Julius Nepos to return to Rome, and the latter remained in Dalmatia until his death. Odoacer
was careful to observe form, however, and made a pretence of acting on Nepos's authority, even issuing coins with his image. Following Nepos's murder in 480, Zeno legally abolished the co-emperorship and ruled as sole Emperor.

Bury, however, disagrees that Odoacer's assumption of power marked the fall of the Roman Empire:

It stands out prominently as an important stage in the process of the dismemberment of the Empire. It belongs to the same catalogue of chronological dates which includes A.D. 418, when Honorius settled the Goths
in Aquitaine , and A.D. 435, when Valentinian ceded African lands to the Vandals
. In A.D. 476 the same principle of disintegration was first applied to Italy. The settlement of Odovacar's East Germans, with Zeno's acquiescence, began the process by which Italian soil was to pass into the hands of Ostrogoths
and Lombards
, Franks
and Normans
. And Odovacar's title of king emphasised the significance of the change.


"Kingdom of Italy
(476–493)" redirects here. For other uses, see Kingdom of Italy
(other) .

Kingdom of Italy

Regnum Italicum

Vassal state of the Eastern Roman Empire
Eastern Roman Empire


The Kingdom of Italy
(Odoacer) in 480 AD.


LANGUAGES Latin Vulgar Latin
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Chalcedonian Christianity



• 476–493 AD Odoacer


Late Antiquity

• Battle of Ravenna
2 September 476

Romulus Augustus
Romulus Augustus
abdicates 4 September 476

Theodoric the Great assassinates Odoacer 2 February 493



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In 476, Odoacer
became the first barbarian King of Italy , initiating a new era. Unlike most of the last emperors, he acted decisively. According to Jordanes, at the beginning of his reign he "slew Count Bracila at Ravenna
that he might inspire a fear of himself among the Romans." He took many military actions to strengthen his control over Italy
and its neighboring areas. He achieved a solid diplomatic coup by inducing the Vandal king Gaiseric to cede to him Sicily. Noting that "Odovacar seized power in August of 476, Gaiseric died in January 477, and the sea usually became closed to navigation around the beginning of November", F.M. Clover dates this cession to September or October 476. When Julius Nepos was murdered by two of his retainers in his country house near Salona
(May 480), Odoacer
assumed the duty of pursuing and executing the assassins, and at the same time established his own rule in Dalmatia.

As Bury points out, "It is highly important to observe that Odovacar established his political power with the co-operation of the Roman Senate, and this body seems to have given him their loyal support throughout his reign, so far as our meagre sources permit us to draw inferences." He regularly nominated members of the Senate to the Consulate and other prestigious offices: "Basilius , Decius , Venantius , and Manlius Boethius held the consulship and were either Prefects of Rome or Praetorian Prefects; Symmachus and Sividius were consuls and Prefects of Rome; another senator of old family, Cassiodorus, was appointed a minister of finance." A. H. M. Jones also notes that under Odoacer
the Senate acquired "enhanced prestige and influence" in order to counter any desires for restoration of Imperial rule. As the most tangible example of this renewed prestige, for the first time since the mid-3rd century copper coins were issued with the legend S(enatus) C(onsulto). Jones describes these coins as "fine big copper pieces", which were "a great improvement on the miserable little nummi hitherto current", and not only were they copied by the Vandals
in Africa, but they formed the basis of the currency reform by Anastasius in the Eastern Empire.

Although Odoacer
was an Arian Christian , his relations with the Chalcedonian church hierarchy were remarkably good. As G.M. Cook notes in her introduction to Magnus Felix Ennodius ' Life of Saint Epiphanius, he showed great esteem for Bishop Epiphanius : in response to the bishop's petition, Odoacer
granted the inhabitants of Liguria
a five-year immunity from taxes, and again granted his requests for relief from abuses by the praetorian prefect . "One wonders at brevity," observes Cook. "To the thirteen years of Odovacar's mastery of Italy... a period which embraced nearly half the episcopate of Epiphanius—Ennodius devotes but eight sections of the vita (101–107), five of which are taken up with the restoration of the churches." Cook uses Ennodius' brevity as an argumentum ex silentio to prove that Odoacer
was very supportive of the Church. "Ennodius was a loyal supporter of Theoderic . Any oppression, therefore, on the part of Odovacar would not be passed over in silence." She concludes that Ennodius' silence "may be construed as an unintentional tribute to the moderation and tolerance of the barbarian king." The biography of Pope Felix III in the Liber Pontificalis
Liber Pontificalis
openly states that the pontiff's tenure fell during Odoacer's reign without any complaints about the king.

In 487, Odoacer
led his army to victory against the Rugians in Noricum
, taking their king Feletheus into captivity; when word that Feletheus' son, Fredericus, had returned to his people, Odoacer
sent his brother Onoulphus with an army back to Noricum
against him. Onoulphus found it necessary to evacuate the remaining Romans and resettled them in Italy. The remaining Rugians fled and took refuge with the Ostrogoths; the abandoned province was settled by the Lombards
by 493.

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As Odoacer's position improved, Zeno , the Eastern Emperor, increasingly saw him as a rival. According to John of Antioch, Odoacer exchanged messages with Illus
, who had been in revolt against Zeno since 484. Thus Zeno sought to destroy Odoacer
and promised Theoderic the Great and his Ostrogoths
the Italian peninsula if they were to defeat and remove Odoacer. As both Herwig Wolfram and Peter Heather point out, Theoderic had his own reasons to agree to this offer: "Theoderic had enough experience to know (or at least suspect) that Zeno would not, in the long term, tolerate his independent power. When Theoderic rebelled in 485, we are told, he had in mind Zeno's treatment of Armatus . Armatus defected from Basilicus to Zeno in 476, and was made senior imperial general for life. Within a year, Zeno had him assassinated."

In 489, Theoderic led the Ostrogoths
across the Julian Alps
Julian Alps
and into Italy. On 28 August, Odoacer
met him at the Isonzo , only to be defeated. He withdrew to Verona
, reaching its outskirts on 27 September, where he immediately set up a fortified camp. Theoderic followed him and three days later defeated him again. While Odoacer took refuge in Ravenna
, Theoderic continued across Italy
to Mediolanum , where the majority of Odoacer's army, including his chief general Tufa, surrendered to the Ostrogothic king. Theoderic had no reason to doubt Tufa's loyalty and dispatched his new general to Ravenna
with a band of elite soldiers. Herwig Wolfram observes, "ut Tufa changed sides, the Gothic elite force entrusted to his command was destroyed, and Theoderic suffered his first serious defeat on Italian soil." Theoderic recoiled by seeking safety in Ticinum . Odoacer
emerged from Ravenna
and started to besiege his rival. While both were fully engaged, the Burgundians seized the opportunity to plunder and devastated Liguria
. Many Romans were taken into captivity, and did not regain their freedom until Theoderic ransomed them three years later.

The following summer, the Visigothic king Alaric II demonstrated what Wolfram calls "one of the rare displays of Gothic solidarity" and sent military aid to help his kinsman, forcing Odoacer
to raise his siege. Theoderic emerged from Ticinum, and on 11 August 490, the armies of the two kings clashed on the Adda River . Odoacer
again was defeated and forced back into Ravenna, where Theoderic besieged him. Ravenna proved to be invulnerable, surrounded by marshes and estuaries and easily supplied by small boats from its hinterlands, as Procopius later pointed out in his History. Further, Tufa remained at large in the strategic valley of the Adige near Trent , and received unexpected reinforcements when dissent amongst Theoderic's ranks led to sizable desertions. That same year, the Vandals
took their turn to strike while both sides were fully engaged and invaded Sicily. While Theoderic was engaged with them, his ally Fredericus, king of the Rugians, began to oppress the inhabitants of Pavia , whom the latter's forces had been garrisoned to protect. Once Theoderic intervened in person in late August, 491, his punitive acts drove Fredericus to desert with his followers to Tufa. Eventually the two quarreled and fought a battle which led to both being killed.

By this time, however, Odoacer
had to have lost all hope of victory. A large-scale sortie out of Ravenna
on the night of 9/10 July 491 ended in failure with the death of his commander-in-chief Livilia along with the best of his Herulian soldiers. On 29 August 492, the Goths
were about to assemble enough ships at Rimini
to set up an effective blockade of Ravenna. Despite these decisive losses, the war dragged on until 25 February 493 when John, bishop of Ravenna, was able to negotiate a treaty between Theoderic and Odoacer
to occupy Ravenna
together and share joint rule. After a three-year siege, Theoderic entered the city on 5 March; Odoacer
was dead ten days later, slain by Theoderic while they shared a meal. Theoderic had plotted to have a group of his followers kill him while the two kings were feasting together in the imperial palace of Honorius "Ad Laurentum" ("At the Laurel Grove"); when this plan went astray, Theoderic drew his sword and struck him on the collarbone. In response to Odoacer's dying question, "Where is God?" Theoderic cried, "This is what you did to my friends." Theoderic was said to have stood over the body of his dead rival and exclaimed, "There certainly wasn't a bone in this wretched fellow."

According to one account, "That same day, all of Odoacer's army who could be found anywhere were killed by order of Theoderic, as well as all of his family." Odoacer's wife Sunigilda was stoned to death, and his brother Onoulphus was killed by archers while seeking refuge in a church. Theoderic exiled Odoacer's son Thela to Gaul
, but when he attempted to return to Italy
Theoderic had him killed.

The events around the Battle of Ravenna
were used in the Germanic heroic saga of Dietrich von Bern (Theoderic of Verona). The event in which Theoderic kills Odoacer
with his own hands is mirrored in the saga in the episode in which Dietrich kills the Dwarf King Laurin.


is the first ruler of Italy
for whom the original text of any of his legal acts has survived. This is a grant by Odoacer
to Pierius of properties in Sicily
near Syracuse and on the island of Melita in Dalmatia, worth in total 690 solidi. The grant itself was made on 18 March 488, but this document, which is on papyrus , was written shortly afterwards. The opening section is missing and the text is in two parts, one now in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples
and the other in the Austrian National Library in Vienna
, but the bulk of the act itself and the subscriptions by witnesses and officials survive.

Pierius, comes domesticorum, was given these properties as a reward for his achievements in the war against Theoderic. None of the parties involved in this transaction—not Pierius, Odoacer, nor the witnesses—could foresee that the recipient would die the following year in the battle of the Adda River.

Pierius' grant is the lone surviving document which has survived from the civic scriptorium of Syracuse prior to the Byzantine reconquest. Scipione Maffei made the unconfirmed assertion that both pieces were owned by the poet Giovanni Gioviano Pontano ; it had already lost the beginning by then. The second part is known to have been in the possession of Cardinal Pasquale de Aragon during the 1660s, but Tjäder notes the two parts were reunited at the library of the Monastery of San Paolo in Naples
in 1702. In 1718, the second part was presented to Emperor Charles VI through whom that fragment found its way to Vienna.


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* ^ A B C Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire
Roman Empire
, Vol. 2, s.v. Odovacer, pp. 791–793 * ^ Campbell, Mike. "Meaning, origin and history of the name Odovacar". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2017-04-10. * ^ " Odoacer
was the first barbarian who reigned over Italy, over a people who had once asserted their just superiority above the rest of mankind." Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XXXVI * ^ Marcellinus , Cassiodorus , and some Papal
documents, which come the closest to implying official use of the title, all refer to him as rex (or one of its declensions). Jordanes
at one point refers to him as Gothorum Romanorumque regnator: ruler of the Goths
and the Romans. He is called an autokrator (autocrat) and a tyrannos (usurper, tyrant) in Procopius
' Bellum Gothicum. The only reference to Odoacer as "King of Italy" is in Victor Vitensis : Odouacro Italiae regi. * ^ A more recent discussion of this question is part of Stefan Krautschick, "Zwei Aspekte des Jahres 476", Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 35 (1986), pp. 344–371 * ^ Priscus, fragments 7 and 8, translated by C.D. Gordon, The Age of Attila: Fifth Century Byzantium and the Barbarians (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1966), pp. 70–93. Jordanes, Getica, ch. 277 * ^ A B Jordanes, Getica
242 * ^ Jordanes, Romana 344 * ^ McGeorge, Penny (2002). Late Roman warlords. Oxford University Press. p. 284. ISBN 978-0-19-925244-2 . * ^ Marcellinus Comes, Chronicon, s. a. 476 * ^ A B Robert L. Reynolds and Robert S. Lopez, "Odoacer: German or Hun?" American Historical Review, 52 (1946), p. 45 * ^ Encyclopedia of European Peoples – Carl Waldman, Catherine Mason – Google Břger. Books.google.dk. Retrieved 2012-06-12. * ^ Voyles, Joseph (1992). Early Germanic Grammar: pre-, proto-, and post-Germanic Languages. Academic Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-12-728270-X . * ^ "Communications", American Historical Review, 53 (1947), p. 836. Reynolds and Lopez in the same issue point out Maenchen-Helfen restated "so patently the position of the unflinching Germanizer, to whom it appears self-evident that every barbarian who distinguished himself must have been a German in his inner being, no matter how deeply influenced by Huns
or Alans as to children's heads and weapon" (p. 841), then carefully respond to his other objections. * ^ Bruce Macbain, "Odovacer the Hun?," Classical Philology, 78 (1983), pp. 323–327 * ^ Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, translated by Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 174 * ^ Eugippius, Commemoratorium Severinus, chapter 6. Translated by Ludwig Bieler, Eugippius, The Life of Saint Severin (Washington: Catholic University, 1965), pp. 64f. Bieler explains in a footnote that "make rich gifts to many" refers to the custom of Germanic war leaders giving lavishly to their followers, because "generosity was one of the virtues which a king was supposed to have." * ^ John of Antioch, fragment 209; translated by C. D. Gordon, Age of Attila, p. 122 * ^ History of the Wars, 5.1.6. Text and translation in H.B. Dewing, Procopius
(London: Heinemann, 1968), vol. 3 p. 5. * ^ J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire
Roman Empire
(New York: Macmillan, 1923), vol. 1 p. 405 * ^ A B Bury, History, vol. 1 p. 406 * ^ Anonymus Valesianus, 8.38. Text and English translation of this document is in J.C. Rolfe (trans.), Ammianus Marcellinus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), vol. 3 pp. 531ff * ^ Malchus, fragment 10, translated in C. D. Gordon, The Age of Attila, pp. 127–129 * ^ A B Bury, History, vol. 1 p. 409f * ^ Jordanes, Getica
243 * ^ Clover, "A Game of Bluff: The Fate of Sicily
after A.D. 476", Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 48 (1999), p. 237 * ^ Bury, History, vol. 1 p. 410 * ^ Jones, The Later Roman Empire: 284–602 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1986), pp. 254f * ^ Sr. Genevieve Marie Cook, The Life of Saint Epiphanius by Ennodius: A translation with an introduction and commentary (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1942), pp. 12f * ^ Translated in Raymond Davis, The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis) (Liverpool: University Press, 1989), pp. 41f * ^ Eugippius, Commemoratorium Severinus, chapter 44 * ^ Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum