one of the most extraordinary characters in later Roman history, and worthy of being called the Roman "King-Maker," was the son of a Suevian chief who had married the daughter of Wallia, king of the West Goths.
He spent his youth at the court of the emperor Valentinian, served with distinction under Aetius, and was raised to the dignity of comes. His rare talents, boundless ambition, and daring courage urged him on to still higher eminence, and his treacherous disposition and systematic selfishness assisted him greatly in attaining his object. In A. D. 456, Ricimer gained a decisive naval victory off Corsica over a fleet of the Vandals, then at war with Avitus, and he defeated the land-forces of the Vandals near Agrigentum in Sicily.
These victories made his name so popular that he resolved upon carrying out a scheme which he seems to have formed some time previously, namely, to depose Avitus, who had, ever since his accession, ceased to display his former great qualities, and had incurred the hatred and contempt of his subjects.
After his return to Italy, Ricimer kindled a rebellion at Ravenna, gained the assistance of the Roman senate, and then set out to encounter Avitus, who approached from Gaul.
A bloody battle was fought at Placentia, on the 16th (17th) October, 456, in which Avitus lost his crown and liberty. Ricimer made him bishop of Placentia, but soon afterwards contrived his death. Marcian, and after him Leo, emperors of the East, now assumed the title of Western emperors also; but the power was with Ricimer, who might have seized the diadem, in spite of the law that no barbarian should be Roman emperor, but preferred to give it to Majorian.
He had previously obtained the title of patrician from Leo, who also gave consent to the nomination of Majorian (475).
A proof that the real power remained in Ricimer is given by Majorian himself, who in a letter to the senate, preserved in the Codex Theodosianus, says that he and "his father Ricimer" would take proper care of military affairs. Majorian having displayed uncommon energy, and, to Ricimer, most unexpected wisdom, the latter was filled with jealousy, and contrived the sudden and famous plot, in consequence of which Majorian lost his life by Ricimer's order (461). Ricimer put Vibius Severus Serpentinus on the throne in his stead.
The accession of the new emperor was not approved of by Leo, and was contested by Aegidius, in Gaul, a province where Ricimer had not succeeded in obtaining more than nominal power.
The revolt of Aegidius, however, was absorbed by other intestine troubles in Gaul, and caused no danger to Italy. Severus died in 465, perhaps poisoned by Ricimer, and during eighteen months the empire was without an emperor, though not without a head, for that was always Riciner's. The Romans, however, were displeased with his despotism, and requested Leo to give them an emperor. Anthemius was accordingly proposed and accepted, not only by the people, but also by Ricimer, who showed great diplomatic skill in this transaction: he made a sort of bargain with the successful candidate, and promised to lend him his assistance on condition that Anthemius should give him his daughter in marriage.
This was accordingly complied with, and for some time the two supreme chiefs ruled peacefully together. Soon, however, their harmony was disturbed by jealousy, and Ricimer withdrew to Milan, ready to declare war against his father-in-law. St. Epiphanius reconciled them, and matters went on to their mutual satisfaction till 472, when Leo got rid of his overbearing minister, Aspar.
This event made Ricimer reflect upon his own safety, for he justly apprehended that the western emperor would follow the example set by his colleague in the East.
He therefore forthwith sallied out from Milan with a picked and devoted army, and laid siege to Rome. Even before the city was taken, Ricimer offered the diadem to Olybrius, whom Leo had sent thither to negotiate a peace between the rivals. Anthemius was massacred some days after Rome had been taken by Ricimer and plundered by his warriors. Olybrius now reigned as emperor as far as was possible under the over-hanging sword of the King-Maker; but only forty days after the sack of Rome, Ricimer died of a malignant fever (18th August 472), after having made and unmade five Roman emperors. (The authorities quoted in the lives of ANTHEMIUS, AVITUS, MAJORIANUS, OLYBRIUS, and SEVERUS.)