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The ‘Donation of Odoacer’ Part II: Documenting the Donation

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vs_optWe saw last time that the career of Pierius must have been significant enough before his appearance in the historical record for Odoacer to promote him to his chief bodyguard, comes domesticorum. The wars of Odoacer’s reign – against the Vandals, Dalmatians, Rugians and Goths will also have provided Pierius with further opportunity to give sufficient service for the rex Italiae to feel that he warranted reward in the shape of significant lands in his kingdom.

The specific ‘Donation of Odoacer’ was written on papyrus shortly after the grant was made on 18 March 489 and despite its survival, it has not come through the intervening 15 centuries unscathed. The opening section is missing and the document has been divided into two parts. There is virtually no light to be shone on the first millennium of the document’s existence, but one could imagine it gathering dust in the archives of Ravenna or Syracuse, before the rejuvenation of interest in antiquity during the Renaissance.

Francesco Scipione

Francesco Scipione, the 17th/18th century marchese of Maffei and antiquarian, suggested that the document was previously owned by Giovanni Pontano, a leading 15th century Italian humanist and poet. By this point, the introductory section of the document had been lost, and it may also have already been divided into two pieces. During the 1660s, the latter part of the document was in the possession of Cardinal Pasquale de Aragon during the 1660s, only for the two halves to be reunited in the library of the Monastery of St. Paul in Naples in 1702. In 1718, the second part was presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, through whom the fragment found its way to the Imperial Court Library in Vienna, which is now the Austrian National Library. The first part resides in the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples. Despite these repeated movements, the division into two parts and the missing introduction, the bulk of text has survived.


The background to the document is a promise made by Odoacer to Pierius of land with an income to the value of 690 solidi. At some point before 18 March 489, the rex Italiae had made good on a substantial portion of this promise. The comes domesticorum had already received estates with an annual income of 650 solidi – the collection of fundi farms/estates called the massa Pyramitana near Syracuse in Sicily, which was worth 430 solidi per annum, and the Dalmatian island of Melita, modern Mlijet in Croatia, worth 200 solidi per annum.

It has been suggested that the massa Pyramitana took its name from and was therefore quite close to the offshore island-turned-promontory of Thapsus to the north of Syracuse. There was seemingly a pyramid at Thapsus right up until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1542 (Marini (1805), nos.82-83), which could have given its name to this massa. That said, the name could reflect that of a previous owner (Jones (1964), 786, who also gives a brief look at the meaning of massa and fundus, highlights that while several fundi could be grouped together to form a massa, “massae were not necessarily continuous blocks of land, but rather a group of fundi under one management”).

Charles VI

The papyrus document comprising the ‘Donation of Odoacer’ is actually the rex Italiae completing his promise by giving his ‘vir inlustris ac magnificus‘ slightly more than the outstanding 40 solidi per annum in lands adjoining the massa Pyramitana – the fundus Aemilianus (18 solidi p.a.), a portion of the fundus Dubli (15¾ solidi p.a.) and part of the fundus Putaxiae (7 solidi p.a.), for a total of 40¾ solidi and an overall total of 690¾ solidi per annum.

The text itself, in the hands of the notarius Marcian and the magister officiorum Andromachus (or members of their staff), combines the dry legalese of the Late Roman bureaucracy with the pomp and ceremony of the Christianised Roman world, even at a time when the Western Roman Empire was no more.

This combination provides a document where “the writing is cursive, of a bold and flowing character, without any spaces between the words, and quite undecipherable except by an expert” (Hodgkin (1885), III.165).

While spawned at the ‘royal/imperial’ court of Odoacer at Ravenna and being a direct donation to an underling, Odoacer himself did not sign the document, leaving Marcian and Andromachus to witness the donation. Could this be because the barbarian rex Italiae could not write?

Imperial Court Library, Vienna

With the document generated at Odoacer’s court, the matter was then placed in the hands of the actores or agents of Pierius (these may have been freedmen of Pierius as they refer to him as their patronus). These actores presented the deed of donation to officials at Ravenna, who obtained from Marcian confirmation that he and Andromachus, who had departed for Rome, had witnessed the grant by Odoacer to Pierius.

With this authentication, the matter then moved to the courts of Syracuse, the city in whose jurisdiction Pierius’ new lands came under. Gregory the chartarius and Amantius the decemprimus were dispatched from Syracuse with Pierius’ actores to the estates, where they interacted with the tenants and slaves attached to the lands (although a flaw in the document means that we are not sure what is said or done to them – were they merely being informed of the identity of their new master?). The actores are then given a tour of the estates, before returning to Syracuse where they take formal control of these new lands on behalf of their patron. They express his willingness to take on the fiscal responsibilities that came with the land and arrange for Pierius’ name to replace that of the former owner on the public register. Once this is done, Amantius added his signature to the document and the ‘Donation of Odoacer’ to Pierius was complete. The comes domesiticorum now had full rights to dispense with the lands as he saw fit and leave them to his descendents.

No one could have known that this legal right of inheritance would be activated within 17  months of the ‘Donation of Odoacer,’ as Pierius was killed at Adda River (Anon Val XI.53; Auct. Prosp. Haun. s.a. 491)

“The length of the documents relating to so small a property, the particularity of the recitals, the exactness with which the performance of every formality is described, the care with which the various gradations in the official hierarchy are marked, the reverence which is professed for the mandate of Odovacar, all show us that we are still in presence of the unbroken and yet working machinery of the Roman law: though the hand, not of a Roman citizen, born on the Mediterranean shores, but of a full-blooded barbarian from the Danube, is that which must, at the last resort, control its movements” (Hodgkin (1896), III.154)

Biblioteca Nazionale, Naples

Odoacer’s choice of lands to reward Pierius may not be entirely random. We may be seeing the rex Italiae playing political games of loyalty and defence with various individuals and groups within his realm. Perhaps Odoacer was attempting to give Pierius a direct personal stake in the defence of certain regions of the Italian kingdom. Sicily and Dalmatia had only recently been taken over by Odoacer and were still threatened by neighbouring powers – the war of 491 shows that the Vandals had not given up on Sicily, while Dalmatia was claimed by Constantinople, likely raided by barbarians and by 488 in the firing line of Theoderic the Amal. Could it even be that Pierius had some pre-existing connection to either Sicily or Dalmatia, making him even more likely to fight to protect these lands?

As the Goths wintered on his eastern frontier, Odoacer was forewarned about Theoderic’s arrival and he may have done more with that forewarning than just prepare his main army to intercept the Goths at Isontius. He may have attempted to make sure that Theoderic could only enter Italy by the land route. It was suggested that Theoderic initially aimed to cross the Adriatic, only to be unable to find sufficient boats to ferry his forces to Italy (Procopius BG I.1.13). Could it be that Odoacer succeeded in maintaining control of whatever Adriatic fleet resided in Dalmatia through grants of land such as the island of Melita to Pierius?

That the grants to Pierius did not contain any land in Italy itself might hint at another of Odoacer’s political concerns – the backing of the Italian upper classes. Their unwillingness to pay their share in cash, materiel and manpower had been a significant problem in the final decades of western imperial rule. And once the imperial balancing act between the Italian aristocracy and barbarian troops became impossible, the western empire fell apart.

However, while Odoacer initially was able to force aristocratic quiescence to his taking of land for his followers through the strength of his Italian field army (Procopius, BG V.1.8), in the face of Theoderic’s impending invasion, Odoacer could not risk upsetting the Italian aristocracy by taking more of their land. Perhaps this is part of the reason why when he felt the need to reward Pierius, he gave him land in Sicily and Dalmatia.

Is there any potential evidence for any such policies of ensuring loyalty from his underlings actually working? Pierius himself did give his life in service to Odoacer, while even in the face of certain defeat following the Battle of Adda River, many of his men stayed loyal to the rex Italiae during the blockade of Ravenna. Sicily did stay loyal throughout Theoderic’s invasion, including after the Vandal attack in 491, while Dalmatia failed to provide Theoderic with sufficient ships to cross the Adriatic in 488. The Adriatic shipping lanes became increasingly important as the war with Theoderic dragged on. It was not until Theoderic gained control of the fleet at Arminium, modern Rimini, on 29 August 492, that he was able to put adequate pressure on Odoacer’s position in Ravenna to bring the war and ultimately Odoacer’s reign to an end.

The ‘Donation of Odoacer’ is not only an important document as the earliest original text of a ruler of Italy, it also provides an intriguing window into the still heavily Romanised kingdom of a potentially illiterate barbarian. Over a decade since the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the imperial hierarchies and bureaucracy continued to exist – positions and titles like ‘vir inlustris ac magnificus‘, notarius, magister officiorum are all mentioned while Odoacer is shown using the legal framework of the empire he overthrew, with the land grant to Pierius carried out through proper legal channels in Ravenna and Syracuse.

However, this ‘Donation’ provides just enough information to raise many largely unanswerable questions about its background on the eve of a major conflict between two barbarian powers for control of Italy. The gaps in the historical record leave us with mostly mere speculation about Pierius’ career, his origins, and potential connections to Odoacer, the last western emperors and the regions in which he was given land.

[The ‘Donation of Odoacer’ may provide the first original document from a ruler of Italy, but there is a document preserved in Egypt which contains the handwriting of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (408-450) –


P. Ital. 10-11 = FIR III², n.99

Clover, F.M. ‘A Game of Bluff: The Fate of Sicily after A.D. 476’, Historia 48 (1999), 235-244

Crawford, P.T. The Emperor Zeno: The Perils of Fifth Century Power Politics in Constantinople. Barnsley (2019)

Heather, P. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History. London (2006)

Hodgkin, T. Italy and her Invaders Vol III: The Ostrogothic Invasion. Oxford (1885)

Tjäder, J.-O. Die Nichtliterarischen Lateinischen Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit. Lund (1955), vol. 1 pp. 279–293

Jones, A.H.M.  Later Roman Empire 284-602. Oxford (1964)

Marini, G. Papiri Diplomatici. Rome (1805) Nos. 82-83

Spangenberg, E. Juris Romani Tabulae Negotiorum Solemnium. Leipzig (1822)

Stickler, T.  ‘The Foederati’ in  Erdkamp, P. (ed.)  A Companion to the Roman Army. Oxford (2007) 495-513

Whittaker, C.R. Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study. London (1994)

Wolfram, H. History of the Goths. Berkeley (1990)

Schools Classic Conference in the Ulster Museum 2020 Review

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CANI’s full February of events continued with our now annual Schools Classics Conference in concert with the Ulster Museum. Showing the sustained popularity of the Classics in Northern Ireland, this event was expanded to two days, 7-8 February, and encapsulated various levels of education and the general public.

This seemingly ambitious move was to be born out as over the course of the two days…

Day 1 – AM

20200207_131605The morning of Day 1 saw over 140 primary school children from Stranmillis Primary School, Our Lady’s Girls Primary School and St. Joseph’s Primary School packed in the UM Lecture Theatre with CANI convenor, Helen McVeigh welcoming everyone and explaining how the day would work with the children separated into three groups to cycle through three stations in turn.

In the UM Lecture Theatre, CANI’s Amber Taylor, overcoming some unforeseeable technical difficulties, presented on Ancient Greek Theatre. Her fantastic, interactive presentation was met with considerable enthusiasm and plenty of questions and answers from each group.20200207_105429

In the UM foyer, the craft exercise involved the making of an Ancient Greek theatrical mask. The use of colour, glue, sequins and glitter (even if the latter got everywhere…) saw the creation of dozens of masks fit for the Ancient Greek stage. CANI would like to extend our thanks to Mrs Isabel Bredin for taking on the craft tables.

Throughout the day, the UM foyer also hosted the return of the Roman reenactors of Legion Ireland. An annual fixture in the CANI calendar, Martinus and his legionaries again showed off their expertise in the Roman army. They again proved a big hit with the schools and the public at large, answering questions on various aspects of their Roman military equipment, demonstrating its use and helping guests try on armour and helmets and wield swords and spears.

Day 1 – PM

In the afternoon, another 100+ secondary school pupils from Belfast High School, Strathearn, RBAI and Belfast Royal Academy as well as members of the public enjoyed not just the continued presence of Legion Ireland, handling sessions and the Museum’s collections but also two talks in the UM Lecture Theatre.


Natalie Haynes called upon her considerable memory and stand-up comedienne background to deliver a whirlwind ‘Reprisal of the Iliad,’ summarising its 24 books in (around) 24 minutes. In this breath-taking tour de force, she addressed various episodes including but not limited to ‘Achilles and the longest strop in history’, ‘Hera, Zeus and the Magic Bra’ and ‘FIGHTING!’ The enraptured audience was not quite sure what had hit them, but they knew it was special!

20200207_144040Day 1 was rounded out by Dr Greer Ramsay (Curator of Archaeology, UM) speaking on ‘Why have we so few Roman objects in the collections?’ This involved looking at the other ancient displays in the UM collection, including the fascinating work being done on the museum’s mummy Takabouti and the Inch Bulla. Dr Ramsay also looked at how some of these antiquities came to be in the UM before moving on to the limited Roman material, focusing on the recent discovery in Murlough Bay (soon to go on display) and the Coleraine Hoard, still the largest Roman find in Ireland to date.

Day 2

On Day 2, Legion Ireland reprised their role from the previous day, but with the addition of a series of displays pointing out a lot of their equipment and day-to-day life.

20200208_140302Over 60 members of the public then made their way into the UM Lecture Theatre first to hear CANI Convenor Helen McVeigh present on the ‘Classical Influences in Harry Potter.’ Using an array of pictures and videos, Helen looked at several characters with classical links – Hermione, Argus, Fang and Fluffy and some of the spells and potions which use classical languages – Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmus, polyjuice and veritaserum.

For those of you interested in this chapter of classical reception, but were unable to attend on the day, you can listen to the talk and view the accompanying presentation of slides and videos below…

20200208_144131The weekend of events was then completed by Dr Ramsay repeating his talk of the day before for the public and the Belfast YAC @QUB.

CANI and the UM could not have been happier with how the event went. The talks programme alone over the course of the two days welcomed well over 300 people while the numbers engaged with Legion Ireland and the handling sessions were too many to keep track of.


CANI would very much like to thank everyone who helped make this event the success it was. To Martin and his men of Legion Ireland for trekking all the way up North and making camp in order to show off their expertise once more. To all of our speakers, Natalie Haynes, Amber Taylor, Dr Greer Ramsay and Helen McVeigh for providing such a wide variety of talks, slides and videos. To all of the schools who came along and showed such interest and enthusiasm for the Classics and Ancient History. To the Ulster Museum for playing host to our Schools Classics Conference once more.

Next year is already in the planning!

‘Troy Story’ Natalie Haynes Review

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4897531-8775072676-troy-A busy week for CANI was kicked off by special guest Natalie Haynes as she presented “Troy Story” on 6 February, a talk full of hilarious anecdotes, somewhat connected tangents and not a little expertise on her classical subject; all delivered in Natalie’s machine gun but utterly engaging style.

After Helen McVeigh provided an update on CANI’s upcoming events, she introduced our speaker to the packed room of more than 50 people, who jumped straight into a topical anecdote on Eric Douglas and how cries of “No, I’m Kirk Douglas’ son!” took over a comedy club in Greenwich.

20200206_185911That set the tone for a trademark, entertaining whirlwind of a talk involving the entire Trojan Epic Cycle, the loss of black and female heroes from their stories and how Achilles is the most famous part of the Trojan War in modern Greece, rather than the Trojan Horse or even Helen in Britain…

Interspersed amongst these various mythological comments and questions were a variety of spoilers and tangents including the Rock, Aquaman, Dunedin, her role in Midsomer Murders and ‘Bergerac’s’ eating of muffins, tragic hero in Sophocles – good things taken to a negative degree: Holmes, Tennyson, Morse, Diagnosis Murder and Dick van Dyck, kickboxing, Father Brown, TMNT, snakes and horses in plasticine and swans…

I swear, they all made some sort of sense…

“And back to… THE HORSE!”index

From Aeneid Book II, Natalie then recalled how she developed a sympathy for the seemingly ‘stupid’ Trojans for having been taken in by the Trojan Horse. The Trojans were a besieged people, hidden behind their walls for a decade and keen to see an end to their virtual captivity. And when the Trojan priest, Laocoön, “afraid of Greeks even those bearing gifts,” demands that they burn the Horse and throws a spear at it, his children are killed in divine retribution. This will have been a sign from the gods to the Trojans that all was safe, even if said gods were on the Greek side.


Natalie also looked at how women in general were downplayed in modern times rather than in the origin texts and despite being the centre of much ancient drama. For example, Amazons appear at the end of some versions of Iliad, with their leader Penthesilesia, a warrior the strength of Achilles instead downgraded to a corpse with no agency in Graves’ poem.

A further example of this is the depiction of Helen of Troy/Sparta herself. She has become portrayed as the cause of the entire war due to her inability to control her lusts and desires, despite it being more than she was kidnapped. Some versions of the story even have her not taken to Troy at all with a facsimile of her demonstrating the utility of war, but yet she is still considered at fault.

20200206_194755Natalie finished up her talk with a reading from her latest book, A Thousand Ships, focusing on the perspective of Calliope – “How much epic poetry does the world need?” It was a reading that was beautiful enough for this grizzled, late antique historian to purchase a copy on the way home on the train afterwards.

After a series of questions about Euripides’ tragic comedy on Helen, Cassandra as a biggest loss to the story, the likes of Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Black Panther providing modern counterparts of characters from the Epic Cycle and Natalie’s next book, Pandora’s Jar, on misrepresentation of women in Greek myth being slating for release on 1 October 2020, Helen McVeigh thanked Natalie Haynes for once again thrilling the audience with her knowledge, enthusiasm and entertainment.

The ‘Donation of Odoacer’ Part I: The Career of Pierius

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220px-Odovacar_Ravenna_477Flavius Odoacer is most famous as the man who deposed the ‘last’ western emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476, becoming the first non-Roman ruler of Italy for centuries. He did technically act as a viceroy for the eastern emperor Zeno, but in reality, Odoacer ruled Italy and some adjoining lands north to the Danube and across the Adriatic Sea in his own right as ‘king of Italy’.

It was in this role as rex Italiae that Odoacer was able to reward his loyal underlings with land grants. One such land grant came on 18 March 489 to a comes domesticorum called Pierius. The grant in itself was not particularly special or significant in terms of value, amounting to 40 solidi per annum worth of land top up to a much larger previous grant.

However, its importance comes in the fact that the original text of Odoacer’s land grant to Pierius survives. This makes Odoacer, despite the previous 500 years of Roman imperial history and extensive administration and bureaucracy, the first ruler of Italy for whom an original text of a legal act has survived. Pierius’ grant is also the only surviving document from the civic scriptorium of Syracuse prior to the Roman reconquest in late 535 (Tjäder (1955) I.35).

Romulus_Augustulus_and_OdoacerIt is worth noting that while the name of the rex Italiae is listed as ‘Odovacar’ throughout the document and I have chosen to go with ‘Odoacer’ for this blog, his name appears with various other spellings in the historical sources: we would also see Odoacar, Odovacris, Odovacrius, Adovacris and the Greek versions of Οδοαχος and Οδοακρος. It is unsurprising then that there is no firm conclusion on where his name originates from…

The recipient of the donation, Pierius, is much less well known. Indeed, in similar documents from Roman history – donations, certificates, discharge papers, epitaphs, various inscriptions – it is usual that the subject of the document is otherwise unknown. However, while Pierius is hardly famous, he is known from other historical sources beyond the ‘Donation of Odoacer.’ His appearances in the pages of Eugippius’ Life of St Severinus, the Auctarium Prosperi Hauniensis and the pars posterior of the Anonymus Valesianus, while short on each occasion, show that he was prominent within the regime of Odoacer. Unfortunately, the only actions recorded for Pierius come from the period 488-490 (which, as will be seen, encompasses the last two years of his life), meaning that there is very little information about his career as a whole.

Even in these limited sources, there is a slight discrepancy in the position that he held during this period. During his service in Noricum in 488, he is recorded as a comes (Eugippius, V. Sev. 44.5). He is similarly listed as comes at the Battle of Adda in 490 (Auct. Prosp. Haun. s.a. 491), which would seem to confirm his holding of that position. However, Anonymus Valesianus XI.53 records him as the commander of Odoacer’s household bodyguard – comes domesticorum. Such a high-ranking office would explain not only why Pierius was put in command of important actions such as the evacuation of Noricum in 488 and of Odoacer’s forces at Adda River against Theoderic in 490, but also why the rex Italiae would promise to reward him with 690 solidi worth of land.

For him to rise to comes domesticorum, Pierius must have had a career of some substance. Unfortunately, as there is no hint of his age, we can only infer where and who Pierius might have served pre-488. For Odoacer to appoint Pierius as the commander of his bodyguard suggests that he trusted this man to protect him, a trust that could have been cultivated over the course of many years of loyal service to Odoacer and perhaps some of the later western Roman emperors.

While names do not necessarily demonstrate ethnicity, ‘Pierius’ seems much more of a Roman than barbarian name (While not a particularly popular name, the volumes of the PLRE list 7 other men called Pierius – PLRE I.701, II.884-885, IIIb.1041; see below for more on the ‘Pierii’). This, combined with the trust shown in him by Odoacer, could suggest that Pierius was an early supporter of Odoacer, perhaps joining the rex Italiae as he established control of Italy.


Odoacer’s takeover of Italy and surrounding territories would have provided Pierius with opportunities to win sufficient acclaim for the rex Italiae to promote him to high office and reward him with lands and income. The question could be asked if the lands granted to Pierius in Sicily and Dalmatia were a reflection of his military service. While there was no major conflict in Sicily with the Vandals until 491 after Pierius’ death, the rex Italiae had confronted the Vandal king Geiseric over control of the island early in his reign. Perhaps Pierius had been involved in securing the Vandal cession of Sicily to Odoacer in the early autumn of 476 (Clover (1999), 237). Pierius could also have played a role in Odoacer’s conquest of Dalmatia in 481, leading to his reward of the island of Melita (Cassiodorus, Chron. sa.481; Fast. Vind. Prior sa.482; Auct. Haun. ordo prior sa.482).

Pierius’ overseeing of the evacuation of Roman provincials from Noricum could suggest that along with Odoacer’s brother, Onoulphus, he was involved in Odoacer’s war of 486/487 with the Rugians of Feletheus (Eugippus, V. Sev. 44.4; Crawford (2019), 212-213).

Teodorico_re_dei_Goti_(493-526)While much of the conflict with Theoderic came after the land grants, Pierius’ potential service against Theoderic would also demonstrate his ability and loyalty to Odoacer. The first direct engagement between the forces of Odoacer and the Amal Goths came on 28 August 489 at the Isontius River (the modern Soča in Slovenia and Isonzo in Italy). Very little is recorded about the battle besides Theoderic’s victory (Fast. Vind. Prior sa. 490); however, while there is no record of Pierius being present, the fact that Odoacer commanded his own forces at Isontius could suggest that his chief bodyguard was also present. If so, then Pierius likely had a role in the orderly withdrawal and the subsequent Battle of Verona on 30 September 489, where Theoderic inflicted a second, much more emphatic defeat on Odoacer (Anon. Val. XI.50; Cassiodorus, Chron. sa.489; Ennodius, Pan. 39ff).

Even if we are to posit Pierius’ presence at Isontius and then Verona (Odoacer could just as easily have charged him with command of Ravenna), the aftermath of Verona introduces many more variables. The panicked and fractured retreat of Odoacer’s defeated forces may have seen the comes domesticorum escape to Ravenna with Odoacer; however, Pierius could instead have been forced to join the majority of the retreating army in reaching Milan, where it surrendered to the advancing Theoderic (Anon. Val. XI.50-51). Plenty of those who surrendered found their way back into the ranks of Odoacer’s army in the succeeding weeks and months. The most high-profile individual recorded doing so was Tufa, Odoacer’s magister militum (Anon. Val. XI.51-52; Ennodius, V. Epiph. 111; Wolfram (1990), 281). A captured Pierius could have done so too, although his surrender would surely have been recorded alongside Tufa.

The ability of many of those who surrendered at Milan to return to their Odoacer allegiance stemmed from the rex Italiae undoing much of the damage caused by his defeats of Isontius and Verona even before 489 was out through the defences of Ravenna and the financial support of the Italian aristocracy. This continuation of war with Theoderic provided plenty of opportunity for Pierius to extend his military adventures throughout 489/490 – Odoacer’s recovery of Cremona, the blockading of Theoderic at Ticinum (modern Pavia), the Burgundian raid on Liguria and a Gothic invasion by Alaric II. Ultimately though, the sources only record one other military action of Pierius beyond his involvement in the aftermath of the Rugian war of 488 – his command of Odoacer’s forces at the Battle of Adda River on 11 August 490.

The intervention of Alaric II’s forces allowed Theoderic to escape the blockade of Ticinum and gather most of his forces together. With the Goths a little more desperate for a final conclusion and Odoacer more confident in a positive result, Theoderic quickly marched to face the forces under Pierius’ command at the Adda River, “possibly near Acerrae-Pizzighettone, where the road from Lodi to Cremona crossed the river” (Wolfram (1990), 282). Again, there is little detail about the Battle of the Adda River on 11 August 490, other than the result: a decisive Gothic victory (Anon. Val. XI.53; Auct. Prosp. haun. sa.491; Cassiodorus, Chron. sa.490; Jordanes, Get. 292ff; Ennodius, V. Epiph. 109-111, 127; Pan. 36-47). And one that proved fatal not just for Pierius, but in the long run to the regime of Odoacer too.

While it was ultimately fatal, Pierius had plenty of opportunity to render significant enough service to Odoacer in order to be rewarded with land, which will be seen in Part II.

The Pierii of the PLRE

PLRE I.701 – husband of Coelia Nerviana, brother-in-law of Coelia Claudiana, a late third century Chief Vestal; an old friend of Libanius, accused of peculation during a stint as an officialis in the east before 359 (Libanius, Ep. 105)

PLRE II.884-885 – a late 4th/early 5th century correspondent of Symmachus, possibly an African senator (Symmachus, Ep. VIII.45); the early/mid-5th century monk, Nilus, seemingly corresponded with two separate men called Pierius (Nilus, Ep. I.316, II.167), while a certain Pierius was serving as city prefect of Ravenna on 9 June 440 (NVal 8.1)

PLRE IIIb.1041 – Pierius, primicerius singulariorum of Cassiodorus during his time as praetorian prefect of Italy in 534-535 (Cassiodorus, Var. XI.32)


Clover, F.M. ‘A Game of Bluff: The Fate of Sicily after A.D. 476’, Historia 48 (1999), 235-244

Crawford, P.T. The Emperor Zeno: The Perils of Fifth Century Power Politics in Constantinople. Barnsley (2019)

Tjäder, J.-O. Die Nichtliterarischen Lateinischen Papyri Italiens aus der Zeit. Lund (1955), vol. 1 pp. 279–293

Wolfram, H. History of the Goths. Berkeley (1990)