The more I've read about the end of the Western Empire the less I view Romulus Augustus as the clear "last Emperor." If you want to talk of the end of the Western Empire there are many points you could pick, you could pick the 455 sack of Rome, or you could pick Odoacer's ascension, or even Theoderic's death. I think instead it's best viewed that as the Western Empire became weaker and weaker it just slowly fell apart. I don't think any single event or any single leader ascending or dying is a clear breaking point.
Take Odoacer for example, yes he wasn't a "Roman" in the sense of being from Rome or even Italy--but that's hardly a unique situation. Several Roman Emperors had not been Latin before him. Odoacer had a Romanized name that was used in some contexts we know of, and he himself retained a relationship with the de jure Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos. I've always likened it to perhaps the "Mayor of the Palace" relationship that Charles Martel had to the "real" Frankish King, in that Odoacer had all the actual power but he still saw some reason to keep a titular Roman Emperor alive and "theoretically" reigning. Odoacer wasn't raised in the Roman tradition but he appears to have had reason to desire and accept status as a patrician and adopted other aspects of being "Roman" during his life (as best we can tell.) Odoacer also, after Nepos was killed, made himself a client of the Eastern Emperor--again strengthening the idea that Odoacer himself saw his position as an "independent King" but perhaps one who was still "part of the Roman Empire." [His later warring against the Eastern Emperor doesn't necessarily dispute this, as wars between persons within the Roman Empire were anything but rare.]
After Odoacer, Theoderic was basically raised under the Roman tradition as a hostage of the Eastern Emperor and when he overthrew Odoacer it was at the orders of the Eastern Emperor and he had already at that point collected offices from the Emperor Zeno that he certainly never discarded. Theoderic even made sure Roman law continued under his rule (but it was not applicable to Ostrogoths) and etc.
I don't know much of anything about the rulers of Italy after Theoderic but at least up through his reign there was still a special relationship with the Eastern Emperor such that it's hard to definitively say (at least for me) "the Western Empire was clearly dead." At the same time, everything that made the Western Empire the "Roman Empire" was already mostly dead before the death of Romulus Augustus, such that I can't view his death as a "clear break line."
Last edited by Martin Hyde; 08-24-2013 at 09:22 AM.