OH MY GOD, NEWSPAPER SPIDER-MAN, WHICH I ALREADY DECLARED MY FAVORITE SUPERHERO COMIC OF ALL TIME, HAS JUST NAME-CHECKED AN OBSCURE FIGURE FROM LATE ANTIQUITY, THE HISTORICAL PERIOD THAT I STUDIED DURING MY ABORTIVE ACADEMIC CAREER! Was today’s strip written specifically for me? Probably! Anyway, let’s go through a quick rundown of all the interesting details and historical inaccuracies they’ve managed to pack into just a few sentences:
The historical figure in question was actually named Romulus, which (IRONY ALERT) was also the name of the legendary founder and first ruler of Rome. The -ulus ending was a diminutive in Latin, so Romulus means “Little Rome.” Augustus was one of the Roman titles for emperor, and during his reign Romulus was known as Romulus Augustus; Augustulus, meaning “little emperor,” was a nickname given to him by later historian.
Romulus was, if not little, at least young: he was emperor for only a year, and he was 16 at the time. His father Orestes, who was a Roman general, was the real power behind the throne.
Tyrannus is the origin of our word tyrant, but in Latin in the 5th century A.D. it didn’t necessarily mean “a cruel ruler,” as it’s come to mean in English; instead, it meant someone who had usurped a throne from a legitimate ruler, without much by way of value judgement beyond that. This is actually an appropriate name for Romulus, then, because he became Emperor when his father overthrew Julius Nepos, the legitimate Romen ruler.
Romulus’s claim to be “the last Roman emperor” is actually pretty tenuous. In the 5th century A.D. there were usually two Roman emperors, one ruling from Italy and the other from Constantinople; over the course of the century, the western half of the empire fell apart due to external invasion and internal fragmentation, while the eastern pulled through in one piece; by the 470s, the Western Roman government only controlled Italy and the western Balkans. When Orestes put Romulus on the throne, Julius Nepos fled to Dalmatia, where he was from, and continued to rule there. Then, a year later, Odoacer, the German general who was in charge of most of the Western Roman army, killed Orestes, deposed Romulus, and placed himself under the authority of the distant Eastern Emperor, although in practice he ruled Italy as his own kingdom. Julius Nepos, the legitimate Western Emperor, ruled Dalmatia until he was killed in 480, and the emperors in Constantinople kept doing their thing (and called themselves “Roman Emperors,” although the empire was eventually almost entirely Greek) all the way until 1453.
Because Romulus was only a teenager, Odoacer spared his life, sent him to live with his family in southern Italy, and even gave him a pension. He pretty much vanishes from history at that point, though there’s a preserved letter from a Roman administrator that might indicate that he was still receiving his pension more than 30 years later. So is it possible that he became eternally undead due to forbidden sorcery and now seeks to claim an underground empire to compensate for the realm that was stolen from him when he was a boy? Sure, why not!
Marvin may be an awful-hell infant who’s willing to stew in his own shit-filled diapers forever just to annoy his parents, but even he understands the basic concepts of consent.
No matter how deep pluggers get into hoarding, they can never fill the hole in their lives left by the family that abandoned them.