Thursday, 21 April 2016

Ravenna and Theoderic

Ravenna and Theoderic
The beautiful city of Ravenna has an interesting history, that I briefly encountered in my studies this year. During the late fifth century the city of Ravenna was chosen as the new capital of the kingdom of Theoderic the Great. Theoderic was the king of the Ostrogoths and in 493 BC he signed the treaty that gave him the power to rule over Italy. Unlike most, Theoderic chose Ravenna, not Rome, as his capital. By doing this Theoderic developed a “form of government in which the Roman Senate was respected as a rather independent component” leaving the senators in Rome (Deliyannis, 2010, 114). Using this system of government highlighted the impact of the Roman Empire onto the surrounding tribes, under and outside of the empire. Under Theoderic Rome became the centre of culture in education, literature and philosophy, despite the aristocracy’s hatred for the new capital. Under Theoderic the population of Ravenna is said to have reached 10,000 at most. (Bovini, 1958, 17 & 21-4) During the majority of his reign, Theoderic resided in his palace at Ravenna which provided a symbol of royal authority for himself and his propagandists.

Through observing the wide variety of mosaics in Ravenna, the world of Theoderic becomes more apparent to the modern world. The Sant’Apollinare Nuovo is a church which contains a variety of intricate mosaics, from religious to political pieces of art. On the eastern wall is a mosaic depicting the palace of Theoderic, showing a grand structure draped in curtains. This mosaic has been used by historians as evidence for the use and decoration of curtains in the fifth century BC.  However, this particular mosaic had been later modified, with ‘floating’ hands being visible on the pillars of Theoderic’s palace, where the ‘modifiers’ missed them out. On the other walls were a variety of mosaics depicting Saints and scenes from the bible. Theoderic was an Arian and despite stressing the importance of racial harmony between the Roman population and the Arian Ostrogoths intermarriage was outlawed. The religious mosaics highlight the importance of Arianism in Ravenna to Theoderic.



The mausoleum of Theoderic still stands today in Ravenna. The site of the building resides just outside the city walls in what was known as the cemetery zone. The building, unlike many in Ravenna, was built from limestone, not brick, which had been brought over from Istria (Deliyannis, 2010, 125). This reflects trading patterns that occurred with the east. The mausoleum has been suggested to have followed the examples of previous Roman Emperors with traits of Gothic influence. Theoderic’s ten sided mausoleum was seen by Boethius as the perfect symbol of heaven (Deliyannis, 2010, 128). The architecture of Ravenna during the late 5th and early 6th century, thus reflects the influence of not only the barbarians inside the Roman Empire, but also that of religion. Religion is known for causing wars and tension, but it can also cause beautiful art like Theoderic’s mosaics in Ravenna.


Deliyannis, D. (2010) Ravenna in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bovini. (1958) Mosaici. 
Unknown: Unknown.
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