Monday, October 14, 2013


Theodoric's Mausoleum: Ravenna.
For a few short decades in the 6th Century, Ravenna shone. Political expediency saw it become the capital of the Holy Roman Empire for a while, before sinking back into rural sonambulance. But not before her rulers had built monuments to their dynasties, decorated with exquisite mosaics (check out this blog post). 

Back to the 6th century....
Theoderic the Great, who ruled Ravenna during this time, was an Ostrogoth - not a Roman. This was at the time when the Roman Empire was in decline, having fallen to various Goths and Vandals. Theodoric (born around 454 AD) came from the Balkans. He defeated the Goth Odoacer in 493 AD in Verona.  He chose Ravenna as his capital, ruling over the Goths and Romans in north-eastern Italy. Theodoric followed a brand of Christianity called Arianism, and built a number of public and religious buildings in Ravenna. 

Theodoric's image on a 6th century coin.
He was a successful ruler of Ravenna for 30 years, successful enough to build himself a large mausoleum, which has survived for 1400 years. No-one to this day is quite sure how the 6th century builders managed to top the thing with the stone dome it has - it measures 10.76 m in diameter, and weighs about 230 tonnes. The perimeter of the roof is ringed with twelve ‘ears’ called modillions. It’s speculated that statues of the twelve apostles might once have stood, or have been intended to stand, on them. 

The interior of Theodoric’s Mausoleum is bare today, except for a huge porphyry bath tub, which was moved there in the 17th century. It’s meant to have held Theodoric’s remains, but there’s no real evidence for this. Still, it’s as good a place as any to keep such an object. 

Theodoric’s last years involved a mystery, which helped create some local legendary and mythical tales, as well as featuring in some epic Germanic and Nordic poems. It’s said that the King died a mysterious and tortured death...
The porphyry bathtub.

Theodoric had a religious un-in with the Roman Emperor Justinian, who’s court was settled in Constantinople (Istanbul) at this time. An edict had been issued in 523 AD against “heretical cults”, and Arianism was considered one of these. Theodoric condemned a few people to death over this, and even imprisoned Pope John I for failing to get the edict revoked. A few months later....he was dead. 

However, on the bright side, he did have a magnificent tomb all ready. 

The tomb's stone dome.
Theodoric's mausoleum today: Ravenna.
Extent of the rule of
Vandals and Goths
6th century (approx) 

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