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Heodoric's Tomb
Italy Under Odovacar
Roman Officials--cassiodorus
Rome And Ravenna
Storm And Stress
The Arian League
The Conquest Of Italy
The Might Of Attila
The Southward Migration
The Theodoric Of Saga
Theodoric's Ancestors
Theodoric's Boyhood

Rome And Ravenna

Theodoric's visit to Rome--Disputed Papal election--Theodoric's speech
at the Golden Palm--The monk Fulgentius--Bread-distributions--Races in
the Circus--Conspiracy of Odoin--Return to Ravenna--Marriage festivities
of Amalaberga--Description of Ravenna--Mosaics in the churches--S.
Apollinare Dentro--Processions of virgins and martyrs--Arian
baptistery--So-called palace of Theodoric--Vanished statues.

The death of Anastasius was followed by changes in the attitude towards
one another of Pope and Emperor, which embittered the closing years of
Theodoric and caused his sun to set in clouds. But before we occupy
ourselves with these transactions, we may consider a little more
carefully the relations between Theodoric and his subjects in the
happier days, the early and middle portion of his reign, and for this
purpose we will first of all hear what the chroniclers have to tell us
of a memorable visit to Rome which he paid in the eighth year after his
accession, that year which, according to our present chronology, is
marked as the five hundredth after the birth of Christ.[113]

Rome had been for more than two centuries strangely neglected by the
rulers who in her name lorded it over the civilised world. Ever since
Diocletian's reconstruction of the Empire, it had been a rare event for
an Augustus to be seen within her walls. Even the Emperor who had Italy
for his portion generally resided at Milan or Ravenna rather than on the
banks of the Tiber. Constantine was but a hasty visitor before he went
eastward to build his marvellous New Rome beside the Bosphorus. His son
Constantius in middle life paid one memorable visit(357). Thirty years
later Theodosius followed his example. His son Honorius celebrated
there(403) his doubtful triumph over Alaric, and his grandson,
Valentinian III., was standing in the Roman Campus Martius when he fell
under the daggers of the avengers of Aetius. But the fact that these
visits are so pointedly mentioned shows the extreme rarity of their
occurrence; nor was any great alteration wrought herein by Theodoric,
for this visit to Rome, which we are now about to consider, and which
lasted for six months, seems to have been the only one that he ever paid
in the course of his reign of thirty-three years.

He came at an opportune time, when there was a lull in the strife,
amounting almost to civil war, caused by a disputed Papal election. Two
years before, two bodies of clergy had met on the same day (22d.
November) in different churches, in order to elect the successor to a
deceased pope. The larger number, assembled in the mother-church, the
Lateran, elected a deacon of Sardinian extraction, named Symmachus. The
smaller but apparently more aristocratic body, backed by the favour of
the majority of the Senate and supported by the delegates of the
Emperor, met in the church now called by the name of S. Maria Maggiore
and voted for the arch-presbyter Laurentius.

The effect of this contested election was to throw Rome into confusion.
Parties of armed men who favoured the cause of one or the other
candidate paraded the City, and all the streets were filled with riot
and bloodshed. It seemed as if the days of Marius and Sulla were come
back again, though it would have been impossible to explain to either
Marius or Sulla what was the nature of the contest, a dispute as to the
right to be considered successor to a fisherman of Bethsaida. When the
anarchy was becoming intolerable, the Senate, Clergy, and People
determined to invoke the mediation of Theodoric, thus furnishing the
highest testimony to the reputation for fairness and impartiality which
had been earned by the Arian king. Both the rival bishops repaired to
Ravenna, and having laid the case before the king, heard his answer.
Whichsoever candidate was first chosen, if he also received the
majority of votes, shall be deemed duly elected. Both qualifications
were united in Symmachus, who was therefore for a time recognised as
lawful Pope even by Laurentius himself.

The disturbances broke out again later on; charges, probably false
charges, of gross immorality were brought against Symmachus, who fled
from Rome, returned, was tried by a Synod, and acquitted. It was not
till after nearly six years had elapsed and six Synods had been held,
that Laurentius and his party gave up the contest and finally acquiesced
in the legitimacy of the claim of Symmachus to the Popedom.

But most of these troubles were still to come: there was a lull in the
storm, and it seemed as if the king's wise and righteous judgment had
settled the succession to the Papal chair, when in the year 500
Theodoric visited Rome, seeing for the first time, in full middle life,
the City whose name he had doubtless often heard with a child's wonder
and awe in his father's palace by the Platten See. His first visit was
paid to the great basilica of St. Peter, outside the walls, where he
performed his devotions with all the outward signs of reverence which
would have been exhibited by the most pious Catholic.[114]

Before he entered the gates of the City he was welcomed by the Senate
and People of Rome, who poured forth to meet him with every indication
of joy. Borne along by the jubilant throng, he reached the Senate-house,
which still stood in its majesty overlooking the Roman Forum. Here, in
some portico attached to the Senate-house, which bore the name of the
Golden Palm, he delivered an oration to the people. The accent of the
speech may not have been faultless,[115] the style was assuredly not
Ciceronian, but the matter was worthy of the enthusiastic acclamations
with which it was received. Recognising the continuity of his government
with that of the Emperors who had preceded him, he promised that with
God's help he would keep inviolate all that the Roman Princes in the
past had ordained for their people. So might a Norman or Angevin king,
anxious to re-assure his Saxon subjects, swear to observe all the laws
of the good King Edward the Confessor.

This speech of Theodoric's at the Golden Palm was listened to by an
obscure African monk, whose emotions on the occasion are described to us
by his biographer. Fulgentius, the grandson of a senator of Carthage,
had forsaken what seemed a promising official career, and had accepted
the solitude and the hardships of a monastic life, at a time when, owing
to the severe persecution of the Catholics by the Vandal kings, there
was no prospect of anything but ignominy, exile, and perhaps death for
every eminent confessor of the Catholic faith. Fulgentius and his
friends had suffered many outrages at the hands of Numidian freebooters
and Vandal officers, and they meditated a flight into Egypt, where they
might practise a yet more rigid monastic rule undisturbed by the civil
power. In his search after a suitable resting-place for his community,
Fulgentius, who was in the thirty-third year of his age, had visited
Sicily, and now had reached Rome in this same summer of 500, which was
made memorable by Theodoric's visit. He found, we are told, the
greatest joy in this City, truly called 'the head of the world,' both
the Senate and People of Rome testifying their gladness at the presence
of Theodoric the King. Wherefore the blessed Fulgentius, to whom the
world had long been crucified, after he had visited with reverence the
shrines of the martyrs and saluted with humble deference as many of the
servants of God as he could in so short a time be introduced to, stood
in that place which is called Palma Aurea while Theodoric was making his
harangue. There, as he gazed upon the nobles of the Roman Senate
marshalled in their various ranks and adorned with comely dignity, and
as he heard with chaste ears the favouring shouts of the people, he had
a chance of knowing what the boastful pomp of this world resembles. Yet
he looked not willingly upon aught in this gorgeous spectacle, nor was
his heart seduced to take any pleasure in these worldly vanities, but
rather kindled thereby to a more vehement desire for Jerusalem above.
And thus with edifying discourse did he ever admonish the brethren who
were present: 'How fair must be that heavenly Jerusalem, if the earthly
Rome be thus magnificent! And if in this world such honour is paid to
the lovers of vanity, what honour and glory shall be bestowed on the
Saints who behold the Eternal Reality.' With many such words as these
did the blessed Fulgentius debate with them in a profitable manner all
that day, and now with his whole heart earnestly desiring to behold his
monastery again, he sailed swiftly to Africa, touching at Sardinia, and
presented himself to his monks, who, in the excess of their joy, could
scarcely believe that the blessed Fulgentius was indeed returned.

Besides his promises of good government according to the old laws of
Empire, Theodoric recognised the duty which, according to
long-established usage, devolved upon the supreme ruler to provide
panem et circenses [116] for the citizens of Rome. The elaborate
machinery, part of the crowned Socialism of the Empire, by which a
certain number of loaves of bread had been distributed to the poorer
householders of the City, had probably broken down in the death-agony of
the Caesars of the West, and had not been again set going by Odovacar. We
are told that Theodoric now distributed as rations to the people of
Rome and to the poor 120,000 modii of corn yearly. As this represents
only 30,000 bushels, and as in the flourishing days of the Empire no
fewer than 200,000 citizens used to present themselves, probably once or
twice a week, to receive their rations, it is evident that (if the
chronicler's numbers are correct) we have here no attempt to revive the
wholesale distribution of corn to the citizens--an expenditure with
which the finances of Theodoric's kingdom were probably quite unable to
cope. What was now done was more strictly a measure of out-door relief
for the absolutely destitute classes, and was therefore a more
legitimate employment of the energies of the State than the socialistic
attempt to feed a whole people, which had preceded it.

At the same time that he granted these annonae, Theodoric also set
aside, from the proceeds of a certain wine-tax, two hundred pounds of
gold (L8,000) yearly for the restoration of the Imperial dwellings on
the Palatine, and for the repair of the walls of Rome. Little did he
foresee that a time would come when those walls, battered and breached
as they were, would be all too strong for the fortunes of the Gothic
warriors who would dash themselves vainly against their ramparts.

It was now thirty years since Theodoric, returning from his exile at
Constantinople, had been hailed by his Gothic countrymen as a partner of
his father's throne. In memory of that event, from which he was
separated by so many years of toil and triumph, so many battles, so many
marches, so many weary negotiations with emperors and kings, Theodoric
celebrated his Tricennalia at Rome. On this occasion the gigantic
Flavian Amphitheatre--the Colosseum as we generally call it--seems not
to have been opened to the people. The old murderous fights with
gladiators which once dyed its pavement with human blood had been for a
century suppressed by the influence of the Church, and the costly shows
of wild beasts which were the permitted substitute would perhaps have
taxed too heavily the still feeble finances of the State. But to the
Circus Maximus all the citizens crowded in order to see the
chariot-races which were run there, and which recalled the brilliant
festivities of the Empire. The Circus, oval in form, notwithstanding its
name, was situated in the long valley between the Palatine and Aventine
Hills. High above, on the north-east, rose the palaces of the Caesars
already mouldering to decay, but one of which had probably been
furbished up to make it a fitting residence for the king of the Goths
and Romans. On the south-west the solemn Aventme still perhaps showed
side by side the decaying temples of the gods and the mansions of the
holy Roman matrons who, under the preaching of St. Jerome, had made
their sumptuous palaces the homes of monastic self-denial. In the long
ellipse between the two hills the citizens of Rome were ranged, not too
many now in the dwindled state of the City to find elbow-room for all. A
shout of applause went up from senators and people as the Gothic king,
surrounded by a brilliant throng of courtiers, moved majestically to his
seat in the Imperial podium.

At one end of the Circus were twelve portals (ostia), behind which the
eager charioteers were waiting. In the middle of it there rose the long
platform called the spina, at either end of which stood an obelisk
brought from Egypt by an Emperor. (One of these obelisks now adorns the
Piazza del Popolo, and the other the square in front of the Lateran.) At
a signal from the king the races began. Whether the first heat would be
between bigae or quadrigae (two-horse or four-horse chariots), we cannot
say; but, of one kind or the other, twelve chariots bounded forth from
the ostia the moment that the rope which had hitherto confined them
was let fall. Seven times they careered round and round the long
spina, of course with eager struggles to get the inside turn, and
perhaps with a not infrequent fall when a too eager charioteer, in his
desire to accomplish this, struck against the protecting curbstone. Ac
each circuit was completed by the foremost chariot, a steward of the
races placed a great wooden egg in a conspicuous place upon the spina
to mark the score; and keen was the excitement when, in a match between
two well-known rivals, six eggs announced to the spectators that the
seventh, the deciding circuit, had begun. The entire course thus
traversed seven times in each direction made a race of between three and
four miles, and each heat would probably occupy nearly a quarter of an
hour.[117] The number of heats (missus) was usually four and twenty,
and we may therefore imagine Theodoric and his people occupying the best
part of a summer day in watching the galloping steeds, the shouting,
lashing drivers, and the fast-flashing chariot wheels.

At Rome, as at Constantinople, though not in quite so exaggerated a
degree, partisanship with the charioteers was more than a passing
fancy; it was a deep and abiding passion with the multitude, and it
sometimes went very near to actual madness. Four colours, the Blue and
the Green, the White and the Red, were worn respectively by the drivers,
who served each of the four joint-stock companies (as we should call
them) that catered for the taste of the race-loving multitude. Red and
White had had their day of glory and still won a fair proportion of
races, but the keenest and most terrible competition was between Blue
and Green. At Constantinople, a generation later than the time which we
have now reached, the undue favour which an Emperor (Justinian.) was
accused (532) of showing to the Blues caused an insurrection which
wrapped the city in flames and nearly cost that Emperor his throne. No
such disastrous consequences resulted from circus-partisanship in Rome:
but even in Rome that partisanship was very bitter, and, in the view of
a philosopher, supremely ridiculous. As the sage Cassiodorus remarked:
In these beyond all other shows, men's minds are hurried into
excitement, without any regard to a fitting sobriety of character. The
Green charioteer flashes by: part of the people is in despair. The Blue
gets a lead: a larger part of the City is in misery. The populace cheer
frantically when they have gained nothing; they are cut to the heart
when they have received no loss; and they plunge with as much eagerness
into these empty contests as if the whole welfare of their imperilled
country depended upon them. In two other letters Theodoric is obliged
seriously to chide the Roman Senate for its irascible temper in dealing
with one of the factions of the Circus. A Patrician and a Consul, so it
was alleged, had truculently assaulted the Green party, and one man had
lost his life in the fray. The king ordered that the matter should be
enquired into by two officials of Illustrious rank, who had special
jurisdiction in cases wherein nobles of high position were concerned. He
then replied to a counter-accusation which had been brought by the
Senators against the mob for assailing them with rude clamours in the
Hippodrome. You must distinguish, says the king, between deliberate
insolence and the festive impertinences of a place of public amusement.
It is not exactly a congregation of Catos that comes together at the
Circus. The place excuses some excesses. And moreover you must remember
that these insulting cries generally proceed from the beaten party: and
therefore you need not complain of clamour which is the result of a
victory that you earnestly desired. Again the king had to warn the
Senators not to bring disgrace on their good name and do violence to
public order by allowing their menials to embroil themselves with the
mob of the Hippodrome. Any slave accused of having shed the blood of a
free-born citizen was to be at once given up to justice; or else his
master was to pay a fine of L400, and to incur the severe displeasure of
the king. And do not you, O Senators, be too strict in marking every
idle word which the mob may utter in the midst of the general rejoicing.
If any insult which requires special notice should be offered you,
bring it before the Prefect of the City. This is far wiser and safer
than taking the law into your own hands.

The festivities which celebrated Theodoric's visit to the Eternal City
were perhaps somewhat discordantly interrupted by the discovery of a
conspiracy against him, set on foot by a certain Count Odoin, about whom
we have no other information, but the form of whose name at once
suggests that he was of Gothic, not Roman, extraction. It is possible
that this conspiracy indicates the discontent of the old Gothic nobility
with the increasing tendency to copy Roman civilisation and to assume
Imperial prerogatives which they observed in the king who had once been
little more than chief among a band of comrades. But we have not
sufficient information as to this conspiracy to enable us to fix its
true place in the history of Theodoric, nor can we even say with
confidence that it was directed against the king and not against one of
his ministers. The result alone is certain. Odoin's treachery was
discovered and he was beheaded in the Sessorian palace, a building which
probably stood upon the patrimony of Constantine, hard by the southern
wall of Rome, and near to the spot where we now see the Church of Santa

At the request of the people, the words of Theodoric's harangue on his
entrance into the City were engraved on a brazen tablet, which was fixed
in a place of public resort, perhaps the Roman Forum. Even so did the
Joyeuse Entree of a Burgundian duke into Brussels confirm and
commemorate the privileges of his good subjects the citizens of
Brabant. Upon the whole, there can be little doubt that the half-year
which Theodoric spent in Rome was really a time of joyfulness both to
prince and people, and that the tiles which are still occasionally
turned up by the spade in Rome, bearing the inscription Domino Nostro
Theodorico Felix Roma, were not merely the work of official flatterers,
but did truly express the joy of a well-governed nation. After six
months Theodoric returned to that city, which, during the last thirty
years of his life, he probably regarded as his home--Ravenna by the
Adriatic,--and there he delighted the heart of his subjects by the
pageants which celebrated the marriage of his niece Amalaberga with
Hermanfrid, the king of the distant Thuringians. This young prince, whom
Theodoric had adopted as his son by right of arms [118] had sent to
his future kinsman a team of cream-coloured horses of a rare breed,[119]
and Theodoric sent in return horses, swords and shields, and other
instruments of war, but, as he said, the greatest requital that we make
is joining you in marriage to a woman of such surpassing beauty as our

[Footnote 119: Perhaps it might be safe to call these horses cobs; but
let Cassiodorus describe their points. They were horses of a silvery
colour, as nuptial horses ought to be. Their chests and thighs are
adorned in a becoming manner with spheres of flesh. Their ribs are
expanded to a certain breadth; their bellies are short and narrow. Their
heads have a likeness to the stag's, and they imitate the swiftness of
that animal. These horses are gentle from their extreme plumpness; very
swift, for all their bigness, pleasant to look upon, yet more pleasant
to ride. For they have gentle paces and do not fatigue their riders with
insane curvetings. To ride them is rest rather than labour; and being
broken in to a delightfully steady pace, they have great staying power
and lasting activity. These sleek and easy-paced cobs are not at all
the ideal present from a rough barbarian of the North to his father in

The later fortunes of the Ostrogothic princess who thus migrated from
Ravenna to the banks of the Elbe were not happy. A proud and ambitious
woman, she is said to have stimulated her husband to make himself, by
fratricide and civil war, sole king of the Thuringians. The help of one
of the sons of Clovis had been unwisely invoked for this operation. So
long as the Ostrogothic hero lived, Thuringia was safe under his
protection, but soon after his death dissensions arose between Franks
and Thuringians; a claim of payment was made for the ill-requited
services of the former. Thuringia was invaded, (531) her king defeated,
and after a while treacherously slain. Amalaberga took refuge with her
kindred at Ravenna, and after the collapse of their fortunes retired to
Constantinople, where her son entered the Imperial service. In after
years that son, Amalafrid the Goth, was not the least famous of the
generals of Justinian. The broad lands between the Elbe and the Danube,
over which the Thuringians had wandered, were added to the dominions of
the Franks and became part of the mighty kingdom of Austrasia.

I have had occasion many times in the preceding pages to write the name
of Ravenna, the residence of most of the sovereigns of the sinking
Empire, and now the home of Theodoric. Let me attempt in a few
paragraphs to give some faint idea of the impression which this city, a
boulder-stone left by the icedrift of the dissolving Empire amid the
green fields of modern civilisation, produces on the mind of a

Ravenna stands in a great alluvial plain between the Apennines, the
Adriatic, and the Po. The fine mud, which has been for centuries poured
over the land by the streams descending from the mountains, has now
silted up her harbour, and Classis, the maritime suburb of Ravenna,
which, in the days of Odovacar and Theodoric, was a busy sea port on the
Adriatic, now consists of one desolate church--magnificent in its
desolation--and two or three farm-buildings standing in the midst of a
lonely and fever-haunted rice-swamp. Between the city and the sea
stretches for miles the glorious pine-forest, now alas! cruelly maimed
by the hands of Nature and of Man, by the frost of one severe winter and
by the spades of the builders of a railway, but still preserving some
traces of its ancient beauty. Here it was that Theodoric pitched his
camp when for three weary years he blockaded his rival's last
stronghold, and here by the deep trench (fossatum), which he had dug
to guard that camp, he fought the last and not the least deadly of his
fights, when Odovacar made his desperate sortie from the famine-stricken
town. Memories of a gentler kind, but still not wanting in sadness, now
cluster round the solemn avenues of the Pineta. There we still seem to
see Dante wandering, framing his lay of the selva oscura, through
which lay his path to the unseen world, and ever looking in vain for the
arrival of the messenger who should summon him back to ungrateful
Florence. There, in Boccaccio's story, a maiden's hapless ghost is for
ever pursued through the woods by the spectre-huntsman, Guido
Cavalcanti, whom her cruelty had driven to suicide. And there, in our
fathers' days, rode Byron, like Dante, an exile, if self-exiled, from
his country, and feeding on bitter remembrances of past praise and
present blame, both too lightly bestowed by his countrymen.

We leave the pine-wood and the desolate-looking rice-fields, we cross
over the sluggish streams--Ronco and Montone--and we stand in the
streets of historic Ravenna. Our first thoughts are all of
disappointment. There is none of the trim beauty of a modern city, nor,
as we at first think, is there any of the endless picturesqueness of a
well-preserved mediaeval city. We look in vain for any building like
Giotto's Campanile at Florence, for any space like that noble,
crescent-shaped Forum, full of memories of the Middle Ages, the Piazzo
del Campo of Siena. We see some strange but not altogether beautiful
bell-towers and one or two brown cupolas breaking the sky-line, but that
seems to be all, and our first feeling as I have said, is one of
disappointment. But when we enter the churches, if we have leisure to
study, them, if we can let their spirit mingle with our spirits, if we
can quietly ask them what they have to tell us of the Past, all
disappointment vanishes. For Ravenna is to those who will study her
attentively a very Pompeii of the fifth century, telling us as much
concerning those years of the falling Empire and the rising Mediaeval
Church as Pompeii can tell us of the social life of the Romans in the
days of triumphant Paganism.

Not that the record is by any means perfect. Many leaves have been torn
out of the book by the childish conceit of recent centuries, which
vainly imagined that they could write something instead, which any
mortal would now care to read. The destroying hand of the so-called
Renaissance has passed over these churches, defacing sometimes the
chancel, sometimes the nave. One of the most interesting of the churches
of Ravenna[120] has the cupola disfigured by wretched paintings which
mislead the eye in following the lines of the building. Another[121]
has its apse covered with those gilt spangles and clouds and cherubs
which were the eighteenth century's ideal of impressive religious art.
The Duomo, which should have been one of the mosf interesting of all the
monuments of Ravenna, was almost entirely rebuilt in the last century,
and is now scarcely worth visiting. Still, enough remains in the
un-restored churches of Ravenna to captivate the attention of every
student of history and every lover of early Christian art. It is only
necessary to shut our eyes to the vapid and tasteless work of recent
embellishers, as we should close our ears to the whispers of vulgar
gossipers while listening to some noble and entrancing piece of sacred

Thus concentrating our attention on that which is really interesting and
venerable in these churches, while we admire their long colonnades,
their skilful use of ancient columns--some of which may probably have
adorned the temples of Olympian deities in the days of the
Emperors,--and the exceedingly rich and beautiful new forms of capitals,
of a design quite unknown to Vitruvius, which the genius of Romanesque
artists has invented, we find that our chief interest is derived from
the mosaics with which these churches were once so lavishly adorned.
Mosaic, as is well-known, is the most permanent of all the processes of
decorative art. Fresco must fade sooner or later, and where there is any
tendency to damp, it fades with cruel rapidity. Oil painting on canvas
changes its tone in the long course of years, and the boundary line
between cleaning and repainting is difficult to observe. But the
fragments out of which the mosaic picture is formed, having been already
passed through the fire, will keep their colour for centuries, we might
probably say for millenniums. Damp injures them not, except by lessening
the cement with which they are fastened to the wall, and therefore when
restore tion of a mosaic picture becomes necessary, a really
conscientious restorer can always reproduce the picture with precisely
the same form and colour which it had when the last stone was inserted
by the original artist. And thus, when we visit Ravenna, we have the
satisfaction of feeling that we are (in many cases) looking upon the
very same picture which was gazed upon by the contemporaries of
Theodoric. Portraits of Theodoric himself, unfortunately we have none;
but we have two absolutely contemporary portraits of Justinian, the
overturner of his kingdom, and one of Justinian's wife, the celebrated
Theodora. These pictures, it is interesting to remember, were
considerably older when Cimabue found Giotto in the sheepfolds drawing
sheep upon a tile, than any picture of Cimabue's or Giotto's is at the
present time.

Let us enter the church which is now called S. Apollinare within the
Walls, but which in the time of Theodoric was called the Church of S.
Martin, often with the addition de Caelo Aureo, on account of the
beautiful gilded ceiling which distinguished it from the other basilicas
of Ravenna. This church was built by order of Theodoric, who apparently
intended it to be his own royal chapel. Probably, therefore, the great
Ostrogoth many a time saw the Divine mysteries celebrated here by
bishops and priests of the Arian communion. Two long colonnades fill the
nave of the church. The columns are classical, with Corinthian capitals,
and are perhaps brought from some older building. A peculiarity of the
architecture consists in the high abacus--a frustum of an inverted
pyramid--which is interposed between the capital of the column and the
arch that springs from it, as if to give greater height than the columns
alone would afford. Such in its main features was the Church of St.
Martin of the Golden Heaven, when Theodoric worshipped under its
gorgeous roof. But its chief adornment, the feature which makes more
impression on the beholder than anything else in Ravenna, was added
after Theodoric's death, yet not so long after but that it may be
suitably alluded to here as a specimen of the style of decoration which
his eyes must have been wont to look upon. About the year 560, after the
downfall of the Gothic monarchy, Agnellus, the Catholic Bishop of
Ravenna, reconciled this church, that is, re-consecrated it for the
performance of worship by orthodox priests, and in doing so adorned the
attics of the nave immediately above the colonnades with two remarkable
mosaic friezes, each representing a long procession.

On the north wall of the church we behold a procession of Virgin
Martyrs. They are twenty-four in number, a little larger than life, and
are chiefly those maidens who suffered in the terrible persecution of
Diocletian. The place from which they start is a seaport town with ships
entering the harbour, domes and columns and arcades showing over the
walls of the city. An inscription tells us that we have here represented
the city of Classis, the seaport of Ravenna. By the time that we have
reached the last figure in this long procession we are almost at the
east end of the nave. Here we see the Virgin-mother throned in glory
with the infant Jesus on her lap, and two angels on each side of her.
But between the procession and the throne is interposed the group of the
three Wise Men, in bright-coloured raiment, with tiara-like crowns upon
their heads, stooping forward as if with eager haste[122] to present
their various oblations to the Divine Child.

On the right, or south wall of the church, a similar procession of
martyred men, twenty-six in number, seems to move along, in all the
majesty of suffering, bearing their crowns of martyrdom as offerings to
the Redeemer. The Christ is here not an infant but a full-grown man, the
Man of Sorrows, His head encircled with a nimbus, and two angels are
standing on either side. The martyr-procession starts from a building,
with pediment above and three arches resting upon pillars below. The
intervals between the pillars are partly filled with curtains looped up
in a curious fashion and with bright purple spots upon them. An
inscription on this building tells us that it is PALATIUM, that is
Theodoric's palace at Ravenna.

In both these processions the representation is, of course, far from the
perfection of Art. Both the faces and the figures have a certain
stiffness, partly due to the very nature of mosaic-work. There is also a
sort of child-like simplicity in the treatment, especially of the female
figures, which an unsympathetic critic would call grotesque. But, I
think, most beholders feel that there is something indescribably solemn
in these two great mosaic pictures in S. Apollinare Dentro. From the
glaring, commonplace Italian town with its police-notices and its
proclamation of the number of votes given to the government of Vittorio
Emmanuele, you step into the grateful shade of the church and find
yourself transported into the sixth century after Christ. You are
looking on the faces of the men and maidens who suffered death with
torture rather than deny their Lord. For thirteen centuries those two
processions have seemed to be moving on upon the walls of the basilica,
and another ceaseless procession of worshippers, Goths, Byzantines,
Lombards, Franks, Italians, has been in reality moving on beneath them
to the grave. And then you remind yourself that when the artist sketched
those figures on the walls, he was separated by no longer interval than
three long lives would have bridged over, from the days of the
persecution itself, that there were still men living on the earth who
worshipped the Olympian Jupiter, and that the name of Mohammed, son of
Abdallah, was unknown in the world. So, as you gaze, the telescope of
the historic imagination does its work, and the far-off centuries become

One or two other Arian churches built during Theodoric's reign in the
northern suburb of the city have now entirely disappeared. There still
remains, however, the church which Theodoric seems to have built as the
cathedral of the Arian community, while leaving the old metropolitan
church (Ecclesia Ursiana, now the Duomo) as the cathedral of the
Catholics. This Arian cathedral was dedicated to St. Theodore, but has
in later ages been better known as the church of the Holy Spirit.
Tasteless restoration has robbed it of the mosaics which it doubtless
once possessed, but it has preserved its fine colonnade consisting of
fourteen columns of dark green marble with Corinthian capitals, whose
somewhat unequal height seems to show that they, like so many of their
sisters, have been brought from some other building, where they have
once perhaps served other gods.

Through the court-yard of the Church of San Spirito, we approach a
little octagonal building known both as the Oratory of S. Maria in
Cosmedia and as the Arian Baptistery. The great octagonal font, which
once stood in the centre of the building, has disappeared, but we can
easily reconstruct it in our imaginations from the similar one which
still remains in the Catholic Baptistery. The interest of this building
consists in the mosaics of its cupola. On the disk, in the centre, is
represented the Baptism of Christ. The Saviour stands, immersed up to
His loins, in the Jordan, whose water flowing past Him is depicted with
a quaint realism. The Baptist stands on His left side and holds one hand
over His head. On the right of the Saviour stands an old man, who is
generally said to represent the River-god, and the reed in his hand, the
urn, from which water gushes, under his arms, certainly seem to favour
this supposition. But in order to avoid so strange a medley of
Christianity and heathenism it has been suggested that the figure may be
meant for Moses, and in confirmation of this theory some keen-eyed
beholders have thought they perceived the symbolical horned rays
proceeding from each side of the old man's forehead.

Round this central disk are seen the figures of the twelve Apostles.
They are divided into two bands of six each, who seem marching, with
crowns in their hands, towards a throne covered with a veil and a
cushion, on which rests a cross blazing with jewels. St. Peter stands on
the right of the throne, St. Paul on the left; and these two Apostles
carry instead of crowns, the one the usual keys, and the other two rolls
of parchment. The interest of these figures, though they have something
of the stern majesty of early mosaic-work, is somewhat lessened by the
fact that they have undergone considerable restoration. It is suggested,
I know not whether on sufficient grounds, that the figures of the
Apostles were added when the Baptistery was reconciled to the Catholic
worship after the overthrow of the Gothic dominion.

Two more buildings at Ravenna which are connected with the name of
Theodoric require to be noticed by us,--his Palace and his Tomb. The
story of his Tomb, however, will be best told when his reign is ended.
As for the Palace, which once occupied a large space in the eastern
quarter of the city, we have seen that there is a representation of it
in mosaic on the walls of S. Apollinare Dentro. Closely adjoining that
church, and facing the modern Corso Garibaldi, is a wall about five and
twenty feet high, built of square brick-tiles, which has in its upper
storey one large and six small arched recesses, the arches resting on
columns. Only the front is ancient--it is admitted that the building
behind it is modern. Low down in the wall, so low that the citizens of
Ravenna, in passing, brush it with their sleeves, is a bath-shaped
vessel of porphyry, which in the days of archaeological ignorance used
to be shown to strangers as the coffin of Theodoric, but the fact is
that its history and its purpose are entirely unknown.

This shell of a building is called in the Ravenna Guide-books the
Palace of Theodoric. Experts are not yet agreed on the question whether
its architectural features justify us in referring it to the sixth
century, though all agree that it does not belong to a much later
age.[123] It does not agree with the representation of the Palatium in
the Church of S. Apollinare Dentro, and if it have anything whatever to
do with it, it is probably not the main front, nor even any very
important feature of the spacious palace, which, as we are told by the
local historians,[124] and learn from inscriptions, was surrounded with
porticoes, adorned with the most precious mosaics, divided into several
triclinia, surmounted by a tower which was considered one of the most
magnificent of the king's buildings, and surrounded with pleasant and
fruitful gardens, planted on ground which had been reclaimed from the
morass.[125] But practically almost all the monuments of the
Ostrogothic hero except his tomb and the three churches already
described, have vanished from Ravenna. Would that we could have seen the
great mosaic which once adorned the pediment of his palace. There
Theodoric stood, clad in mail, with spear and shield. On his left was a
female figure representing the City of Rome, also with a spear in her
hand and her head armed with a helmet, while towards his right Ravenna
seemed speeding with one foot on the land and the other on the sea. How
this great mosaic perished is not made clear to us. But there was also
an equestrian statue of Theodoric raised on a pyramid six cubits high.
Horse and rider were both of brass, covered with yellow gold, and the
king here too had his buckler on his left arm, while the right,
extended, pointed a lance at an invisible foe.

This statue was carried off from Ravenna, probably by the Frankish
Emperor Charles, to adorn his capital at Aachen, and it was still to be
seen there when Agnellus wrote his ecclesiastical history of Ravenna,
three hundred years after the death of Theodoric.

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