On the Trace of Theoderic the Great in Ravenna


Worldwide in Western cultures I think children learn in school about Theoderic the Great. But do you remember where his reign was and what time he lived? I didn’t. And so I were surprised and happy to read about him just the evening before going to visit Ravenna.

Ravenna is a beautiful and very ancient city along the shores of the Adriatic Sea in the Emilia-Romagna region. I was to visit this place because a friend of mine asked me to go. And so I re-discovered Theoderic who I always knew about but not that clear as I would have liked.


Theoderic lived from 454 till 526. He died as an aged man of 72 after a long reign and many battles.

He was born in Carnuntum in Pannonia which would be today in the angle of Hungary, Austria and Croatia (on Austrian side). His father was king Theodemir who had just before defeated the Huns. But this young boy grew up as a hostage in Constantinople instead of with his parents in Pannonia. He had a privileged education as being son of a great king. Being a hostage as a child was not so bad as the child would normally be treated well but guaranteed also the peace between two countries.

At Constantinople Theoderic learnt a lot of Roman government and military tactics. He was favored by Emperors Leo I and later Zeno, became a Master of Soldiers when 29 years old and even consul. In 488 he became king of the Ostrogoths.


As king he had a beneficial arrangement with Zeno, with Odoacer, the current ruler of Italy, he had no mercy: he killed him at a banquet in Ravenna. This way Zeno had an enemy less and Theoderic a greater Kingdom. From this day on, 2nd February 493, he reigned from Ravenna.

He had less power than the emperor in Constantinople but had his ways to do the very same things respecting the agreements though. His reign was peaceful and secure. One of his greatest rules was the tolerance of all kinds of religion. He even rebuilt synagogues in Ravenna when they were burnt down by a mob in 519. He was king of the Visigoths and with special agreements was peaceful with Franks, Burgundians, Vandals and other people of the time.

He married only once (she died after 526): Audofleda with whom he had one daughter. But as a young man he had a concubine in Moesia and with her also two daughters. All daughters where married to secure freedom and peace.

Theoderic the Great died in 526 and only a few years later his reign faded.


This is the intriguing story of Theoderic the Great. But what was still to see from this period or better what testimonials we could visit?

Apparently only two places: his palace and his mausoleum.

The palace really is nothing spectacular as it has only a few walls and the facade. The facade is beautiful and let me imagine a wonderful decorated interior. But it seems also very small to me. Marble everywhere, gold and beautiful pictures on the walls, long scarfs hanging from the ceilings, music and laughter from happy women and children. Well, that was my imagination on a rainy day in front of a stone facade. By mistake or unknowingly I did not take a photo of the mosaic in the nearby San Appolinare Nuovo church (Theoderic’s cathedral) where his palace is shown in all his splendor.

Not too far away but a little outside of the ancient center of Ravenna there is the mausoleum of Theoderic. He built it during lifetime. In a certain way it looks simple but one can see the fine art in the structure. It was built around 520 and has two decagonal orders, one above the other, the upper one lightly smaller. Impressive the roof which is a single stone of 10 meters in diameter.

You arrive at the backside of the monument and the front doors are looking into the gardens. On older photos I saw there were a few stone stairs going to the upper part. Downstairs had been a church once, upstairs Theoderic originally laid in a sarcophagus of wonderful red marble.


We could visit the monument with our ticket which is for nearly all museums and we got just in the beginning of our Ravenna sight-seeing tour near to the dome. If you don’t have too much time for visiting all in town, put Theoderic at the end of the list. For two reasons: it is pretty outside of the center where are nearly all ancient buildings, museums and so on. And it’s is not too much to see. But historically it is definitely one of the most important in Ravenna. I am happy that I had in the back of my mind the ‘pressure’ of another friend whose childhood hero was just Theoderic the Great. And I wanted to send him a pic from here. I did… imagine the joy!


Ravenna/Italy:


For further information:
Ravenna Tourism website


Be sociable, tell others!
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2 Responses to On the Trace of Theoderic the Great in Ravenna

  1. Thanks for the pics of the mausoleum!

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