O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told
Of thy great glories in the days of old:
Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see
Casar ride forth to royal victory.
Mighty thy name when Rome’s lean eagles flew
From Britain’s isles to far Euphrates blue;
And of the peoples thou wast noble queen,
Till in thy streets the Goth and Hun were seen.
Discrowned by man, deserted by the sea,
Thou sleepest, rocked in lonely misery!
No longer now upon thy swelling tide,
Pine-forest-like, thy myriad galleys ride!
For where the brass-beaked ships were wont to float,
The weary shepherd pipes his mournful note;
And the white sheep are free to come and go
Where Adria’s purple waters used to flow. ( Oscar Wilde, Ravenna )
After some difficulty with the Romans, Walamar and his Goths were hired, for three hundred pounds of gold a year, to guard the borders of the empire. As assurance that they themselves would keep the peace, the king’s nephew, Theodoric, then eight years old, was taken to Constantinople as a hostage. A handsome and intelligent boy, he became a favorite of the emperor Leo. Theodoric enjoyed all the benefits of Roman education and observed the techniques of Roman government during his most impressionable years. At the age of eighteen he returned home to his father, Theudemer, who had succeeded Walamar on the throne.
Theudemer died in 473, and Theoderic became king of the Ostrogoths. By this time the Romans had assigned land in Macedonia to the restive Ostrogoths. When the emperor Zeno was briefly expelled from Constantinople by a rebellion, Theodoric and his Goths supported him and assisted his return to office. Theodoric’s rewards were the high sounding title of patrician, the post of commanding general in the imperial army, and a lavish subsidy. Zeno, moreover, adopted him as his son, an act that implied he might someday succeed to the Imperial throne. Zeno himself, after all, was by birth a barbarian from Isauria in Asia Minor.
In spite of this honor and subsequent distinctions; a consulship, a triumph, an equestrian statue in Constantinople, Theodoric’s relationship with Zeno underwent many fluctuations. The emperor could not help but regard him as a dangerous rival who was too successfully gathering around himself the scattered Gothic troops of the Eastern Empire. In 488, after a dangerous clash in which Theoderic’s troops blockaded Constantinople for a time, Zeno got rid of him by sending him to Italy to drive out the German usurper Odovacar, who twelve years before had deposed Romulus Augutulus, the last Roman Emperor of the West.
Ostrogoths were probably a minority in the multinational army that Theodoric assembled at Novae, in what is now Bulgaria, and he commanded it in his capacity of Roman general rather than Ostrogothic king. There were a strong contingent of Rugians and the usual motley array of barbarians from many different tribes. But Theodoric had the qualities of leadership necessary to hold the disparate elements together during a slow march of almost a year from Bulgaria to Italy.
”Nepos was supposed to bring peace and order to the capital of the Western Empire, which was then at Ravenna, Italy, and boy, did he ever screw that up. He started out badly by not killing Glycerius. Instead Nepo took him prisoner and shipped him off to Salona, the largest port back in Dalmatia. There he figured his spies could keep an eye on Glycerius, since he also had him ordained as a Bishop, giving him a steady income. Nepos was assuming, I guess, that this act of charity would win Glycerius’ loyalty. But, as they say in the Emperor business; “No good deed goes unpunished”….Caesar Augustus (him again) had established the port of Ravenna in the first century B.C. as the home for the Roman fleet. By the fourth century A.D., with the barbarians carrying off half the Roman forum in a fire sale, the capital had been moved first to Milan, and then to this port because Ravenna was surrounded by swamps and marshes, which offered protection from the invading hordes, of which there were plenty around at the time.”
The conquest of Italy proceeded rapidly, although Odovacar held out in virtually impregnable Ravenna after Theodoric had seized the rest of the peninsula. Imperial naval forces blockaded Ravenna from the sea while Theodoric,s army kept it surrounded on land. Nevertheless, the siege lasted four years, and even then, Odovacar was strong enough to extract from Theodoric an agreement to divide the sovereignty of Italy. Theodoric honored the agreement for exactly ten days. On the ides of march, 493, he invited his co-regent to a palace banquet and assassinated him.
”The truth is, almost nobody got out of this particular story by natural causes. Poor old Nepos was murdered by his own servants, probably in the pay of Glycerius, on April 25, 480 A.D. Odoacer rushed in to fill the political vacuum in Dalmatia, repaying Glycerius by appointing him Archbishop of Milan. Odoacer then settled down to run his little empire, but he never made the mistake of declaring himself Western Emperor.Still, Emperor or not, it was the Dalmatian land grab which attracted the suspicions of the new Byzantium Emperor, Zeno (above), who, being Emperor, was suspicious of anybody as ambitious as himself. So he offered a pile of gold to the King of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric, if he would cut Odoacer down to size.Theodoric laid siege to Ravenna for three long, bloody years. Finally, with both armies suffering from hunger and plague, Theodoric offered Odoacer a truce, which Odoacer agreed to. However, at the celebratory banquet on February the second, 493 A.D., Odoacer said something offensive and without warning Theodoric fell on Odoacer and with his bare hands strangled him to death. The repetition of the stupity and violence is a bit depressing, I agree.”
Adieu! Adieu! yon silent evening star,
The night’s ambassador, cloth gleam afar,
And bid the shepherd bring his flocks to fold.
Perchance before our island seas of gold
Are garnered by the reapers into sheaves,
Perchance before I see the Autumn leaves,
I may behold thy city; and lay down
Low at thy feet the poet’s laurel crown.
Adieu! Adieu! yon silver lamp, the moon,
Which turns our midnight into perfect noon,
Doth surely light thy towers, guarding well
Where Dante sleeps, where Byron loved to dwell.
After this unsavory beginning, Theodoric ruled Italy as a remarkably benevolent despot for for thirty-three years, providing the longest period of peace and prosperity the country had known for centuries. His early training at the court of Constantinople had imbued him with a respect for Roman law and administration. He sought out competent men for high offices, fostered literature and learning, and devoted himself to restoring the buildings, roads, mines, fisheries, agriculture and commerce of Italy. In religion he displayed a rare tolerance toward his Catholic subjects, as well as toward pagans and Jews. And he indulged himself in the passion of kings: building. Palaces, baths, churches, and theatres arose in Rome, Ravenna, Verona, and many smaller cities.
Throughout his long reign Theodoric maintained a dutiful courtesy toward the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, who sovereignty he recognized. Although he styled himself ”king” , he was not called ”King of the Goths” , or Germans, or Romans, but simply ”Flavius Theodericus rex”. The combination of Roman ”Flavius” with the barbarian ”Theodoric” expresses the dual nature of his reign. he used the titles Augustus and triumphator , but not Ceasar of imperator. His influence extended far beyond the boundaries of Italy; at time he was the recognized leader of the West. But he accepted his legal inferiority to the legitimate emperor and was content with the official position, as far as Constantinople was concerned, of Master of the Soldiers for Italy. Thus did the most formidable of the barbarian kings strive to preserve the Roman Empire.
And Naples hath outlived her dream of pain.
And mocks her tyrant! Venice lives again,
New risen from the waters! and the cry
Of Light and Truth, of Love and Liberty,
Is heard in lordly Genoa, and where
The marble spires of Milan wound the air,
Rings from the Alps to the Sicilian shore,
And Dante’s dream is now a dream no more.
But thou, Ravenna, better loved than all,
Thy ruined palaces are but a pall
That hides thy fallen greatness! and thy name
Burns like a grey and flickering candle-flame
Beneath the noonday splendour of the sun
Of new Italia! for the night is done,
The night of dark oppression, and the day
Hath dawned in passionate splendour: far away
The Austrian hounds are hunted from the land,
Beyond those ice-crowned citadels which stand
Girdling the plain of royal Lombardy,
From the far West unto the Eastern sea.