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Ravenna, A Study by Edward Hutton

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My intention in writing this book has been to demonstrate the unique
importance of Ravenna in the history of Italy and of Europe, especially
during the Dark Age from the time of Alaric's first descent into the
Cisalpine plain to the coming of Charlemagne. That importance, as it seems
to me, has been wholly or almost wholly misunderstood, and certainly, as I
understand it, has never been explained. In this book, which is offered to
the public not without a keen sense of its inadequacy, I have tried to show
in as clear a manner as was at my command, what Ravenna really was in the
political geography of the empire, and to explain the part that position
allowed her to play in the great tragedy of the decline and fall of the
Roman administration. If I have succeeded in this I am amply repaid for all
the labour the book has cost me.

The principal sources, both ancient and modern, which I have consulted in
the preparation of this volume have been cited, but I must here acknowledge
the special debt I owe to the late Dr. Hodgkin, to Professor Diehl, to
Dr. Corrado Ricci, and to the many contributors to the various Italian
Bollettini which I have ransacked.


_March_ 1913.






IV. THE RETREAT UPON RAVENNA Honorius and Galla Placidia



VII. THE RECONQUEST Vitiges, Belisarius, Totila, Narses

VIII. MODICA QUIES The Pragmatic Sanction and the Settlement of Italy


X. THE PAPAL STATE Pepin and Charlemagne

Arcivescovado, S. Agata, S. Pietro Maggiore, S. Giovanni Evangelista, S.
Giovanni Battista, and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

S. Apollinare Nuovo, S. Spirito, S. Maria in Cosmedin, the Mausoleum of

XII. THE BYZANTINE CHURCHES S. Vitale and S. Apollinare in Classe






































THE CATHEDRAL (_Basilica Ursiana_)




















PLAN OF RAVENNA _see front end paper_

[Illustration: Colour Plate S. APOLLINARE NUOVO]





Upon the loneliest and most desolate shore of Italy, where the vast
monotony of the Emilian plain fades away at last, almost
imperceptibly, into the Adrian Sea, there stands, half abandoned in
that soundless place, and often wrapt in a white shroud of mist, a
city like a marvellous reliquary, richly wrought, as is meet,
beautiful with many fading colours, and encrusted with precious
stones: its name is Ravenna.

It stands there laden with the mysterious centuries as with half
barbaric jewels, weighed down with the ornaments of Byzantium, rigid,
hieratic, constrained; and however you come to it, whether from Rimini
by the lost and forgotten towns of Classis and Caesarea, or from
Ferrara through all the bitter desolation of Comacchio, or across the
endless marsh from Bologna or Faenza, its wide and empty horizons, its
astonishing silence, and the difficulty of every approach will seem to
you but a fitting environment for a place so solitary and so

For this city of mute and closed churches, where imperishable mosaics
glisten in the awful damp, and beautiful pillars of most precious
marbles gleam through a humid mist, of mausoleums empty but
indestructible, of tottering _campanili_, of sumptuous splendour and
incredible decay, is the sepulchre of the great civilisation which
Christianity failed to save alive, but to which we owe everything and
out of which we are come; the only monument that remains to us of
those confused and half barbaric centuries which lie between Antiquity
and the Middle Age.

Mysteriously secured by nature and doubly so after the failure of the
Roman administration, Ravenna was the death-bed of the empire and its
tomb. To her the emperor Honorius fled from Milan in the first years
of the fifth century; within her walls Odoacer dethroned the last
emperor of the West, founded a kingdom, and was in his turn supplanted
by Theodoric the Ostrogoth. It was from her almost impregnable
isolation that the attempt was made by Byzantium--it seemed and
perhaps it was our only hope--to reconquer Italy and the West for
civilisation; while her fall before the appalling Lombard onset in the
eighth century brought Pepin into Italy in 754, to lay the foundation
of a new Christendom, to establish the temporal power of the papacy,
and to prophesy of the resurrection of the empire, of the unity of

But though it is as the imperishable monument of those tragic
centuries that we rightly look upon Ravenna: before the empire was
founded she was already famous. It was from her silence that Caesar
emerged to cross the Rubicon and all unknowing to found what, when all
is said, was the most beneficent, as it was the most universal,
government that Europe has ever known. In the first years of that
government Ravenna became, and through the four hundred years of its
unhampered life she remained, one of its greatest bulwarks. While upon
its failure, as I have said, she suddenly assumed a position which for
some three hundred and fifty years was unique not only in Italy but in
Europe. And when with the re-establishment of an universal government
her importance declined and at length passed away, she yet lived on in
the minds and the memory of men as something fabulous and still,
curiously enough, as a refuge, the refuge of the great poet of the new
age; so that to-day, beside the empty tombs of Galla Placidia and
Theodoric, there stands the great sarcophagus which holds the dust of
Dante Alighieri.

We may well ask how it was that a city so solitary, so inaccessible,
and so remote should have played so great a part in the history of
Europe. It is to answer this question that I have set myself to write
this book, which is rather an essay _in memoriam_ of her greatness,
her beauty, and her forlorn hope, than a history properly so called of
Ravenna. But if we are to come to any real understanding of what she
stood for, of what she meant to us once upon a time, we must first of
all decide for ourselves what was the fundamental reason of her great
renown. I shall maintain in this book that the cause of her greatness,
of her opportunity for greatness, was always the same, namely, her
geographical position in relation to the peninsula of Italy, the
Cisalpine plain, and the sea. Let us then consider these things.

Italy, the country we know as Italy, properly understood, is
fundamentally divided into two absolutely different parts by a great
range of mountains, the Apennines, which stretches roughly from sea to
sea, from Genoa almost but not quite to Rimini.

The country which lies to the south of that line of mountains is Italy
proper, and it consists as we know of a long narrow mountainous
peninsula, while its history throughout antiquity may be said to be
altogether Roman.

What lies to the north of the Apennines is not Italy at all, but
Cisalpine Gaul.

In its nature this country is altogether continental. It consists for
the most part of a vast plain divided from west to east by a great
river, the Po, and everywhere it is watered and nourished by its two
hundred tributaries.

Shut off as it is on the south from Italy proper by the Apennines,
this plain is defended from Gaul and the Germanics, on the west and
the north, by the mightiest mountains in Europe, the Alps, which here
enclose it in a vast concave rampart that stretches from the
Mediterranean to the Adriatic. On the east it is contained by the sea.

[Illustration: Sketch Map of northern Italy]

The history of this vast country before the Roman Conquest is, as is
history everywhere in the West before that event, vague and obscure.
But this at least may be said: it was first in the occupation of the
Etruscans, who in time were turned out, destroyed, or enslaved by the
Gauls, those invaders who crossed the Alps from the west and who
during nearly two hundred years, continually, though never with an
enduring success, invaded Italy, and in 388 B.C. actually captured the
City. Rome, however, had by the year 223 B.C. succeeded in planting
her fortresses at Placentia and Cremona and in fortifying Mutina
(Modena), when suddenly in 218 B.C. Hannibal unexpectedly descended
into the Cisalpine plain and destroyed all she had achieved. With his
defeat, however, the conquest of Cisalpine Gaul was undertaken anew,
and at some time after 183 B.C.--we do not know exactly when--the
whole of this vast lowland country passed into Roman administration,
to become the chief province of Caesar's great triple command, and one
of the most valuable parts of the empire.

What, then, is the relation of this vast lowland country between the
Alps and the Apennines to Italy proper? It stands as it has always
stood to her as a great defence. For if, as we must, we consider Italy
as the shrine, the sanctuary, and the citadel of Europe, a place apart
and separate--and because of this she has been able to do her work
both secular and religious--what has secured her but Cisalpine Gaul?
The valley of the Po, all this vast plain, appears in history as the
cockpit of Europe, the battlefield of the Celt, the Phoenician, the
Latin, and the Teuton, of Catholic and Arian, strewn with victories,
littered with defeats, the theatre of those great wars which have
built up Europe and the modern world. If the Gauls had not been broken
by the plain, they would perhaps have overwhelmed Italy and Rome; if
Hannibal had found there enemies instead of friends, the Oriental
would not so nearly have overthrown Europe. It broke the Gothic
invasion, Attila never crossed it, it absorbed the worst of the
appalling Lombard flood; Italy remains to us because of it.

Now since Cisalpine Gaul thus secured Italy, the entry from the one to
the other, the road between them must always have been of an immense
importance. That entry and that road, whenever they were in dispute,
Ravenna commanded, and a good half of her importance lies in this.

I say whenever they were in dispute: in time of peace that road and
that entry were not in the keeping of Ravenna but of Rimini.

A study of the map will show us that though the Apennines shut off
Italy proper from Cisalpine Gaul along a line roughly from Genoa to
Rimini, actually that difficult and barren range just fails to reach
the Adriatic as it curves southward to divide the peninsula in its
entire length into two not unequal parts. This failure of the
mountains quite to reach the sea leaves at this corner a narrow strip
of lowland, of marshy plain in fact, between them. Therefore the
Romans, though they were compelled to cross the Apennines, for Rome
lay upon their western side, were able to do so where they chose and
not of necessity to make the difficult passage at a crucial point.

[Illustration: Sketch Map of Ravenna region]

The road they planned and laid out, the Flaminian Way, the great north
road of the Romans, was built by Caius Flaminius the Censor about 220
B.C.[1], that is to say, immediately after the first subjection of the
Gauls south of the Po which had been largely his achievement, and for
military and political business which that achievement entailed. This
road ran from Rome directly to Ariminum (Rimini) and it crossed the
Apennines near the modern Scheggia and by the great pass of the

[Footnote 1: It is, of course, certain that a road was in existence
long before; but not as a constructed, permanent, and military Way.]

[Footnote 2: The Furlo was to be held in the time of Aurelius Victor,
if not of Vespasian, by the fortress of Petra Pertusa.]

The first act of the Romans after the defeat of Hannibal was the
re-establishment of their fortresses at Placentia, Cremona, and Mutina
(Modena), the second was the construction of a great highway which
connected Placentia through Mutina with the Via Flaminia at Rimini.
This was the work of the Consul Aemilius Lepidus in 187 B.C. and the
road still bears his name.

It is obvious then that the command of the way from Italy into
Cisalpine Gaul, or _vice versa_, lay in the hands of Rimini, and it is
significant that the political boundary between them was here marked
by a little river, the Rubicon, a few miles to the north of that city.
The command which Rimini thus held was purely political; it passed
from her to Ravenna automatically whenever that entry was threatened.

The answer is very simple: because Rimini could not easily be
defended, while Ravenna was impregnable.

Ravenna stood from fifteen to eighteen miles north and east of the
Aemilian Way and some thirty-one miles north and a little west of
Rimini. Its extraordinary situation was almost unique in antiquity and
is only matched by one city of later times--Venice. It was built as
Venice is literally upon the waters. Strabo thus describes it:
"Situated in the marshes is the great Ravenna, built entirely on
piles, and traversed by canals which you cross by bridges or
ferry-boats. At the full tides it is washed by a considerable quantity
of sea water, as well as by the river, and thus the sewage is carried
off and the air purified; in fact, the district is considered so
salubrious that the (Roman) governors have selected it as a spot in
which to bring up and exercise the gladiators. It is a remarkable
peculiarity of this place that, though situated in the midst of a
marsh, the air is perfectly innocuous."[1]

[Footnote 1: Strabo, v. i. 7, tells us Altinum was similarly

[Illustration: Sketch Map or Ravenna region in more detail]

Ravenna must always have been impregnable to any save a modern army,
so long as it was able to hold the road in and out and was not taken
from the sea. The one account we have of an attack upon it before the
fall of the empire is given us by Appian and recounts a raid from the
sea. It is but an incident in the civil wars of Marius and Sulla when
Ravenna, we learn, was occupied for the latter by Metellus his
lieutenant. In the year 82 B.C., says Appian, "Sulla overcame a
detachment of his enemies near Saturnia, and Metellus sailed round
toward Ravenna and took possession of the level wheat-growing country
of Uritanus."

This impregnable city, the most southern of Cisalpine Gaul,
immediately commanded the pass between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy
directly that pass was threatened, and to this I say was due a good
half of its fame. The rest must be equally divided between the fact
that the city was impregnable, and therefore a secure refuge or _point
d'appui_, and its situation upon the sea.

Strabo in his account of Ravenna, which I have quoted above,
emphasises the fact rather of its situation among the marshes than of
its position with regard to the sea. This is perhaps natural. The
society to which he belonged (though indeed he was of Greek descent)
loathed and feared the sea with an unappeasable horror. No journey was
too long to make if thereby the sea passage might be avoided, no road
too rough and rude if to take it was to escape the unstable winds and
waters. That too was a part of Ravenna's strength. She was as much a
city of the sea as Venice is; but of what a sea?

The Adriatic, upon whose western shore she stood at the gate of Italy
and Cisalpine Gaul, was--and this partly because of the Roman horror
of the sea--the fault between Greek and Latin, East and West. To this
great fact she owes much of her later splendour, much of her unique
importance in those centuries we call the Dark Age.

Even to-day as one stands upon the height of the republic of S. Marino
and catches, faintly at dawn, the sunlight upon the Dalmatian hills,
one instinctively feels it is the Orient one sees.

This, then, is the cause of the greatness, of the opportunity for
greatness, of Ravenna: her geographical position in regard to the
peninsula of Italy, the Cisalpine plain, and the sea. Each of these
exalt her in turn and all together give her the unique and almost
fabulous position she holds in the history of Europe.

Because she held the gateway between Italy and the Cisalpine plain,
Caesar repaired to her when he was treating with the Senate for the
consulship, and from her he set out to possess himself of all that
great government.

Because she was impregnable, and held both the plain where the enemy
must be met and the peninsula with Rome within it, Honorius retreated
to her from Milan when Alaric crossed the Alps.

Because she was set upon the sea, and that sea was the fault between
East and West, and because she held the key as it were of all Italy
and through Italy of the West, Justinian there established his
government when the great attempt was made by Byzantium to reconquer
us from the barbarian.

"_Ravenna Felix_" we read on many an old coin of that time, and
whatever we may think of that title or prophecy, which indeed might
seem never to have come true for her, this at least we must
acknowledge, that she was happy in her situation which offered such
opportunities for greatness and so certain an immortality.



When we first come upon Ravenna in the pages of Strabo, its origin is
already obscured; but this at least seems certain, that it was never a
Gaulish city. Strabo tells us that "Ravenna is reputed to have been
founded by Thessalians, who, not being able to sustain the violence of
the Tyrrheni, welcomed into their city some of the Umbri who still
possess it, while they themselves returned home."[1] The Thessalians
were probably Pelasgi, but apart from that Strabo's statement would
seem to be reasonably accurate. At any rate he continually repeats it,
for he goes on to tell us that "Ariminum (Rimini), like Ravenna, is an
ancient colony of the Umbri, but both of them received also Roman
colonies." Again, in the same book of his Geography, he tells us: "The
Umbri lie between the country of the Sabini and the Tyrrheni, but
extend beyond the mountains as far as Ariminum and Ravenna." And again
he says: "Umbria lies along the eastern boundary of Tyrrhenia and
beginning from the Apennines, or rather beyond these mountains
(extends) as far as the Adriatic. For commencing from Ravenna the
Umbri inhabit the neighbouring country ... all allow that Umbria
extends as far as Ravenna, as the inhabitants are Umbri."

[Footnote 1: Strabo _ut supra_.]

We may take it, then, that when Rome annexed Ravenna it was a city of
the Umbri, and we may dismiss Pliny's statement[1] that it was a
Sabine city altogether for it is both improbable and inexplicable.

[Footnote 1: Pliny, III. 15; v. 20.]

When Ravenna received a Roman colony we do not know, for though Strabo
states this fact, he does not tell us when it occurred and we have no
other means of knowing. All we can be reasonably sure of is that this
Umbrian city on the verge of Cisalpine Gaul, hemmed in on the west by
the Lingonian Gauls, received a Roman colony certainly not before 268
B.C. when Ariminum was occupied. The name of Ravenna, however, does
not occur in history till a late period of the Roman republic, and the
first incident in which we hear of Ravenna having any part occurs in
82 B.C., when, as I have already related, Metellus, the lieutenant of
Sulla, landed there or thereabouts from his ships and seems to have
made the city, already a place of some importance, the centre of his

Ravenna really entered history--and surely gloriously enough--when
Julius Caesar chose it, the last great town of his command towards
Italy, as his headquarters while he treated with the senate before he
crossed the Rubicon.

"Caesar," says Appian, "had lately recrossed the straits from Britain,
and, after traversing the Gallic country along the Rhine, had passed
the Alps with 5000 foot and 300 horse, and arrived at Ravenna which
was contiguous to Italy and the last town in his government." This was
in 50 B.C. The state of affairs which that act was meant to elucidate
may be briefly stated as follows.

The Roman republic, still in the midst of the political, social, and
economic revolution whose first phase was the awful civil wars of
Marius and Sulla, had long been at the mercy of Pompey the
opportunist, Crassus the plutocrat, and Julius Caesar--the first
Triumvirate. Crassus had always leaned towards Caesar and the
_entente_ between Caesar and Pompey had been strengthened by the
marriage of the latter with Caesar's daughter Julia, who was to die in
the midst of the crisis 54 B.C. In 58 B.C., the year following this
marriage, Caesar went to take up his great command in the Gauls, but
Pompey remained in Rome, where every day his influence and popularity
were failing while the astonishing successes of Caesar made him the
idol of the populace. In 55 B.C. Pompey was consul for the second time
with Crassus. He received as his provinces the two Spains, but he
governed them by his legates and remained in the neighbourhood of the
City. Crassus received the province of Syria, and the appalling
disasters of the Parthian war, in which he most miserably lost life
and honour, seemed to give Pompey the opportunity for which he had
long been waiting. He encouraged the growing civil discord which was
tearing the state in pieces, and with such success that the senate was
compelled to call for his assistance. In 52 B.C. he became sole
consul, restored order, and placed himself at the head of the
aristocratic party which he had deserted to become the great popular
hero when he was consul with Crassus in 70 B.C.

Now Caesar had long watched the astonishing actions of Pompey, and had
no intention of leaving the fate of the republic to him and the
aristocracy. He does not seem to have wished to break altogether with
Pompey, but only to hold him in check. At his meeting with Pompey at
Luca (Lucca) in 56 B.C. he had been promised the consulship for 48
B.C. when his governorship came to an end, and he now determined to
insure the fulfilment of this promise which would place him upon a
legal equality with his rival. For the rest he knew that he was as
superior to Pompey as a statesman as he was as a soldier, and he did
not apparently anticipate any difficulty in out-manoeuvring him in the
senate and in the forum. Caesar, then, claimed no more than an
equality with Pompey and the fulfilment of his promise; but these he
determined to have. All through the winter of 52-51 B.C. he was
arming. Well served by his friends, among whom were Mark Antony and
Curio the tribunes, in 50 B.C., "having gone the circuit for the
administration of justice," as Suetonius tells us, "he made a halt at
Ravenna resolved to have recourse to arms if the senate should proceed
to extremity against the tribunes of the people, who had espoused his
cause." But first he determined for many reasons to send ambassadors
to Rome, to request the fulfilment of the promise made to him at Luca.
Pompey, who was not yet at open enmity with him, determined, although
he had made the promise, neither to aid him by his influence nor
openly to oppose him on this occasion. But the consuls Lentulus and
Marcellus, who had always been his enemies, resolved to use all means
in their power to prevent him gaining his object.

At this juncture Caius Curio, tribune of the people, came to Caesar in
Ravenna. Curio had made many energetic struggles in behalf of the
republic and Caesar's cause; but at last, when he perceived that all
his efforts were in vain, he fled through fear of his enemies and
Caesar's to Ravenna and told Caesar all that had taken place; and,
seeing that war was openly being prepared against Caesar, advised him
to bring up his army and to rescue the republic.

Now Caesar was not ignorant of the real state of affairs, but he was
perhaps not yet ready to act, or he hoped in fact to save the ancient
state; at any rate, he gave it as his opinion that particular regard
should be had to the tranquillity of the republic, lest any one should
assert that he was the originator of civil war. Therefore he sent
again to his friends, making through them this very moderate request,
that two legions and the provinces of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum
should be left him. No one could openly quarrel with such a reasonable
demand and the patience with which it was more than once put forward;
for when Caesar could not obtain a favourable answer from the consuls,
he wrote a letter to the senate in which he briefly recounted his
exploits and public services, and entreated that he should not be
deprived of the favour of the people who had ordered that he, although
absent, should be considered a candidate for the consulship at the
next election. He stated also that he would disband his army if the
senate and the Roman people desired it, provided that Pompey would do
the same. But he stated also that, as long as Pompey retained the
command of his army, there could be no just reason why Caesar should
disband his troops and expose himself to the power of his enemies.

This was Caesar's third offer to his opponents. He entrusted the
letter to Curio, who travelled one hundred and sixty miles in three
days and reached the City early in January. He did not, however,
deliver the letter until there was a crowded meeting of the senate and
the tribunes of the people were present; for he was afraid lest, if he
gave it up without the utmost publicity, the consuls would suppress
it. A sort of debate followed the reading of the letter, but when
Scipio, Pompey's mouthpiece, spoke and declared, among other things,
that Pompey was resolved to take up the cause of the senate now or
never, and that he would drop it if a decision were delayed, the
majority, overawed, decreed that Caesar should "at a definite and not
distant day give up Transalpine Gaul to Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus,
and Cisalpine Gaul to Marcus Servilius Nonianus and should dismiss his
army, failing which he should be esteemed a traitor. When the
tribunes, of Caesar's party, made use of their right of veto against
this resolution not only were they, as they at least asserted,
threatened in the senate house itself by the swords of Pompeian
soldiers and forced, in order to save their lives, to flee in slaves'
clothing from the capital, but the senate, now sufficiently overawed,
treated their interference as an attempt at revolution, declared the
country in danger, and in the usual form called the burgesses to take
up arms, and all the magistrates faithful to the constitution to place
themselves at the head of the armed."

That was on January 7th. Five days later Caesar was on his way at the
head of his troops to invade Italy and, without knowing it, to found
the empire, that universal government out of which we are come.

It was with one legion[1] that Caesar undertook his great adventure.
That legion, the Thirteenth, had been stationed near Tergeste
(Trieste), but at Caesar's orders it had marched into Ravenna in the
first days of January. Upon the fateful twelfth, with some secrecy,
while Caesar himself attended a public spectacle, examined the model
of a fencing school, which he proposed to build, and, as usual, sat
down to table with a numerous party of friends,[2] the first companies
of this legion left Ravenna by the Rimini gate, to be followed after
sunset by its great commander; still with all possible secrecy it
seems, for mules were put to his carriage, a hired one, at a mill
outside Ravenna and he went almost alone.

[Footnote 1: Plutarch says "Caesar had not then with him more than 300
horse and 5000 foot. The rest of his forces were left on the other
side of the Alps."]

[Footnote 2: So Suetonius; but Plutarch says "As for himself, he spent
the day at a public show of gladiators, and a little before evening
bathed, and then went into the apartment, where he entertained
company. When it was growing dark, he left the company, having desired
them to make merry till his return, which they would not have long to
wait for."]

The road he travelled was not the great way to Rimini, but a by-way
across the marshes, and it would seem to have been in a wretched
state. At any rate Caesar lost his way, the lights of his little
company were extinguished, his carriage had to be abandoned, and it
was only after wandering about for a long time that, with the help of
a peasant whom he found towards daybreak, he was able to get on, afoot
now, and at last to reach the great highway. That night must have
tried even the iron nerves and dauntless courage of the greatest
soldier of all time.

Caesar came up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, the sacred
boundary of Italy and Cisalpine Gaul in the narrow pass between the
mountains and the sea. "There," says Suetonius, whose account I have
followed, "he halted for a while revolving in his mind the importance
of the step he was about to take. At last turning to those about him,
he said: 'We may still retreat; but if we pass this little bridge
nothing is left us but to fight it out in arms.'"

Now while he was thus hesitating, staggered, even he, by the greatness
of what he would attempt, doubtless resolving in silence arguments for
and against it, and, if we may believe Plutarch, "many times changing
his opinion," the following strange incident is said to have happened.

A person, remarkable, says Suetonius, for his noble aspect and
graceful mien, appeared close at hand sitting by the wayside playing
upon a pipe. When not only the shepherds herding their flocks
thereabout, but a number of the legionaries also gathered round to
hear this fellow play, and there happened to be among them some
trumpeters, the piper suddenly snatched a trumpet from one of these,
ran to the river, and, sounding the advance with a piercing blast,
crossed to the other side. Upon which Caesar on a sudden impulse
exclaimed: "Let us go whither the omens of the gods and the iniquity
of our enemies call us. The die is cast." And immediately at the head
of his troops he crossed the river and found awaiting him the tribunes
of the people who, having fled from Rome, had come to meet him. There
in their presence he called upon the troops to pledge him their
fidelity, with tears in his eyes, Suetonius assures us, and his
garments rent from his bosom. And when he had received their oath he
set out, and with his legion marched so fast the rest of the way that
he reached Ariminum before morning and took it.

The fall of Ariminum was but a presage, as we know, of Caesar's
triumph. In three months he was master of all Italy. From Ravenna he
had emerged to seize the lordship of the world, and out of a misery of
chaos to create Europe.



That great revolutionary act of Julius Caesar's may be said to have
made manifest, and for the first time, the unique position of Ravenna
in relation to Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. In the years which followed,
that position remained always unchanged, and is, indeed, more
prominent than ever in the civil wars between Antony and Octavianus
which followed Caesar's murder; but with the establishment of the
empire by Octavianus and the universal peace, the _pax romana_, which
it ensured, this position of Ravenna in relation to Italy and to
Cisalpine Gaul sank into insignificance in comparison with her other
unique advantage, her position upon the sea. For Octavianus, as we
shall see, established her as the great naval port of Italy upon the
east, and as such she chiefly appears to us during all the years of
the unhampered government of the empire.

In the civil wars between Antony and Octavianus, however, she appears
still as the key to the narrow pass between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul.
Let us consider this for a moment.

Antony, as we know, after that great scene in the senate house when
the supporters of Pompey and the aristocrats had succeeded in denying
Caesar everything, had fled to Caesar at Ravenna. In the war which
followed he had been Caesar's chief lieutenant and friend. At the
crucial battle of Pharsalus in 48 B.C. he had commanded, and with
great success, the left wing. In 44 B.C. he had been consul with
Caesar and had then offered him the crown at the festival of the
_Lupercalia_. After Caesar's murder he had attempted, and not without
a sort of right, to succeed to his power. It was he who pronounced the
speech over Caesar's body and read his will to the people. It was he
who obtained Caesar's papers and his private property. It cannot then
have been without resentment and surprise that he found presently a
rival in the young Octavianus, the great-nephew and adopted son of the
dictator, who joined the senate with the express purpose of crushing

Now Antony, perhaps remembering his master, had obtained from the
senate the promise of Cisalpine Gaul, then in the hands of Decimus
Brutus, who, encouraged by Octavianus, refused to surrender it to him.
Antony proceeded to Ariminum (Rimini), but Octavianus seized Ravenna
and supplied it both with stores and money.[1] Antony was beaten and
compelled to retreat across the Alps. In these acts we may see which
of the two rivals understood the reality of things, and from this
alone we might perhaps foresee the victor.

[Footnote 1: Appian, III. 42.]

That was in 44 B.C. A reconciliation between the rivals followed and
the government was vested in them and in Lepidus under the title of
_Triumviri Reipublicae Constituendae_ for five years. In 42 B.C.
Brutus and Cassius and the aristocratic party were crushed by Antony
and Octavianus at Philippi; and Antony received Asia as his share of
the Roman world. Proceeding to his government in Cilicia, Antony met
Cleopatra and followed her to Egypt. Meanwhile Fulvia, his wife, and
L. Antonius, his brother, made war upon Octavianus in Italy, for they
like Antony hoped for the lordship of the world. In the war which
followed, Ravenna played a considerable part. In 41 B.C., for
instance, the year in which the war opened, the Antonine party secured
themselves in Ravenna, not only because of its strategical importance
in regard to Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, but also because as a seaport
it allowed of their communication with Antony in Egypt from whom they
expected support. All this exposed and demonstrated more and more the
importance of Ravenna, and we may be sure that the wise and astute
Octavianus marked it.

But it was the war with Sextus Pompeius which clearly showed what the
future of Ravenna was to be. In that affair we find Ravenna already
established as a naval port apparently subsidiary, on that coast, to
Brundusium, as Misenum was upon the Tyrrhene sea to Puteoli; and there
Octavianus built ships.

It was not, however, till Octavianus, his enemies one and all disposed
of, had made himself emperor at last, that, on the establishment and
general regulation of his great government, he chose Ravenna as the
major naval port of Italy upon the east, even as he chose Misenum upon
the west.

Octavianus had learned two things, certainly, in the wars he had
fought to establish himself in the monarchy his great-uncle had
founded. He had learned the necessity and the value of sea power, and
he had understood the unique position of Ravenna in relation to the
East and the West. That he had been able to appreciate both these
facts is enough to mark him as the great man he was.

Julius Caesar, for all his mighty grasp of reality, had not perceived
the enormous value, nay the necessity, of sea power, and because of
this failure his career had been twice nearly cut short; at Ilerda,
where the naval victory of Decimus Brutus over the Massiliots alone
saved him; and at Alexandria. Both the liberators and Antony had
possessed ships; but both had failed to use them with any real effect.
It was Sextus Pompeius who forced Octavianus to turn to the sea, and
when Octavianus became Augustus he did not forget the lesson. Sole
master of the Mediterranean and of all its ships of war, he understood
at once how great a support sea power offered him and his principate.
Nor was the empire, while it was vigorous, though always fearful of
and averse from the sea, ever to forget the power that lay in that

Thus it was that among the first acts of Augustus was the
establishment of two fleets, as we might say, "in being" in the
Mediterranean; the fleet of Misenum and the fleet of Ravenna; the
latter with stations probably at Aquileia, Brundusium, the Piraeus,
and probably elsewhere.

The fleet of Ravenna was, certainly after A.D. 70, probably about A.D.
127, entitled _Praetoria_. The origin of this title is unknown, but it
was also borne by the fleet of Misenum and it distinguishes the
Italian from the later Provincial fleets, the former being in closer
relation to the emperor, just as the Praetorian cohorts were
distinguished from the legions.

The emperor was, of course, head of all the fleets, which were, each
of them, commanded by a prefect and sub-prefect appointed by him; and
if we may judge from the recorded promotions we have, it would seem
that the Misenate prefect ranked before the Ravennate and both before
the Provincial. But in the general military system the navy stood
lowest in respect of pay and position. The fleets were manned by freed
men and foreigners who could not obtain citizenship until after
twenty-six years' service. We find Claudius employing the marines of
the _Classis Ravennas_ to drain lake Fucinus, and it was probably
Vespasian who formed the Legion II. _Adjutrix_ from the Ravennate,
even as Nero had formed Legion I. _Adjutrix_ from the Misenate

The Ravenna that Augustus thus chose to be the great base and port of
his fleet in the eastern sea was, as we have seen, a place built upon
piles in the midst of the marshes, impregnable from the land, and,
because impregnable, able, whenever it was in dispute, to command the
narrow pass between the mountains and the sea that was the gate of
Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. Such a place, situated as it was upon the
western shore of that sea which was the fault between East and West,
was eminently suitable for the great purpose of the emperor. Pliny[1]
indeed would seem to tell us that from time immemorial Ravenna had
possessed a small port; but such a place, well enough for the small
traders of those days, could not serve usefully the requirements of a
great fleet. Therefore the first act of Augustus, when he had chosen
Ravenna as his naval base, was the construction of a proper port and
harbour, and these came to be named, after the fleet they served and
accommodated, Classis. Classis was situated some two and a half miles
from the town of Ravenna to the east-south-east. We may perhaps have
some idea both of its situation and of its relation to Ravenna if we
say that it was to that city what the Porto di Lido is to Venice.

[Footnote 1: Pliny, iii. 20; cf. also Strabo, v. 7.]

It is very difficult, in looking upon Ravenna as we see it to-day, to
reconstruct it, even in the imagination, as it was when Augustus had
done with it. To begin with, the sea has retreated several miles from
the city, which is no longer within sight of it, while all that is
left of Classis, which is also now out of sight of the sea, is a
single decayed and deserted church, S. Apollinare in Classe. Strabo,
however, who wrote his _Geography_ a few years after Augustus had
chosen Ravenna for his port upon the Adriatic, has left us a
description both of it and the country in which it stood, from which
must be drawn any picture we would possess of so changed a place. He
speaks of it, as we have seen, as "a great city" situated in the
marshes, built entirely upon piles, and traversed by canals which were
everywhere crossed by bridges or ferry-boats. While at the full tide
he tells us it was swept by the sea and always by the river, and thus
the sewage was carried off and the air purified, and this so
thoroughly, that even before its establishment by Augustus the
district was considered so healthy that the Roman governors had chosen
it as a spot in which to train gladiators.[1] That river we know from
Pliny[2] was called the Bedesis; and the same writer tells us that
Augustus built a canal which brought the water of the Po to Ravenna.

[Footnote 1: Strabo, v. 7.]

[Footnote 2: Pliny, iii. 20.]

Tacitus in his _Annals_[1] merely tells us that Italy was guarded on
both sides by fleets at Misenum and Ravenna, and in his _Histories_[2]
speaks of these places as the well known naval stations without
stopping to describe them. While Suetonius,[3] though he mentions the
great achievement of Augustus, does not emphasise it and does not
attempt to tell us what these ports were like.

[Footnote 1: Tacitus, Ann. iv. 5.]

[Footnote 2: Tacitus, Hist. ii. 100; iii. 6, 40.]

[Footnote 3: Suetonius, _Augustus_.]

Perhaps the best description we have of Augustan Ravenna comes to us
from a writer who certainly never saw the port in its great Roman
days, but who probably followed a well established tradition in his
description of it. This is Jornandes, who was born about A.D. 500 and
was first a notary at the Ostrogothic court and later became a monk
and finally bishop of Crotona. In his _De Getarum Origins et Rebus
Gestis_ he thus describes Ravenna:

"This city (says he) between the marshes, the sea, and the Po is only
accessible on one side. Situated beside the Ionian Sea it is
surrounded and almost submerged by lagoons. On the east is the sea, on
the west it is defended by marshes across which there remains a narrow
passage, a kind of gate. The city is encircled on the north by a
branch of the Po, called the Fossa Asconis, and on the south by the Po
itself, which is called the Eridanus, and which is there known as the
King of Rivers. Augustus deepened its bed and made it larger; it
flowed quite through the city, and its mouth formed an excellent port
where once, as Dion reports [this passage of Dion Cassius is lost], a
fleet of 250 ships could be stationed in all security.... The city has
three names with which she glorifies herself and she is divided into
three parts to which they correspond; the first is Ravenna, the last
Classis, that in the midst is Caesarea between Ravenna and the sea.
Built on a sandy soil this quarter is easily approached and is
commodiously situated for trade and transport."

We thus have a picture of Ravenna as a triune city, consisting of
Ravenna proper, the port Classis, and the long suburb between them,
Caesarea, connected by a great causeway and everywhere watered by
canals, the greatest of which was the Fossa Augusta by which a part of
the waters of the Po were carried to Ravenna and thence to Classis and
the sea; a city very much, we may suppose, what we know Venice to be,
if we think of her in connection with the Riva, the great suburb of
the Marina, and the Porto di Lido. At Classis we must understand there
was room for a fleet of two hundred and fifty ships and accommodation
for arsenals, magazines, barracks, and so forth, while there is one
other thing we know of this port, and that from Pliny,[1] who tells us
that it had a Pharos like the famous one of Alexandria. "There is
another building (says he) that is highly celebrated, the tower that
was built by a king of Egypt on the island of Pharos at the entrance
to the harbour of Alexandria.... At present there are similar fires
lighted up in numerous places, Ostia and Ravenna for example. The only
danger is that when these fires are thus kept burning without
intermission they may be mistaken for stars."

[Footnote 1: Pliny xxx. vi. 18]

Such was the splendour of Ravenna in the time of Augustus. His
achievement so far as Ravenna was concerned was to understand her
importance not only in regard to Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, an
importance already discounted by the universal peace he had
established, but in regard to the sea. He turned Ravenna into a
first-class naval port and based his eastern fleet upon her; and this
was so wise an act that, so long as the empire remained strong and
unhampered, Ravenna appears as the great base of its sea power in the

In that long peace which Italy enjoyed under the empire we hear little
of Ravenna. We know Claudius built a great gate called Porta Aurea,
which was only destroyed in 1582; and we know that the great sea port
had one weakness, the scarcity of good water for drinking purposes.
Martial writes

"I'd rather at Ravenna have a cistern than a vine
Since I could sell my water there much better than my wine,"

and again:

"That landlord at Ravenna is plainly but a cheat
I paid for wine and water, but he served wine to me neat"[1]

[Footnote 1: Martial, _Fp_ iii. 56, 57. Trs Hodgkin]

This weakness would seem, however, to have been overcome by Trajan,
who built an aqueduct nearly twenty miles long, which Theodoric
restored, after the fall of the empire, in 524. This aqueduct, of
which some arches remain in the bed of the Bedesis (Ronco), seems to
have run, following the course of the river, from near Forli, where
there still remains a village called S. Maria in Acquedotto, to


The great city-port thus became one of the most important and
considerable of the cities of Italy, at a time when the whole of the
West was rapidly increasing in wealth and population, and especially
the old province of Cisapline Gaul, which had indeed become, during
the _pax romana_, the richest part of the new Italy. Always an
important military port it was often occupied by the emperors as their
headquarters from which to watch and to oppose the advance of their
enemies into Italy, and the possessor of it, for the reasons I have
set forth, was always in a commanding position. Thus in A.D. 193 it
was the surrender of Ravenna without resistance that gave the empire
to Septimius Severus, when, scarcely allowing himself time for sleep
or food, marching on foot and in complete armour, he crossed the Alps
at the head of his columns to punish the wretched Didius Julianus and
to avenge Pertinax. It was there in 238 that Pupienus was busy
assembling his army to oppose Maximin when he received the news of the
death of his enemy before Aquileia.

And because it was impregnable and secluded it was often chosen too as
a place of imprisonment for important prisoners.

It is true that we know very little, in detail, of the life of any
city other than Rome during those years of the great Peace in which we
see the empire change from a Pagan to a Christian state. Those
centuries which saw Christendom slowly emerge, in which Europe was
founded, still lack a modern historian, and the magnitude and
splendour of their achievement are too generally misconceived or
ignored. We are largely unaware still of what they were in themselves
and of what we owe to them. By reason of the miserable collapse of
Europe, of Christendom, in the sixteenth century and its appalling
results both in thought and in politics, we are led, too often by
prejudices, to regard those mighty years rather as the prelude to the
decline and fall of the empire than as the great and indestructible
foundations of all that is still worth having in the world.

For rightly understood those centuries gave us not only our culture,
our civilisation, and our Faith, but ensured them to us that they
should always endure. They established for ever the great lines upon
which our art was to develop, to change, and yet not to suffer
annihilation or barrenness. They established the supremacy of the
idea, so that it might always renew our lives, our culture, and our
polity, and that we might judge everything by it and fear neither
revolution, defeat, nor decay. They, and they alone, established us in
the secure possession of our own souls so that we alone in the world
might develop from within, to change but never to die, and to be--yes,
alone in the world--Christians.

The almost incredible strength and well being of those years must be
seized also. There was not a town in Italy and the West that did not
expand and increase in a fashion almost miraculous during that period.
It was then the rivers were embanked, the canals made, the great roads
planned and constructed, and our communications established for ever.
There was no industry that did not grow marvellously in strength,
there is not a class that did not increase in wealth and well-being
beyond our dreams of progress. There is scarcely anything that is
really fundamental in our lives that was not then created that it
might endure. It was then our religion, the soul of Europe, was born.

Christianity, the Faith, which, little by little, absorbed the empire,
till it became the energy and the cause of all that undying but
changeful principle of life and freedom which rightly understood is
Europe, is thought to have been brought first to Ravenna by S.
Apollinaris, a disciple as we are told of S. Peter, who made him her
first bishop. So at least his acts assert; and though little credence
may, I fear, be placed in them, that he was the first bishop of
Ravenna, and in the time of S. Peter, is not at variance with what we
know of that age, is attested by the traditions of the city, and is
supported by later authorities. S. Peter Chrysologus (_c_. 440), the
most famous of his successors, for instance, assures us of it. This
great churchman calls S. Apollinaris martyr, and in that there is
nothing strange, but he asserts that though he often spilt his blood
for the Faith, yet God preserved him a long time, not less than twenty
years, to his church, and that his persecution did not take away his

[Footnote 1: His relics lay for many years in the church dedicated in
his honour at Classis; but in 549 they were removed from their great
tomb and placed in a more secret spot in the same church. Cf.
Agnellus. _Liber Pontificalis Ecclesiae Ravennatis_ (Ed. Holder--Egger
in _Monumenta Germanicae Historica_) and S. Peter Chrysologus, Sermon
128 in Migne.]

The empire which it had taken more than a millenium to build, which
was the most noble and perhaps the most beneficient experiment in
government that has ever been made, was in obvious economic and
administrative decay by the middle of the fourth century. Christianity
perhaps was already undermining the servile state, which in its effort
of self-preservation adopted an economic system hopelessly at variance
with the facts of the situation; while the weakness of its frontiers
offered a military problem which the empire was unable to face.
Diocletian had attempted to solve it by dividing the empire, but the
division he made was rather racial that strategic, for under it the
two parts of the empire, East and West, met on the Danube. The eastern
part, by force of geography, was inclined to an Asiatic point of view
and to the neglect of the Danube; the western was by no means strong
enough either financially or militarily to hold that tremendous line.

We read, in the letters of S. Ambrose among others, of the decay of
the great cities of Cisalpine Gaul,[1] of the failure of agriculture
in that rich countryside, of the poverty and misery that were
everywhere falling upon that great state. It is possible that in the
general weakening of administrative power even the roads, the canals,
the whole system of communications were allowed to become less perfect
than they had been; everywhere there was a retreat. The frontiers were
no longer inviolate, and it is probable that in the general decay the
port of Classis, the city of Ravenna, suffered not less than their

[Footnote 1: See S. Ambrose, _Ep_. 39, written in 388, quoted by
Muratori, _Dissertazioni_, vol. i. 21. "De Bonomensi veniens Urbe, a
tergo Claternam, ipsam Bononiam, Mutinam, Regium derelinquebas; in
dextera erat Brixillum; a fronte occurrebat Placentia.... Te igitur
semirutarum Urbium cadavera, terrarumque sub eodem conspectu exposita
funera non te admonent...."]

Indeed already in 306 it is rather as a refuge than as a great and
active naval base that Ravenna appears to us, when Severus, destitute
of force, "retired or rather fled" thither from the pursuit of
Maximian. He flung himself into Ravenna because it was impregnable and
because he expected reinforcements from Illyricum and the East, but
though he held the sea with a powerful fleet he made no use of it, and
the emissaries of Maximian easily persuaded him to surrender. Already
perhaps, a century later, when Honorius retired from Milan on the
approach of Alaric and the first of those barbarian invasions which
broke up the decaying western empire had penetrated into Cisalpine
Gaul, the great works of Augustus and Trajan at Ravenna, the canals,
the mighty Fossa, and the port itself had fallen into a sort of decay
which the fifth century was to complete, till that marvellous city,
once the base of the eastern fleet and one of the great naval ports of
the world, became just a decaying citadel engulfed in the marshes,
impregnable it is true, but for barbarian reasons, lost in the fogs
and the miasma of her shallow and undredged lagoons.




When Honorius left Milan on the approach of Alaric he went to Ravenna.

Gibbon, whom every writer since has followed without question, tells
us, in one of his most scornful passages, that "the emperor Honorius
was distinguished, above his subjects, by the pre-eminence of fear, as
well as of rank. The pride and luxury in which he was educated had not
allowed him to suspect that there existed on the earth any power
presumptuous enough to invade the repose of the successor of Augustus.
The acts of flattery concealed the impending danger till Alaric
approached the palace of Milan. But when the sound of war had awakened
the young emperor, instead of flying to arms with the spirit, or even
the rashness, of his age, he eagerly listened to those timid
counsellors who proposed to convey his sacred person and his faithful
attendants to some secure and distant station in the provinces of
Gaul.... The recent danger to which the person of the emperor had been
exposed in the defenceless palace of Milan urged him to seek a retreat
in some inaccessible fortress of Italy, where he might securely remain
while the open country was covered by a deluge of barbarians."

No historian of Ravenna, and certainly no writer upon the fall of the
empire, has cared to understand what Ravenna was. Gibbon complains
that he lacks "a local antiquarian and a good topographical map;" yet
it is not so much the lack of local knowledge that leads him
unreservedly to censure Honorius for his retreat upon Ravenna, as the
fact that he has not perhaps really grasped what Ravenna was, what was
her relation to Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, and especially how she stood
to the sea, and what part that sea played in the geography and
strategy of the empire.

For my part I shall maintain that, whatever may be the truth as to the
private character of Honorius, which would indeed be difficult to
defend, he was wisely advised by those counsellors who conceived his
retreat from Milan to Ravenna; that this retreat was not a mere
flight, but a consummate and well thought out strategical and
political move, and that any other would have been for the worse and
would probably have involved the West in an utter destruction.

Cisalpine Gaul, at this crisis, as always both before and since, was
the great and proper defence of Italy; not the Alps nor the Apennines
but Cisalpine Gaul broke the barbarians, and, in so far as it could be
materially saved, saved Italy and our civilisation, of which Rome was
the soul. There Stilicho met Alaric and broke his first and worst
enthusiasm; there Leo the Great turned back Attila; there the fiercest
terror of the Lombard tide spent itself.

Now, as we have seen, Cisalpine Gaul, in its relation to Italy, was
best held and contained from Ravenna, which commanded, whenever it was
in danger, the narrow pass between them. Therefore the retreat of
Honorius upon Ravenna was a consummate strategical act, well advised
and such as we might expect from "the successor of Augustus." Its
results were momentous and entirely fortunate for Italy, and indeed,
when the truth about Ravenna is once grasped, any other move would
appear to have been craven and ridiculous.

But there is something more that is of an even greater importance.

The best hope of the West in its fight with the barbarian undoubtedly
lay in its own virility and arms, but it had the right to expect that
in such a fight it would not be unaided by the eastern empire and the
great civilisation whose capital was that New Rome upon the Bosphorus.
If it was to receive such assistance, it must receive it at Ravenna,
which held Cisalpine Gaul and was the gate of the eastern sea.

When Honorius then retreated upon Ravenna, he did so, not merely
because Ravenna was impregnable, though that of course weighed too
with his advisers, for the base of any virile and active defence must,
or should, be itself secure; but also because it held the great pass
and the great road into Italy, and as the eastern gate of the West
would receive and thrust forward whatever help and reinforcement the
empire in the East might care or be able to give.


That the defence which was made with Ravenna for its citadel was not
wholly victorious, that the attack which the eastern empire planned
and delivered from Ravenna, perhaps too late, was not completely
successful, were the results of many and various causes, but not of
any want of Judgment in the choice of Ravenna as their base. That base
was rightly and consummately chosen without hesitation and from the
first; and because it was chosen, the hope of the restoration never
quite passed away and seemed to have been realised at last when
Charlemagne, following Pepin into Italy, was crowned emperor in S.
Peter's Church on Christmas Day in the year 800.

It will readily be understood, then, that the most important and the
most interesting part of the history of Ravenna begins when Honorius
retreated upon her before the invasion of Alaric, and not only the
West, but Italy and Rome, the heart and soul of it, seemed about to be
in dispute.

But first amid all the loose thought and confusion of the last three
hundred years let us make sure of fundamentals.

I shall take for granted in this book that Rome accepted the Faith not
because the Roman mind was senile, but because it was mature; that the
failure of the empire is to be regretted; that the barbarians were
barbarians; that not from them but from the new and Christian
civilisation of the empire itself came the strength of the
restoration, the mighty achievements of the Middle Age, of the
Renaissance, of the Modern world. The barbarian, as I understand it,
did nothing. He came in naked and ashamed, without laws or
institutions. To some extent, though even in this he was a failure, he
destroyed; it was his one service. He came and he tried to learn; he
learnt to be a Christian. When the empire re-arose it was Roman not
barbarian, it was Christian not heathen, it was Catholic not
heretical. It owed the barbarian nothing. That it re-arose, and that
as a Roman and a Catholic state, is due largely to the fact that
Honorius retreated upon Ravenna.

If we could depend upon the dates in the Theodosian Code we should be
able to say that Honorius finally retreated upon Ravenna before
December 402;[1] unhappily the dates we find there must not be relied
upon with absolute confidence. We may take it that Alaric entered
Venetia in November 401, and that at the same time Radagaisus invaded
Rhaetia. Stilicho, Honorius' great general and the hero of the whole
defence, advanced against Radagaisus. Upon Easter Day in the following
year, however, he met Alaric at Pollentia and defeated him, but the
Gothic king was allowed to withdraw from that field with the greater
part of his cavalry entire and unbroken. Stilicho hoping to annihilate
him forced him to retreat, overtook him at Asta (Asti), but again
allowed him to escape and this time to retreat into Istria.

[Footnote 1: Cf. Hodgkin, _Italy and her Invaders_, vol. i. pt. 2, p.

In the summer of 403 Alaric again entered Italy and laid siege to
Verona; Stilicho, however, met him and defeated him, but again allowed
him to retreat. Well might Orosius, his contemporary, exclaim that
this king with his Goths, though often hemmed in, often defeated, was
always allowed to escape.

The battle of Verona was followed by a peace of two years duration.
But in 405 the other barbarian Radagaisus came down into Cisalpine
Gaul as Alaric had done, and Stilicho, knowing that the pass through
which the great road entered Italy was secured by Ravenna, assailed
him at Ticinum (Pavia). Radagaisus, however, did a bold and perhaps an
unexpected thing. He attempted to cross the Apennines themselves by
the difficult and neglected route that ran over them and led to
Fiesole.[2] But the Romans had been right in their judgment. That way
was barred by nature. It needed no defence. Before the barbarian had
quite pierced the mountains Stilicho caught him, slew him, and
annihilated his already starving bands at Fiesole. Cisalpine Gaul and
the fortress of Ravenna, its key, still held Italy secure.

[Footnote 2: Livy asserts that C. Flamimus, the colleague of M.
Aemilius Lepidus in B.C. 187, built a road direct from Arezzo to
Bologna across the Tuscan Apennines. This road early fell into disuse
and ruin. We hear nothing of it (but see Cicero, _Phil_. xii. 9) till
this raid of Radagaisus. Later, Totila came this way to besiege Rome.
Cf. Repetti, _Dizionavio della Toscana_, vol. v. 713-715.]

Honorius and his great general and minister now essayed what perhaps
should have been attempted earlier, namely, to employ Alaric in the
service of Rome, as the East had known how to employ him, at a
distance from the capital. He was first offered the province of
Illyricum; but the senate refused to hear of any such treaty, and
though at last it consented to pay the Goth 4000 pounds in gold "to
secure the peace of Italy and conciliate the friendship of the Gothic
king," Lampadius, one of the most illustrious members of that
assembly, asserted that "this is not a treaty of peace but of
servitude." Thus the senate was alienated from Stilicho, and not the
senate only but the army also, which was exasperated by his affection
for the barbarians. Nor was the great general more fortunate with the
emperor, who had come of late under the influence of Olympius, a man
who, Zosimus tells us, under an appearance of Christian piety,
concealed a great deal of rascality. Stilicho had promoted him to a
very honourable place in the household of the emperor; nevertheless he
plotted against him. At his suggestion Honorius proposed to show
himself to the army at Pavia, already at enmity with Stilicho. The
result was disastrous. For the occasion was seized for a revolt in
which the best officers of the empire perished. Stilicho, not daring
to march his barbarians from Bologna upon the Roman army, and by this
refusal incurring their enmity also, flung himself into Ravenna and
took refuge in the great church there. On the following day, however,
he was delivered up by the bishop to Count Heraclian and slain.

Thus perished in the great fortress of the defence the great defender,
leaving the whole of Italy in confusion. He was not long to go

[Illustration: Colour Plate S. AGATA]

Stilicho was slain in Ravenna upon August 23rd, 408. In October of
that year Alaric, who had watched the appalling revolution that
followed his own defeat and the annihilation of Radagaisus, after
fruitless negotiations with Honorius, descended into Italy, passed
Aquileia, and coming into the Aemilian Way at Bologna found the pass
open and without misadventure entered Italy at Rimini, and, without
attacking Ravenna, marched on "to Rome, to make that city desolate."
He besieged Rome three times and pillaged it, taking with him, when he
left it, hostages. As we know he never returned, but died at Cosentia
in southern Italy, and was buried in the bed of the Buxentius, which
had been turned aside, for a moment, by a captive multitude, to give
him sepulture.

Among those hostages which Alaric had claimed from the City and taken
with him southward was the sister of the two emperors, the daughter of
the great Theodosius, Galla Placidia.

This great lady had been born, as is thought, in Rome about 390; she
had, however, spent the first seven years of her life in
Constantinople, but had returned to Italy on the death of Theodosius
with her brother Honorius, in the care of the beautiful Serena, the
wife of Stilicho. She does not seem to have followed her brother
either to Milan or to Ravenna, for indeed his residence in both these
cities was part of the great defence. She remained in Rome, probably
in the house of her kinswoman Laeta, the widow of Gratian. That she
had a grudge against Serena seems certain, though the whole story of
the plot to marry her to Eucherius, Serena's son, would appear
doubtful. That she initiated her murder, as Zosimus[1] asserts, is
extremely improbable and altogether unproven. However that may be,
after one of his three sieges of Rome, Alaric carried Galla Placidia
off as a hostage. He seems, according to Zosimus, to have treated her
with courtesy and even with an exaggerated reverence, as the sister of
the emperor and the daughter of Theodosius, but she was compelled to
follow in his train and to see the ruin of Lucania and Calabria. For,
as a matter of fact and reality, Galla Placidia was the one hope of
the Goths and this became obvious after the death of Alaric.

[Footnote 1: Zosimus, v. 38. Zosimus was a pagan. Placidia was a
devout and enthusiastic Catholic.]

The Gothic army was in a sort of trap; it could not return without the
consent of Ravenna, and if it were compelled to remain in Italy it was
only a question of time till it should be crushed or gradually wasted
away. It is probable that Alaric was aware of this; it is certain that
it was well appreciated by his successor Ataulfus. He saw that his one
chance of coming to terms with the empire lay in his possession of
Galla Placidia. Moreover, Italy and Rome had worked in the mind and
the spirit of this man the extraordinary change that was to declare
itself in the soul of almost every barbarian who came to ravage them.
He began dimly to understand what the empire was. He felt ashamed of
his own rudeness and of the barbarism of his people. Years afterwards
he related to a citizen of Narbonne, who in his turn repeated the
confession to S. Jerome in Palestine in the presence of the historian
Orosius, the curious "conversion" that Italy had worked in his heart.
"In the full confidence of valour and victory," said Ataulfus, "I once
aspired to change the face of the universe; to obliterate the name of
Rome; to erect on its ruins the dominion of the Goths; and to acquire,
like Augustus, the immortal fame of the founder of a new empire. By
repeated experiments I was gradually convinced that laws are
essentially necessary to maintain and regulate a well constituted
state, and that the fierce untractable humour of the Goths was
incapable of bearing the salutary yoke of laws and civil government.
From that moment I proposed to myself a different object of glory and
ambition; and it is now my sincere wish that the gratitude of future
ages should acknowledge the merit of a stranger who employed the sword
of the Goths not to subvert but to restore and maintain the prosperity
of the Roman Empire."[1]

[Footnote 1: Orosius, vii. c. 43. Gibbon, c. xxxi.]

With this change in his heart and the necessity of securing a retreat
upon the best terms he could arrange, Ataulfus looked on Placidia his
captive and found her perhaps fair, certainly a prize almost beyond
the dreams of a barbarian. He aspired to marry her, and she does not
seem to have been unready to grant him her hand. Doubtless she had
been treated by Alaric and his successor with an extraordinary respect
not displeasing to so royal a lady, and Ataulfus, though not so tall
as Alaric, was both shapely and noble.[1] There seems indeed to have
been but one obstacle to this match. This was the ambition of
Constantius, the new minister of Honorius, who wished to make his
position secure by marrying Placidia himself.

[Footnote 1: Jornandes, c. xxxi.]

Italy, however, needed peace as badly as the Goths needed a secure
retreat. And when negotiations were opened it was seen that their
success depended entirely upon this question of Placidia. A treaty was
drawn up of friendship and alliance between the Goths and the empire.
The services of Ataulfus were accepted against the barbarians who were
harrying the provinces beyond the Alps, and the king, with Galla
Placidia a willing captive, began his retreat from Campania into Gaul.
His troops occupied the cities of Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux,
and in spite of the protests and resistance of the harassed
provincials soon extended their quarters from the Mediterranean to the

To hold the Goth to his friendship and to secure his absence from
Italy nothing remained but to accord him the hand of Placidia; and in
the year 414 at Narbonne their marriage was solemnised.[2]

[Footnote 2: Olympiodorus and Idatius say the marriage took place at
Narbonne, but Jornandes, _op cit_. c. 31, asserts that it took place
at Forli before Ataulfus left Italy. Perhaps there were two
ceremonies, or perhaps the ceremony at Narbonne was but the
celebration of an anniversary.]

With the retreat of the Goth and the treaty sealed by the marriage of
Placidia, the sister of Honorius, and the Gothic king, Italy secured
herself a peace and a repose which endured for some forty-two years,
only broken by the raid of Heraclian from Africa in 413.

But Ataulfus did not long survive his marriage. Having crossed the
Pyrenees and surprised in the name of Honorius the city of Barcelona,
he was assassinated in the palace there, and in the tumult which
followed, Singeric, the brother of his enemy and a stranger to the
royal race, was hailed as king. This revolution made Placidia once
more a fugitive, and we see the daughter of Theodosius "confounded
among a crowd of vulgar captives, compelled to march on foot above
twelve miles before the horse of a barbarian, the assassin of a
husband whom Placidia loved and lamented." On the seventh day of his
reign, however, Singeric was himself assassinated and Wallia, who then
became king of the Goths, after repeated representations backed at
last by the despatch of an army surrendered the princess to her
brother in exchange for 600,000 measures of wheat.

That must have been a strange home-coming for Placidia. Bought and
sold twice over, twice a fugitive, the companion of the rude Goth, she
is the most pathetic figure in all that terrible fifth century, and
never does she appear more pitiful than on her return from the camps
and the triumphs of the barbarians to the decadent splendour and the
corruption of the imperial court of Ravenna, and again as a captive, a
prize, booty.

For the man who had been at the head of that army whose approach, real
or supposed, had decided the Goths to deliver up the sister of the
emperor was Constantius, her old lover, he who had delayed her
marriage with Ataulfus and who now determined to marry her himself.

It was in 416 that Placidia returned to Ravenna. In the following year
Honorius gave her to Constantius, then his colleague in the consular
office for the second time. The marriage ceremony of very great
splendour took place in Ravenna; and in the same year was born of that
marriage Honoria, who was to offer herself to Attila, and in 419
Valentinian, one day to be emperor.

That marriage soon had the result Constantius had intended. In 421
Honorius was compelled to associate him with himself on the imperial
throne and to give to Placidia the title of Augusta. The new emperor,
however, survived his elevation to the throne but seven months and
once more Placidia was a widow. Her life, never a happy one, if we
except the few years in which she was the wife of Ataulfus, whom she
seems really to have loved, became unbearable after the death of
Constantius. At the mercy of her brother who was fast sinking, at the
age of thirty-nine, into a vicious and idiotic senility, she, always a
sincere Catholic in spite of her romantic marriage with the Arian
Ataulfus, seems to have been forced into a horrible intimacy with him;
at least we know that he obliged her to receive his obscene kisses,
even in public, to the scandal and perhaps the amusement of that
corrupt society. And then suddenly her brother's dreadful love seems
to have turned to hate and she is a fugitive again with her two
children at the court of her nephew Theodosius II. at Constantinople.
In the very year of her flight Honorius died and the throne of the
West was vacant.

It was filled by the obscure civil servant Joannes, the chief of the
notaries, the creature of some palace intrigue. But such a choice
could not be tolerated by Theodosius, who immediately confirmed
Placidia in her title of Augusta, which had not before been recognised
at Constantinople, and accepted Valentinian, whose title was
Nobilissimus, as the heir to the western throne, giving him the title
of Caesar. To suppress the usurper Joannes, Theodosius despatched an
army to bring Placidia and her children to Ravenna. After a short
campaign in northern Italy, by a miracle, according to the
contemporary historian Socrates, the troops of Theodosius arrived
before Ravenna. "The prayer of the pious emperor again prevailed. For
an angel of God, under the semblance of a shepherd, undertook the
guidance of Aspar and his troops, and led them through the lake near
Ravenna. Now no one had ever been known to ford that lake before; but
God then caused that to be possible which before had been impossible.
But when they had crossed the lake, as if going over dry land, they
found the gates of the city open and seized the tyrant Joannes."[1]

[Footnote 1: Socrates, vii. 23. Cf. Hodgkin, _op cit_. i. 847.]

So the Augusta with the young Caesar and her daughter Honoria entered
Ravenna, to reign there, first as regent and then as the no less
powerful adviser of her son, for some twenty-five years.

When Ravenna opened its gates some eighteen months had passed since
the death of Honorius. But the appearance of that "angel of God under
the semblance of a shepherd" had not been the only miracle that had
occurred on the return of Placidia to the imperial city by the eastern
sea. For it seems that on her voyage either from Constantinople to
Aquileia, where she remained till Ravenna was taken, or from Aquileia
to Ravenna, Placidia and her children were caught in a great storm at
sea and came near to suffer shipwreck. Then Placidia prayed aloud,
invoking the aid of S. John the Evangelist for deliverance from so
great a peril, and vowing to build a church in his honour in Ravenna
if he would bring them to land. And immediately the winds and the
waves abated and the ship came safely to port.[2] It was in fulfilment
of her vow that Placidia built in Ravenna the Basilica of S. John the

[Footnote 2: The invocation of S. John is curious, and we have not the
key to it. For though he was a fisherman, so was S. Peter for
instance. It is interesting, though not perhaps really significant, to
note that it is only S. John who notes in his Gospel (vi. 21) that,
when the Apostles saw Our Lord walking on the water in the great
storm, and had received Him into their ship, "immediately the ship was
at the land."]

The city of Ravenna at this time would seem to have been full of
churches. Its first bishop, S. Apollinaris, had been the friend of S.
Peter who, as it was believed, had appointed him to the see of
Ravenna. That was in the earliest days of the Christian Church. But we
find the tradition still living in the fourth century when Severus,
bishop of Ravenna, miraculously chosen to fill the see, sat in the
council of Sardica in 344 and refused to make any alteration in the
Nicene Creed. About the end of the century Ursus had been bishop and
had built the great cathedral church, the Basilica Ursiana, dedicated
in honour of the Resurrection, with its five naves and fifty-six
columns of marble, its _schola cantorum_ in the midst, and its
mosaics, all of which were finally and utterly destroyed in 1733.
There was too the baptistery which remains and the church of S. Agata
and many others which have perished.

With the church of S. Agata we connect one of the great bishops of the
fifth century, Joannes Angeloptes, who was there served at Mass by an
angel. While with the beautiful little chapel in the bishop's palace,
which still, in some sort at least, remains to us, we connect perhaps
the greatest bishop Ravenna can boast of, S. Peter Chrysologus, for he
built it.

Nor was Placidia herself slow to add to the ecclesiastical splendour
of her city. We have already seen that she built S. Giovanni
Evangelista, rebuilt in the thirteenth century, in fulfilment of her
vow and in memory of her salvation from shipwreck. Close to her palace
she built another church in honour of the Holy Cross, and attached to
it she erected her mausoleum, which remains perhaps the most precious
monument in the city. The church and the monastery which her niece
Singleida built beside it have perished.

But though during the lifetime of Placidia Italy was free from foreign
invasion, the decay of the western empire, of what had been the
western empire, was by no means arrested; on the contrary, Britain,
Gaul, Spain, and Africa were finally lost. Two appalling catastrophes
mark her reign, the Vandal invasion of the province of Africa and the
ever growing cloud of Huns upon the north-eastern frontiers.


Placidia's two chief ministers were Boniface and Aetius, either of
whom, according to Procopius, "had the other not been his
contemporary, might truly have been called the last of the Romans."
Their simultaneous appearance, however, finally destroyed all hope of
an immediate resurrection of civilisation in the West. For Boniface,
whose "one great object was the deliverance of Africa from all sorts
of barbarians," betrayed Africa to the Vandals, and to this he was led
by the rivalry and intrigue of Aetius who, on the other hand, must
always be remembered for his heroic and glorious victory over Attila
at Chalons which delivered Gaul from the worst deluge of all--that of
the Huns.

The truth would seem to be that while corruption of every sort, and
especially political corruption, was destroying the empire, the
importance of Christianity was vastly increasing. The great quarrel
was really that between Catholicism and heresy. This was a living
issue while the cause of the empire as a political entity was already
dead. Placidia certainly eagerly considered all sorts of
ecclesiastical problems and provided and legislated for their
solution. We do not find her seeking the advice and offensive and
defensive alliance of Constantinople for the restoration of her
provinces. It might seem almost as though the mind of her time was
unable to fix itself upon the vast political and economic problem that
now for many generations had demanded a solution in vain. No one seems
to have cared in any fundamental way, or even to have been aware, that
the empire as a great state was gradually being ruined, was indeed
already in full decadence--a thing to despair of. That is the curious
thing--no one seems to have despaired. On the other hand, every one
was keenly interested in the religious controversy of the time which,
because we cannot fully understand that time, seems to us so futile.
But it is only what is in the mind that is fundamentally important to
man, and that will force him to action. The council of Ephesus which
destroyed Nestorius in 431, the council of Chalcedon which condemned
Dioscorus in 451, seemed to be the important things, and one day we
may come to think again, that on those great decisions, and not on the
material defence, both military and economic, of the West, depended
the future of the world. If this be so, it would at least explain the
hopeless variance of East and West, which, almost equally concerned in
the material problem, were by no means at one in philosophy.


Nevertheless, although Theodosius II. had not trodden "the narrow path
of orthodoxy with reputation unimpaired," as Placidia certainly had,
the material alliance of East and West were seen to be so important
that in 437 Valentinian III., the son of Placidia, and emperor in the
West, was married to Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius II., in

Neither the accession of her son nor his marriage seem to have made
any real difference in the power of Placidia who, we may believe, not,
as Procopius asserts, by a cunning system of training by which she had
ruined his character, but rather by reason of her innate virility,
retained the reins of government in her own hands. Certainly she
ruled, the Augusta of the West, during the twelve years that remained
to her after her son's marriage. And when at last she died in Rome in
450, on the 27th November,[1] in the sixtieth year of her age, and a
few months after her nephew Theodosius II., and was borne in a last
triumph along the Via Flaminia, to be laid, seated in a chair of
cedar, in a sarcophagus of alabaster in the gorgeous mausoleum she had
prepared for herself beside the church of S. Croce in Ravenna, she
left Italy at least in a profound peace, so secure, as it seemed, that
the whole court had in that very year removed to Rome. It might appear
as though the barbarian had but awaited her passing to descend once
more upon the citadel of Europe.

[Footnote 1: Agnellus asserts that on the Ides of March in the year
following Placidia's death Ravenna suffered from a great fire, in
which many buildings perished, but he does not tell us what they



For more than ten years before the death of Placidia both East and
West had been aware of a new cloud in the north-east. This darkness
was the vast army of Huns, which, in the exodus from Asia proper,
under Attila, threatened to overrun the empire and to lay it waste. In
447, indeed, Attila fell upon the Adriatic and Aegean provinces of the
eastern empire and ravaged them till he was bought off with a shameful
tribute. His thoughts inevitably turned towards the capital, and it is
said, I know not with how much truth, that in the very year of their
death both Placidia and Theodosius received from this new barbarian an
insolent message which said: "Attila, thy master and mine, bids thee
prepare a palace for him."

Theodosius II., however, was succeeded upon the Eastern throne by his
sister Pulcheria who shared her government with the virile and bold
soldier Marcian. But upon Placidia's death, on the other hand, the
government of the West fell into the hands of her weak and sensual son
Valentinian III.

Placidia's greatest failure, indeed, was in the training and education
of her children. Valentinian was incapable and vicious, while Honoria,
who had inherited much of the romantic temperament of her mother, was
both unscrupulous and irresponsible. Sent to Constantinople on account
of an intrigue with her chamberlain, Honoria, bored by the ascetic
life in which she found herself and furious at her virtual
imprisonment, sent her ring to Attila and besought him to deliver her
and make her his wife as Ataulfus had done Placidia her mother.
Though, it seems, the Hun disdained her, he made this appeal his
excuse. Within a year of the death of Theodosius and Placidia he
decided that the way of least resistance lay westward. If he were
successful he could make his own terms, and, among his spoil, if he
cared, should be the sister of the emperor.

At first it was Gaul that was to be plundered; but there, as we know,
the wild beast was met by Aetius who defeated him at the battle of
Chalons and thus saved the western provinces. But that victory was not
followed up. Attila and his vast army were allowed to retreat; and
though Gaul was saved, Italy lay at their mercy. That was in 451.
Attila retreated into Pannonia, and prepared for a new raid in the
following year.

He came, as Alaric had done, through the Julian Alps; and before
spring had gone Aquileia was not, Concordia was utterly destroyed,
Altinum became nothing. Nor have these cities ever lived again; out of
their ruin Venice sprang in the midst of the lagoons. All the
Cisalpine plain north of the Po was in Attila's hands; Vicenza,
Verona, Brescia, Bergamo, Pavia, even Milan opened their gates. No
defence was offered, they saved themselves alive. And southward, over
the Po, between the mountains and the sea, the gate which Ravenna held
stood open wide. Italy without defence lay at the mercy of the Asiatic

Without defence! Valentinian and his court were in Rome; no one armed
and ready waited in impregnable Ravenna to break the Hun as with a
hammer when he should venture to take the road through the narrow pass
between the mountains and the sea. The great defence was not to be
held; the road, as once before, lay open and unguarded. In this
moment, one of the greatest crises in the history of Europe, suddenly,
and without warning, the reality of that age, which had changed so
imperceptibly, was revealed. The material civilisation and defence of
the empire were, at least as organised things, seen to be dead; its
spiritual virility and splendour were about to be made manifest.

For it was not any emperor or great soldier at the head of an army
that faced Attila by the Mincio on the Cisalpine plain and saved
Italy, but an old and unarmed man, alone and defenceless. Our saviour
was pope Leo the Great; but above him, in the sky, the Hun perceived
the mighty figures, overshadowing all that world, of S. Peter and S.
Paul, and his eyes dazzled, he bowed his head. "What," he asked
himself, "if I conquer like Alaric only to die as he did?" He yielded
and consented to retreat, Italy was saved. The new emperor, the true
head and champion of the new civilisation that was to arise out of all
this confusion, had declared himself. It was the pope.

There, it might seem, we have the truth at last, the explanation,
perhaps, of all the extraordinary ennui and neglect that had made such
an invasion as that of Alaric, as that of Radagaisus, as this of
Attila, possible. For it is only what is in the mind that is of any
importance. The empire rightly understood was not about to die, but to
change into a new spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men; and there,
in the place of the emperor, would sit God's Vicegerent, till in the
fullness of time the material empire should be re-established and that
Vicegerent should place the imperial crown once more upon a merely
royal head. The force of the old empire had always lain in wholly
material things and its excuse had been its material success; but it
was a servile state, and after the advent of Christianity it was
inevitable that it should change or perish. It changed. The force of
the new empire was to be so completely spiritual that to-day we can
scarcely understand it. Upon the banks of the Mincio it declared
itself; and when, twenty-three years later, Odoacer the barbarian
deposed Romulus Augustulus and made himself king of Italy, the true
champion of all that Latin genius had established was already
enthroned in Rome; but the throne was Peter's, and men called him not
Emperor but Father.

Those twenty-three years, so brief a period, are, as we might imagine,
full of confusion and strange barbarian voices.

After Leo had turned him back from Italy there by the Mincio, Attila
retreated again into Pannonia, but he still insisted "on this point
above all, that Honoria, the sister of the emperor and the daughter of
the Augusta Placidia, should be sent to him with the portion of the
royal wealth which was her due; and he threatened that unless this
were done he would lay upon Italy a far heavier punishment than any
which it had yet borne." But within a year Attila was dead in a
barbaric marriage-bed by the Danube, and his empire destroyed. And as
for Honoria we know no more of her, she disappears from history,
though tradition has it that she spent the rest of her life in a
convent in southern Italy.

The two heroes of the Hunnish deluge in the West were Aetius, the
great general who broke Attila upon the plain of Chalons, and Leo the
pope surnamed the Great. Aetius had been unable to persuade his
victorious troops to march to the defence of Italy, and in this again
we see the growing failure of the imperial idea; but he was a great
soldier, and certainly the greatest minister that Valentinian III.
could boast. Nevertheless, after the death of Attila he seemed to the
emperor both dangerous and useless; dangerous because, like Stilicho,
he thought of the empire for his son, and useless because Valentinian
had recently placed his confidence in another, the eunuch Heraclius.
Just as Honorius contrived the murder of Stilicho, so did Valentinian
contrive to rid himself of Aetius, and with his own hand, for
Valentinian stabbed him himself in his palace on the Palatine Hill in
Rome, towards the end of 454. Six months, however, had not gone by
when Aetius was avenged and Valentinian lay dead in the Campus Martius
stabbed by two soldiers of barbarian origin. Beside him, dead too, lay
the eunuch Heraclius. This was the vengeance of the friends of Aetius,
and of him who was to be emperor, Petronius Maximus, whose wife
Valentinian had ravished.

With Valentinian III., who had no children, the great line of
Theodosius came to an end both in the East and in the West, for
Pulcheria had died in 453. In Constantinople Marcian continued to rule
till 457, when he was succeeded by Leo I. the Thracian. In Rome he who
had so signally avenged himself, Petronius Maximus, a senator, sixty
years of age, reigned during seventy days in which he was rather a
prisoner than a monarch. During those seventy days, whether moved by
lust or revenge we know not, he attempted to make the widow of
Valentinian his wife. This brought all down, for Eudoxia, without a
friend in the world, followed the fatal example of Honoria and called
in the Vandal to her assistance. And when Genseric was on his way to
answer her from Carthage, the terrified City, by the hands of the
imperial servants and the soldiers, tore the emperor limb from limb
and flung what remained into the Tiber so that even burial was denied
him. But the Vandal came on, and in spite of Leo, as we know, sacked
the City and departed--to lose the mighty booty in the midst of the

What are we to say of the years which follow, and what are we to say
of those ghostly figures, which hover, always uncertainly and briefly,
about the imperial throne after the assassination of Valentinian III.
and the second sack of the City? There was Avitus the Gaul (455-456),
Majorian (457-461), Libius Severus (461-465), Anthemius (467-472),
Olybrius (472), Glycerius (473-474), Julius Nepos (474-475), and at
last the pitiful boy Romulus Augustulus (475-476). Nothing can be said
of them; they are less than shadows, and their empire, the material
empire they represented, was no longer conscious of itself, was no
longer a reality, but an hallucination, haunting the mind. It is true
that the chief seat of their government, if government it can be
called, was Ravenna, and that the city is concerned with most of the
incidents of those vague and confused years; the proclamations of
Majorian, of Severus, of Glycerius, and of Romulus Augustulus, the
abdication of the last and the fight in the pinewood in which his
uncle Paulus was broken and Odoacer made himself master. But they are,
for the most part, the years of Ricimer the patrician, for they are
full of his puppets.

This man is another Stilicho, another Aetius, a great and heroic
soldier, but of a sinister and subtle policy without loyalty or
scruple. His is a figure that often appears about the death-bed of
dying states, but his genius has not so often been matched. The son of
a Suevic father, his mother the daughter of Wallia, the successor and
avenger of Ataulfus the Visigoth, he was the champion of the empire
against the Vandal, that is to say, against her most relentless foe.
His success in this was the secret of his power. Pondering the fate of
his predecessors he determined he would not end as they did. Therefore
he determined to make whom he would emperor and to depose him when he
had done with him; in a word, he meant to be the master as well as the
saviour of Italy. In this he was successful. He deposed Avitus and
caused him to be consecrated bishop of Placentia. In his place he set
a man of his own choice, Majorian, whom he raised to the empire on
April 1, 457, in the camp at Columellae, at the sixth milestone, it
seems, from Ravenna; and upon August 2,461, he caused him to be put to
death near Tortona.

He chose Libius Severus to fill the place of Majorian and had him
proclaimed in Ravenna upon November 19, 461; and upheld him for nearly
four years till he died in Rome on August 15, 465, poisoned, men said,
by Ricimer. Then the "king-maker" allied himself with Constantinople
and placed Anthemius, son-in-law of Marcian, upon the throne of the
West, in 467, kept him there till 472, and then proclaimed Olybrius,
another Byzantine, emperor; laid siege to Anthemius in Rome, took the
City, slew Anthemius, and forty days later himself died, leaving the
command of his army to his nephew Gundobald, one of the princes of the
Burgundians. Seven months later Olybrius died.

The alliance Ricimer had made with Constantinople, though he repented
it, was the one hope of the future, and as a fact the future belonged
to it. For a moment Gundobald was able to place an obscure soldier
Glycerius upon the throne, but he soon exchanged the purple for the
bishopric of Salona, and the nominee of Constantinople, Julius Nepos,
reigned in Ravenna in his stead. But though the future belonged to
Constantinople, the present did not. The barbarian confederates,
discontented and unwilling to give their allegiance to this Greek,
rebelled and under Orestes their general marched upon Ravenna. Julius
Nepos fled by ship to Dalmatia and Orestes in Ravenna proclaimed his
young son Romulus Augustulus emperor. But those barbarian mercenaries
were not to be so easily satisfied. Of the new emperor they demanded a
third of the lands of all Italy, and when this was refused them they
flocked to the standard of that barbarian general in the Roman service
whom we know as Odoacer. "From all the camps and garrisons of Italy"
the barbarian confederates flocked to the new standard and Orestes was
compelled to shut himself up in Pavia while Paulus, his brother, held
Ravenna for the boy emperor. Upon August 23, 476, Odoacer was raised
like the barbarian he was, upon the shield, as Alaric had been, and
his troops proclaimed him king. Five days later Orestes, who had
escaped from Pavia, was taken and put to death at Placentia, and on
September 4 Paulus his brother was taken in the Pineta outside Classis
by Ravenna and was slain. The gates of Ravenna were open, Romulus
Augustulus, the last emperor in the West, was forced to abdicate and
was sent by Odoacer to the famous villa that Lucullus had built for
himself long and long ago in Campania, and was granted a pension of
six thousand _soldi_, and Odoacer reigned as the first king of Italy;
the western empire, as such, was at an end.

And the senate addressed, by unanimous decree, to the emperor Zeno in
Constantinople an epistle, in which they disclaimed "the necessity, or
even the wish, of continuing any longer the imperial succession in
Italy, since, in their opinion, the majesty of a sole monarch is
sufficient to pervade and protect at the same time both East and West.
In their own name and in the name of the people they consent to the
seat of universal empire being transferred from Rome to
Constantinople, and they renounce the right of choosing their master.
They further state that the republic (they repeat that name without a
blush) might safely confide in the civil and military virtues of
Odoacer; and they humbly request that the emperor would invest him
with the title of patrician and the administration of the _diocese_ of

And Odoacer sent the diadem and the purple robe, the imperial ensigns,
the sacred ornaments of the throne and palace to Byzantium and
received thence the title of patrician.



We may well ask what was the condition of Ravenna when the western
empire fell and Odoacer made himself king of Italy. And by the
greatest of good fortune we can answer that question. For we have a
fairly vivid account of Ravenna from the hand of Sidonius Apollinaris
who passed through the city on his way to Rome in 467.

Ravenna had been the chief city of Italy during the seventy years of
revolution and administrative disaster and decay which had followed
the incursion of Alaric. For the greater part of that period she had
been the seat of the emperors and of their government, and it is
perhaps for reasons such as these that we find, after all, but little
change in her condition. She does not seem to have suffered much decay
since Honorius retreated upon her.

"It is difficult," Sidonius tells us, "to say whether the old city of
Ravenna is separated from the new port or joined to it by the Via
Caesaris which lies between them. Above the town the Po is divided
into two streams, of which one washes its walls and the other passes
through its streets. The whole river has been diverted from its true
channel by means of large mounds thrown across it at the public
expense, and being thus drawn off into channels marked out for it, so
divides its waters, that they offer protection to the walls which they
encompass and bring commerce into the city which they penetrate. By
this route, which is most convenient for the purpose, all kinds of
mechandise arrive, and especially food. But against this must be set
the fact that the supply of drinking water is wretched. On the one
side you have the salt waves of the sea dashing against the gates, on
the other the canals, filled with sewage of the consistency of gruel,
are being constantly churned up by the passage of the barges; and the
river itself, here gliding along with a very slow current, is made
muddy by the poles of the bargemen which are being continually thrust
into its clayey bed. The consequence was that we were thirsty in the
midst of the waves, since no wholesome water was brought to us by the
aqueducts, no cistern was flowing, no well was without its mud."[1]

[Footnote 1: Sidonius Apoll. _Ep_. 1 5. Cf. Hodgkin, _op. cit_. vol.
1. p. 859.]

In another letter we have a rather more fantastic picture. "A pretty
place Cesena must be if Ravenna is better, for there your ears are
pierced by the mosquito of the Po and a talkative mob of frogs is
always croaking round you. Ravenna is a mere marsh where all the
conditions of life are reversed, where walls fall and waters stand,
towers flow down and ships squat, invalids walk about and their
doctors take to bed, baths freeze and houses burn, the living perish
with thirst and the dead swim about on the surface of the water,
thieves watch and magistrates sleep, priests lend at usury and Syrians
sing psalms, merchants shoulder arms and soldiers haggle like
hucksters, greybeards play at ball and striplings at dice, and eunuchs
study the art of war and the barbarian mercenaries study

[Footnote 2: _Idem. Ep_. 1. 8. Cf. Hodgkin, _op cit_ vol. 1. p. 860.]

Such was the Ravenna of the barbarian who called himself king of

We have seen Ravenna since her incorporation into the Roman
administrative system fulfilling the various reasons of her existence;
as the fortress which held the gate into Italy from Cisalpine Gaul, as
the second naval port of the West, and as the great impregnable
fortress of Italy in the barbarian invasions. Odoacer, also, chose it
as his chief seat of government for similar advantages. Ravenna
strongly held gave him, as strongly held she had given every one of
her masters, Italy and Cisalpine Gaul; while as the gate of the
eastern sea, Ravenna was his proper means of communication with his
over-lord and the eastern provinces of what was, rightly understood,
the reunited empire.

That, theoretically at least, is how Odoacer regarded the state in
which, by the good pleasure of the emperor Zeno, he held the title of
patrician. He was an unlettered man, an Arian, as were all the
barbarians, and he held what he held by permission of Constantinople,
though he had won it by his own strength in the weakness and misery of
the time. He never aspired, it would seem, to make himself emperor.
Certainly for the first four years of his rule in Ravenna that great
office was filled by Julius Nepos in exile at Salona, whose deposition
at the hands of Orestes had never been recognised by Constantinople.
Thereafter, the western and the eastern empire were in theory
reunited, with New Rome upon the Bosphorus for their true capital; and
both before and after that event Odoacer ruled in Italy with the title
of patrician conferred upon him by Constantinople. When that consent
was withdrawn, as it was immediately Odoacer showed signs of ambition,
he fell.

Odoacer had ruled in Ravenna from 476 to 493, when he fell in that
city after sustaining a siege of three years. He ruled well and
strongly and by the laws of the empire. He was compelled by the

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