Ravenna, A Study by Edward Hutton

Produced by Ted Garvin, Leonard Johnson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. RAVENNA A STUDY BY EDWARD HUTTON ILLUSTRATED IN COLOUR AND LINE by HARALD SUND 1913 TO MY FRIEND ARTHUR SYMONS IN AFFECTIONATE HOMAGE PREFACE My intention in writing this book has been to demonstrate the unique importance of Ravenna in the history of
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1913
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Ted Garvin, Leonard Johnson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.







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

XI. THE CATHOLIC CHURCHES OF THE FIFTH CENTURY The Cathedral, Baptistery, Arcivescovado, S. Agata, S. Pietro Maggiore, S. Giovanni Evangelista, S. Giovanni Battista, and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

XII. THE ARIAN CHURCHES OF THE SIXTH CENTURY The Palace of Theodoric, S. Apollinare Nuovo, S. Spirito, S. Maria in Cosmedin, the Mausoleum of Theodoric

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 imperious.

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 Europe.

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 Furlo.[2]

[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. Why?

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 situated.]

[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 operations.

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 him.

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 command.

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 marines.

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 East.

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 Ravenna.


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 life.[1]

[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 neighbours.

[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. Why?

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. 712.]

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 unavenged.

[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 Atlantic.

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 Evangelist.

[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 Constantinople.

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 were.]



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 invader.

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 sea.

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 Italy.”

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 literature.”[2]

[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 Italy.

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