Ravenna, Italy and Theodoric the Great
Traveling in Italy is always beautiful and filled with ancient history and artifacts because of the Holy Roman Empire which had its world headquarters in Rome. Their empire stretched across most of Europe, the middle east, and parts of Northern Africa. But, one of the most charming and most delightful towns to visit in Italy, full of ancient history and art, from the Holy Roman Empire time is Ravenna.
The origins of the city of Ravenna, on the northeastern side of Italy, near the Adriatic Sea, are uncertain, but historians and archaeologists believe they come from the Thessalians, Etruscans and Umbrians. The name itself, Ravenna, can be traced back to the Etruscan language. In 89BC the Romans accepted it into the Roman Republic as a federated town. Ravenna is also the location were Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. And the Emperor Augustus waged a battle here against Marc Antony in 31BC. The city prospered under Roman rule and Emperor Trajan built a large aqueduct at the beginning of the second century.
But, all good things must come to an end, and in the year 493AD the Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great defeated the Romans and their empire in Ravenna. Ravenna now became the capital and seat of the Ostrogoth Kingdom of Italy.
Theodoric the Great in Ravenna
Theodoric and the Ostrogoths were a Germanic tribe that ruled Italy from 493-526. Theodoric was the viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire. The years he ruled Ravenna and Italy were the most peaceful and prosperous period in Italy's fractious history. This probably was because as a child and youth, Theodoric had a contentious childhood. He was taken hostage by the king of Constantinople as a child to secure the Ostrogoths compliance with a treaty. He was brought up in the Constantinople court and had a highly privileged education of the Byzantine royalty. It is probably not truly having his freedom to live with his people, that taught Theodoric to be a peaceful ruler when he had the opportunity,
When Theodoric conquered Ravenna in 493, he and his followers were of the Arian theology and beliefs in the Eastern Catholic Church. They were outsiders among the Nicaean Christians of the Roman Catholic Church presently living in Ravenna. Arianism is a theologial teaching of Arius (250-336AD) a Christian presbyter (elder) in Alexandria, Egypt. Their beliefs differed from the Nicaean Christians concerning the relationship in the Trinity (God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit) believing the Son of God to be a subordinate entity to God the Father. In the Nicaean theology all three parts of the Triniity are equal to one another - none are subordinate to the others. The Arians take their beliefs from the Gospel of John which states, "I am going away and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I."
Although, Theodoric and his followers were Arian Christians, they co-existed peacefully with the Roman Catholics. There was mutual respect between the Nicaean and Arian Christians in Ravenna and Italy at this time and they lived in peace and security during Theodoric's rule. The majority of the population belonged to the Arian Christians, but Theodoric ruled justly and allowed the Roman citizens within his kingdom to be subject to Roman law and the Roman judicial system. Also, at this time, the Goths, who also lived in Ravenna and Italy lived under their own laws and customs.
When several of the Jewish synagogs burned down, Theodoric had them rebuilt at his own expense. Theodoric was Great because he looked for ways for the different tribes of people, with different cultures, customs, and religious beliefs to all live together. He makes a great role model for the parts of the conflicted world, the mid-east, for example, who could follow his example of exemplary rule. His government was one of inclusion not exclusion and especially the Israelies and Palestinians could learn much from his example.
During his life and rule in Ravenna, Theodoric had built in the town the Sant' Apollinare Nuovo his palace - church, the Arian Cathedral that still stands today in Ravenna. I have visited it and it is quite a beautiful church to see. It has the what we know today as the Greek Orthodox icons of Jesus Christ and the Saints depicted on the altar and all around the church. These are beautiful and the church also has the ceramic mosaics to decorate them as well as the icons. He also had built the Baptistery and his own Mausoleum where he was interred. Theodoric died in 526 and was succeeded by his grandson, Athalaric.
These monuments that Theodoric had built in Ravenna are the finest monuments in Ravenna and should not be missed. His magnanimous rule of Ravenna and Italy during his time as ruler was of peace and inclusion of several different tribes of people. We can only hope for a leader such as this in the globally contentious world we are living in today.