March 15: ‘the barbarian champion of civilization’
2012/03/15 § Leave a comment
On this day in 493 Odoacer died.
Well, he didn’t die so much as get hacked in two by the mighty and terrible axe-wield Theodoric the Great (454-526). Most will regret his gruesome end (at least the gruesomeness of it) but recognize that he had some kind of sticky end coming. Odoacer (b. 435) represented the nadir of everything. He was a German soldier who became the first king of Italy in 476 after leading the revolt that deposed the last Roman Emperor in the West, Romulus Augustus. Did you catch that date? That is The Fall Of Rome! This was that guy! And then he did nothing: all that inherited power and potential for a new start, nada. No buildings, books, sculpture, engineering, or anything is attributed to this first guy after Rome. What a jerk.
Then Theodoric came along, “barbarian champion of civilization,” as an early biographer described him. Barbarian for sure: after invading Italy and chasing Odoacer into Ravenna (there are worse places to try to hide) and obtaining a surrender, he pretended to make nice at a banquet, where he smote Odoacer with his own sword, then slaughtered the deposed king’s family and followers. Aside from all the murder, he doesn’t appear to be such a bad guy–actually a really good one for architecture. He restored ancient monuments in the old capital of Rome, including the Colosseum and Theatre of Pompey. He built a lot of things in the new capital of Ravenna, including a big palace and his amazing mausoleum (above). It’s striking in its use of limestone (rather than the lumpy bricks common throughout Ravenna), especially so when you notice the roof structure: a single 300-ton, 30-foot lid. Inspired by the mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (and really, who wouldn’t be?), he directed the decoration of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, among other building projects that were the built manifestation of his efforts to raise Ravenna to look and act like the great capital it was. Even though he was not completely successful, he is much to credit for much of the glory in that marvelous little town on the end of the train line leading out of Bologna that is worth much more than a day trip.
image: Mausoleum of Theodoric (Clio’s)