Here in this mighty tomb, which is known in Ravenna as La Rotonda, abandoned now in an unkempt garden, Theodoric, who expected to found a line of kings who would one day lie beside him; as long as he lay there at all, lay there alone. Not for long, however, did he enjoy that solitude. Already, when Agnellus wrote his Liber Pontificalis, the tomb was empty. He tells us that the porphyry urn, which had served as sepulchre for the Gothic king, then stood at the door of the Benedictine monastery close by, and that it was empty. And it seemed to him, he says, that the body of the king had been thrown out of the mausoleum because a heretic and a barbarian, as we may suppose, was not worthy of it. At any rate the body of Theodoric was no longer in the mausoleum in the beginning of the ninth century, and it is certain that it had been ejected thence many years before. In the year 1854 a gang of navvies who were excavating a dock between the railway station and the Corsini Canal, some two hundred yards perhaps from the mausoleum, and on the site of an old cemetery, came upon a skeleton “armed with a golden cuirass, a sword by its side, and a golden helmet upon its head. In the hilt of the sword and in the helmet large jewels were blazing.” Most of this booty they disposed of, but a few pieces were recovered and these are now in the Museo. It might seem that this can have been none other than the body of the great Gothic king. Indeed Dr. Ricci finds the ornament upon the armour to be similar to the decoration upon the cornice of the mausoleum. If this be so it puts the matter almost beyond doubt.
Theodoric was not allowed to rest in the mighty tomb that Latin genius had built for him; but for ages many, famous and distinguished in their day, sought to lie under a monument so splendid. The place became a sort of pantheon. Long before then, however, it had been consecrated as a church, S. Maria della Rotonda, and a Benedictine monastery had been founded close by whose monks served it. To-day that monastery has utterly disappeared, and there are no signs of a church in the Rotonda. Only the mausoleum remains in a tangled garden, far from any road, empty and deserted.
THE BYZANTINE CHURCHES
When Belisarius entered Ravenna in 540, he apparently found more than one new building begun but not finished; of these the chief was the church of S. Vitale. This magnificent octagonal building with its narthex and atrium had, according to Agnellus, been founded by the Archbishop S. Ecclesius, that is to say, between 521 and 534. It was apparently finished and decorated later by Julius Argentarius, and was consecrated by the archbishop S. Maximianus in 547. In plan it resembles very closely the church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople built by Justinian about 527. As we know both Justinian and Theodora, his empress, contributed largely to the perfecting of S. Vitale, which remains certainly his most glorious monument in the West.