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."
[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."