The Palace of Theodoric

The Palace of Theodoric and the Church of St Apollinare Nuovo

“The lion, they say, is recognized by its claws; similarly, those who will read on will intuit from the propylaeum the grandeur of the palace.”

Procopius of Caesarea, a Byzantine historian who lived during the time of Emperor Justinian, introduces the description of the Chalke, the monumental entrance of the imperial palace in Constantinople.

From the sources, we know that in Ravenna, the entrance of the palace of Theodoric, the king of the Goths who ruled for about three decades between the 5th and 6th centuries, was also called Ad Chalchi, recalling the name of the Eastern capital. But how was this entrance, so celebrated in the sources, like?

In Ravenna, within one of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage monuments, namely the Basilica of St Apollinare Nuovo, commissioned by the Ostrogothic king as a palatine church, among the mosaics that still decorate the walls of the central nave, there is one that draws particular attention: that of the Palatium. Presumably, it reproduces the features of Theodoric’s palace, itself inspired by the imperial palace in Constantinople.

The palace of Theodoric in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and the hands on the columns.


This mosaic was reworked in the second half of the 6th century, after Ravenna was reconquered by the Byzantines, and the Christian Arian cult, professed by Theodoric’s Goths, to whom the church was dedicated, was banned. As a result, in the process of converting sacred buildings, signs and references to the Arian cult and Gothic culture were obliterated. It was during this phase that the mosaics of the Basilica of San Apollinare Nuovo were partly replaced and modified, including the one depicting the Palatium.

Originally, between the pillars of the palace, there were representations of figures, likely statues, which were later replaced with curtains. Some traces of these figures remain on the columns, where you can notice hands that have no connection with the current design. Furthermore, within the arches above the curtains, there are halos that seem to correspond to laurel wreaths, which in the original mosaic hung from the arches, as can still be seen on the sides of the entrance.

Lastly, at the center of the palace, from golden door a form seems to emerge. It appears that originally, the equestrian statue of Theodoric was represented here, which sources tell us adorned the entrance of the palace. Presumably brought to Ravenna from Constantinople, it was taken by Charlemagne to Aachen in 801.

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