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According to tradition, this ancient building was made to house the tomb of Galla Placidia, daughter of Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) and sister of his sons Honorius and Arcadius who later became Western and Easter Roman Emperors. After short marriages to the Visigothic king Ataulf (414-16) and the Roman co-emperor Constantius III (417-21), the powerful empress became the virtual ruler of the western world for 12 years (425-37) as regent for her young son Valentinian III.
Galla Placidia died in Rome on November 27, 450, and despite a long tradition to the contrary, it is unlikely she was ever buried in Ravenna. Far more probable that she was buried in the Rotunda of St. Petronilla next to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The rotunda is known to have been the mausoleum of the family of Theodosius, and Galla herself, just a few months before her death, had the body of Theodosius II shipped from Constantinople to be buried there.
Modern scholarly opinion is that the "Mausoleum of Galla Placidia" was built as an oratory rather than a mausoleum. It was originally connected to the narthex of the adjacent church of Santa Croce, which is known to have been built by Galla Placidia. So she probably commissioned the oratory, and it rightly takes her name, even if she was never buried there.
Solidus of Galla Placidia minted in Ravenna
At the British Museum
Médaillon of Galla Placidia (Clio20)
At Médailles et Antiques, Bibliothèque Nationale de France
From Strafforello (1890)
Harald Sund (1913)
“Morning entrance of Byzantine empress to the tomb of her ancestors” by Vasily Sergeyevich Smirnov (1890)
From Hutton (1913)
Late 19th century (Getty)
From Stobart (1920)
Ruins of Santa Croce
Reconstruction of Santa Croce and Mausoleum by Ricci
Plan from Deichmann
Ravenna in Late Antiquity by Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis
Byzantine Architecture by Cyril Mango
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan