Mausoleum of Theoderic
Perhaps only in his last year (A.D. 526) did Theoderic, the Gothic ruler of Italy, launch construction of his mausoleum, and when his daughter Amalasuntha's reign ended in 534 the building remained unfinished. Constructed of large lime-stone blocks transported by sea from Istria and laid without mortar, it was decagonal in plan and two stories high. The ground-floor interior was cross-shaped and groin-vaulted, whereas the second floor was circular, with a protruding rectangular niche. A porphyry tub (possibly the king's sarcophagus) now sits in the upper chamber. On the exterior of the lower walls are ten deep, arched niches, with joggled voussoirs. The second story is set back and is controversial, being both complex and unfinished, and may have had a dwarf gallery with radial barrel vaults on its exterior, like San Lorenzo, Milan. Each side of the gallery may have been marked by a triad of pilasters and a pair of niches surmounted by lunettes containing carved scallops. The cornice above is carved with a "tongue frieze" or pincer motif, derived from either debased classical ornament or Ostrogothic ornament, such as occurs in Germanic metalwork of the sixth century. The roof is a monolithic lid cut like a shallow dome. Estimated to weigh more than 230 tons, it is rimmed with twelve pierced, projecting spurs, each inscribed in Latin with the name of an apostle.
Many questions about the building remain unanswered: Was the upper story inaccessible or reached by an exterior stair or ramp? What was the function of the two chambers? Why are the spurs on the dome pierced? Were they handles intended for ropes to lift the monolith into place? The mausoleum is the only building in Ravenna constructed of limestone. In the West the tradition of stone building came to an end with Diocletian's palace at Split. If the mausoleum does not represent a revival of this tradition, it must represent a contemporary version of building techniques in Asia Minor and Syria, where the tradition survived into the sixth century. Joggled voussoirs appear at Split and throughout the West, but they also survived into the sixth century in the east Mediterranean. Possibly the mausoleum was erected by Eastern workmen, perhaps Isaurian builders, who were known to have worked in Thrace, Constantinople, Syria, and the Holy Land. The building design is a late example of Roman imperial mausolea. In the West in the Late Antique period double-storied tombs were no longer built, but they did survive in the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., the tomb of Diogenes in Hass, Syria). The monolithic dome is sometimes said to have been inspired by the tradition of stone-covered tomb mounds of Germanic chieftains, but it is questionable whether the Ostrogoths in the sixth century were familiar with that tradition. Among Late Antique buildings known to us today, the monolith is a unique feature—perhaps a reflection of Theoderic's wish to be remembered eternally.