Rome, Ravenna, and the last western emperors

Andrew Gillett

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76 Citations (Scopus)


Ravenna has long been regarded as the capital of the late Roman emperors and of their successors in the West, Odoacer and the Ostrogothic rulers, but the available evidence in fact indicates that Rome was the more important imperial residence of the fifth century. The adoption of Ravenna as an imperial residence is usually attributed to the protection from assault offered by its swamps, and the military weakness of the last emperors. This article tabulates evidence for the residences of the western emperors from 401 to 476, showing that the western imperial court occupied Rome for significant periods, including between 401–408 and 440–449, and that Rome was the court’s primary residence between 450 and 476, the last generation of imperial rule in the West. The later years of the reign of Valentinian III and the rule of Anthemius in particular illustrate the role of Rome as the imperial residence. Contemporary and sixth-century writings support Rome’s importance, but make little reference to the supposed defensive qualities of Ravenna. The emperors’ presence in Rome underscores the centrality of the senatorial aristocracy of Rome to fifth-century western politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-167
Number of pages37
JournalPapers of the British School at Rome
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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