Basilica santi Cosma e Damiano

Basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano, also known as Temple of Romulus on the Forum
1. The Period
1.1 The Invasion of Italy
1.2 Italy under the Ostrogoths
1.3 Ravenna and Rome
1.4 Pope Felix IV
2. The Basilica
3. The Mosaic
4. Analysis
4.1 Underlying problem
4.2 How this is represented in the mosaic
4.3 The layout of the mosaic
4.4 The symbolism used
5.5 The choice of dedication to Cosma and Damian
5. Conclusion
5.1 Which traditions were used to present a new message?

The Period

The Invasion of Italy

Coin depicting Theodoric the Great

The last emperor of Rome was in 476 with the name Romulus, however the emperor was not of much importance, all affairs were governed by the senate. He was deposed by Odoacer a Visigoth who was leader of the foederati, soldiers of the Roman Empire who were 'barbarians' and therefore not granted roman citizenships. They were lodging with Italians and had to pay high taxes but wanted to have land of their own so there was an uprising and Odoacer deposed the emperor. Odoacer then became the first (Germanic) king of Italy. The emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (byzantine), emperor Zeno found Odoacer to be a rival and wanted to depose him so he hired in Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths to capture Italy from Odoacer in 489. In 490 he defeated Odoacer and many cities declared themselves as Theodoric's. But there was a siege at Ravenna, and in 493 Theodoric killed Odoacer and slaughtered his soldiers after they had agreed to split Italy.

Italy under the Ostrogoths

There were now two types of people living in Italy, the Goths and the Romans, the power lay with the Goths however they were vastly in the minority of the population about 100,000 to 4,000,000 (between 1- 2%), and settled predominantly in the north-east and almost not at all below Rome. The Goths were all military and many lived in military camps, however this was not unusual as this also happened in the late Roman Empire, where they had many barbarians in the army who lived separately from the civilitas. Whereas the civil affairs were still ran by Romans, as the reign of Theodoric went on more Goths were appointed to the senate. Theodoric was essentially a military leader, and his military advisors may have advised him who to appoint to the senate so the Romans may have felt there position being eroded.

Goths and Romans were divided in Law, when there was a case with a Goth versus a Roman they used a gothic court with a roman consultant, which shows that Goths were treated as superior. Some Goths also were violent towards the Romans but in general they were accepted as reasonable rulers, Theodoric was especially popular and seen as a wise man. The perceptions of Romans towards the Goths varied, some thought of them as barbarians some didn't and some thought of them as a mix of the two. Intermarriage was forbidden between barbarians and roman citizens; however it still happened and was accepted with high ranking Goths who were regarded as roman citizens. Some Goths adopted roman names, and Gothic borrowed many Latin words into but the impact Gothic made impact on Latin was minimal, however Gothic remained the language of the military. So over time many Goths became evermore romanised.

The Goths also had a different religion to Romans; the Goths were Arians which meant that they believed that Jesus was inferior to God and the Romans were Catholic. There was a slow change amongst the Goths to the Catholicism, but many kept hold of it as a badge of national identity including Theodoric.

Ravenna and Rome

During the reign of Theodoric Rome fell in power and prestige and Ravenna became the new capital, Ravenna was the administrative centre of Italy and was the place of king Theodoric's court, so had a heavy Gothic influence. Meanwhile Rome was still the place of the senate and the church. The difference between the cities can mostly be seen in who built the churches, in Rome it was almost exclusively the Pope who commissioned churches, whereas in Ravenna it was royalty and laypeople with power, some Arian churches were even built. The popes were gradually increasing in power and the city was gradually becoming an 'urbs ecclesisiae'.

Nearer the end of Theodoric's reign after 510 he fell out with many of the aristocracy in Italy. This was mainly because there was a schism in the church and the current pope pope Symmachus was imprisoned. Theodoric asked the council of bishops to decide if he was guilty as he wished to stay out of church matters, but they refused to pass judgement so eventually Theodoric decided to Rule in his favour, but in the time he was imprisoned an 'antipope' had already arisen.

Almost all of the senate supported the new pope and wanted the current one imprisoned or put to death, but Theodoric eventually came out in support of Pope Symmachus the current pope. It is probably because of this that he stopped promoting the sons of consuls to the senate instead promoting Goths, Gauls and non-aristocrats, which meant he fell out of favour with the Roman aristocracy.

Pope Felix IV

Pope Felix was ordained after pope John was sent to go to Constantinople to stop the persecution of Arians there. Theodoric was not happy with the result of the trip and there were even rumours that he would begin persecuting Catholics if it didn't go very well. Felix was made pope on 12 July 526, which was around the time Theodoric died (the date is not certain), but he was definitely recommended by Theodoric.

The rule then passed on to Theodoric's grandson Athalaric, but he was too young so his catholic mother Amalasuntha ruled as regent. With the death of Theodoric the relationship between the Goths and the senate began to deteriorate and there was a difference of interests with some people favouring Byzantium and some the Goths. Also the Goths disliked Amalasuntha as she was too romanised and started plotting against her and she asked for sanctuary in Constantinople if things were to deteriorate.

Pope Felix later tried to name his own successor which was frowned upon as he wanted to make sure it was someone with gothic sympathies and not sympathies towards the Byzantine Empire.

The Basilica

The Basilica of cosma e damiano is situated on the roman forum, it is in fact the first church on the forum. It used to be two buildings, the library of peace and the temple of Romulus.

The Mosaic

Apse mosaic in the basilica

Center of the mosaic: Jesus Christ holds the word of law and is in the centre, he is upon the clouds of heaven.

The right side of the mosaic: St Peter offers st cosma over river jordan. The crown symbolises
martyrdom. On the far right is Theodore, holding up another crown of martyrdom, also a byzantine
saint. Dressed in a byzantine fashion, could show leanings towards byzantine in popes outlook.
Felix IV also built another church to St Theodore nearby.

The left side of the mosaic: St Paul offers st damian to the lord. On the
far left is Felix, offering the basilica to heaven. He is on the right side
of jesus, more important than Theodore

The mosaic inscription: 4 rivers of life Geon (Nile?), Fison (Ganges?), Tigris and Euphrates. Bethlehem on the right, Jerusalem on
the left. The river Iodanes (Jordan) represents baptism and the way past the kingdom of heaven.

The inscription reads: "this church of god shines marvellously with precious stones, but in it shines even brighter
with the precious light of Faith; through the merits of the Physician-martyrs, the sure hope of salvation comes
to the people and this place by its dedication will increase in prestige. Felix has consecrated it to the Lord as a
gift worthy of a pope so that he may merit to live in the glorious city of heaven."


Underlying problem

The underlying problem that the mosaic tries to solve is the clash of cultures between the Goths with their Arian religion and the Catholic Church, who were increasingly siding with the Byzantine Empire. The buildings were donated by the daughter of Theodoric, Amalasuntha, who was a catholic, around the time of Theodorics death, and the pope who constructed it also had gothic sympathies, we can see this as he was the only pope to ever try and name his successor, who was a Goth and also by the fact he was recommended by Theodoric. As you can imagine there was a lot of instability around that time as the powerful ruler had just died, and now a weaker ruler (his grandson, with his mother ruling as regent) had taken over), and the powerful emperor of Byzantium was interested in taking over and already had some influence in. So the problem was now 'who rules us now? Who has the power?

The artwork attempts to assert that Arianism was not the correct way of viewing the world and that Catholicism was; It also tried to assert that the byzantines were more important than the goths this was done in several ways.

How this is represented in the mosaic

The main difference between Arianism and Catholocism was that Arianism thought that Jesus was inferior to god as he was mortal. The mosaic infers that Jesus was in fact immortal and just as important as god in various ways.

The layout of the mosaic

We can see in the positioning of the people on the mosaic that there is a definite hierarchy in the world. Jesus is represented as by far the most important, as he is in the centre of the mosaic and positioned much higher than the other figures and is also actually the only one there represented as being in heaven. The two apostles Peter and Paul are also directing their hands towards him which gives more focus. (And he in turn gestures to the phoenix).

We can also see more about the relative importance of people by their positioning in the portrait. The two apostles Peter and Paul are the closest to Jesus and heaven, then we see the two martyrs Cosma and Damian are the second furthest away so these are the next most important. Then we have Pope Felix on the right hand side and saint Theodore on the left.

Theodore (the warrior saint) represents king Theodoric, which is telling as this means that he was not important enough, or it was not allowed to show him on the mosaic, probably because of his religion. Theodore was also a byzantine saint which could have been coincidence but again shows that the catholic church were favouring Byzantium, he is even dressed in the garb of the byzantine court wearing a cloak with a square purple cloth sewn on it, which was an insignia of the court of Justinian, who quarrelled with Theodoric about his religion and wanted to invade. The fact that pope Felix is on the right side of Jesus is quite important, as the right hand side is seen as more important than the left, which places pope Felix above Theodoric. Which again shows that the Goths did have a place in society but it was a low part, lower than the Catholic Church at least. It could also be that they included him just to appease the ruling Goths.

The symbolism used

The phoenix that Christ points to is a symbol of immortality; this is given a very prominent role in the mosaic very much at the top with Christ's outstretched arm leading the eye towards it. This is also positioned above pope Felix drawing the eye more towards him rather than Theodore, again highlighting their lower place in society.

The other major symbol of immortality used is the crowns carried by the martyrs, known as the crowns of martyrdom, also known as crowns of immortality; there are 3 of these in the mosaic.

Palm trees are positioned behind Felix and Theodore; palm branches were a symbol of Christ's victory over death, so a symbol of immortality. They were also often seen as an aspect of Christian martyrs which as well as the crowns ties together those two ideas. It is also interesting to note that the phoenix, also a symbol of immortality is positioned on the palm tree.

Bees are also used as a symbol in the mosaic, bees are a symbol of virgin birth, this is because for a long time people didn't know how bees reproduced and thought that it happened by Immaculate Conception. This again is probably used to show Jesus' divinity, however the positioning of the bees is quite interesting as they are between pope and St Damian, it may have been a symbol of intention of purity towards the Goths on behalf of the pope, it could also perhaps symbolise a separation between the gothic past (Arian) and perhaps a byzantine/ catholic future.

There are 13 lambs 6 on each side and one in the middle representing the Lamb of God, and the 12 representing the disciples. The disciple sheep are coming towards the Lamb of God from Bethlehem on the right and Jerusalem of the left, these are represented by two small houses. The Lamb of God is standing on the mystic mount where the four rivers of paradise flow from, this is said to represent the evangelists, spreading the message of Christ. We can interpret this as the importance of the evangelising of the Goths, from Arianism to Catholicism.

The choice of dedication to Cosma and Damian

The fact that the basilica was dedicated to Cosma and Damian is also significant, as firstly they were two saints from Byzantium again showing favour towards that, secondly the reason they were martyred was because they refused to renounce their Christianity, and the reason why Christianity was found to be such a problem in those days was not that they worshipped different gods but that they wouldn't worship the emperor. This is useful for interpreting the mosaic, as it could be that the Goths were powerful and were paying too much attention to the emperor/ king, and were not listening to the church, the Catholics. So choosing these martyrs was a particular way of saying the king is not as important as the church/ Jesus. We can see that the king was regarded as very important in the mosaics at Ravenna in Basillica Sant Apollinaire an Arian church, where he was given a prominent role in the mosaics. Jesus was also depicted as getting older in these mosaics by being shown with no beard and in a later story with a beard. the however, in a backlash against Arianism later on many of the more 'Arian' bits of the mosaics were covered up although some traces remain.


The mosaic attempts to establish that the byzantines should be the rulers and that catholicism was the correct religion, it also gives some credit to the goths but implies they should be evangelised and made catholic.

Which traditions were used to present a new message?

In cultural evolution it is a generally gradual process as to a certain extent you have to use the symbols and techniques of the past cultural stage. In this instance the tradition of the healing twins, Castor and Pollox were used who used to have a temple on the forum, this was probably why this location was chosen. The building also used to be the Library of Peace; which had books on medicine and used to hold lectures by doctors so it was already established as a place of healing and medicine.