ILLUSTRATION: Two fifth-century rulers and their "grave goods."

Galla Placidia (d. 450), daughter of Theodosius I, was a leading political figure in the west for over four decades, as sister of one emperor (Honorius), husband of a second (Constantius III), mother and regent for a third (Valentinian III), and briefly, as wife of Alaric's brother Ataulf, queen of the Goths (413-415). Her monument, an ornate masoleum-church in Ravenna, shows that even the impoverished empire could afford impressive splendor.

Exterior of the Mausoleum.

Interior of the Mausoleum.

A detail of the mosaics.

The gold scabbard and sword hilt found in the tomb of the Frankish king Childeric (d. 480) demonstrates the splendor appropriate to an aspiring barbarian monarch. The buckles and mounts were derived from official Roman gear. The precise gold and garnet style seen here and in such finds as the Sutton Hoo burial may have been developed and disseminated from the court of Attila, the most prestigious barbarian of the fifth century, where an entire generation of warlords and politicians, Roman and barbarian, served their apprenticeship.

Another example of Frankish polychrome work: a beltbuckle of the late 5th or early 6th century.

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