Ravenna is a city located in northeastern Italy along the Adriatic coast. It was first inhabited by Italic peoples, and they were soon followed by the Etruscans, Gauls, and Romans by the 2nd century BC. The city’s location along the Adriatic coast made it an ideal harbor for ships that came in from the Mediterranean in the ancient times but by 402 AD, the emperor Honorius made Ravenna the Western Roman Empire’s capital to escape the barbarian invasion in Mediolanum (Milan). The marshes that surrounded the city made it initially difficult for various barbarian invaders to break through the city walls, although it was breached by barbarians a number of times during the Medieval Period. The Exarch of Ravenna ruled from 476 – 538 AD where it is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History.
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The Lombards in Italy
It was the Western Empire’s capital from 402 AD to 476 AD, but it finally fell to the barbarians during the reign of King Odoacer and Theodoric the Great. By 551 AD, the Lombards ended the Ostrogoth domination of Italy and continued their push toward the southern part of the country. These barbarians first started out as mercenaries hired by general Narses during the war with the Ostrogoths and they were promised land in Pannonia in exchange for their skills in the battlefield.
Once they had settled in Pannonia, they found that the land was already overpopulated by other barbarian tribes, and they needed to move out if they were to survive. The Lombards, led by fierce warrior-king Alboin, turned west to the rich but ravaged land of Italy. They stopped at nothing to get the land they needed. They first took the cities in the Liguria region including Milan and Pavia but failed to take Ravenna, Rome, and other fortified cities in Italy. After the death of Alboin in 572 AD, the cities in the Italian peninsula (except for Ravenna, Rome, and others still held by the Byzantine Empire) crumbled into various duchies ruled by its own Lombard duke.
Exarchate of Ravenna
Ravenna proved resilient and withstood the Lombard invasion for many years. It remained the only place where the Byzantines still held power and the city became an exarchate—a place where the Byzantine emperor Maurice ruled through his representative, the exarch. The exarch initially had full command of the troops loyal to Byzantium, but over the years, his responsibilities expanded to the administrative, judicial, and religious branches of the city. He had unlimited power over Ravenna, as well as the towns from the southern border of Venice and to the coastal city of Rimini. The Byzantine-allied dukes and Magister militum who governed other cities submitted to his authority. Except for the Lombard dukes who ruled Spoleto, Benevento, and Pavia. The threat of the Vandals also pushed the emperor to establish the Exarchate of Africa later on.
The conflict over iconoclasm that started in Constantinople spilled over to Italy in 727 AD and a bloody revolution over the icons in Italy ended with the death of Ravenna’s Exarch Paul and his followers. Eutychius replaced Paul as the exarch. He ruled the city until the Lombards completely captured Ravenna in 751 AD. The position of the exarch also ended in the same year.
Picture By Castagna – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7042496
Paul the Deacon, William Dudley Foulke, and Edward Peters. History of the Lombards. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
“P927 Exarchate of Ravenna.” Exarchate of Ravenna. Accessed July 23, 2016. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Emilia-Romagna/Ravenna/Ravenna/Ravenna/_Periods/medieval/Exarchate/Britannica_1911*.html.
Vasiliev, Alexander A. History of the Byzantine Empire. Vol. 1. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1952.
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