The city of Ravenna became an extremely important city during Late Antiquity, eventually becoming the political center in Italy during the 5th century. The city was never as big as Rome, however it was was strategically better suited to be a capital. In a way, it served a similar purpose to Constantinople in that it was very defensible from both sea and land. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 its story did not end, it became the capital of Theoderic’s Ostrogothic Kingdom. In the 6th century the city was restored to the Roman administration by Belisarius, eventually becoming the capital of Byzantine Italy, known as the Exarchate of Ravenna. The city carries extra importance because it has many extremely well preserved Roman/Byzantine sites and artworks. Arguably the most famous Byzantine mosaics are those of Justinian and Theodora, which are in Ravenna.

Ravenna was the most important city in Byzantine Italy, as well as where the last Western Roman Emperors ruled Source: https://design.tre.digital/index.php/progetti/beni-culturali/29-ricostruzione-in-3d-ravenna-antica

Early History:

Capital of the Western Empire

Ravenna was located in swamps which no longer exist today because they were drained. This gave the city access to the sea for reinforcements from Constantinople, and excellent natural defenses. Source: https://design.tre.digital/index.php/progetti/beni-culturali/29-ricostruzione-in-3d-ravenna-antica

Old photographs from Porta Gaza in Ravenna Source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/40310887.pdf

Capital of the Ostrogoths

The Exarchate of Ravenna

The famous mosaic of Justinian, with Belisarius to his left and Narses to his right. Source: Sharon Mollerus https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mosaic_of_Emperor_Justinian,Basilica_of_San_Vitale,_Ravenna(6098678686).jpg

Inside the majestic San Vitale Basilica in Ravenna, built during the reign of Justinian and housing the famous mosaics of Justinian and Theodora. Photo by Petar Milosevic https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basilica_of_San_Vitale_-_triumphal_arch_mosaics.jpg


Judith Herrin – Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe (2020)