Ravenna features the finest examples of Late Roman Empire / Early Byzantine / Eastern Roman architecture and art. The tragedy of the Eastern / Byzantine Roman Empire is that the geographic area that was its center was destroyed by war, conquest and populations that have no roots in its civilization. We visited Ravenna to see the heart of Byzantium that we had not seen in Istanbul or on the coast of Asia Minor. Judith Herrin in her new masterpiece Ravenna, Capital of the Empire, Crucible of Europe brings the history of this amazing city to life. The landmarks we visited were brought to life through this scholarship presented by a pro-Eastern Roman / Byzantine perspective.
I had no idea that when Allied forces were preparing to invade and occupy Italy in 1943, the British Naval Intelligence Division’s plan for textbooks included all aspects of the country. This is the description of Ravenna, a small town on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy, is described as the center of early Christian art. Ravenna is unmatched. At the time this volume was published, many parts of the city were in ruins. Its unique early Christian art was destroyed by 52 Allied bombardments.
Italians are among the best art restorers in the world. Immediately after the war, they set out to repair their unique heritage by raising funds. They have restored tourism. An exhibition of early Romanesque art has traveled around the world. Restoration Scholar Herrin makes it very clear that at the height of his influence, Ravenna was clearly a Byzantine city.
Before the devastating global pandemic of 2020, we went to understand our Byzantine heritage. Author Herrin’s account is astonishing because, she said in English, the Greek perspective, taught in Greek to Eastern Orthodox scholars and Christians for generations.
Byzantium lasted from 330 to 1435 AD, due to this extraordinary resilience and self-confidence. This force was rooted in Roman law and political capacity, Greek education and culture, and Christian belief and morality. Proof of this is the vitality of its peripheral towns. As soon as Constantinople was conquered in 1204 AD, the outlying towns burst into a Byzantine life of their own.
Author Herrin has spent nine years researching, examining original Latin sources and Italian sources. The rise and role of Ravenna shows that it was a city rooted in the East and the West. Northern Italy was not just the Renaissance of the 14th and 15th centuries. It is ignored by Western historians. Why? We remember the famous phrase “History is written by winners”. The flowering of Ravenna took place almost a thousand years earlier. The centuries-old government archives have been ruined and destroyed. Very little is known about the artisans and possibly the women and children who created the mosaics. They did not sign their names on their works.
The mosaics of Ravenna are different from the ancient world. They decorate the walls and ceilings of churches, not the floors. Its exceptional history was from 402 to 751. Ravenna did not experience the decline of the West. Researcher Herrin believes Ravenna I represented an emerging new world: early Christian civilization with church leaders taking on government roles.
A central aspect of Ravenna’s development is the role of Byzantium. These centuries marked the importance of Constantinople. He had a distinct influence on how Italy developed. It became a Latin fire that spread and generated its own influence in independence across Italy and North Africa between 400 and 600. Ravenna was one of the cities that exemplified and supported its growth, especially under the rule of Theodoric, the multilingual Gothic (German) ruler. He was trained at the Byzantine court. His determination was crucial in integrating barbarian and Roman elements into the development of the West.
Constantinople played a key role in the emergence of Italian institutions neglected by Western medieval historians. Ravenna’s strategic location among marshes, lakes and tributaries offered natural protection against invasions. Its neighboring port of Classes (Modern Class) was a commercial center to Constantinople and the East. The classes grew into a large naval center, with shipbuilders and sailors. The combined colonies of Ravenna and the port of Classes represented a secure urban center with access to the Adriatic and maritime communication with Constantinople. Ravenna was built on sandbanks and wooden bridges over canals like Venice. It was a typical Roman town.
It was a city whose important location was a hub of connectivity. Its story is not just the story of a city, but of the powers that are drawn to it, making Ravenna a melting pot of Europe. Why go to the centers of Western Anatolia, where Byzantine culture has been destroyed. Ravenna and Venice give him an idea of what the Eastern Roman Empire was like. The world civilization of the East and the West owes a debt to the Italian people and government who in 2021 preserve their Byzantine heritage.