Exarchate of Ravenna - Encyclopedia

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EXARCHATE OF RAVENNA, the official name of that part of Italy which remained in the allegiance of the Roman emperors at Constantinople from the closing years of the 6th to the middle of the 8th century. The civil and military head of these possessions, the exarch, was stationed at Ravenna. The territory round the town, from the southern border of the modern Venetia to the beginning of the Pentapolis at Rimini, was under his direct administration and formed in a limited sense the exarchate. The other provinces were governed by dukes and magistri militum, titles which were generally, but not always, borne by the same person. But as all were subject to his authority, they were included in the exarchate of Ravenna, which was therefore another name for the province of Italy. The borders of these dominions varied according to the fortunes of the imperial authority in its long struggle with the Lombards. Sicily formed a separate government. Corsica and Sardinia belonged to the exarchate of Africa. The reorganization of the province of Italy into the exarchate was forced on the emperors by the Lombard invasion, which began in 568, and their permanent settlement. The Lombards thrust a wedge into Italy. Its base was in Venetia, and its point was advanced to the Tiber. From the early days of the conquest they spread to the south, and established the duchies of Spoletum and Beneventum in the modern kingdom of Naples. They may thus be said to have hollowed out the imperial, or Byzantine, possessions in Italy, the interior being under their power, and the coast remaining to the imperial officers. This illustration, however, is subject to two serious exceptions. As the Lombards spread they came into possession of many parts of the coast. Then a belt of imperial territory stretching from Rimini on the Adriatic, S.W. to the mouth of the Tiber, and including the duchies of Perugia and Rome, served to unite the immediate territory of Ravenna with the duchy of Naples, and to separate the two bodies under Lombard dominion, the kingdom in the north, and the southern - duchies Spoletum and Beneventum. The organization of the exarchate is placed by modern investigators under the reign of the emperor Maurice (582-602), when the imperial government began to recognize the necessity of providing for a new and a long struggle. At the end of the 6th century the exarchate included Istria; the maritime part of Venetia as distinct from the interior which was in the hands of the Lombard kings at Pavia; the exarchate proper, or territory around Ravenna on the eastern side of the Apennines, to which was added Calabria, which at that period meant the heel and not the toe of the boot; the Pentapolis, or coast from Rimini to Ancona with the interior as far as the mountains; the duchy of Rome, or belt of territory connecting the Pentapolis with the western coast, the coast of Naples, w i th Bruttium the toe of the boot, the modern Calabria, and Liguria, or the Riviera of Genoa. The Piedmont, Lombardy, mainland of Venetia, Tuscany and the interior of Naples belonged to the Lombards. The advance of these barbarians was for a time checked during the anarchy which followed the death of Alboin, and was subject to other suspensions. The superior organization of the imperial government enabled it to regain lost territory and delay complete ruin. In S90 the empire regained much of Venetia. But these revivals were not permanent. The superiority of the empire was a mechanical one, and during the two centuries or so that the exarchate lasted it lost ground. In 640 the Ligurian seacoast fell under the power of the Lombards, and ceased to be an imperial province. About a century later the exarchate had been greatly reduced, though the imperial officials endeavoured to conceal the fact by retaining and transferring names when the reality of possession was lost. About 740 it consisted of Istria, Venetia (the maritime portion of which was ceasing to be a province and was becoming a protected state, the forerunner of the future republic of Venice), Ferrara, Ravenna (the exarchate in the limited sense), Pentapolis, Perusia, Rome, the coast of Naples and Calabria (in the sense of the toe and not the heel of the boot) which was being overrun by the Lombards of the duchy of Beneventum, which with Spoletum held the interior. In Rome the pope was the real master. These fragments of the "province of Italy," as it was when reconquered by Justinian, were almost all lost either to the Lombards, who finally conquered Ravenna itself about 750, or by the revolt of the pope, who separated from the empire on account of the iconoclastic reforms. The intervention of Pippin the Carolingian, who was called in by the popes to protect them against the Lombards and the Eastern emperors alike, made a revival of the exarchate impossible. It disappeared, and the small remnants of the imperial possessions on the mainland, Naples and Calabria, passed under the authority of the "patricius" of Sicily, and when Sicily was conquered by the Arabs in the Toth century were erected into the themes of Calabria and Langobardia. Istria was attached to Dalmatia.

In its internal history the exarchate was subject to the influences which were everywhere, in central and western Europe at least, leading to the subdivision of sovereignty and the establishment of feudalism. Step by step, and in spite of the efforts of the emperors at Constantinople, the great imperial officials became landowners, the owners of land - kinsmen or at least associates of these officials - intruded on the imperial administration, while the necessity for providing for the defence of the imperial territories against the Lombards led to the formation of local militias, who at first were attached to the imperial regiments, but gradually became independent. These armed men formed the exercitus romanae militiae, who were the forerunners of the free armed burghers of the Italian cities of the middle ages. The exercitus of Rome was divided into scholae, and had a chief or patronus, and its banner. Other cities of the exarchate were organized on the same model. Diehl is of opinion that the exercitus was formed of the ancient "possessores," or landowners and free townsmen, who were of a less rank than the ordo senatorius. The great landowners who were developing into feudal lords, and the smaller freemen who were becoming independent burghers, broke the imperial. administration to pieces, and prepared the way for the final ruin of the exarchate.

See Etudes sur l'administration Byzantine dans l'exarchat de Ravenne (568-751), by Charles Diehl (Paris, 1888).

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