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Exarchate of Ravenna
The Exarchate of Ravenna was a center of Byzantine power in Italy, from the end of the 6th century to 751 A.D., when the last Exarch was put to death by the Emperor's enemies in Italy, the Lombards. The Western emperors had abandoned Rome first for Milan and then, with Honorius for Ravenna in 402 (404?). The city remained the capital of the Western Roman Empire until its dissolution in 476, when it became the capital of Odoacer, then of the Ostrogoths, but in 540 at the close of the Gothic Wars, Ravenna was occupied by the great Byzantine general Belisarius. Subsequently, under the exigencies of the Lombard invasion, which began in 568, Ravenna was made the seat of an imperial exarchate. Thus the Exarchate was formed and organized during the reign of the Eastern emperor Maurice I (582 - 602), when the imperial government began to recognize the necessity of providing for a new and a long struggle.
The civil and military head of these imperial possessions, the exarch himself, was the representative at Ravenna of the emperor in Constantinople. The surrounding territory reached from the boundary with Venice in the north to the Pentapolis at Rimini, the border of the "five cities" in the Marches along the Adriatic coast. All this territory lies on the eastern flank of the Apennines; this was under the exarch's direct administration and formed the Exarchate in the strictest sense. Surrounding territories were governed by dukes and magistri militium more or less subject to his authority. From the perspective of Constantinople, the Exarchate consisted of the province of Italy.
The Exarchate of Ravenna was not the sole Byzantine province in Italy. Byzantine Sicily formed a separate government, and Corsica and Sardinia, while they remained Byzantine, belonged to the Byzantine Exarchate of Africa.
The Lombards had their capital at Pavia and controlled the great valley of the Po. The Lombard wedge in Italy spread to the south, and established duchies at Spoleto and Beneventum; they controlled the interior, while Byzantine governors more or less controlled the coasts.
The Piedmont, Lombardy, the interior mainland of Venetia, Tuscany and the interior of Naples belonged to the Lombards, and bit by bit the Imperial representative in Italy lost all genuine power, though in name he controlled areas like Liguria (completely lost in 640 to the Lombards), or Naples and Calabria (being overrun by the Lombard duchy of Benevento). In Rome, the pope was the real master.
At the end, ca 740, the Exarchate consisted of Istria, Venetia (except for the lagoon of Venice itself, which was becoming an independent protected city-state, the forerunner of the future republic of Venice), Ferrara, Ravenna (the exarchate in the limited sense), with the Pentapolis, and Perugia.
These fragments of the province of Italy, as it was when reconquered for Justinian, were almost all lost, either to the Lombards, who finally conquered Ravenna itself about 750, or by the revolt of the pope, who finally separated from the Empire on the issue of the iconoclastic reforms. When in 756 the Franks drove the Lombards out, Pope Stephen II claimed the exarchate. His ally Pepin III, King of the Franks, donated the conquered lands of the former exarchate to the Papacy in 756; this donation, which was confirmed by his son Charlemagne in 774, marked the beginning of the temporal power of the popes as the Patrimony of Saint Peter . The archbishoprics within the former exarchate, however, had developed traditions of local secular power and independence, which contributed to the fragmenting localization of powers. Three centuries later, that independence would fuel the rise of the independent communes.
So the Exarchate disappeared, and the small remnants of the imperial possessions on the mainland, Naples and Calabria, passed under the authority of the military patricius of Sicily, and when Sicily was conquered by the Arabs in the 10th century the remnants were erected into the themes of Calabria and Langobardia. Istria at the head of the Adriatic was attached to Dalmatia.
In its internal history the exarchate was subject to the splintering influences which were leading to the subdivision of sovereignty and the establishment of feudalism throughout Europe. Step by step, and in spite of the efforts of the emperors at Constantinople, the great imperial officials became local landowners, the lesser owners of land were increasingly kinsmen or at least associates of these officials, and new allegiances intruded on the sphere of imperial administration. Meanwhile 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, as they were recruited entirely locally. 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. Other cities of the exarchate were organized on the same model.
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