Friday 19 February
10 AM PST
1 PM EST
6 PM GMT
7 PM CET
7 AM NZDT (Saturday 20 February)
With Dr. Eireann Marshall
The Adriatic Lagoons not only provide us with a wealth of art, above all wonderful mosaics, but also an interesting insight into the transition between the Roman Imperial period and Late Antiquity, when the Roman empire was threatened by marauding tribes, leading to its ultimate demise.
During the height of the Roman Empire, the powerful cities of Aquileia and Ravenna were the centre of trade and the locus of the Adriatic fleet, respectively. Intriguingly, the ports of both cities survive providing a glimpse of their former glory and economic might. The wealth accumulated in Aquileia allowed the city to build the very fine basilica – just after the passage of the Edict of Milan in 313 which legalised Christianity – which preserves the largest extant Paleo-Christian mosaic floor.
With the advent of the economic and political crises which befell the Roman Empire after the 3rd century which resulted in the incursions of tribes coming from Germany and the East, the prosperity was shattered and people fled to the lagoons. The population of Aquileia fled to neighbouring Grado, further into the lagoon. In turn, Ravenna, because of the protection afforded by the lagoon, was made the capital of the Roman Empire in the West, something which resulted in the construction of wonderful churches still visible today, notably the so called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
After the Visigothic sacking of Rome in AD 476, the date stereotypically taken as the collapse of the Roman Empire, Ravenna continued to be a capital, both under the Ostrogothic Theodoric the Great and, after the Byzantine re-conquest, under Justinian. The monuments constructed at the time, including the Mausoleum of Theodoric and the Basilica of San Vitale, which are justly included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites, allow us to explore the way the Western Roman empire evolved in the late antique period.
Ravenna after the Collapse of the Western Empire City of Goths and of Byzantium
Ravenna is instrumental in understanding the evolution of the Western Empire after the sacking of Rome by Odoacer in 476. Far from becoming a backwater, the city continued to thrive as the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, who ruled over the whole of Italy, made Ravenna his capital and emulated Roman customs, from maintaining Roman plumbing to hiring eunuchs in his court. Indeed, some of the most splendid monuments date from this period, including the Mausoleum of Theodoric and the wonderful Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
Ravenna is perhaps best known, however, for its Byzantine period, when Justinian made it his capital and ordered the construction of its most famous church, San Vitale which preserves the most famous images of the emperor and his fascinating wife, Theodora.
What we discover in this lecture is that the Roman Empire didn’t collapse in the West but rather evolved, retaining many of its Roman structures and institutions. Justinian, after all, saw himself as the Emperor of the Romans.