The city, broken
by many canals and marshes, has an insular character
which aided its defense and affected its history. The
Adriatic gradually receded, necessitating construction of
a new port, Classis, ca. 4 km 5, to handle its commerce.
The city's dominant culture in pre-Roman times was
Umbrian (Plin. HN
3.15.115; Strab. 5.1.7
) though its
name and early (6th-4th c. B.C.) art were Etruscan.
Ravenna came into Rome's orbit ca. 191 B.C., gained
citizenship by the Lex Julia of 89 (CIL
XI, 863), was
taken from the Marians by Metellus in 82, served as
Caesar's base in 49 before he crossed the Rubicon (BCiv
1.5ff), and became the base for Augustus' Adriatic fleet,
with capacity of 250 ships. As a result of this last, the
city became more commercial and cosmopolitan. Classis
rose, 1st c. A.D., to become an early center of Christianity.
On account of its defensibility Ravenna was made capital
of the Western Empire from 404 to the fall, and of Theodoric's Ostrogothic kingdom till 540, when it became
the residence of the Byzantine Exarch of Italy.
Among the monuments mentioned in sources but completely lost are the pharos of the early port, probably
near the Mausoleum of Theodoric (Plin. HN
a circus, amphitheater, theater, and temples to Apollo,
outside the Porta Aurea, to Neptune, to Jupiter Optimus
Maximus, and others.
The ancient wall, expanded by the Ostrogoths, can
barely be reconstructed from remains of Porta Aurea
and a round tower of Porta Salustra, both to the SW.
Though pre-Roman strata have not been reached,
Etruscan art is represented by the warrior (now at Leida
Mus.) and other 6th-4th c. B.C. bronze statuettes in the
Mus. Naz. in the convent of S. Vitale. Nothing remains
from the Republic, little from the Early Empire. Of
Claudius' Porta Aurea, A.D. 43, the dedicatory inscription
XI, 4) and other elements are extant in the Mus.
Naz., as well as the marble relief called Apotheosis of
Augustus, which may derive from that gate. Foundations
of piers of Trajan's 32 km long aqueduct, restored in 503
by Theodoric (Cassiod. Var
. 5.38), are still seen in the
Ronco, SW of the city.
Numerous 2d-6th c. funerary stelai and sarcophagi
with inscriptions and portraits from Ravenna and Classis
are housed in the Mus. Naz. There are also collections
of ancient glass, coins, ivories, and ceramics. The Mus.
Arcivescovile is also rich in epigraphy, including
Christian examples, fragments of Roman reliefs, and
a notable porphyry torso of a late emperor.
By far the most important remains date from the 5th-6th c. To the NW the tomb of Galla Placidia (d. 450),
sister of Honorius, holds supposedly her sarcophagus and
those of Constantius and her son Valentinian III, but
these identifications have not been verified. In S. Vitale
nearby, begun ca. 525, can be seen fragments of a Roman
frieze and the famous contemporary mosaic of Justinian
and Theodora with retinues, a fine documentation of
Imperial costume and portraiture.
To the NE, ca. 1.6 km from town, a barbarian necropolis lies near the Mausoleum of Theodoric. The latter, built ca. 520 of Istrian stone, had a decagonal lower and a cylindrical upper level surmounted by a monolithic
cupola ca. 10.98 m in diameter, weighing 300 tons.
S. Apollinare Nuovo to the E, originally built by
Theodoric, contains the largest mosaic surface extant
from antiquity, depicting his palace and the cities of
Ravenna and Classis. Justinian's portrait is above the
door. Foundations just to the S may be the actual remains of the palace while the extant so-called palace of
Theodoric is thought to be in reality the later palace
of the Byzantine Exarch. The oldest standing building,
dated ca. 400, is the Neone (Orthodox) Baptistery. S.
Apollinare in Classe (ded. 549) is rich in mosaics.
Air-photo studies prior to 1961 helped to define the
ancient topography of Chassis, where excavations of 1963-67 turned up Roman foundations of the 1st-4th c. beneath
S. Severo. Necropoleis extending over 3 km along Via
Romea Vecchia date from Augustus' time to the 4th c.
and attest to a large population.
Extensive discussion and bibliogr. up to
1962 in EAA
s.v. Ravenna; F. W. Deichmann, Frühchristliche Bauten und Mosaiken von Ravenna
id., Ravenna, Geschichte und Monumente
K. Kostof, The Orthodox Baptistery of R
. (1965); Atti
del Convegno internaz. di studi sulle antichitá di Classe
(1968) contains papers on all aspects; G. Bovini, Saggio
di biliogr. su R. antica
(1968) and Corpus della scultura
paleocristiana, biz. ed altomedioevole di R
. (1968); G.
Bovini, ed., Collana di quaderni di antichità ravennati,
cristiane e biz
.; R. Heidenreich & H. Johannes, Das Grabmal Theodorichs zu R
. (1971). See also Corso di cultura
sull'arte ravennate e bizantina
D. C. SCAVONE