Did you know that Venice, as we know it today, didn’t exist when the Byzantine Empire expanded into Italy? And that Ferrara was founded in 604 C.E. in order to provide a new defensive barrier for Ravenna? And that between the Marche and Umbria regions there existed a “Byzantine corridor” connecting cities on the Adriatic Sea with others on the Tyrrhenian without having to cross into enemy territory? And that today’s Greek language islands in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily derive from immigration of Greek-speaking peoples from Byzantium? Italy hosted a Byzantine presence for over five centuries, and it extended well beyond the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Italian city that is most associated with Byzantine domination. Despite the Longobardic, Norman, Frank and Gothic invasions, up to 751 C.E. one-third of the Italian peninsula remained in Byzantine hands; and in the current regions of Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria, the Empire endured until the year 1071. Despite this lengthy dominion, material traces of the Byzantine Era are rather scarce and irregularly distributed. In the North little of the earliest era has been preserved; apart from Ravenna’s imperial mosaics, only individual artefacts have survived. In Southern Italy, on the contrary, the former imperial presence enjoys greater visibility, mainly due to a significant amount of churches. The author’s account unfolds from Istria to Venice (a city that grew, under Byzantine rule, around the island of Rialto), from the Northwest (Milan, Genoa) to Ravenna, from Central Italy (Perugia, Rome) to the South (Naples, Salento, Matera, Calabria) and the major islands (Messina, Palermo, Syracuse, Cagliari).
Giorgio Ravegnani teaches Medieval History and History of Byzantine Italy at the University of Venice.