Very little is known of the city's history before the last decades of the III century bC, when Ravenna entered the Roman sphere of influence as civitas foederata.
For the Romans Ravenna was a place of great strategic importance. It was isolated from the mainland on most sides by marshes which provided a considerable line of natural defence but at the same time it offered direct access to the sea from which it could receive supplies and reinforcements.
The exact time when the Romans took possession of Ravenna is not known but it is certain that the first Roman fleet in Ravenna was that of Metellus, legate of Silla, who landed there in 82 bC, perhaps during the period when Roman citizenship was conferred on it.
The city was chosen by Caesar as his general headquarters during the negotiations with the senate which lead to work being carried out on the port area for military purposes in 49 bC. The Port of Classe originated and underwent extensive improvement under Octavius Augustus who berthed a praetorian garrison fleet of 250 vessels to provide better defence of the Adriatic Sea and the waters of the near eastern Mediterranean. Emperor Octavius Augustus wanted the great military port to be joined to the southern branch of the River Po by a wide canal, the Fossa Augusta, that split into two branches before reaching Ravenna: one branch followed the city walls, thus reinforcing the defences of the city while the other flowed within the residential area and facilitated trade.
The topography of the city was quite unusual, since it consisted in a series of small islands connected by a number of bridges, therefore it was accessible only via sea. Strong economic growth led to an increase in population and urban expansion, which resulted in a development of the city's structure in a quadrangular perimeter, typical of other ancient oppida municipalia (fortified cities).
The city walls, raised higher and restored by Claudius in 43 aD at his first year as emperor, featured several gates to the city. One of them, the Porta Aurea, commemorates emperor Tiberius Claudius with an inscription on its front. The gate had two openings and was flanked by two cylindrical towers as seen in the medieval seal of the city and the drawings of some Renaissance architects including Palladio and Sangallo. The gate itself was demolished by the Venetians in 1582 in order to provide building materials.
At the beginning of the II century Trajan had an aqueduct built to meet the city's need for drinking water. Water from the Apennines was brought from the Teodorano area towards Ravenna following the course of the River Ronco, where some pylons and arches of the ancient aqueduct were discovered in the riverbed at the time of the diversion the river.
Even before the 2nd century aD Ravenna began to extend its building outside the oppidum into the area that was then called Regio Caesarum.
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Last modified date: 30/12/2016