Very little is known of the city's history before the last decades of the 3rd 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 known to have been present 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 possibly lead to work being done on the port for military purposes.
The port of Classe originated and underwent extensive improvement under Octavius Augustus who wanted a praetorian garrison fleet of 250 vessels to provide better defence of the Adriatic Sea and the waters of the near eastern Mediterranean, thus it became main fleet base for the central Mediterranean. From that moment on the life of Ravenna revolved around the port and the fleet whose commander was the most prestigious man of the city. Trade flourished (export of asparagus, fish and timber coming from northern Italy) and industry (shipyards).
The port was built about 4 km southeast of the city and its enormous harbour was dug out in the area containing the latest belt of sand dunes which had been gradually moving away from the older coastline.
The emperor Octavius Augustus wanted the great military port to be joined to the southern branch of the River Po by a wide canal. This canal, known as the 'Fossa Augusta', perhaps split into two branches before reaching Ravenna. One branch would have followed the line of the city walls thus reinforcing the defences of the city while the other ran right through the residential area and facilitated trade.
The city in those days had a truly unusual topography in that it consisted of a series of small islands connected by a number of bridges.
Strong economic growth lead to an increase in population and urban expansion.
Like other ancient oppida municipali (fortified cities) Ravenna too had a quadrangular perimeter.
The city walls, raised higher and restored by Claudius in 43 AC, his first year as emperor, had two gates later given the names Porta Salustra and Posterula Latronum.
We can be sure that the Porta Aurea is certainly of Claudius time because there was an inscription commemorating Tiberius Claudius running along the 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 two cylindrical towers were knocked down by the Venetians at the end of the 15th century while the gate itself was demolished in 1582 in order to provide building materials.
At the beginning of the 2nd century Trajan had an aqueduct built to meet the city's need for drinking water which it did not have. 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 diverting the river.
Even before the 2nd century AD Ravenna began to extend its building outside the oppidum municipale into the area that was then called Regio Caesarum.
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