Strabo in his account of Ravenna, which I have quoted above, emphasises the fact rather of its situation among the marshes than of its position with regard to the sea. This is perhaps natural. The society to which he belonged (though indeed he was of Greek descent) loathed and feared the sea with an unappeasable horror. No journey was too long to make if thereby the sea passage might be avoided, no road too rough and rude if to take it was to escape the unstable winds and waters. That too was a part of Ravenna’s strength. She was as much a city of the sea as Venice is; but of what a sea?
The Adriatic, upon whose western shore she stood at the gate of Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, was—and this partly because of the Roman horror of the sea—the fault between Greek and Latin, East and West. To this great fact she owes much of her later splendour, much of her unique importance in those centuries we call the Dark Age.
Even to-day as one stands upon the height of the republic of S. Marino and catches, faintly at dawn, the sunlight upon the Dalmatian hills, one instinctively feels it is the Orient one sees.
This, then, is the cause of the greatness, of the opportunity for greatness, of Ravenna: her geographical position in regard to the peninsula of Italy, the Cisalpine plain, and the sea. Each of these exalt her in turn and all together give her the unique and almost fabulous position she holds in the history of Europe.
Because she held the gateway between Italy and the Cisalpine plain, Caesar repaired to her when he was treating with the Senate for the consulship, and from her he set out to possess himself of all that great government.
Because she was impregnable, and held both the plain where the enemy must be met and the peninsula with Rome within it, Honorius retreated to her from Milan when Alaric crossed the Alps.
Because she was set upon the sea, and that sea was the fault between East and West, and because she held the key as it were of all Italy and through Italy of the West, Justinian there established his government when the great attempt was made by Byzantium to reconquer us from the barbarian.
“Ravenna Felix” we read on many an old coin of that time, and whatever we may think of that title or prophecy, which indeed might seem never to have come true for her, this at least we must acknowledge, that she was happy in her situation which offered such opportunities for greatness and so certain an immortality.
JULIUS CAESAR IN RAVENNA