Rituals on the Road: Two highways at Rome and Ravenna AD 400- 750
Via Tiburtina Space, movement and artefacts in the urban landscape, edited by H. Bjur & B. Santillo Frizell (Rome, 2005)
This study will analyse rituals on the Via Tiburtina, and their impact on the bid for power in late antique Rome. The focus will be on the interaction of human activity with physical and mental structures, taking into consideration ritual, ideology, symbols, boundaries and monuments along the road. The late antique hinterland of Rome merits a closer study, since this was a period of fundamental change which also deeply affected highway activity. The study hopes to answer questions such as how the road, buildings and human activity were conceived and perceived in the power game, towards which audience the monuments and rituals were directed, and how they were looked upon by contemporaries.
To put the study of the late antique Via Tiburtina in a wider perspective, a comparison with one road in Ravenna in the same period will also be undertaken. Ravenna was chosen because it represents the other seat of imperial might in Italy at the time. Moreover, it allows interesting comparisons between developments around Rome and in the north of Italy.
Rome was still among the most important political and religious centres in the Mediterranean in the later part of late antiquity (c. AD 400-750). The city had become a renewed imperial seat in the early and middle part of the fifth century. Through the special status of its bishop it was the outstanding Christian centre of the West, and its strategic importance was clearly shown in the drawn-out struggle between Goths and Byzantines for the Italian peninsula in the middle of the sixth century. The devastation of war was followed by military stalemate between Byzantines and Lombards in the last century and half of the studied period. This probably had negative consequences for rural areas around Rome, which under those conditions of siege could not recover. But it also allowed the city’s bishop to carve out a political niche which brought Rome to new prosperity in the centuries to follow.