The Italian campaigns were finished in 556. The three chapters schism between the emperor and Pope came to a head. Some popes were dragged to Constantinople. This shows that the Emperor was exerting influence in Rome. The Lombards invaded Italy in 568. In 590, the Vatican erected the sign of St. Peter, symbolizing its independence and the creation of the Papal States.

The Exarchate of Ravenna included a small strip of land, through Perugia to Rome. This is how Rome survived the Lombard invasions, but was isolated enough to be independent. It appears to be a fine line; the empire could maintain the "bridge", but couldn't tell the popes what to do. I'm wondering if they actually tried to occupy Rome, that they couldn't have handled both the Roman and Lombardian response, and would have lost other Italian regions. For example, when Justinian II tried to arrest the Pope, the people in Ravenna and inland rebelled, before they even got to Rome. (Although, I like T.E.D's story of hiding under the Pope's bed more.) On the other hand, if Rome wanted assistance against Lombardia, then constantinople could assist Rome via Perugia, but then Constantinople would have wanted something in return?

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    The eastern Empire tried to reconquer the west in that time period, but failed, See e,.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belisarius to start.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 16, 2017 at 4:01
  • My favorite story from this period was when Justinian II got ticked at the Pope in 692 and sent someone to arrest him, not only did the guy fail, but he ended up having to hide under the pope's bed.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 16, 2017 at 15:49
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    It is unsound military practice to attempt capture of prizes which it is not actually possible to hold. It is called over-reaching, and is arguably the most common cause of military defeat. See also hubris. Sep 19, 2017 at 2:33

1 Answer 1


The Byzantine Empire did occupy Rome during the reign of Justinian I, which ended in 565, during which the Empire reached the peak of its power.

By the time of Emperor Maurice (beginning 582), the Byzantine Empire had serious enemies closer to home, from Persia and the Balkans. Hence they were too weak (in Italy) to overcome a relatively small Lombard "wedge" that shielded Rome from them.

  • What about the strip from Perugia?
    – John Dee
    Sep 16, 2017 at 21:59
  • @JohnDee: Same deal. Basically, the Byzantines were too weak. or rather too stretched out, to do anything in Italy at that point.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 16, 2017 at 22:51
  • So they could offer to support Rome against the Lombards, but not challenge Rome? That would be the "fine line" I am looking for, by which Rome gained independence.
    – John Dee
    Sep 16, 2017 at 23:15
  • "Offers" and talk is cheap. Troops on the ground are expensive.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 16, 2017 at 23:33
  • Unless they were able to provide assistance to Rome, it doesn't seem to explain how it survived.
    – John Dee
    Sep 17, 2017 at 1:42

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