Everything you need to know about the exarchates of Carthage and Ravenna

The exarchates of Carthage and Ravenna were administrative divisions of the Byzantine Empire that combined both civil and military authority, essentially serving as semi-autonomous provinces.

They were established to deal with the distant and challenging frontier regions of the empire, areas that required unified military and civil leadership due to their strategic importance and the external threats they faced.

READ MORE: Important Facts about the Byzantine Empire

Exarchate of Ravenna

The Exarchate of Ravenna covered large parts of northeastern Italy. Image: Map of the Exarchate of Ravenna (in red) within the Byzantine Empire in 600 AD.

Established: 584 AD.

Location: Located in northeastern Italy, with Ravenna as its capital, this exarchate was set up in response to the Lombard invasion and conquest of much of the Italian peninsula. The Byzantines needed a stronghold in Italy, and Ravenna served as that fortified and defensible position.

Significance: The exarchate essentially represented the Byzantine Empire’s hold on Italy, from which they attempted to resist Lombard, and later Frankish, pressures. Over time, it diminished in size and importance, especially as the Lombards continued to gain power. It lasted until 751 AD when Ravenna was captured by the Lombards.

Exarchate of Carthage

The Exarchate of Africa covered areas of what is now Tunisia, parts of Libya, and eastern Algeria, with Carthage as the capital. Image: Map of the Exarchate of Africa (in red) within the Byzantine Empire in AD 600.

Established: By Emperor Maurice shortly after the Byzantine reconquest of North Africa from the Vandals in 534 AD.

Location: Covered the regions of modern-day Tunisia, parts of Libya, and eastern Algeria, with Carthage (near modern-day Tunis) as its capital.

Significance: The exarchate was crucial as a grain supplier to the Byzantine Empire and served as a bastion against Berber raids. However, by the end of the 7th century, the rise of Islam led to Arab-Muslim conquests that eventually overran the Exarchate of Carthage by around 698 AD.


In both cases, the title “exarch” referred to the governor of these territories. The creation of the exarchates was a notable attempt by the Byzantine Empire to reform its administrative structures, given the military threats on its frontiers. Combining civil and military authority in one office was seen as a practical measure to address both administrative and defense needs efficiently.

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