In 550, the emperor of Byzantium Justinian I (527–565) appointed Armenian commander Nerses commander-in-chief of the Byzantine army in Italy.
In 552 near Capua (city and fortress in southern Italy), Nerses Haykazn defeated the army of the Gothic King Totila (541-552), captured Rome, and conquered the Franks and Alemanni (ancient Germanic tribal alliance). In 555, Nerses Haykazn was appointed the viceroy of captured Italy.
Nerses made the city of Ravenna the center of his domain where he launched large-scale construction works. The guard of Ravenna consisted of three Armenian cavalry regiments, each of which had its own name. Together, they were called “Numerus Armeniorum”.
Armenian priest and historian Ghevond Alishan (July 6, 1820 – November 9, 1901) mentions the names of two of them: “Classis” and “Armenia.” These regiments headquartered in the coastal part of the city remained in Ravenna for more than two centuries.
In Italy, the Armenians also had their own churches and a pantheon. Built by Emperor Augustus, the port of Classis was renamed “Armenia.”
In the 7th century, the Armenian military forces were stationed in Sicily. This island was also associated with several Armenian military leaders and the Rocca degli armeni (“Armenian Fortress”) built by them. The seals of the judge of the local Armenian legion and two Armenian consuls were also found there.
Among the Italian vice-kings, Isaac Haykazn (625-643) is also known. His troops were also stationed in Ravenna. Isaac Haykazn enjoyed great prestige not only in Italy but also abroad. His mausoleum is located in the Basilica of San Vitale and is called Gloria dell’Armenia (“Glory to Armenia”). By the way, the construction of the Basilica of San Vitale and magnificent churches of St. Apolinar in Ravenna and St. Lorenz in Milan is often attributed to the Nerses Haykazn.
On the marble tomb of Isaac, an inscription on Greek is carved: “I, Isaac from the great race, decoration and great glory of all Armenians, was an ally of the kings.” Next to his tomb is the tomb of his wife Shushan.
Sir Stephen Runciman, English historian and researcher of Byzantium, in his work “Byzantine Civilization” (1933) noted that “the Armenians donated to Byzantium not only numerous brave men but also a large share of their people.”