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The ancient ruins of Doclea (Koester, L/ CC BY 2.0)

Will the Noteworthy Archeological Site of Doclea Be Saved in Time?


Montenegro is a relatively new nation, securing its independence as recently as 2006. This small nation is located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea and has many fascinating historic remains. One of the most important of these is Doclea, which contains Roman and Byzantine relics and was once an important urban center. This site is currently a candidate for admission to the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Long History of Doclea, Montenegro

The Illyrians, the original inhabitants of this area, built a small town in the 3 rd century BC and it is believed to have been home to 10,000 people. In the 2 nd century BC, the area was annexed by the Romans. The town was rebuilt on Roman lines and was granted the status of a municipium during the reign of Emperor Domitian, affording the inhabitants the right of Roman citizenship while often living according to their own laws and customs. By the 2 nd century AD it became the capital of the local province and its population soared to 40,000. 

Detail of a Roman inscription, Doclea     Source: Bazovic, V / CC BY-NC-NC 2.0

Detail of a Roman inscription, Doclea     Source: Bazovic, V / CC BY-NC-NC 2.0

Devastated by the Visigoths in the 5 th century, Doclea went into decline. In 518 AD the town was badly damaged by an earthquake. Doclea was revived during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian the Great and became an ecclesiastical center.

During the invasions of the Slavs and the Avars, Doclea once again declined until it was only a small settlement. The city, however, continued to be an important ecclesiastical center and was the seat of a bishopric.

Doclea later became the capital of the Doclean kingdom, a small Serbo-Croat polity that became an important cultural center. It was later absorbed into the Kingdom of Montenegro and abandoned at an unknown date. The site was first excavated in the 1900s and a great many treasures were found here.

The Findings at Doclea, Montenegro

Doclea is surrounded by rivers on three sides which form a natural fortress. The majority of the remains are from the Roman era. Doclea was a typically planned Roman town and its central area can still be distinguished, with stones and broken colonnades strewn across the landscape.

Roman remains at Doclea (Boris Djuranovic/ Adobe Stock)

The remains of the forum, basilica, and thermal baths are visible. Some of the stones, carved with elaborate images and motifs, remain in their original location, as well as many stones with inscriptions.

A ruined temple measuring 150 feet (50 m) by 120 ft (40m) was dedicated to the Roman gods. Before it lies a large space (atrium) that is paved with slabs of stone and the inner chamber of the temple can still be seen. This temple was turned into a glass manufacturing plant after the rise of Christianity and remains of this workshop can also be seen.

Sections of the original Roman ramparts still stand and outside the old city, remnants of villas, once inhabited by the elite of Doclea from the 1 st to 5 th century AD, remain. There are many other architectural ruins to be found at the archaeological site, as well as a few relics from the Byzantine and medieval periods which consist largely of inscriptions on stones.

Doclea’s Necropoli

At one time, two necropoli graced the area, with one to the west of the city and one to the south-east. Archaeologists have unearthed two burial grounds that date to the Roman era, specifically from the 1 st century BC to the 2 nd century AD. Approximately 300 tombs have been found here and the vast majority had not been looted.

The cremated remains of the deceased were found in the tombs along with many burial goods, including jewelry, toilette bottles, dishes, coins, and even glassware. There are some fine examples of vaulted tombs and a tomb was found decorated with Jewish symbols, including the menorah. In the western burial ground, tombs were constructed from bricks and stones and most likely the graves of the lower class.

Visiting Doclea in Montenegro

The archaeological site is only a few miles north of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. Although there is no public transport to the site, admission is free and the walk around the site is quite extensive.

Aerial view of Doclea (Mcipovic/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Aerial view of Doclea (Mcipovic/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

At present there are no guides available at the ruined city and there are only a limited number of information boards. Until recently, this historic location was neglected, and it is somewhat spoilt by an adjacent railroad and a number of pylons.

In recent years the Montenegrin government has invested in the location and there are hopes that it will be turned into an archaeological park.

Top image: The ancient ruins of Doclea (Koester, L/ CC BY 2.0)

By Ed Whelan


Curta, Florin (2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Available at:

Munro, J. A. R., Anderson, W. C. F., Milne, J. G., & Haverfield, F. (1896). III.— On the Roman town of Doclea, in Montenegro. Archaeologia, 55(1), 33-92

Available at:

Rehren, T. H. H., Cholakova, A., & Zivanovic, M. (2012). The making of black glass in Late Roman Doclea.  Doclea/Nova Antička Duklja, 3, 75-90.

Available at:



Gary Moran's picture

Saved in time from what? There’s nothing in the article about any impending danger to the site.

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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