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Reconstruction of Roman amphitheatre, Viminacium             Source: smoke666/ Adobe Stock

Viminacium: Where Mammoths Roamed and Romans Ruled

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The Balkans was once an important strategic part of the Roman Empire and as a result, archaeologists have found a vast array of historic Roman ruins in the region. One of the most extensive archaeological sites in the Balkans is the ruined Roman city of Viminacium in Serbia. This was once a major town which had been accorded the status of a Roman citizen colony and was entitled to mint local currency. It also became Serbia’s first Archaeological Park .

The Hundreds of Years of History of Viminacium

During the reign of Emperor Augustus , in the first century AD, the Romans finally conquered the Illyrians, who dominated what is now Serbia and were the last to stand in their way. One of the camps they set up was called Viminacium, which was originally a military camp and inhabited by former legionnaires who lived there with their families. Eventually, the colony became a major town and flourished because it was located on major trade routes , and a legion was stationed near the town because of its strategic position near the Danube. It was often appointed the gathering point for troops and a starting point of many military campaigns.

The city was populated by people from all over the Roman world, and in 231 AD was elevated to the status of a self-governing municipality. In 251 AD the Roman Emperor Hostilian was killed near Viminacium and buried in the city.

Viminacium became the capital of the Roman province of Moesia Superior which consisted of much of the western Balkans during the reign of Emperor Diocletian . At its peak, the city was home to some 40,000 people.

Roman Empire in 117 AD. The two Roman provinces, Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior, are highlighted in red and pink, respectively. (Public Domain)

Roman Empire in 117 AD. The two Roman provinces, Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior, are highlighted in red and pink, respectively . ( Public Domain )

The Goths attacked Viminacium in the late 380s, and then in about 441 AD, the Huns destroyed the city and it fell into ruins and became depopulated. It was restored by the early Byzantine Emperor Justinian I , but was once again sacked, this time by the Avars, a nomadic people originally from Central Asia. Once again, the city was rebuilt. In the late 6th century AD, the Byzantines inflicted a devastating defeat on the Avars near the new city. During the collapse of Byzantine power in the early 7 th century the Slavs sacked the city and it was later completely deserted.

Elevated view of floor mosaic at Viminacium, Serbia (klevit / Adobe Stock)

Elevated view of floor mosaic at Viminacium, Serbia (klevit / Adobe Stock)

The city was first excavated by Serbian archaeologists in the late 19 th century. It is one of the few Roman urban settlements that has not been concealed by a modern town, as is the case with London, England .

The Burial Ground at Viminacium

In recent decades archaeologists have uncovered a vast burial site in the city. In total, they have found some 13,500 tombs and sarcophagi. While the majority of the burials have been looted, occasionally an intact tomb is found. In 2017, archaeologists found an unopened sarcophagus and inside, a treasure of jewelry. The most impressive burial is the imperial mausoleum where Emperor Hortilus is buried, which has three impressive frescoes .

Today, much of the burial ground is covered by a roof to preserve the remains.

What to see at Viminacium, Serbia?

Only 4 to 5% of the site has been excavated and it is now an officially designated archaeology park . In and around the town the remains of a Roman-era amphitheater that once was used for gladiatorial games can be seen, as well as the remains of a hippodrome, where once chariot-racing was held. Also unearthed have been the remains of monumental buildings such as a basilica and the well-preserved remains of the baths. Many of these buildings were once adorned with mosaics, some of which survived and are on display at a museum in Belgrade. Some of the original street plans of the city can still be seen.

The city had a very well-developed infrastructure with a sewage system and aqueducts. The original walls of the city are still evident and extend for some distance. Near the city, the outline of a military base can also be visited.

The remains of the million-year-old mammoth which has been found at the archaeological park (despotodstiga/ Adobe Stock)

The remains of the million-year-old mammoth which has been found at the archaeological park ( despotodstiga/ Adobe Stock)

Getting to Viminacium, Serbia

The archaeological park is near the Eastern Serbian town of Kostolac and is some 75 miles from Belgrade. There are three areas of the old city open to visitors and they include the burial site, the amphitheater, and the walls with the gate. Visitors can go underground into the Emperor Hortilus’ Mausoleum.

An admittance fee is charged, and guides are available. There is accommodation near the Viminacium, Serbia.

Top image: Reconstruction of Roman amphitheatre, Viminacium             Source: smoke666/ Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Kos, P. (1992). The Provincia Moesia Superior in Viminacium . Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 209-214

Available at:   https://www.jstor.org/stable/20187699

Nikolić, E. (2013). Contribution to the study of Roman architecture in Viminacium: Construction materials and building techniques . Archaeology and Science, 8, 21-48

Available at:   https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/44267484/Arheologija_i_prirodne_nauke_-_Volume_8.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DArchaeology_and_Science_-_Volume_8.pdf

Nikolić, S., & Bogdanović, I. (2012, September). Recent Excavations on the Amphitheatre of Viminacium (Upper Moesia ). (pp. 547-555)

Available at:   Excavations_on_the_Amphitheatre_of_Viminacium_Upper_Moesia/links/58233ac608aeebc4f8986535/Recent-Excavations-on-the-Amphitheatre-of-Viminacium-Upper-Moesia.pdf

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