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Following the steps of the Romans

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 Ten kilometres on the road from Boljevac to Zajecar, on a vast plateau, in the vicinity of the village of Gamzigrad, surrounded by mountains of eastern Serbia lies Felix Romuliana, the imperial palace of the Roman emperor Caius Valerius Galerius Maximianus, built in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

 

Gallery was born in this area in the second half of the 3rd century and is one of the sixteen emperors of the Roman Empire, who were born on the territory of modern Serbia. On the throne of Roman emperors Galerius succeeded Diocletian in the year 305 AD; he started the construction of the palace in the late third century and built it until his death. He did not live long enough to move into it, namely to withdraw from the throne, due to his premature death on the territory of Bulgaria, in modern Sofia. His body was transferred to the royal palace, and he was buried in a tomb next to his mother Romula, after which he named the palace. At the Magura hill, one kilometre east of the palace there is a sacral complex with the remains of two mausoleums and two tumuli where Galerius and his mother were buried. Prematurely deceased Gallery and his mother were officially deified through a religious ritual of apotheosis, and that was the last apotheosis in the history of mankind, because two years later the Emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the empire.

People knew of the Imperial Palace in Gamzigrad as early as the 19th century. German Baron von Herder visited Serbia looking for mines and noticed this place. Later, Felix Kanitz came to Gamzigrad and the Imperial Palace, thinking it was a CASTRUM, Roman military fortress, given that the Romans had built a system of military fortifications on the right bank of the Danube to defend themselves from the intrusion of barbarians across the Danube. Then in 1953 our archaeologists started their research and after only a month of excavation mosaics were discovered, which indicated that this had not been a military fortification, but something much more important. Only in 1984 when a fragment of an archivolt was unearthed, with the inscription FELIX ROMULIANA on it, was it proved that this facility had been an imperial palace. The fragment was discovered by archaeologist Dr. Dragoslav Srejovic.

With its outer fortification, system of towers and defence walls, the Imperial Palace occupies 6.5 hectares of land, while the interior space lies on 4.5 hectares. For its cultural and historical significance Felix Romuliana can be compared to the Diocletian Palace in Split (Croatia), but it is incomparably better preserved and richer archaeological site!

The Imperial Palace is the best preserved example of Roman palace architecture, and the town consisted of: an imperial palace, a small temple, a large temple, baths, horreum. The buildings are richly decorated with frescoes, stucco, floor mosaics with figural and geometric patterns, vestibules, ornaments made of green and red porphyry, and many other things of great historical and artistic value. Discovered parts of the sculptures, such as the heads of Jupiter, Hercules, Galerius and others, made ​​of white marble, testify to the art of late antique period.

 Felix Romuliana was entered into UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage in 2007 and in recent years over 30,000 tourists have visited this archaeological site and the beautiful building every year. The site is open for visits from 8am to 8pm (from 1st April to 30th November), and the organized visits can be arranged at any time through the National Museum in Zajecar.

 Gamzigrad is an archaeological site near Zajecar in eastern Serbia of ancient Roman imperial palace Felix Romuliana which has been on UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage since 2007.

 Gamzigrad represents the residence of the Roman emperor Caius Valerius Galerius Maximianus(293-311 AD), a son-in-law of Diocletian. He named it after his mother Romula and called it Romuliana. The palace seems to have never been completed and the emperors of the fourth century gave this magnificent property to the Christian church. During the fifth century the palace was destroyed by barbarians, and in the 6th century Romuliana was rebuilt as a border fortress by Justinian. After the invasion of the Slavs in the late 6th century, the former imperial residence was abandoned. It was a powerful city on 6.5 hectares, with about 20 fortified towers. Inside were a lavish palace, two pagan temples, three Christian churches and other buildings; floor mosaics are considered equal to the best works of late antique period in Europe.

 The first description and an expert evaluation of Gamzigrad - Romuliana was provided by Baron Herder, a Saxon mine entrepreneur, in the account of his travels "Mining travels in Serbia", in 1845. After Baron Herder, Austrian archaeologist and traveler, Felix Kanitz, became interested in Gamzigrad when, in 1860, he visited these remains and left behind the drawings of the ramparts and the surrounding area. Later on M. Milicevic (1876), J. Dragasevic (1877), V. Karic (1887), J. Miskovic (1887), M. Valtrovic (1890) and S. Macaj (1892) wrote about Gamzigrad but then at the beginning of the 20th century, interest in this unique monument of ancient civilization completely died out. It was not until after World War II that interest in Gamzigrad was renewed. As early as 1950, architect Djurdje Boskovic designed the new foundation of Gamzigrad ramparts, indicated the position of the most significant buildings within them, and emphasized the need that this important late antique monument be put under protection and researched.

 Archaeological excavations, which began in 1953, showed that within Gamzigrad ramparts there are several palaces and temples, which speak best about the importance and purpose of Gamzigrad. Since the 1970s Gamzigrad had been increasingly mentioned as a palace of some prominent figure of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, or even as a palace of an emperor from that period and had been compared with the imperial palaces in Split, Thessaloniki, Asia Minor and Sicily. However, the lack of written documents had made it impossible to specify the time of the creation of the settlement, or to find out the name of the emperor and the ancient name of the village. All doubts were dispelled by the discovery of the inscription, on 23rd June 1984. On a fragment of an archivolt there was a carved inscription Felix Romuliana (Happy Romuliana), the name of the residence of the Roman Emperor Caius Valerius Galerius Maximianus(293 - 311 AD).

 On the bases of archaeological finds Gamzigrad is seen in six periods:

  • As a prehistoric settlement from 2nd and 1st millennium BC

  • As a Roman country house (villa rustica) from 2nd century AD

  • As an imperial castle from the end of 3rd and the beginning of 4th century

  • As a church property from the 4th and 5th century

  • As an early Byzantine settlement from 5th to 7th century

  • As a medieval town (11th century) and

  • As a temporary shelter during Turkish conquests in 14th and 15th centuries

 Traces of the first inhabitants of Gamzigrad were discovered north of the ramparts as well as within the settlement in heaped up earth. Of findings we have: stone axes from the period of 3rd millennium BC (the beginning of the Neolithic period), and fragments of pottery from the Late Bronze Age (the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium BC), fragments of pottery and bronze jewelry from the period of the Early Iron Age. In the 5th and 4th centuries BC Tribally established their settlement within Gamzigrad ramparts, which did not last long so that Gamzigrad got abandoned in 4th century BC.

 As in the area of Crna Reka (Crni Timok) no archeological finds were discovered from the last centuries BC, it is uncertain what population the Romans encountered in this area. It is possible that, together with thinned out and weakened Tribally communities, here lived groups of Moesians and Scordisci.

 At the beginning of 3rd century AD, a large country house (villa rustica) was built in the southern part of Gamzigrad while in the nearby areas the remains of abandoned buildings thought to have been used for storage of agricultural products and cattle (storehouses and stables)were found.

 At the end of 3rd and the beginning of 4th century, in the area of around 6.5 ha, of the size 240x190 m, two almost parallel fortifications were constructed and within them were built: palaces, temples and buildings for housing of the military and guests, warehouses and other buildings. In the middle of the 4th century Gamzigrad became deserted but after the year 380 it came to life again. In the 5th century Gamzigrad was destroyed in the riots caused by the invasion of the Huns in 441. Shortly after the riots it had been restored, but modestly, with no significant construction projects. Intensive construction started in mid-6th century. Buildings built during this period were burned and destroyed in the invasion of the Avars, who captured cities in coastal Dacia in 585/6. Around 615 Gamzigrad was abandoned, and only after 971 or in the first decade of the 11th century, after the conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1002 was it repopulated. Gamzigrad was finally abandoned in the second half of the 11th century and had never been revived. There are several finds from 14th and 15th centuries on the basis of which it can be assumed that the ruins of Gamzigrad served as a temporary shelter during the time of the Turkish conquest.

 By discovering the inscription FELIX ROMULIANA in 1984 the puzzle of Gamzigrad was finally solved. For nearly 150 years the real truth about Gamzigrad had been looked for. The content of the inscription is the complete name of the place mentioned in two historical sources, in a work of an unknown author from around 360, in Aurelius Victor's Epitomes, and Procopius's work "Buildings" (De aedificiis), written between 553 and 555 . The Epitomes contain a piece of information that the Roman Emperor Galerius was born in Coastal Dacia, where he was buried, in the place Romulianum, which he named after his mother Romula. In Procopius's work, among citadels which Justinian restored in the area of the city of Aqua, Romuliana is mentioned. This means that the name of the place where Gallery was born and buried was confirmed in three forms, namely as Felix Romuliana (in the inscription from 306 - 311 AD), as Romulianum (around 360) and as Romuliana (around 555).

 More information about Galerius's construction activities is provided by Lactantius in his paper "On the death of persecutors." Describing the complex situation in the Empire in 306 Lactantius wrote that Gallery had already decided that in 312, after he had celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his reign, he cede power to Licinius, Severus, Maximinus and Candidianus, and live in safety and peace in the shelter of unconquerable ramparts. The decision he made included the beginning of the construction of his residence in 306 and he set 312 as the year of completion of the construction.

 Galerius was born around the year 250 AD by a barbarian mother who in 245, at the assault of the Karps, ran away from the left riverbank of the Danube to Coastal Dacia and married a herdsman, for which Galerius later got the nickname Armentarius (latin: Herdsman), the nickname which accompanied him even when he became Emperor. He distinguished himself as a brave soldier in Aurelius Probus’s units; Galerius was noticed by Diocletian who adopted him and proclaimed him Caesar and later gave him his daughter to be his wife. When in 305, after Diocletian and Marcus Aurelius Maximianus stepped down from the throne, Galerius and ConstantiusChlorusbecame Augustus, they were supposed to rule together for 20 years after which, according to Diocletian political program of establishing Tetrarchy (rule of four), they would cede their titles and rule to Caesars, Severus and Maksiminus. However in 306 Constantius died suddenly in Britain and Galerius became the first ruler of Roman Empire.

As it was mentioned before, Galerius intended, after he had stepped down from the throne, to spend ‘’a quiet old age’’ in his homeland but in 311, on the way to Sofia, he died. According to Lactantius, Galerius’s body disfigured bya horribly gruesome disease was burnt in Sofia, while Aurelius Victor claimed that Galerius was buried at Romuliana. On the base of that second piece of information it was supposed that the Emperor was buried in the temple – mausoleum in the central part of the settlement but during archaeological excavations no traces of burial were found. It is certain today that Galerius and his mother Romula were buried near Romuliana, at ‘’Magura“. Two built tombs were uncovered here, both richly ornamented with architectural plastics, along with two burial mounds with stakes on which the burning and Apotheosis of the Emperor and his mother were carried out.