Late Antiquity and Medieval sites in Kosovo
Part of series of articles upon Archaeology of Kosovo
Late Antiquity in Kosovo[a] brings different currents of change that reverberate and affect it as well as the whole extent of the Roman Empire. It starts at the time of Constantine the Great, who was born in ancient Dardania with the acceptance and spread of Christianity, and continues as a tumultuous period because of the different barbaric invasions that plague the empire at that time, be that by Goths, Avars, Slavs, etc. Kosovo was always in an interesting strategic position, being situated between the old-world East and West, at that time the eastern and western Roman empire. With the decline of the western Roman Empire, we see an intriguing development where some of the emperors of Rome are Illyrians or Dardanians. To list a few prominent ones: Justinian, Constantine, and Diocletian. They bring a breath of fresh air to the antiquated system of government of Rome and replace the capital to Constantinople, which brings forth a new surge of civilization and knowledge. While the Dark Age is in full swing in Europe, Kosovo and Balkans in general see a migration of new people in its territories, and even though not in peace, see a period of progression. The old knowledge of the Classics is not lost nor forgotten, and a new development in art and architecture starts. This puts Kosovo in an interesting position being that it becomes a bridge through which we see these different influences of civilization happen, whereas we see an influence of Romanesque, Byzantine, and later Ottoman styles of life, philosophy, religion and architecture. We also see during this tumultuous period the building of many fortifications to protect the population from the uncertainties of conquest from abroad.
Below we will see some of the settlements and fortresses in Kosovo. Being that this is an archaeological article, we excluded the sacral monuments, but it would be interesting to study them as well, considering their age and continuous use, since the very first days of Christianity until today, through different creeds and nationalities. As an example we will take the Gračanica monastery which is built on top of an ancient Christian basilica, a continuation of the ancient town of Municipium Ulpiana.
The village of Vrela is situated approximately 7 km west from the town of Istok. Archaeological excavations conducted here in 2010, unearthed remains and foundations of a church with small dimensions, typical for the early Christian period (4th–6th century AD). Close to the church, a necropolis is set that is most probably linked to the settlement sited in the upper part of the hill. Excavations carried in the church, revealed a large type of crypt grave, measuring: 2.80m in length, 1.40m in width and 1.40m in height, constructed in the shape of a semicircular arch or vault. The grave is oriented east-west and at the western side a small entry gate of 0.6m, in height, with an archway has been recorded. Nonetheless, the crypt/grave was constructed with tough stones, and what is interesting, inside the unearthed grave, intact mortal remains of a male was discovered, buried according to the Christian rites.
The village of Mališevska Banja, situated southeast from the town of Mališevo, on the left side of the Mirusha river shore, an archaeological site known by the toponomy 'Trojet e Vjetra' is found. This archaeological site has a character of a burial mound (tumulus) and was erected during the Iron Age, but reused during the Early Medieval period. Investigations, respectively archaeological excavations were carried out at this location in 2005, which resulted with confirmation of graves identification, constructed with stone slabs and very rich with grave goods. Among the most important findings, Early Medieval jewelry made of bronze like rings, bracelets, and necklaces with a symbol of Christian crosses were recorded and documented.
The Ariljača fortress/castle (4th–6th century AD), is situated on top of the hill known by the local toponomy as the Gradina – Ariljača, set in an erased and dominant position, west from the Ariljača village. The fortress is located in an altitude of maximum 766 meters above the sea level, and is approximately sited 9 km southeast from the town of Kosovo Polje and only 2 kilometers west from Pristina International Airport "Adem Jashari". The total surface of the fortress, also counting along the circular walls/ ramparts, measures around 1.3 hectares of the inner space of the stronghold. The archaeological excavations at this site were conducted in several seasons, commencing in 2005 and were carried out systematically until 2009. Nonetheless, several conservations and consolidations of the circuit walls were done in order to preserve the remains. During the archaeological five season's works, numerous remains and foundations of sacral, profane and utilitarian buildings were discovered. In regard, the entire outer sides of the rampart with towers at the axes were unearthed, as well as a church with three naves and a Saskrity are discovered, but also two almost identical structures in a rounded shape of an unknown sacral complex has been uncovered, as well. On the other hand, vast movable archaeological material composed of; metal made working tools, jewelry, coins, bricks, glass fragments and architectural structures, all clear indications that pinpoint to the Late Antique date and especially typical for the Justinian Period. Also, at this fortress traces of prehistoric periods have been evidenced, especially emphasizing the metal periods, but it continued to exist all through antiquity and up to the Medieval Period.
The fortress of Podgrađe is situated at the area of the Podgrađe village, positioned on a low hill of 567 meters above sea level. The fortress is located around 10 kilometers southwest of Gnjilane and below the Podgrađe hill flows the river of Binačka Morava. The plan of the citadel of the Podgrađe fortress has a shape of irregular pentagonal, while, the southern wall of the central tower served as a fortifying wall for the citadel. On the highest part, remains of a watchtower are still visible, whose walls are partially preserved up to ten meters height. In regard, the tower watch is constructed in rectangularform measuring eight by eight meters. Likewise, at the corners of the ramparts, smaller dimension towers are set. In the western, northern and northeastern angles of the fortification walls, the small towers go up to four meters height. The inner space of the fortification has a total area of approximately 1.2 hectares and it is typical construction for the period of the Emperor Justinian the Great (6th century AD), respectively, the Podgrađe fortress takes part in the frame of the net fortifications erected in Dardania during the end of the Late Antiquity.
Korisha Fortress with The Early Christian Church
The archaeological excavations conducted in two seasons; 2002 and 2004 at the Korisha fortress located at the area known by the toponomy as the 'Gralishta' hill, revealed contours and documented the plan of an early Christian church of the 6th century AD. The Korisha early Christian church which is located inside the fortress has an apse oriented toward the east. Inside the church, traces of a cintron are constructed in the form of stairs and in the shape of trapeze. Within the altar area of the church parts of the banisters were documented. The movable archaeological material, abundant and diverse findings were recorded here, which, besides the Late Antique date, the fragments of pottery of the Middle Bronze Age were evidenced also, which most probably are related with the Bronze Age site situated only few hundred meters northeast from the fortress. Nonetheless, many amphora's, pithos, jars, jugs, etc. were discovered, of the Late Antique date, which confirms occupancy of the fortress and the church during the 4th–6th century AD.
The archaeological site, respectively the fortification of the Kasterc, positioned more or less 12 kilometers northwest from the town of Suva Reka (Theranda), witnessed to be a multilayer archaeological center that continued to exist from the prehistoric times, more precisely, from a Copper Age as a fortified settlement and then reused and rebuilt into a stronghold during the reign of the emperor Justinian. The site was reused as a necropolis during the medieval period. The fortress area was under three archaeological researches; in 1986, trial trenches were carried out here, reflecting a general overview of this site. Archaeological investigations continued in 2010 and again in 2011, discovering an area of just about 500 square meters, these excavations brought to light an early Christian church and other exclusive movable archaeological material composed of; iron working tools, earthen ware, jewelry, earrings, bracelets, coins, etc.
At the village of Vučak, which is located at the verge of the Kasmaç Mountain, situated around 12 km southwest from the town of Glogovac, placed in a very dominant position, traces of ruins that follow the terrain configuration of the hill are observable. In fact, there are two forts, one known as the Gjyteti i Madh and Gjyteti i Vogël (big fort and small fort). The collected and recorded archaeological material, confirm human activity since prehistoric up to the Medieval period. Nonetheless, this Fortress was typical for the period of the Late Antiquity as it served as a defense system for the local population.
The village of Stroc is known for the existence of a fortress set at the Gradina hill, a fortress which was used in continuity since prehistory, Late Antiquity and Early Medieval period. Traces of the walls set in the shape of the cascades which incline up to the top of the hill, are noticeable at the Gradina hillside. Even in the present days, traces of the forts towers and ramparts are visible, measuring up to two meters wide walls. Based on the terrain configuration and evidenced remains, presumable at this location, in the past, a cult object used to exist and served to the local population.
The Llapushnik fortress is situated at the mountainous area of Drenica region, set close to the Llapushnik outfall, located about 10 km southwest from the town of Drenas. The Llapushnik fortress was characterized with a stronghold fortification measuring 200 with 300 meters. The circuit defense walls were up to 2 meters wide and guarded by side towers. The "fortress tower" measured 10 x 10 meters, and around the site, Late Antique tiles are scattered all over the place.
Around 1 km south from Kačanik, at the decreased area up to maximum 684 meters above the sea level, at the site known as the 'Vranjak' remains of a fortress have been recorded, whereas, a wall of up to 1.7 m wide and 2.5-3m height was recorded. The wall was constructed by the use of local stones bonded with lime mortar and positioned above the natural rocks. Whereas, up in the hill, the wall of the fortress is preserved in line of 50–60 m length, that follows the contours of the hill. The fortress communicates through a slope with the Llanishta village.
Suka e Cërmjanit Fortification
On top of a hill around 500 meters above the sea level, in the northern part of the Cërmjan village, in one geostrategic position, the Suka e Cërmjanit is positioned, an archeological site known also as the Castel of Cërmjan. The fortification walls follow the contour line of the rocky terrain configuration in a surface of around 1.3 hectares. The Suka e Cërmjanit castle has all the features of a fortified settlement of the Late Antique date, although based on the earlier archaeological documentation, remains of a prehistoric date, respectively the occupation commencing from Iron Period continued uninterrupted until the Early Medieval Period. The castle has a distinctive site setting while can visually communicate with; Dollc and Jerina castles of Klina up north, with Radavc and Jablanica of Peć castles up northwest, Đakovica is visible in the horizon towards southwest, fortress of Zatrič is visible toward north-northeast and toward the south the countryside of hills and fields are visible up to the verge of the Pashtrik Mountains.
Remains of the fortified settlement of Iron Age and Late Antique/Early Medieval 'Gradishta' of Zatrič, is sited on top of the Zatrič hill, with the highest altitude of 1039 meters above the sea level. This 'fortified town' of a multilayer settlement type, was erected in a perimeter line which follows the terrain contour; location chosen which is naturally protected and integrated with the man made constructed protection system. Traces of the fragmented pottery have been found in the entire fortified area, as well at the “Arat e Gradishtës” (Gradishta fields) found at the terraced plateaus nearby the fortress. Earthen ware fragmented dishes, of different dates have been found here, like: Iron Age, Hellenistic Period, Late Antique, and Medieval. Nonetheless, this archaeological center, respectively, characteristic fortification site, is unique, where an Italian specialist for the ancient rock art studies, has identified symbols and signs that were evaluated to be a creation of the humans before at least 7 millenniums.
Veletin fortress is situated around five kilometers southeast from the archaeological site of Ulpiana and approximately, 1.5 kilometers northwest from Janjeva, set on a hilly part of the Shashkoc village which is an 'island' of Municipality of Prishtina. The fortress is located on top of the Veletin hill, reaching the highest elevation of 970 meters above the sea level. Great geostrategic position of the stronghold, clear surveillance on the western part that visually communicates with Ulpiana, which is set on a low land, makes this fort a very important site for the entire surrounding archaeological area. Archaeological excavations carried out here during the eighties, resulted with the fact that the fortress was constructed and reconstructed and was in use since the earlier times, while the ore exploitation and ancient mining was a major economical income commencing from prehistoric periods, continuously through Roman, Late Antique and Medieval Periods.
The rural settlement of the Grabocit i Ulët, is positioned nearby the Drenica river, around 9 km west from the town of Kosovo Polje. At the Berisha neighborhood, at the site known by the locals as “Bahçe” initially in 2004 and then later in several excavation campaigns, graves within an Early Medieval necropolis were unearthed. Over a dozen graves, in majority in a good and well preserved condition and intact human remains have been excavated and recorded here, except two skeletons which were beheaded. The grave orientations were westeast (respectively the head toward west and the feat toward east). A considerable amount of the fragmented pottery of either glazed medieval but also few prehistoric date fragments of ceramics have been collected here. However, what draws the attention at this site is that the Arbër culture witnessed which is mainly composed of; jewelry, weaponry, working tools, pottery and rare glass jars which were part of the grave goods collected in this place. Rewardingly, the grave goods within the burials were very rich especially with the jewelry discovered here. Among the most distinguished findings where; bronze rings, bracelets (one of them is twist decorated) a coin with a hole that might indicate that was used together with a necklace and a pair of bronze granulated earrings.
The filigran artisan work in gold, silver and gems with Byzantine imitations of the jewelry certainly present the work of a skilled local goldsmith, but also illustrates creative artistic talent and on the other hand, reflects on the welfare and high economical and social status of the late (deceased) persons buried at the Matičane necropolis. Besides the grave gods which are a rich archaeological material, respectively precious artifacts, an important documentation in archaeological record, are the physical remains (human remains, skeletons) that from the anthropological aspect offer important information on the buried persons at this necropolis. Earlier village of Matičane, today neighborhood of Pristina, is known in the archaeological literature on the occasion of the discovery and recording of the necropolis known as the Matiçani i Poshtëm old cemetery, this later on confirmed based on the material culture and archaeological chronology, this site is dated in the time frame from 10th to 11th century AD. Furthermore, the distinguished necropolis, witnessed mortal remains graves/burials of the local autochthonous Christian population. Rich and abundant grave goods, respectively versatile archaeological material recorded here are composed mainly of woman jewelry of the highest quality and good material, it identifies the flourishing past of this region.
On a smaller mountain set between Prilepnica and Kriva Reka, around 30–35 km west from Gnjilane and approximately, 39 kilometers south-east from Pristina, the ruins of the medieval town and fortress of Novo Brdo are to be seen. Based on the written sources discovered so far, Novo Brdo was mentioned for the first time at the first decades of the 14th century AD, with the name Nuovo Monte (New Mountain). The Medieval town was a mining center and up to the present days, remains of the walls, watch towers and foundations of several other sacral monuments within the area of the fortress are still preserved. The Novo Brdo fortress is composed by; the Upper Town and the Lower Town, built on the Novo Brdo hill. The Novo Brdo Upper Town, was erected on top of the hill, while below, toward west, the Lower Town stretches in a wide countryside territory. The fortress has access only from the eastern part, whereas from the other parts the hills are steep and inclining toward the walleye. Toward the eastern part, the terrain gradually raises what makes possible to pass to a lower hill in a plateau whereas ruins of a large medieval church of cathedral type are to be found.
The historic town of Prizren, unique in position, dwelling structures and vernacular architecture, among tens of other monuments of culture recorded here, is known for a unique fortress known as Kaljaja or Prizren Fortress, which during its existence for many centuries from the ancientness up to nowadays, carries multiple and evident traces of colourful cultural heritage. Kaljaja of Prizren due to the extraordinary good geostrategic position, structural integrity and the wide observation horizon, with all these factors emphases the monumental values of this cultural entity. The fortress of the Kaljaja is situated on a dominant hill at the eastern part of the town of Prizren, set on a strategic position, contoured with lines that follow distinguished features of the terrain natural morphology. Archaeological excavations were carried out here in 1969 and then again in 2004, 2009–2011; which resulted with the discovery of the infrastructure, which incorporates rampart walls enforced with towers, casemates, labyrinth corridors, depots, and other accompanying inner rooms and dwellings. In the aspect of construction, the fortress is divided in three different complexes which are known as the; Upper Town, Lower Town and Southern Town. While on the fortification aspect phases, the fortress was used in different periods like; Antiquity, Byzantine Period, Medieval Period and Ottoman Period rule. The Prizren Kalaja is one of the most valuable monuments of the Kosovo cultural and historical heritage and is also known as the 'Open Museum'.
- Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo is currently recognized as an independent state by 98 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 113 UN member states recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.
- Dardanians (Balkans)
- Roman cities in Illyria
- Archaeology of Kosovo
- Roman Period Sites in Kosovo
- Neolithic Sites in Kosovo
- Copper, Bronze and Iron Age Sites in Kosovo
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.77–78.
- Luan Përzhita, Kemajl Luci, Gëzim Hoxha, Adem Bunguri, Fatmir Peja, Tomor Kastrati, Harta Arkeologjike e Kosovës, vëllimi. 1, Prishtinë, Akademia e Shkencave dhe e Arteve e Kosovës, 2006, Pg. 198, ISBN 9789951413596.
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- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.80.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.81.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.82.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.83.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.85.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.86.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.88.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.89.
- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.90.
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- Milot Berisha, Archaeological Guide of Kosovo,Prishtinë, Kosovo Archaeological Institute and Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 2012, Pg.92.
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