Serbia in the Roman era

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Roman Mosaic in Felix Romuliana, near Zajecar, 289 AD.
Remains of Viminacium, the capital of the Moesia Superior, 1st century
Remnants of ancient Sirmium, one of the capitals of the late Roman Empire
Remains of Diana Fortress, near Kladovo, 1-2nd century
Remains of Emperor Trajan's route along the Danube
Ruins of Trajan's bridge, the ancient world's largest bridge over the Danube
Remains of thermae in Čačak, 3rd century
Late Roman site in Justiniana Prima, near Lebane, 6th century

Much of the territory of the modern state of Serbia was part of the Roman Empire and later the Eastern Roman Empire. In particular, the region of Central Serbia was under Roman rule for about 800 years (with interruptions), starting from the 1st century BC, interrupted by the arrival of the Slavs into the Balkans during the 6th century, but continued after fall of the First Bulgarian Empire in the early 11th century and permanently ended with the rise of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the late 12th century. The territories were administratively divided into the provinces of Moesia (later Moesia Superior), Pannonia (later Pannonia Inferior) and Dardania. Moesia Superior roughly corresponds to modern Serbia proper; Pannonia Inferior included the eastern part of Serbia proper; Dardania included the western part of Serbia proper. After its reconquest from the Bulgarians by Emperor Basil II in 1018, it was reorganized into the Theme of Bulgaria.

The Danube River influenced the extension of the Roman Empire; its confluents, such as Sava and Morava, affected the growth of frontier fortresses and towns. Many authors and explorers[by whom?] wrote about traces of the Roman Empire on the Danube coast. One of the localities, Felix Romuliana, was ranked on the list of cultural heritage of UNESCO in July 2007.

The location has been invaded by many peoples over the centuries. The northern Serbian city of Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) was among the top 4 cities of the late Roman Empire, serving as its capital during the Tetrarchy.[1] Contemporary Serbia comprises the classical regions of Moesia, Pannonia, parts of Dalmatia, Dacia and Macedonia.


Roman conquest[edit]

The Roman Republic conquered the region of Illyria in 168 BC in the aftermath of the Illyrian Wars. "Illyria" was a designation of a roughly defined region of the western Balkans as seen from a Roman perspective, just as Magna Germania is a rough geographic term not delineated by any linguistic or ethnic unity.

The later province of Illyricum was to the west of what is now Serbia.

The Romans conquered parts of Serbia in 167 BC and established the province of Illyricum. What is now central Serbia was conquered in 75 BC when the province of Moesia was established. Srem is conquered by 9 BC and Backa and Banat in 106 AD after the Dacian wars.

The city of Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) was among the top four cities of the late Roman Empire, serving as its capital during the Tetrarchy.[1] Contemporary Serbia comprises the classical regions of Moesia, Pannonia, parts of Dalmatia, Dacia and Macedonia.

The chief towns of Upper Moesia in the Principate were: Naissus (modern Niš), Viminacium (sometimes called municipium Aelium; modern Kostolac), Singidunum (modern Belgrade), Remesiana (modern Bela Palanka)

Many Roman noblemen and statesmen were born in present-day Serbia, including 17 or 18 Roman Emperors (Vetranio wasn't universally recognized as an emperor, but was proclaimed a caesar).[2][3]

Emperor Ancient Roman
settlement in Serbia
ruled died
1. Trajan Decius c.201, Budalia
Pannonia Inferior
Martinci September 249-June 251 June 251, Abrittus
(Razgrad, Bulgaria)
2. Herennius Etruscus c.227, near Sirmium
Sremska Mitrovica May-June 251 June 251, Abrittus
(Razgrad, Bulgaria)
3. Hostilian c.235, Sirmium
Sremska Mitrovica July-November 251 November 251, Rome
4. Claudius II Gothicus 10 May 210, Sirmium
Panonia Inferior
Sremska Mitrovica September 268-January 270 January 270, Sirmium
5. Aurelian 9 September 214, Sirmium
Dacia Ripensis
Sremska Mitrovica September 270-October 275 October 275, Caenophrurium
(Çorlu, Turkey)
6. Marcus Aurelius Probus 19 August 232, Sirmium
Pannonia Inferior
Sremska Mitrovica 276-October 282 October 282, Sirmium
7. Maximian c.250, Sirmium
Pannonia Inferior
Sremska Mitrovica 2 April 286-1 May 305; 306-11 November 308; 310 July 310, Massilia
(Marseilles, France)
8. Constantius I Chlorus 31 March 250, Naissus
Moesia Superior
Niš 305-25 July 306 25 July 306, Eboracum
(York, Great Britain)
9. Galerius c.250, Felix Romuliana
Dacia Ripensis
Gamzigrad[4] 1 May 305-May 311 May 311, Felix Romuliana
10. Valerius Severus Naissus
Moesia Superior
Niš 306-April 307 16 September 307, Tres Tabernae
(Cisterna di Latina, Italy)
11. Licinius I c.263, Felix Romuliana
Moesia Superior
Gamzigrad 11 November 308-18 September 324 325, Thessalonica
12. Constantine I the Great 27 February 272, Naissus
Moesia Superior
Niš 309-22 May 337 22 May 337, Nicomedia
(İzmit, Turkey)
13. Maximinus II 20 November 270, Felix Romuliana
Dacia Ripensis
Gamzigrad 310-May 313 August 313, Tarsos
(Tarsus, Turkey)
14. Constantius II 7 August 317, Sirmium
Pannonia Inferior
Sremska Mitrovica 337-3 November 361 3 November 361, Mopsuestia, Cilicia
15. Vetranio Moesia Central Serbia ? 1 March-25 December 350 c356, Prusa ad Olympum
(Bursa, Turkey)
16. Jovian 331, Singidunum
Belgrade 27 June 363-17 February 364 17 February 364, Dadastana, near Nicaea
(İznik, Turkey)
17. Gratian 18 April 359, Sirmium
Pannonia Inferior
Sremska Mitrovica 24 August 367-25 August 383 25 August 383, Lugdunum
(Lyon, France)
18. Constantius III Naissus
Moesia Superior
Niš 8 February-2 September 421 2 September 421, Ravenna

Byzantine period[edit]

The Byzantine era in the history Serbia refers to three distinctive periods. The territory of later Serbia was under control of the Eastern Roman Empire up to the beginning of the 7th century. During that period, emperor Justinian I (527–565) oversaw reinforcement of defensive structures in the region, and founded the city of Justiniana Prima, today a Cultural Heritage of Serbia-listed archeological site (Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance). In 535, the city became center of the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, that had metropolitan jurisdiction over all provinces of the Diocese of Dacia. At the beginning of the 7th century, region was invaded by Avars and Slavs, thus ending the Byzantine rule. From that time, and up to the middle of the 10th century, the region was controlled by the newly created Slavic state - the early medieval Principality of Serbia. In 971–976, Byzantine rule was briefly restored, and Catepanate of Ras was established, but it was short lived. Only after 1018, the territory of Serbia came under the Byzantine rule, and it was included into two themata: the Theme of Serbia and the Theme of Sirmium, that existed until 1071.[5]

Arrival of the Slavs[edit]

The Byzantines broadly grouped the numerous Slav tribes into two groups: the Sklavenoi and Antes.[6] Apparently, the Sklavenoi group were based along the middle Danube, whereas the Antes were at the lower Danube, in Scythia Minor. Some, such as Bulgarian scholar Zlatarsky, suggest that the first group settled the western Balkans, whilst offshoots of the Antes settled the eastern regions (roughly speaking).[6] From the Danube, they commenced raiding the Byzantine Empire from the 520s, on an annual basis. They spread about destruction, taking loot and herds of cattle, seizing prisoners and taking fortresses. Often, the Byzantine Empire was stretched defending its rich Asian provinces from Arabs, Persians and Turks. This meant that even numerically small, disorganised early Slavic raids were capable of causing much disruption, but could not capture the larger, fortified cities on the Aegean coast.

The Slavs invaded Balkans during Justinian I rule (527–565), when eventually up to 100,000 Slavs raided Thessalonica. The Western Balkans was settled with Sclaveni (Sklavenoi), the east with Antes.[6]

The Sklavenoi plundered Thrace in 545.[7] In 551, the Slavs crossed Niš initially headed for Thessalonica, but ended up in Dalmatia. During the 6th and 7th century, Slavic tribes made eight attempts to take Niš and in the final attack in 615 the Slavs took the city.[8]

Menander Protector mentions a King of the Sklavenoi, Daurentius (577-579) that slayed an Avar envoy of Khagan Bayan I. The Avars asked the Slavs to accept the suzerainty of the Avars, he however declined and is reported as saying: "Others do not conquer our land, we conquer theirs [...] so it shall always be for us".[9]

In 577 some 100,000 Slavs poured into Thrace and Illyricum, pillaging cities and settling down.[10] By the 580s, as the Slav communities on the Danube became larger and more organised, and as the Avars exerted their influence, raids became larger and resulted in permanent settlement. In 586 AD, as many as 100,000 Slav warriors raided Thessaloniki. By 581, many Slavic tribes had settled the land around Thessaloniki, though never taking the city itself, creating a Macedonian Sclavinia.[11] As John of Ephesus tells us in 581: "the accursed people of the Slavs set out and plundered all of Greece, the regions surrounding Thessalonica, and Thrace, taking many towns and castles, laying waste, burning, pillaging, and seizing the whole country." However, John exaggerated the intensity of the Slavic incursions since he was influenced by his confinement in Constantinople from 571 up until 579.[12] Moreover, he perceived the Slavs as God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites.[13] By 586, they managed to raid the western Peloponnese, Attica, Epirus, leaving only the east part of Peloponnese, which was mountainous and inaccessible. In Maurice's Balkan campaigns, the final attempt to restore the northern border was from 591 to 605, when the end of conflicts with Persia allowed Emperor Maurice to transfer units to the north. However he was deposed after a military revolt in 602, and the Danubian frontier collapsed one and a half decades later.

Archaeological evidence in Serbia and Macedonia conclude that the White Serbs may have reached the Balkans earlier than thought, between 550 and 600, as much findings; fibulae and pottery found at Roman forts point at Serb characteristics and thus could have been either part of the Byzantine foedorati or a fraction of the early invading Slavs who upon organizing in their refuge of the Dinarides, formed the ethnogenesis of Serbs and were pardoned by the Byzantine Empire after acknowledging their suzerainty.[7]

Administrative units[edit]


In ancient geographical sources, Moesia was bounded to the south by the Balkans (Haemus) and Šar mountain (Scardus, Scordus, Scodrus) mountains, to the west by the Drina river (Drinus), on the north by the Danube and on the east by the Euxine (Black Sea). The region was inhabited chiefly by Thracian, Dacian and Illyrian peoples.

The region took its name from the Moesi, a Thraco-Dacian tribe that lived there before the Roman conquest 75 BC-c. 29 BC and formally became a Roman province of that name some years later (by 6 AD).

Cities and towns, in Moesia Superior (at times Macedonia/ Dardania):


The cities and towns in Pannonia, located in modern Serbia, were:

Cultures and tribes[edit]

Tribes in Roman Serbia
Time Territory Notes Sites
See Ancient Serbia for tribes inhabiting the territory of Serbia before 75 BC
87 AD Central Serbia Crassus defeated them in the 29 BC, during the Wars of Augustus. They are eponymous to Moesia.
87 AD Central Serbia mentioned first in 424 BC. They fought the Macedonians throughout the 5th and 4th century BC. They are last mentioned in 3rd century AD.
87 AD Timok a Romanized Thracian tribe.
6 AD a Romanized Thraco-Celtic tribe that governed the city of Tricornium (Ritopek) Ritopek
6 AD governed Pincum (Veliko Gradište)
92 AD Bačka
Penetrated northern Rome in late 1st century AD.
375 AD Vojvodina a Gothic tribe in Vojvodina, Serbia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Andrić, Stanko (October 2002). "Southern Pannonia during the age of the Great Migrations". Scrinia Slavonica. Slavonski Brod, Croatia: Croatian Historical Institute - Department of History of Slavonia, Srijem and Baranja. 2 (1). ISSN 1332-4853. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  2. ^ Listing provided by the archeological association of Serbia. Information also verifiable on the Emperors' wikipedia pages.
  3. ^ Anica Nikolić (26 April 2008). "Profit na drumovima rimskih imperatora" [Profit on the roads of Roman emperors]. Politika (in Serbian). p. 18.
  4. ^ Barnes, New Empire, p. 37.
  5. ^ Ćirković 2004.
  6. ^ a b c Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6417-3
  7. ^ a b "Пројекат Растко: Đorđe Janković : The Slavs in the 6th century North Illyricum".
  8. ^ BG III 40[clarification needed]
  9. ^ Curta (2001), pp. 91–92, 315
  10. ^ History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (2008)[page needed]
  11. ^ Cambridge Medieval Encyclopedia, Volume II.
  12. ^ Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 48. "Beginning in 571, John spent eight years in prison. Most of Book VI, if not the entire third part of the History, was written during this period of confinement...John was no doubt influenced by the pessimistic atmosphere at Constantinople in the 580s to overstate the intensity of Slavic ravaging."
  13. ^ Curta, Florin. The Making of the Slavs. Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 48. "On the other hand, God was on their side, for in John's eyes, they were God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites. This may also explain why John insists that, beginning with 581 (just ten years after Justin II started persecuting the Monophysites), the Slavs began occupying Roman territory..."
  14. ^ The Roman army as a community: including papers of a conference held at ... by Adrian Keith Goldsworthy, Ian Haynes, Colin E. P. Adams, ISBN 1-887829-34-2, 1997, page 100
  15. ^ The Illyrians by J. J. Wilkes, 1992, ISBN 0-631-19807-5, Page 258, "In the south the new city named municipium Dardanicum, was another 'mining town' connected with the local workings (Metalla Dardanica)."
  16. ^ The central Balkan tribes in pre-Roman times: Triballi, Autariatae ... by Fanula Papazoglu, 1978, page 198, "... the Peutinger Table marks 40 miles from Naissus, on the Naissus-founded by Auielian..."
  17. ^ Hauptstädte in Südosteuropa: Geschichte, Funktion, nationale Symbolkraft by Harald Heppner, page 134