Singidunum (Serbian: Сингидунум/Singidunum, from a Celtic *Sindi-dūn-) is the name for the ancient city in Serbia which became Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. It was recorded that a Celtic tribe, the Scordisci, settled the area in the 3rd century BC following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans. The Roman Republic conquered the area in 75 BC and later garrisoned the Roman Legio IV Flavia Felix there in 86 AD. It was the birthplace to the Roman Emperor Jovian.
For singi- there are several theories, the two most widely circulated being that it is a Celtic word for circle, hence "round fort", or it could be named after the Sings, a Thracian tribe that occupied the area prior to the arrival of the Scordisci. Another possibility is that it is a composite name the first part of which (Sin-gi) means "Old prayer" ("sean guí" in modern Irish), implying that this was originally a site of Celtic religious significance, in addition to becoming a fortress (dun). This would also fit in with the ancient Celtic burial practice remnants there.
There is only limited archaeological evidence of the city's foundational period, including some burial sites with grave goods.
The Romans first began to conquer lands surrounding Singidun during the 1st century BC. In 75 BC, Gaius "Quintus" Scribonius Curio, the proconsul of Macedonia, invaded the Balkan interior as far as the Danube, in an effort to drive out the Scordisci, Dardanians, Dacians and other tribes. The Romans had victories during these campaigns, but only stayed briefly, leaving the area outside of Roman control. Thus, very little is known about these operations or when the area was organized into the province of Moesia. It wasn't until the rule of Octavian, when Marcus Licinius Crassus, the grandson of the Caesarian Triumvir and then proconsul of Macedonia, finally stabilized the region with a campaign beginning in 29 BC Moesia was formally organized into a province some time before 6 AD, when the first mention of its governor, Caecina Severus, is made. Singidun was Romanized to Singidunum. It became one of the primary settlements of Moesia, situated between Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica) and Viminacium (modern Kostolac), both of which overshadowed Singidunum in significance, and just across the Sava River from Taurunum (modern Zemun) in Pannonia. Singidunum became an important and strategic position along the Via Militaris, an important Roman road connecting fortresses and settlements along the Danubian limes, or border.
Singidunum reached its height with the arrival of Legio IV Flavia Felix in 86 AD. The legion set up as a square-shaped castrum (fort), which occupied Upper Town of today's Kalemegdan. At first, the fortress was set up as earthen bulwarks, but soon after, it was fortified with stone, the remains of which can be seen today near the northeastern corner of the acropolis. The legion also constructed a bridge over the Sava, connecting Singidunum with Taurunum. The 6,000-strong legion became a major military asset against the continuous threat of the Dacians just across the Danube. Another step the Romans took to help strengthen Singidunum was the settlement of its legion veterans next to the fortress. In time, a large settlement grew out from around the castrum. The town took on a rectlinear construction, with its streets meeting at right angles. The grid structure can be seen in today's Belgrade with the orientation of the streets Uzun Mirkova, Dušanova, and Kralja Petra I. Studentski Trg (Students' Square) was a Roman forum, bordered by thermae (a public bath complex whose remains were discovered during the 1970s) and also preserves the orientation the Romans gave Singidunum. Other remnants of Roman material culture such as tombs, monuments, sculptures, ceramics, and coins have been found villages and towns surrounding Belgrade.
Hadrian granted Singidunum the rights of municipium during the mid 2nd century. Singidunum later outgrew this status and became a full-fledged colony. The Roman Emperor Jovian who reestablished Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire was born in Singidunum in 332. Singidunum and Moesia experienced a peaceful period, but that was not to last, due to the growing turmoil not only from outside the Roman Empire, but also from within.
The Roman Empire began to decline at the end of the 3rd century. The province of Dacia, established by several successful and lengthy campaigns by Trajan, began to collapse under pressure from the invading Goths in 256. By 270, Aurelian, faced with the sudden loss of many provinces and major damage done by invading tribes, abandoned Dacia altogether. Singidunum found itself once again on the limes of the fading Empire, one of the last major strongholds to survive mounting danger from the invading barbarian tribes.
Late Antiquity, Byzantine rule and Migration Period
Although continuing to be overshadowed by Sirmium, during the 4th century the city remained an important military outpost. It also became a bishopric, and was a major center of Arianism until late in the century, with its bishops Ursacius and Secundianus leading local resistance against Nicene Christianity until the First Council of Constantinople in 381.
In the 5th and 6th centuries, Moesia and Illyricum suffered devastating raids by the successive invasions of the Huns, Ostrogoths, Gepids, Sarmatians, Avars, and Slavs. Singidunum fell to the Huns in 441, who razed the city and fortress, selling its Roman inhabitants into indentured servitude. Over the next two hundred years, the city passed hands several times: the Romans reclaimed the city after the fall of the Hun confederation in 454, but the Sarmatians conquered the city shortly thereafter. In 470 the Ostrogoths seized the city around, expelling the Sarmatians. The city was later invaded by Gepids (488), but the Ostrogoths recaptured it in 504. Six years later the Eastern Roman Empire reclaimed the city according to a peace treaty.
Byzantine emperor Justinian I rebuilt Singidunum in 535, restoring the fortress and city to its former military importance. The city saw a brief peaceful period of about fifty years, but was then sacked with the arrival of the Avars in 584. During Maurice's Balkan campaigns, Singidunum served as a base of operations, but it was lost again in the early half of the 7th century when the Avars sacked and burned Singidunum to the ground. Around 630, the Slavs settled in the area.
After its fall to the Avars in the early 7th century, the ancient city ceases to be mentioned, and its fate on the subsequent centuries is obscure.
The Slavic Beligrad, the "white city" (named for the color of the stone it was built from), had been established by the 9th century on the site of Singidunum, within the First Bulgarian Empire. It is first mentioned in a letter written on 16 April 878 by Pope John VIII to Bulgarian prince Boris I Mihail. With its new name, Beograd would eventually be restored to its earlier strategic significance.
- Kazhdan, Alexander (1991). "Singidunum". In Kazhdan, Alexander. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. p. 1904. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
- Jovan Todorović (1974). Skordisci: istorija i kultura. Institut za izučavanje istorije Vojvodine.
- Official Site of Beograd: Ancient Period
- Official Site of Beograd: Byzantine Empire
- Ancient Worlds: Singidunum
- Belgrade Fortress: History
- Inscriptions de la Mésie supérieure
- http://www.pks.rs/abc/Countryprofile/Belgrade/tabid/1136/language/en-US/Default.aspx [clarification needed]
- http://www.beograd.rs/cms/view.php?id=201172 [clarification needed]
- http://www.beogradskatvrdjava.co.rs/start/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17&Itemid=378 [clarification needed]
- Necropolises of Roman Singidunum
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