Roman heritage in Serbia

Roman Mosaic in Felix Romuliana, near Zajecar, 289 AD.

The territory of what is today the Republic of Serbia was under Roman (and later Byzantine) rule for about 600 years, from the 1st century BC until the Slavic invasions of the 6th century. It was administratively divided into Moesia (later Moesia Superior, corresponding to Serbia proper, Pannonia (later Pannonia Inferior) and Dardania (corresponding to eastern and western Serbia proper, respectively)).

The Danube River influenced the extension of the Roman Empire, and its confluents, such as Sava and Morava, affected the growth of frontier fortresses and towns, whose remains present the extent of the Roman Empire with architecture that presents the crown of Roman culture. Many authors and explorers 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

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.

Felix Romuliana, 3rd century, UNESCO.

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 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. Around the 6th century, Slavs appeared on the Byzantine borders in great numbers.[2]

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 Roman Emperors.[3]

Emperor Ancient Roman birthplace Present-day settlement in Serbia
Trajan Decius Budalia Martinci
Hostilian Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Claudius Gothicus Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Aurelian Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Marcus Aurelius Probus Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Maximian Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Constantius Chlorus Dardania (Europe) South Serbia
Galerius Felix Romuliana Gamzigrad [4]
Maximinus II Felix Romuliana Gamzigrad
Flavius Valerius Severus Naissus Niš
Constantine the Great Naissus Niš
Licinius Moesia Superior near Zaječar
Constantius II Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Vetranio Moesia Serbia
Jovian Singidunum Belgrade
Gratian Sirmium Sremska Mitrovica
Constantius III Naissus Niš

Byzantine period

The Byzantine era of Serbia refers to a period of the Early Middle Ages (330 - 610) with the Eastern Roman Empire being in several wars in the territory of Serbia. Justiniana Prima is a Cultural Heritage of Serbia-listed archeological site (Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance) of the city founded by Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565). During the Byzantine period, the territory of Serbia was included into two themata: the Theme of Servia (1027) and the Theme of Sirmium (1071).

Arrival of the Slavs

Further information: Early Slavs

The Byzantines broadly grouped the numerous Slav tribes into two groups: the Sklavenoi and Antes.[5] 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).[5] 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.[5]

The Sklavenoi plundered Thrace in 545.[6] 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.[7]

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".[8]

In 577 some 100,000 Slavs poured into Thrace and Illyricum, pillaging cities and settling down.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] Moreover, he perceived the Slavs as God's instrument for punishing the persecutors of the Monophysites.[12] By 586, they managed to raid the western Peloponnese, Attica, Epirus, leaving only the east part of Peloponnese, which was mountainous and inaccessible. The final attempt to restore the northern border was from 591-605, 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 (Main article: Maurice's Balkan campaigns).

Archaeological evidence in Serbia and Macedonia conclude that the White Serbs may have reached the Balkans earlier than thought, between 550-600, 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.[6]

Administrative units


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Main articles: Moesia and Moesia Superior

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):


Main articles: Pannonia and Pannonia Inferior

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

Cultures and tribes

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


  1. 1 2 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. Cyril Mango. Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome. Scribner's, 1980.
  3. Listing provided by the archeological association of Serbia. Information also verifiable on the Emperors' wikipedia pages.
  4. Barnes, New Empire, p. 37.
  5. 1 2 3 Hupchick, Dennis P. The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6417-3
  6. 1 2
  7. BG III 40
  8. Curta (2001), pp. 91–92, 315
  9. History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (2008)
  10. Cambridge Medieval Encyclopedia, Volume II.
  11. 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."
  12. 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..."
  13. 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
  14. 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)."
  15. 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..."
  16. Hauptstädte in Südosteuropa: Geschichte, Funktion, nationale Symbolkraft by Harald Heppner, page 134

Further reading

Preceded by
Prehistoric Serbia
Roman Serbia
168/75 BC – 476 AD
Succeeded by
Principality of Serbia
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