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Felix Romuliana

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Title: Felix Romuliana  
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Subject: Balkans, List of Roman emperors, Galerius, Maximinus II, History of Serbia, Tourism in Serbia, Gamzigradska Banja, Roman heritage in Serbia
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Felix Romuliana

Gamzigrad (


In the vicinity of Gamzigrad lie the ruins of a huge Roman complex called Felix Romuliana, one of the most important late Roman sites in Europe. Early explorers believed the ancient ruins to have been a Roman military camp, because of their size and numerous towers. Systematic archaeological excavations conducted since 1953 revealed that the site was, in fact, an Imperial palace. It was conceived and built by one of the Tetrarchs, Emperor Galerius, the adopted son and son-in-law of the great Emperor Diocletian. Galerius started construction in 298 (after a victory over the Persians that brought him admiration and glory) to mark the place of his birth. The name Felix Romuliana was given in memory of his mother Romula, who was also a priestess of a pagan cult. The complex of temples and palaces served three main purposes - a place of worship of his mother’s divine personality, a monument to his deeds as emperor, and a luxurious villa for Galerius. Romuliana survived until it was plundered by the Huns in the mid 5th century. Later the site became a humble settlement of farmers and craftsmen, finally to be abandoned at the beginning of the 7th century with the arrival of the Slavs.

The structures were first evaluated in 1835 by Baron von Herder, a Saxon mine entrepreneur, in the "Bergmänische Reise in Serbie im Jahre 1835". Later the German mineralogist August Breithaupt also wrote an article about the constructions. The Austro-Hungarian naturalist, geographer, ethnographer and archaeologist Felix Philipp Kanitz (who has earned great respect in Serbia and Bulgaria through his works on the South Slavs) was especially interested in Gamzigrad and visited the ruins on two occasions, in 1860 and in 1864 when he drew the then condition of the ramparts and towers, included in his works on Serbia, printed in Vienna and Leipzig.[2]

“Gamzigrad is one of the most magnificent monuments of the past...”
...“one of the largest and best preserved monuments of Roman architecture in Europe”

-F. Kanitz[2]

The enthusiasm for Gamzigrad disappeared by the end of the 19th century. The real history of the complex was yet to be researched. The interest was revived in the 1950s during the period of "Neo-romanticism of Serbian archaeology". Vekoslav Popovic, Director of the Town Museum of Zajecar initiated the systematic archaeological research in 1953. The academic professor Dr. Dragoslav Srejovic was in charge of the research in 1970, he is the one regarded as positioning the monument among world archaeology.[2]

The complex was demystified in 1984, when in the south-west an archivolt with the inscription of FELIX ROMULIANA was discovered.[5]


The construction started in 298 AD near the birthplace of Galerius, the site was named "Felix Romuliana" after his mother, Romula. Galerius was of Thracian and Dacian stock, descendant of tribes ruling parts of the Balkans prior to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC.

Archaeological excavations on the site have unearthed the remains of a Roman compound with 2 temples, 2 palaces and a building with corridor including exceptionally fine mosaics depicting Greek gods Dionysos and Medusa, figural capitals of Hercules, baths and impressive gates. Several valuable hoards of Roman gold coins have been unearthed at the site, which continues to yield important Roman treasures and artifacts.

Pilasters of Emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, Licinius, Maximinus and Constantine are among spectacular finds. In the two mausolea on the Magura hill Romula and the founder Galerius were buried and deified.[5]

Among the most important finds from the site are portraits of Roman emperors made from the Egyptian purple stone called porphyry and coins that help to accurately date the complex. A sculpture of Diana, the goddess of hunt, was unearthed in July 2010 by German and Serbian archeology teams, experts said that horse and a rider is missing which symbolizes victory over the Barbarians.[6]

Alongside the Latin inscriptions throughout the complex, several Greek inscriptions are found.[7]

The northwestern part was renovated; basilicas were built, during the rule of Emperor Justinian[2]

Northern part

Northern Temple

The temple is of the tetrastile prostilos type, similar to the Jupiter temple at Diocletian Palace in Split, built in 305 AD. The remains include a high podium, cross-shaped crypt, stairway and sacrificial altar. It was dedicated to goddess Libera

The architrave, doorposts, podium and pillars were made of green sandstone, frieze of white limestone while the figural capitals were made of marble.[2]

Palace 1

The palace consists of an octagonal premise, three peristiles and a smaller bathroom. The vestibulum (accessory hall) is preserved with marble plate and pillars of green serpent brecha and red granite. The floor of the vestibulum is completely covered by a mosaic carpet with a labyrinth in its center and geometric motives.

The central hall (possible throne) is ornamented with geometrics and picturesque hunting scenes.

The triclinum is ornamented with precious colorful stone tiles (opus sectile) and the entrance is ornamented with a luxurious mosaic with the image of the Greek god Dionysus. Parts of a sculpture of Galerius depicted as Pantocrator (ruler of Universe) have been found throughout the buildings, a left hand holding a globe of red porphyry was found in the triclinum, the head was found in the south-east of the complex.

The Palace walls are covered with marble, green porphyry and frescoes. The marble sculptures depicting the Greek gods are made according to 5th and 4th century BC sculptural art.

The capitals of the pillars of the peristiles in the atrium with a fountain were made of white marble taken from the Greek island of Proconos. The walls of a polygonal room had the plates made of green porphyry from Peloponnesus.[2]

Palace Two

The second palace and a building with a corridor has only been partially researched.

A rectangular peristile in the center is surrounded by premises of different sizes and functions.[2]

Grand Temple

The Grand Temple dominates the south of the compound.[2] The podium in the temple and the basis of a large stairway are well preserved while the walls of the cella are only partly preserved. The remains of an altar with a narrow stairway were found in front of the temple. There is a double crypt in the podium of the temple: a wall directed towards east and west divides the crypt into two rooms with the rectangular basis. A very narrow stairway starting from the southeastern corner of the cella led to the crypt. The cella is rectangular with the antas forming a shallow vestibule.

The walls and floor of the cella have the layer of marble plates. According to the fragments of architectonic elements, we can assume that the temple had two colonnades of columns: a higher one with the Corinthian columns and a lower one with the Ionian columns. In the very vicinity of the temple a great number of fragments of sculptures was found – they were made of white marble, the most important of which were the heads of Jupiter and Hercules (Photos 20 & 21) according to which the purpose of the temple could be defined. The founder Tetrarchius, Diocletian identified himself with Jupiter while his adopted son and co-ruler Galerius on entering the divine Jupiter family took Hercules for his patron. That’s how the tradition for the rulers to be named after Jupiter and Hercules was established as well as to celebrate the annual holiday in their honor (Ioni et Herculi) on the day when the augusti identified themselves with Jupiter and caesari with Hercules – the day which became their common and genuine birthday (geminus natalis). It is certain that the temple dominating Romuliana was dedicated to those Gods, i.e. to the cult of the rulers identified with them. It is, above all, Galerius himself who was honored as Divus Galerius after death and apotheosis.

Preservation and Tourism

During the 31st Session of the [2]

Felix Romuliana is a popular tourist stop on the Roman Emperors' trail which links the birthplaces of over 17 Roman Emperors born on the territory of modern Serbia.

Roman Emperors

Three Roman Emperors were born in this municipality (modern Zaječar, Serbia)

See also

  • Gamzigradska Banja, spa resort
  • Roman Serbia
  • Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance


External links

  • Gamzigrad - Felix Romuliana portal
  • Felix Romuliana Discover Serbia
  • Zvezdan.hpage - Felix Romuliana
  • Site of Felix Romuliana in Google Maps
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