SIRMIUM


SIRMIUM

IMPERIAL PALACE

The first archaeological excavations in Sirmium began in 1957, at the Imperial Palace (Archaeological Site 1a).  The site was discovered accidentally during construction of an apartment building on that location.  Work was initially stopped temporarily, then permanently when massive walls, a system of radiant heating and floor mosaics were uncovered.  The later discovery of the Roman circus (a hippodrome in the Greek-speaking part of the Empire) immediately adjacent to the palace provided conclusive evidence to identify the structure as an imperial palace.
The palace-circus architectural complex is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Sremska Mitrovica.  It was built at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth century in the southeast, elite section of the city, along the Sava river.  A new city defensive wall protected this part of the city.
Imperial palaces in the Roman empire had formal spaces for the emperor’s administrative functions (the official part) and also private quarters where the emperor and his family lived (the residential part).  The circuses built right next to the palaces represent the official structure for the ceremonial presentation of the ruler to his people.  Chariot (bigae, quadrigae) races, the most popular sport in the ancient world, were held in the circuses.  Roman circuses are known from all over the Empire, but the Sirmium circus is the only one discovered so far in Serbia.
On the archaeological site today only part of the imperial palace complex can be seen.  The walls and pavements preserved there represent for the most part the residential quarters of the palace.  Evidence of the luxurious interior decoration there is provided by the fragments of frescoes, mosaic pavements and architectural ornament in various kinds of stone which were imported from different parts of the empire:  Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy.  Installations for a radiant heating system were uncovered beneath almost every floor in the palace.  The long duration and frequent use of the palace are documented by the numerous structural repairs, mosaic pavements in several levels and the large quantity of archaeological artifacts recovered.

SIRMIUM

The remains of the once prosperous and powerful Roman city of Sirmium are concealed beneath the streets of today’s Sremska Mitrovica. The history of the Roman city begins during the Emperor Augustus’ invasion of Illyricum in 35-33 B.C. and continues all the way to 582 A.D. when the city falls under control of the Avars. The Romans probably occupied Sirmium during Tiberius’ wars in Pannonia (13-9 B.C.), and the city was granted the status of a colony (colonia Flavia) under the Flavian dynasty (69-96 A.D.). Sirmium was frequently used as a base for military campaigns against the barbarian groups who continually attacked the frontier in this part of the Empire.
From the time of the granting of colonial status all the way to the end of the fourth century, the ancient literary sources mention Sirmium as a temporary residence for numerous Roman emperors. From the historical sources we know that from the first through the third century Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Maximinus Thrax, Claudius II Gothicus, Probus, Diocletian and the infamous usurpers Ingenuus and Regalian all resided in Sirmium for longer or shorter periods. Five Roman emperors were born in or near Sirmium: Trajan Decius, Aurelian, Probus, Maximianus Herculius and Gratian. The city enjoyed its greatest prosperity at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century, when it was one of the capitals of the Roman empire and the sometime seat of government for the emperors Diocletian, Licinius, Constantine the Great, Constantius II, Julian, Valentinian, Gratian and Theodosius.
Archaeological excavation in Sirmium has revealed, in addition to the imperial palace and adjacent circus, a number of other monumental public buildings, including the so-called “Licinian Baths,” a granary (horreum) and commercial and industrial areas. Luxuriously appointed urban residences have been discovered, as well as multi-storied apartment buildings (insulae) where the poorer elements of the population lived. The city was protected by a circuit of strong defensive walls and supplied with water by an aqueduct from the Vranjaš spring in Fruška Gora. The city streets were paved, flanked by porticoes and drained with sewers. Coins were struck in an imperial mint in the city and workshops produced various objects in precious metals, glass, and pottery. Bricks were also manufactured there.
The well known Roman historian of the fourth century, Ammianus Marcellinus, described the city as “the famous and populous mother of cities”.

MOSAICS

In the course of archaeological excavations in the imperial palace over 350 m² of mosaic pavements have been uncovered. The pavements belong to different building phases in the palace; the earliest is dated to the end of the third century, and the most recent phase to the middle of the fourth century. The majority of the pavements are geometric polychrome mosaics (known as “geometric carpets”) which are typical of the late Roman Empire. The mosaics are executed in the western style and have analogies with the mosaics in Diocletian’s Palace in Split.
The mosaics are worked in the technique known as opus tessellatum (consisting of small square pieces of stone - tesserae); the decorative motifs employed are geometric, floral or various guilloche and cable patterns. Only one mosaic with a figural representation is preserved, of the god Mercury.
The mosaics from the palace complex are the best examples of this type of pavement found in Sirmium to date. Their high quality attests the superior standards of workmanship which are typical of tetrarchic architecture in the Balkans.