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The remains of the ancient Roman city are located below the central zone of Belgrade. Archaeological research has been going on for more than 100 years, which began with the erection of a monument to Prince Mihajlo on today’s Republic Square. Since then, during every major construction project in the center of Belgrade, material remains from the ancient Singidunum have been discovered. Today, they are kept in the National Museum, Lapidarium / Large Gunpowder Warehouse, as well as in the wider area of the Belgrade Fortress. During the construction of TC Rajićeva, the found remains of the ancient city were glazed and it is possible to see them at the entrance to the sales facility.

Remains of an ancient city at the entrance to TC Rajićeva

The appearance of the castrum / military camp today is difficult to reconstruct, but based on similar cities it can be assumed how it was organized. It is assumed that the entrance to the castrum was at today’s Library of the City of Belgrade.  Today’s Pariska Street was the border between the castrum and the civilian settlement in the area from King Peter Street to Republic Square. The temples were probably located on the site of today’s King Peter I school, because many altars were found there. In the area in front of the Faculty of Philosophy, there were thermal baths, the foundations of which were found during the construction of the faculty, and which date from the 3rd century.

Preserved apses of ancient Roman baths on Studentski trg in front of the Faculty of Philosophy

In the area of  the Lower Town of the Belgrade Fortress, there was a military port and probably a bridge towards Taurunum / Zemun.

The oldest history of Belgrade dates around 600 BC. n. e. when the Thracian-Chimera and Scythian tribes passed, and in the 3rd century BC. the Celtic tribe. The presence of the Celtic tribe Scordisci is associated with the formation of Singidunum, which, as a fortified settlement, was first mentioned in 279 BC. The first part of the word Singi means round, and dunum fortification or city. It is possible that the name derives from the name of the Thracian tribe Singa, found at the time of the arrival of the Celts. There are almost no traces of that Celtic city, except that necropolises with artistically valuable objects, which belonged to the warriors of the Scordisci tribe, were found on the sites of Karaburma and Rospa ćuprija. Celtic cultural influences were woven into the culture of the Singidunum population, which were partly transmitted and mixed with Roman ancient cultural elements.

The Romans ruled Singidunum at the beginning of the 1st century AD and it was under their rule for four centuries. Soldiers of the Moesian legions, form the first Roman military garrison in Singidunum. Wells in the shape of wells found on Republic Square and other places in the city originate from that period. In addition to Singidunum, the Roman Empire also included Taurunum, today’s Zemun. Both cities became important military strongholds on the fortified Roman border – the “limes”. Singidunum became an important stronghold of the Roman army in 86, with the arrival of Legion IV Flavius.

The first  fortification was built in the Upper Town around that time, and the fragments are still to be seen today. This castrum was square in shape and covered the area of ​​today’s Upper Town on Kalemegdan park . The appearance of Taurunum (Zemun) from that time is less known and it was probably located on the site of today’s Lower Town. As a more important Roman military camp, Singidunum acquired city rights in the 2nd century AD. e. during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Military significance increased even more in the 3rd century, when Emperor Aurelius left Dacia and Upper Moesia gained new borders along the right bank of the Danube. Then Singidunum became the center of the Christian episcopate. The Roman emperor Jovian Flavius ​​Claudius was born in it a little later. In addition to the military camp, the Romans inhabited veterans of their legions to further secure their border. Thus, over time, a rather large settlement was created here, which had a rectilinear basis, with streets intersecting at right angles.

Such a rectangular shape was also preserved in  the Student Square (a former Roman forum with thermal baths discovered about thirty years ago). Between Singidunum and Taurunum, across the Sava, there was a bridge that connected these two cities and which was one of the most important Roman roads. Thus Singidunum became a significant road junction for the Roman provinces of Moesia, Dacia, Pannonia and Dalmatia. The military route – Via militaris, which went from west to east, through Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica), Singidunum and Viminacium (Kostolac), to Byzantium, was protected by fortifications. There were such fortifications in today’s territory of Belgrade, such as: Mutatio ad Sehtum (Mali Mokri Lug), Castra Tricornia (Ritopek), Mutatio ad Sehtum Militare (Grocka) and others. The road that connected the then mining settlements on Avala, Kosmaj and Rudnik was also significant.  Tombs, monuments, sculptures, ceramics, money  were found in many villages in the Belgrade area. With the division of the Roman Empire into East and West in 395, the then Singidunum became a border town within Byzantine Empire. This new position of the city determined its further destiny, because it became, not only a link of various cultural influences, but also a traffic and strategic stronghold of the Byzantine Empire.

Remains of ancient Roman buildings, TC Rajićeva

The permanent military camp of Flavius’ Legion IV was built at the beginning of the 2nd century on a hill above the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. The fortification covered an area of about 20 ha. Changes in the defense system at the end of the 3rd century are reflected in the construction of new ramparts that were built towards the Danube and the Sava. In the area between the camp and the two rivers, along the coast, buildings with a heating system were erected, and in their immediate vicinity was a temple dedicated to Mithras, in which relics of that and other mystical cults from the 3rd century were found. Areas of craft activity have developed around the settlement, and with the most important communication – the road to the capital of Upper Moesia, Viminacium – necropolis.

Jonah’s sarcophagus

The population of Singidunum consisted of veterans, ie retired soldiers, their families, merchants and craftsmen. There are different estimates when it comes to the number of inhabitants, but if the military part of the castrum is excluded, Singidunum most likely had between two and four thousand inhabitants.

Parts of ancient Roman buildings in TC Rajićeva

The special geographical position and the crossroads of military and trade routes conditioned the development of an economically strong civilian settlement in Singidunum. Singidunum went through all the phases of the Roman provincial cities, starting with the canabae (along the ramparts of the castrum), through the municipalities, a term used in the Roman state for the so-called the second class of cities, and whose status was below the colonies (colonia). The municipalities had their own self-government, but their citizens, unlike the colonies, did not have Roman citizenship, but only the so-called Latin law. Municipiums, unlike colonies, were usually not founded by the Romans but were created by placing an already existing non-Roman settlement under Roman rule.

Written by Mija Bukumirović

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