Justinian's inscription – unique in the Roman world and evidence of Dardanian continuity
In the structures of the largest church discovered so far in the Balkans, the Latin inscription was found on the mosaic with different motifs. Although only segments of the inscription have been published due to safety and further study, it is clear that it was the emperor Justinian who personally initiated the construction of the city of Justiniana Secunda. The inscription is found in the central area of the church, a space that has been seen from all sides of the cult object. Beyond this, the details of the inscription reveal other personal and political circumstances of the time when this side as part of the Empire of the time was ruled by the emperor of Dardanian descent, Justinian
Historical sources, but also field data have shown that after the destruction of the city of Ulpiana, Justiniana Secunda was built some 700 meters to the east. Evidence for this was also the structures of the Paleo-Christian church that have come to light over the years. But archaeologists this year have hit on another point: the inscription, which is a unique discovery.
In the structures of the largest church discovered so far in the Balkans, the Latin inscription was found on the mosaic with different motifs. Although only segments of the inscription have been published due to safety and further study, it is clear that it was the emperor Justinian who personally initiated the construction of the city of Justiniana Secunda. The inscription is found in the central area of the church, a space that has been seen from all sides of the cult object. Beyond this, the details of the inscription reveal other personal and political circumstances of the time when this side, as part of the Empire of the time, was ruled by the emperor of Dardanian descent, Justinian. The Dardanian continuity until the Middle Ages is also proven through the inscription in Latin.
"Discovery that happens once in a lifetime"
"To be clear and concise is something that happens once in a lifetime. It is not a surprise that we are in Dardani, we knew this from various sources", said Christophe Goddard, who is a representative of the "Ecole Normale Supérieure" from Paris and runs the "Aoroc" laboratory. Through the cooperation between French institutions, the University of Pristina and the Archaeological Institute of Kosovo and with the funding of the European Union, archaeologists have worked in this locality for a month.
"It is a monumental dedication. It is also a dedication to the city located in Dardani. The fact that the Emperor mentions this as his creation is an interesting detail, as it shows that he financed the construction of the city and the construction of the temples. Now we are sure that not only this church was financed by Justinian, but also more around", said Goddard on Tuesday at noon. He did not hesitate at all to give a conclusion.
"As an inscription of this type in Latin, it is the only one discovered so far in the Roman world. There are inscriptions dedicated to Justinian, where local residents thank the emperor, but in this case the emperor wanted to be mentioned there," he said. He elaborated that it must have been the Office of the emperor who ruled from 527 to 565, who wanted this inscription to be in the central position of the church.
He explained his enthusiasm even further.
"So it is not an exception only for Kosovo. We are enthusiastic about this, since we have fallen into a political decision of that time where the emperor decides to write something there.
Regarding the inscription in Latin, he said that it shows that Dardania was a western province at that time and the emperor saw himself as such, as a person who speaks Latin and not Greek. "He stayed in Constantinople, but he rebuilt the West, as it was his country," said Goddard.
City of Dardania
Archaeologists are expected to deepen the study of this inscription and come out with detailed data during the latter part of this year. But the mosaic with different motifs from flora and fauna together with the inscription as a unique specimen have shed a lot of light. Historical sources have shown that after the earthquake of 518, Ulpiana as a city was destroyed. And then the emperor Justinian would rebuild the city further east of the precipice. This story was also written down by the prominent historian of the 6th century, Procopius.
But according to archaeologists, the inscription seals this.
"The inscription confirms this as it is the emperor who decided together with his wife Theodora that the construction should take place. He is the one who chose the place for the construction of the city and financed it. So, he personally took care of the foundation of the city", said the university professor of archaeology, Arben Hajdari. According to him, the inscription shows that several churches were also built. And this is also proven in geophysical recordings. The importance of the inscription goes as far as adding a written testimony that the city belonged to Dardania.
"These are important data also for the reason that it confirms that the Dardanians and Dardania emerged in the Middle Ages as a well-consolidated ethnicity. At the same time, it shows that Emperor Justinian had shown special care for his country of origin", said Hajdari.
Taking into account Justinian's initial troubles regarding the marriage with Theodora and the postponement of the coronation, together with the fact that the most powerful woman of that time is mentioned in the inscription, archaeologists have also given the approximate period of the construction of the basilica.
"As for the construction of the church, we cannot know precisely. We can say that the city and the basilica may have been built between the years 535 and 548", said Hajdari.
Sealing of historical sources
Milot Berisha, archaeologist of the Archaeological Institute of Kosovo, at the same time leader of the project for the conversion of a part of the Ulpiana locality into an archaeological park, said that the inscription is still in the process of study.
He has described how among others the name of Emperor Justinian is mentioned, as he said the greatest Byzantine emperor, the last of the Latin speakers in the Byzantine Empire.
"They have erected an imperial paleo-Christian church and there is talk of a city in Dardani. This is a confirmation of what we said earlier. So it is Justiniana Secunda built by Justinian", he said.
The discovery has caught the attention of all the country's leaders. On Monday, the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, and the Minister of Culture, Hajrulla Çeku, stayed at the archaeological site. On Tuesday, the team of archaeologists was received by the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti.
"The inscription in the Paleochristian Church is among the most important discoveries in the archeology of the country, as evidence of the Dardanian identity in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages," Prime Minister Kurti wrote on Facebook after the hosting.
According to him, the institutions are committed to supporting such expeditions.
"Thanks to the work, passion and dedication of archaeologists in different localities, they are becoming a reference center for Kosovo, while the commitment of the Government remains unwavering, providing support of all forms, both technical, scientific and financial", he wrote .
The same archaeologists last year had fallen on the structures of the largest church discovered so far in the Balkans, 78 by 23 meters. And on the basis of geophysical research, they came to the conclusion that Justiniana Secunda was a fortified city with a surrounding wall and covered an area of 19 hectares. Much smaller than Ulpiana, which is 35 hectares.
Previously, the group in 2021 had researched in a part of Ulpiana.
"Ulpiana is the Pompeii of the Balkans," French archaeologist Christophe Goddard said at the time. While Goddard had talked about the layers found, he had mentioned the pre-Roman period at the very beginning.
"Now we are staying in the pre-Roman period. The ceramics we have from here belong to the Dardanian period and 99 percent are not Roman," he said. It was found that the Romans built this temple through the layer they found, after they came in the first century of our era.
In three hectares, visitors since 2016 – when part of the locality was declared an archaeological park – can see many structures and finds. In the first sector of the Park there are Roman baths, a temple and a fortified basilica with four towers. But, ready to be seen is only one tower. The second consists of suburban villas or suburban villas, respectively from the ruins of the walls of one wing of the villa, since after half of the 30st century the space has been transformed into a cemetery and is now called the northern necropolis. The third sector offers visitors the episcopate basilica, otherwise known as the cathedral. It is a large ecclesiastical complex of late antiquity, paleo-Christian construction. But, the locality is spread over XNUMX hectares around. It is the only archaeological park in Kosovo.
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