Serbian Cultural Heritage

Frontiers of the Roman Empire

Frontiers of the Roman Empire where fortifications along the Roman limes. Sites in Serbia, among others, include the remains at Petrovaradin, Belgrade, Zemun, Kladovo, Golubac, and Tabula Traiana. The nomination is shared with Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The proposal envisages the nomination of more than 130 individual component parts. These include: 7 legionary fortresses: Singidunum, Viminacium, Ratiaria, Oescus, Novae, Durostorum, Troesmis and nearly 120 auxiliary forts and smaller fortifications; civil settlements, cemeteries, production complexes, roads etc., all related to the functioning of the Roman frontier along the Danube. The province of Moesia started off as a northward extension to that of Macedonia. It received its own governor when Claudius added the Danubian Plain to its territory at the creation of the province of Dacia. By that time, Rome had already for over a century been interfering with regional affairs on both sides of the Lower Danube, but it seems that the Claudian rearrangement first led to the foundation of permanent military bases on the river. Nevertheless, military interventions across the Danube continued, at least as far as the Dnjestr river, over 100 km to the north of the Danube delta. It was only after Dacian incursions in 68/69 and 85/86 from across the Danube that the military infrastructure along the river was considerably extended. Following the latter invasion, the province was divided to Superior and Inferior parts. At the creation of the province of Dacia in 106, the military occupation of the bordering section along the Danube was reduced, whereas the lower course along the Dobrudja was strengthened following the inclusion of the eastern part of the Romanian Plain into the territory of Moesia, but this was soon given up. In the mid-3rd century, the Moesian frontier suffered from invasions of Goths and other peoples, and in 271 the Dacian province was evacuated.

Following these events both the provincial structure and the frontier were reorganised. Although barbarian raids persisted, this line of defence survived collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. As part of the Eastern Roman Empire the Moesian frontier was restored in the first half of the 6th century but following invasions of Avars and Slavs heralded the end of the Danube frontier in the early 7th century. The defensive system of the frontier consisted of a chain of fortifications along the Danube River right/south bank. The Danube itself was the primary line of defense. The Second line were several river fleets (classis Pannonica and classis Histrica). These were attached to the main strongholds along the frontier. The army units supported the fleets whenever it was possible. The river was, as still is, a major communication route for both the military and civilian transport and supply. The frontier road network was built by the Roman legions themselves.

The organization of the limes was highly influenced by the natural land configuration. The Limes road linked the individual military installations and other ancillary facilities. Quite often along a natural border, the frontier road runs well behind the course of the river, dictated by the terrain. The watchtowers and fortlets and sometimes forts, were connected to the supra-regional frontier road with the smaller ones. Besides the fortresses, forts and fortlets, there were civil settlements and cemeteries. The legionary forts (Singidunum and Viminacium) were located in a flat open area of central Serbia, suitable for large scale military operations. In the Iron Gates, the terrain narrows the area along the river to the level that the road had to be cut into the rock or be built over the river itself. This was a region that was garrisoned only by smaller units up to the rank of cohorts. Downstream from Kladovo, the valley widens up again and bigger auxiliary forts are located on strategic points. The river crossings were of strategic importance for any kind of military operations or potential trade with the barbarians. One of the crossings was by Singidunum and Taurunum at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers. The second strategic crossing was below the Lederata fort (present day Ram) over Sapaja Island. The best-known crossing was the Trajan’s bridge (Pons Traiani) near Kladovo at Kostol (Pontes fort – the “Bridges”).

Navigation along the river was of the utmost strategic importance. The river boats enabled fast transport of troops and goods, continuous supply of units and provided the first line of defense when confronting barbarian intrusions. The main ports were established in Taurunum, Singidunum, Margum, Viminacium, Diana, Aquae and Egeta and by the several smaller fortifications with mainly support and supply roles. From point of view of geography, the Easter sector of the Danube Limes includes the national segments (in geographic order from left to right) of Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. It starts from the point where the Serbian-Croatian border, which in that part runs along the Danube river, meets the Hungarian border. From that point till Vukovar (Croatia), the Danube flows from north to south5. At Vukovar, the river changes to the east due the mountain range Alma Mons/Fruška Gora north of Sirmium/Sremska Mitrovica. In that region the River Tisza, Drava and Sava flow into the Danube. At the confluence of the Sava at Singidunum (Belgrade) the outskirts of the southerly mountain ranges start closing in on the Danube. Some 100 km downstream the river flows into the narrow gorges of the Iron Gate. The mouth of the Sava and a westerly entrance to Dacia were occupied by legionary fortresses at Singidunum and Viminacium (Stari Kostolac) during Flavian period, as preparations for the upcoming Dacian Wars. The Iron Gate itself was supervised by mainly small posts distributed along the more accessible parts, some already installed under Tiberius and Claudius. From the exit of the Iron Gate the Danube took a winding course until Ratiaria (Archar). The dense series of military posts overlooking this stretch were mainly built in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Downstream from Ratiaria the Danube follows a relatively straight course until as far as Durostorum (Silistra), between the Wallachian/Romanian Plain to the north and the more elevated Danubian Plain to the south. For much of this c. 400 km long stretch the river has a wide and often twisting channel. The legionary fortresses of Oescus (Gigen), Novae (Svishtov) and Durostorum were built at rare spots where the river has a single, narrow bed. The intermediate military posts were often built in high positions with a clear view over the river and the plain beyond. Downstream from Durostorum the Danube takes a northerly course, developing many twisting channels in a wide zone, before bending to the east at Barbosi and creating a delta near Aegysus/Tulca. In this region the military installations were invariably built on the higher grounds along the most easterly river channel.