Sirmium archaeological site Sremska Mitrovica
The remains of once prosperous and powerful Roman city of Sirmium are concealed on the surface of 2680 square meters beneath the streets of the present day Sremska Mitrovica, 55 km west of Belgrade. The antiquity of Sirmium includes the historical period of about six centuries and reflects glories and downfalls of “the most powerful Empire of the world”. The history of the Roman city of Sirmium begins during the Emperor Augustus invasion of Illyricum in 35 – 33 BC and continues all the way to 582 AD when the city of Sirmium falls under control of Avars. The final fall of Sirmium into the hands of Avars in 582 and emigration of population from the town during the following years marked the symbolic beginning of the end of the Roman domination in this part of the Empire. The most significant archaeological sites which are presented in the very center of the modern city of Sremska Mitrovica are remains of the Imperial Palace, villa urbana within the Archaeological Museum of Srem, merchants and craftsmen quarter and urban basilica identified as Church of Saint Demetrius.
Romans probably occupied Sirmium during Tiberius wars in Pannonia 13 – 9 BC, and the city was granted the status of a colony – colonia Flavia Sirmium, under the Flavian dynasty – 69 – 99 AD. In 294 AD, Sirmium was pronounced by Diocletian one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire. It was also the capital of the Praetorian Prefecture of Illyricum and of Pannonia Secunda Province. From the time of the Diocletian’s reform of the provincial system, Sirmium became the seat of the governor of the province Pannonia Secunda, as well as the seat of some high-ranking mili-tary commanders of Illyricum. Sirmium was frequently used as a base for military campaigns against the barbarian groups of Huns, Eastern Goth and Gepids who continually attacked frontier – Limes in this part of the Roman Empire. The name Sirmium means “flow”, “flowing water”, “wetland”, referring to its close river position on the nearby Sava River, from the Latin Savus.
From the time of granting the colonial status, all the way to the end of the 4th century, the ancient literary sources mention Sirmium as a temporary residence of numerous Roman Emperors. From the historical sources we know that from the 1st through the 3rd century Emperors Domitian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimus 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 of Sirmium enjoyed its greatest prosperity at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century, when it was one of the capitals of the Roman Empire and for some periods seat of the emperors Diocletian, Licinius, Constantine the Great, Constantius II, Julian, Valentian, Gratian and Theodosius. A full glory of Sirmium can the best be seen from the ruins of the 4th century AD, when its numerous inhabitants of Roman, Illyrian and Celtic origin, as well as the incomers from all parts of the huge Roman Empire, enjoyed the privileges of living in such a extraordinary town that was a birthplace of the Roman Emperors. Soon Sirmium was to become one of the centres of early Christianity, but also a place of Christian martyrdom.
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. Colossal building about 150 m wide and 450 m long lies directly under the Sremska Mitrovica town center and just beside the old Sirmium Emperor’s Palace, which is the only known unexcavated Roman Hippodrome in the world. Chariot (bigae, quadrigae) races, the most popular sport in the ancient world, were held here. The construction of the hippodrome is dated most probably between 312 and 313 during the presence of Licinius or during the later stays by Constantine between 316 and 324. Sirmium was protected by a circuit of strong defensive walls and supplied with water by an aqueduct from the Vranješ spring in Fruška Gora Mountain. Sirmium street were paved, flanked by porticoes and drained with sewers. Coins were struck in the Imperial mint in Sirmium and workshops produced various objects in precious metals, glass and pottery. Bricks were also manufactured in Sirmium. The well known Roman historian of the 4th century, Ammianus Marcellinus described Sirmium as „the glorius and populous mother of cities“.
The Sirmium palace-circus architectural complex is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Sremska Mitrovica. It was built at the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century in the south-east – elite section of Sirmium, 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 emperors and their families lived /the residential part/. The circuses built right next to the palaces represent the official structure fro 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 Roman Empire, but the Sirmium circus is the only one discovered so far in Serbia. On the archaeological site of Sirmium nowadays, 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 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 Roman Empire – Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy. Installations for a radiant heating system were uncovered beneath almost every floor in the Sirmium Imperial Palace. The long duration and frequent use of the Imperial Palace are documented by the numerous structural repairs, mosaic pavements in several levels and the large quantity of archaeological artifacts recovered.
Only a part of the interior courtyard of the Sirmium Imperial Palace has been uncovered. Other spaces whose floor levels are approximately 1 meter higher are located around the courtyard. This allowed installation of the radiant heating system /hypocaustum/. Remains of stairs which led into the Imperial Palace were uncovered. Other archaeological findings in Sirmium are – a monumental structure of square basis built of large stone blocks whose interior walls were richly decorated with frescoes, the furnaces /praefurnia/ for the heating system, part of mosaic pavement dating from the beginning of the 4th century, space with the large apse which probably functioned as one of the official, ceremonial parts of the palace where the Emperor performed his administrative duties in ruling the Roman Empire where in earlier phase were baths, a portico /porticus/ whose floors were decorated with mosaics from the middle of the 4th century, the fountain decorated with marble revetments, a corridor which led towards the staircase decorated with a mosaic pavement, space with small apse with semicircular staircase which led to an upper storey in the Imperial Palace.
After 313 the Sirmium became an important Christian center. During the next centuries it was under the constant invasions of various Barbarian tribes – Huns, Goths and Avars. At the end of the VIII century, Sirmium probably belonged to the Frankish State of Charlemagne and from 829 – 830 the area between the Danube and the Sava was under Bulgarian rule. When, in the course of the XII century there was formed a new settlement of craftsmen and merchants, it was given a new name after the old Sirmian church of St. Demetrius. Sirmium entered also the State of Macedonian Slavs under Samuel and in it Sermon, probably one of Samuel’s noblemen, giving time resistance to the Byzantine rule. After 1018 – 1019, Sirmium is again in Byzantine hands and is mentioned as the seat of a particular diocese. Since the end of the 11th century, Sirmium was entered the sphere of interests of the Hungarian State. The struggle was carried on, with a variable success, for more than a hundred years, until in 1180, after the emperor Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine Empire gave up for ever the territory of Srem, surrendering Sirmium to the young Hungarian State. In 1396, Mitrovica was for the first time burnt down and ravaged by the Turks who took away a part of its population as slaves. When the storm has blown over, the town had to rise from ashes and ruins but the colony of Ragusean merchants was never restored. For a while, about 1451, the town was in possession of the Serbian despot Djuradj Brankovic. In summer 1521 Mitrovica finally came into Turkish hands and it remained under the Turkish rule for almost two centuries.
Demetrius of Sirmium / Dmitry of Mitrovica), Serbia, was both soldier and martyr; he suffered in the early 4th century under Emperor Maximian. He became immensely popular in the East, where he was called “The Great Martyr”, and subsequently in the West. Leontius, the prefect of Illyricum built two churches in honor of Demetrius in the early 5th century: one at Sirmium and the other at Thessaloniki where at least some of the relics were enshrined. Over 200 churches in the Balkans are dedicated to him and he is the patron of Belgrade. Modern Sremska Mitrovica is named after Saint Demetrius /Dmitry/.