Remesiana Archaeological site Bela Palanka

Remesiana Archaeological Site Bela Palanka

The Remezijana – Remesiana archaeological site is located in the urban area of Bela Palanka in East Serbia, surrounded with imposing Svrljiske Planine Mountains and the Suva Planina Mountain. The Remesiana site was the ancient town of Moesia Superior that corresponds with the Middle Ponisavlje area, on the place of the current settlement of Bela Palanka. The Remesiana archaeological site in Bela Palanka is set on the left bank of the Koritnik River which borders the eastern side of the settlement and joins the Nisava River in the northeastern area of Bela Palanka settlement. In the center of Bela Palanka there is well preserved milestone – the reader of distances in kilometers-miles which dates from the beginning of the 3rd century. This stone column is 2,4 meters high and in good conditions. The milestone is usually the rarest archaeological discovery as there were relatively small numbers of them which were positioned on crossroads or on the places where travelers used to change tired horses. It was positionedin 230 on the main military Roman road of Via Militaris during the rule of emperor Alexander Sever – the last emperor of the Sever Dynasty that ruled the Rome for 42 years. This milestone determines distance from Nis – 24 miles which is 35 kilometers and shows the same distance from the current position of this settlement to Nis. 

The name of this settlement was often changed in the earliest periods, so it was first time mentioned in the 3rd century as the Remisiana, in the 4th century the settlement was known as Romansiana, while in the 6th century it is called Rumisiana. The city is mentioned in ancient descriptions – travel itineraries in several versions, e.g. in the 3rd century  and the 4the century, in Itinerarium Antonini the name of the city is Remisiana, in Tabulae Peutingeriana – Romesiana, in Itinerarium Burdingalense – Romansiana.

The Roman and the Early-Byzantine stronghold of Remesiana of the irregular rectangular basis, with polygonal towers, was erected on the trading road between Naissus and Serdica /nowadays Nis and Sofia/. Epigraphic monuments of the Remesiana site testify on the early formation of the settlement which gained the urban status probably during the reign of the Emperor Traian, and also on its significance at the beginning of the 3rd century. Remains of the civil basilica with semicircular apse on the western side and some representative structures in its proximity were discovered within the fortification walls, as well as ruins of the antique structures in several spots. Outside the fortification walls of Remesiana were three-nave basilica with the baptistery, the villa and necropolis along the access roads from the northern, eastern and southern sides of the settlement. Since the 4th century the Remesiana settlement became the seat of the Bishopric, administered by Bishop Saint Nicetas who lived and worked here. The urban scheme of the late Roman town of Remesiana was not changed in the 6th century during the intense construction campaign of Emperor Iustinian.

After the Roman conquest, the Remesiana settlement became part of the Province of the Upper Moesia. Epigraph finds indicate the early formation of the settlement, which was the significant urban agglomeration with defined administration since the 2nd century, during the rule of Emperor Traian. The settlement was probably the sea and the seat of the administration of mining area, that had extraordinary significance for the area of Dardania rich in mines /metalla Dardanorum/. As the important economic branch of that historical period, gold mining greatly contributed to the faster development of the settlement, and as the imperial domain part, the whole area gained urban appearance. The Romanization of the indigenous population greatly influenced the overall cultural frame of the formation of the settlement. The central administration of the Empire conceived the policy of Romanization of some areas, with the aim to ease the exploit of natural resources. This is how the toponym of Daltames appears in the area of Remesiana settlement.

At the beginning of the 2nd century there was the military camp – castrum at the Remesiana settlement. This would also be the first ever devised form of the urban settlement, but its location is still uncertain. The archaeological excavations at the Remesiana site have not designed the remains of the earliest fortification. In many localities, the late Roman and early-Byzantine fortifications were established by enlargement and reinforcement of the first military camps. In that case the walls of the military camp of the Remesiana site would have been located within the basis of the late Roman stronghold. Construction of such strong fortification is possible reason for destruction of the former military camp, as per archaeological excavations that resulted in no identified finds of the military camp.

The economic and cultural significance of the Remesiana settlement in the previous historical period contributed to its status of the sea of the Bishopric at the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century. On this testify the presence of the famous theologian and Bishop of that time – Saint Nicetas /330-410/, the renown missionary and the ecclesiastical writer whose name was denoted with Remesianensis. Some time later, there was another important bishop at the Remesiana – the episcopus Remesianensis Diogenionus. Saint Nicetas from Remesiana was the Bishop of Remesiana. Some ancient texts, including the Order of Catechizing, considered Bishop of Remesiana Nicetas to be one of the fathers of the Church, and both in the Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Church he is considered to be a saint. He was one of the commissioner of the true Orthodox Christianity – the Orthodoxy. »Te Dei« – »To You my Lord« are the work of Saint Nicetas. Years of Nicetas’s life coincide with the period of the final battles against Arianism, which extend to the beginning of the 5th century. Saint Nicetas lived in the second half of the 4th century, surrounded with other bishops (Serdica, Naisus…) who were his opponents Aryans, supported by rulers of that time, who were also Arians. Saint Nicetas was supposed to baptize the whole tenacious population of the Bessi Thracian tribe. Saint Nicetas translated the Bible into their language. The Besi tribe is often regarded to have populated the lower course of the Maritza river, but have moved further as the significant gold miners, and they have settled in the areas rich in gold. The archaeological finds of this tribe are small stone mounds with an urn or scattered ashes in the central pit with the whole mound covered with stones. Coins dating from the 4th century were found in those mounds. This was very old way of burial ritual for this historical period. Some analogies connected with the Bessi tribe are found in the Rhodope Mountains.This population for long period was resistant to the new lifestyle patterns, and preserved their burial rituals, that confirms their features. It is also mentioned in the old archives that Goths and Sarmatians who were Aryans were baptized by Saint Nicetas who converted them into the true faith. During the reign of Saint Nicetas, the Remesiana basilica was turned into the Christian shrine, and another one was built extramuros with the small graveyard.

“Activities of Nicetos – Niketa of Remesiana /today Bela Palanka/ prove on presence of the Serbs in Podunavlje area at the beginning of the 5th century, around 400. Western sources state that Nicetas baptized Scythian, Goths, Dacians and Huns, while his particular success was baptism of Bessa tribe from Rhodopes. Besides some dogmatic-historical precious writes, he wrote the famous hymn Te Deum Laudamus. What Nicetas was doing among the Serbs is evidenced in Britannica text, part 7, page 322, issued in 1776 : Nicetas of Remesiana, early 5th century, Greek bishop, theologian and composer of liturgical verses whose missionary activities and works resulted in christianisation of the Serbian Slavic regions.” Dražen Živković

In summer 2020 when archaeologists opened undisturbed early Christian tomb in Remesiana site from Roman times, dating from the 4th-5th century AD, they have discovered remains of the deceased, bronze fibula and glass cup which were lying next to the skeleton, and tomb itself. Next to the skeleton there were several objects – bronze fibula (brooch, pin), remains of the cloth, bronze buckle and glass vessel. This tomb is unique in Serbia and surrounding area. It belongs to a „mensa“ type of tombs, and features semicircular basis with central part covered with small stones and mortar. Walls are made of bricks, while the floor was covered with wooden boards. As other „mensa“ tombs, this one had benches and tables for burial feasts, and this is the only known tomb of this type from Serbia so far, with closest analogy in southern Hungary.  Experts believe that this tombs was made for rich person, somebody from upper social class of ancient Roman society. All other graves at this site, more than 20 of them, are simple holes in the ground covered with stones or bricks, but this one is larger and complex. So far, at this site archaeologists have found 25 tombs from the late antiquity, and many ancient artifacts inside them placed as a grave goods, especially jewelry such as silver fibulae, gold earrings, pottery and glass vessels.

Ancient Remesiana was important Roman and early Byzantine town. It was one of the important Christian centers in central Balkans during the late Antiquity period. So far, archaeologists have discovered remains of fortress, several basilicas and other public buildings, graves and numerous pieces of jewelry, coins pottery and other objects for everyday use. Unfortunately, much of the ancient Remesiana lies beneath modern-day Bela Palanka, and because of that most of the secrets of this ancient town will probably remain undiscovered forever.

Sondage excavations at the Remesiana site started in 1956, and in regard with the building works carried out in the town, with some interruptions they last until the present. The conservation works are completed on excavated finds of the Remesiana site.