REMAINS OF THE HELLENIC AND ROMAN CIVILIZATION IN ILLYRICUM
Excerpted from "A History of the Croatian People", Volume 1 - Prehistory and Early Period Until 1397 A.D. pg 18-25 By Francis R. Preveden, copyright 1955

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Neolithic and Bronze Age stations, together with various deposits scattered far and wide are met with in numerous places throughout the Croatian territory. They are typical of the Neolithic peasant culture of central Europe and the Bronze Age culture of the Pannonian Basin. The bronze industry of this area undoubtedly draws its origin from the eastern Mediterranean through the great trade artery of the Danube River and the Black Sea. The cultural shift from Neolithic farming to the Unyetitse metal industry is best represented by the inventory of Butmir and Glasinats stations in Bosnia. These two are deeply symbolic of the origins of European civilization. Farming and metal work influenced - through interaction and mutual progress - the cultural development of the whole continent. But this development would have been painfully slow, but for a new factor, the navigation of river and sea.

Outside Europe the higher culture developed in the alluvial plains and great river valleys of the Nile in Egypt, Euphrates in Mesopotamia, Amu-Darya in Turkestan, Indus in India, and Yangtse in China. Fertile soils improved by irrigation encouraged a flourishing agriculture, with a stable social order capable of constructive effort in the crafts, trade, arts, architecture and science. It brought about great religious systems, city states, political unity, the art of writing and other manifestations in intellectual progress. All this was made possible through concentration and compactness of the population living in these productive areas.

Terrain and the woodlands made all this impossible in Europe. Impeded by dense forests and separated by numerous mountain ridges, the European population lived scattered in small clans and tribes separated from their neighbors. Hence there was great diversity of regional life in the cultural history of mountainous countries such as the Balkans, Italy, Alpine areas, Iberian peninsula, and Scandinavia. Surrounded by mountains, each little valley was a microcosm of its own, with intense local patriotism, clannishness and little interest in the rest of the world. Until the science of navigation had been mastered, the same pattern of life prevailed along the sea where a coastal strip was separated from its hinterland by dense forests or towering mountain ridges.

But while Europe is a land of mountains, it is also a huge peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea, which reaches deep inland through its great bays and the estuaries of large rivers. So where Europe was denied extensive alluvial plains on which to found a higher civilization, it was richly compensated by a matchless coastland, which in time became the stage of intense cultural activities. The cradle of higher European civilization is the eastern Mediterranean, with the island system and coastland connecting three continents. From this basin the Mediterranean culture will spread along the Aegean coast encompassing all of Greece; along the Ionian Sea connecting Peloponnesus and Sicily; along the Adriatic coast, and reach into the waters of the western Mediterranean.

The civilization of the eastern Mediterranean itself was not uniform, nor was it fully grown overnight. It also had its periods of development and fusion, for it sprang itself from various sources. The oldest branch of it is the Sumerian-Babylonian, which came from Mesopotamia; then the Trojan culture, itself an embodiment of continental Anatolian influences; the civilization of Egypt from its earliest dynasties, and chiefly the Minoan civilization of Crete, with its brilliant climax in the Palace of Cnossus. Through its advantageous location at the eastern third of the Mediterranean, Crete was the most important cultural center in the second millennium before our era.

Parallel to the Minoan, was the Cycladic civilization. It originated in the fertile Aegean islands with their rich deposits of minerals and established maritime traffic. The eastern coast of the Peloponnesus was the recipient of both Cretan and Cycladic cultures, and developed its own splendid Mycenaean civilization. Toward the beginning of the Iron Age, Aryan invaders from the north occupied the mainland and coastal areas. Heirs to the Cycladic and Mycenaean cultures, they themselves created the superior civilization of the Hellenic world. The growth and spread of Aegean civilizations is to a great extent the work of the seagoing men who connected the great trade centers and trading posts of the Mediterranean and Euxine Pontus into one extensive cultural area. To the southeast lay the great centers of ancient civilization and to the northwest the vast area of barbarous lands, with which the enterprising Aegean navigators could carry on a profitable trade. The Mediterranean shipping could deliver goods to the ports of the Egyptian delta or Syria, from which overland traffic was busily carried on with Mesopotamia and inner Asia, and inversely, they could load goods in these ports for distribution north and west.

With the development of navigation the maritime trade was carried on with even greater vigor by the sailors and merchants of ancient Greece. After the decline of the Cretan state and its conquest by the Achaean Greeks in the 15th century, B.C., the sea lanes of the Aegean came into the hands of a new and virile race, which descended upon the southern coast from the northern mainland, attracted by the superior civilization of Mycenae, Tiryns, Crete and Cyclades. Achaeans were followed by the Doric tribes which established themselves on the mainland or settled down along the western coast of Greece. It took several centuries before the powerful Hellenic tribes occupied the whole Aegean area, with the Greek mainland. But once settled they developed a prosperous civilization of their own, attended by the quick growth of population. Between 800 and 600 B.C. this population, organized into City States, achieved a new momentum through colonization, expanding over the coastland of the central and eastern Mediterranean, over the shores of Hellespont, and even over the eastern coast of the Euxine Pontus. Such expansion not only took care of the excess population of the City States, but also intensified the trade and navigation between the new areas and the motherland. In time, it gave great wealth and power to the Grecian world which was thus enabled to carry its civilization to the remote corners of the then known world.

Greek penetration into the Adriatic came at an early date. Since this gulf is the northern extension of the Ionian Sea, the shores of which were inhabited by the Doric tribes, it was natural for the sailors and merchants of Greece to sail along its coast to the head of the Adriatic. There they met the amber merchants from the Baltic, and purchased ironware from the foundries of Hallstatt and Picenum. In this way the Greeks developed the carrier trade between prosperous Sicily and points north along both Adriatic coasts. They were following the example of the Phoenician traders who had visited the Dalmatian shores and founded their colonies before the coming of the Greeks. The City State of Corinth was the first to establish colonies in the Adriatic. Even before founding the city of Syracuse in Sicily in the 8th century B.C., the Corinthians had established a colony on the island of Corcyra (Corfu) near the Strait of Otranto.

 

The Dalmatian Coast And Its Hinterland

There is no lack of archeological remains throughout the Adriatic coastland and its archipelago that antedate the coming of Greek colonists. Both chipped and polished stone implements have been found scattered on nearly all the larger islands and in various places on the seacoast. But these finds are far behind those of Butmir and other places in Bosnia in the abundance and variety of implements discovered. This would indicate that the coastal area and archipelago were not in step with the Neolithic civilization of the interior, and that farming was not developed among the aborigines. Held to the narrow coastal plain by the high mountain ranges of the interior, it could not participate in the busy life of the fertile river valleys of the Pontian watershed, and subsisted on the periphery of European humankind, engaged in fishing and the collection of oyster shells. Such a dormant and backward life was the lot of the Adriatic aborigines until the fruits of the Sumero-Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations were brought to them by the Cretan, Phoenician, Cycladic and Grecian sailors and traders. Naturally this process was slow at first and attended by many difficulties. But by the era of intensive Greek navigation and colonization, the old barriers had been beaten down and the vast physical, cultural and intellectual treasure of the ancient East and classical Hellas were introduced into this area, never to leave it again. For during the Greek and Roman times Dalmatia became a torch-bearer of civilization, and it remained true to its noble mission throughout the Middle Ages, even though by that time it had acquired a different racial foundation, Dalmatia became a leader in high intellectual pursuits, and teacher of the fine arts in all Adriatic lands. Moreover, the Dalmatian cities, in company with Venice, made the Adriatic for many centuries the queen of the seas and a world center in trade and traffic between the Moslem world and the countries of western Europe - thus contributing its share to the growth and progress of modern civilization.

 

Greek Colonies In The Adriatic Area

The oldest settlers in the Adriatic were in all probability the Phoenicians. They were followed by the Greeks, especially after colonizing the Korkyra island at the gateway to the Adriatic. A systematic Greek colonization began in the 4th century B.C., chiefly with the aid of Sicily. It resulted in a number of Greek colonies such as those on the island of Issa (Vis), Pharos (Hvar, Lesina), Corcyra Melaine (Korcula), and probably others of lesser note. On the coast they established Lissos (Ljesh in northern Albania), Epidauron (Tsavtat), Narona (Vid), Iadera (Zadar), Tragurion (Trogir), Epetion (Strobrech), Salona (Solin), Asseria (near Benkovats), and Heracleia, whose location has not been identified.

The most interesting archeological materials from this period come from the Greek tombs discovered on the island of Issa (Vis), Pharos (Hvar) and elsewhere, the relics which are now exhibited in the museums of Dalmatian cities. There we find impressive vases and vessels of elegant appearance with painted decorations. The Tanagra figurines of clay are spacious in these collections. Most of these products originated from the Greek centers in southern Italy. The fragment of a marble statue personifying "opportunity" (Airos), discovered in Trogir, represents the work of an accomplished sculptor. So prosperous were these colonies of Issa, Pharos and Corcyra that they issued coins of their own minting. But some of the native Illyrian cities, Rizon in the bay of Cattaro and the tribal seats of Daorsi, also minted coins of their own. This would point to trade relations between the Illyrian aborigines, Greek settlers and occasional traders from abroad. Ample light is shed both on the life of the colonists and their relations with the native population, by a considerable number of inscriptions coming from Corcyra Melaine (Korcula), Pharos (Hvar), and other places. An inscription from Corcyra kept in the archeological museum of Zagreb describes the founding of the colony and the distribution of land among the colonists. An inscription from Starigrad (Citta Vecchia) on Pharos tells of a pilgrimage to the Delphic oracle. Another inscription from Pharos commemorates a victory over some Illyrian tribe from the mainland, and probably graced a public monument. Substantial architectural remains of the ancient fortifications still exist. They can be seen in Starigrad and near the locality of Yelsa (Jelsa) on Pharos, near Strobrech (Epetion) on the mainland, and in other places where the Greek colonists of the 3rd century had to defend themselves against the Illyrian pirates and raiders.

The Adriatic colonies apparently did not emulate the monumental architecture of their mother cities in Greece, for traces of majestic temples, stadia or other impressive public buildings have not been discovered in this region. However, many towns and villages still bear Greek names. And certain family surnames are still know to exist on some islands.

Interesting side lights on the Greek trade and colonization along the Illyrian coast are found in M. Rostovtzeff's The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World. "The character and activity of the Greco-Illyrian trade are illustrated," he writes, "not only by archeological discoveries, but also by a casual literary reference. Strabo has preserved a statement by Theopompus that shreds of Thasian and Chian jars were frequently found in the river Naro. The Thasian and Chian wine came to the river Naro and thence penetrated to the interior as the finds at Trebenishte suggest, probably through the Greek colonies of Apollonia and Epidamnus (Dyrrhachium). It was doubtless to Illyrian trade that these two cities mainly owed their prosperity attested by the interesting discoveries of French and Italian archeologists in their excavations of the ruins of Apollonia.

"A systematic study of these [i.e. excavations of the ruins of Apollonia] will certainly throw fresh light on the vicissitudes in the history of Apollonia and probably Epidamnus, and will provide an instructive picture of their trade relations with Greece, South Italy, and the Illyrian region. The scanty evidence at present in our possession points to a striking development of trade in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Later in the 4th century, when Dionysius the Elder founded his group of colonies on the islands opposite the mouth of Naro (Issa, Pharos, Corcyra Melaine, Melite), he struck a heavy blow at the Apollonian and Epidamnian trade, probably replacing the products of Greek agriculture and industry on the Illyrian markets with those of Sicily and South Italy. Still later the increase of Illyrian piracy made trade relations with Illyria very hazardous. Here again, therefore, the 4th century was a period of steady decline for Greek trade."

 

Roman Civilization And Antiquities

Although prosperous and independent, the inhabitants of the Greek colonies along the Adriatic coast did not penetrate far inland, nor did they harbor plans for the conquest of that territory. Greek military power was entirely directed toward the Near and Middle East, and the invasion of countries of great wealth and high civilization. Alexander conquered Asia Minor, Persia, Bactria, India and Egypt, but the western part of the known world was outside his designs. Thus his generals did not lead the armies against Carthage, whose possessions reached to the Atlantic, nor did they attach much importance to the valley of the Danube (which they called Ister), with its huge and fertile territory. Sicily and the southern third of Italy were settled and assimilated by the Greek colonists, while the cities of Massilia (Marseilles), Nicaea (Nice), and Arles (Argyreia) were founded in southern France. But all this was the work of peaceful settlers, and not of the Macedonian conquerors. However, neither the Greek colonists nor the generals were interested in the acquisition of the northwestern Balkans, the Pannonian plain or the Alpine area. Somnolent and dormant, this territory was inhabited mostly by Celtic, Illyrian and Thracian tribes still living in the Neolithic and Bronze Age traditions of continental Europe. Had it not been for the Roman conquest, which quickened the tempo of civilization in this area, the Neolithic farmer and Bronze Age warrior would have carried on in the old ways for many a century to come.

 

Essence Of The Roman Civilization

The Roman civilization of the first two centuries of our era had two striking features for the student of history: (1) universal peace and security; (2) the building of towns and cities, with attendant development of agriculture, crafts, trade, letters, commerce and communication on land and sea. Briefly this is the civilization of military camps (castra) and fortifications; of villages, towns and cities, inter-connected throughout the empire with a network of land routes; of ports and harbors, in effective intercourse through fleets of boats and merchant vessels sailing on rivers, along the seacoast, and across the deep sea. On country roads and highways, trains of ox carts and horse-drawn wagons were moving in all directions. Farming was attended to on clan-owned lands, in military hamlets (cannabae) and on large estates (villas) owned by wealthy Roman merchants, prefects and generals. City life was raised to a high cultural level through municipal administration, jurisdiction, forum, merchants' arcades, temples, schools (palaestrae), workshops, thermae (public baths and various social activities), theaters, exhibits of fine sculpture, and monumental architecture. This pattern was followed in nearly all the cities of the empire, and the natives contributed to it more than the Romans themselves.

Keeping these facts in mind, let us now follow up the process of Romanization of east of the Adriatic, and lay bare its results in the form of archeological monuments, still existing or unearthed. "In the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.," writes M. Rostovtzeff in The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, page 221, "when the military power of the Illyrians was broken forever (although some tribes still maintained nominal independence), large groups of Italian merchants and money-dealers settled in the more important maritime cities. When the Illyrian lands were finally annexed to the Roman Empire (in the time of Augustus from about 33 B.C. and under his first successors), the Romans transformed these cities into colonies, Senia, Jadera, Salona, Narona and Epidaurum, were the first to be colonized.

"Colonization meant creation of almost purely Italian centers of urban life. To the colonies were assigned large tracts of the best arable land. Many of the colonists became prosperous landowners and probably used the native population as tenants and laborers. We are able to follow the gradual extension of Roman land tenure in the territories of Salona and Narona. Some families who were residents in these cities were real pioneers in the new land. They built villas in the lowlands of Dalmatia, and introduced the capitalistic methods established in Italy and Istria. Lumbering and grazing were their earliest forms of activity. Later came the production of corn, and still later cultivation of olive trees. Besides the cities, two legionary fortresses were established in the country, at Burnum and Delminium, as well as scores of smaller forts. In the time of Vespasian, however, the legions were removed from Dalmatia to Pannonia, though some of the smaller forts remained. These military establishments no doubt contributed largely to the Romanization of the country. One of them - that at Burnum - owned large pasture lands in the neighborhood."

Another way of Romanizing was through military service, which took 20 to 25 years. The recruits came from Illyrian villages, and when they returned home as veterans, they were granted authority and privileges which raised them to the rank of native aristocracy. As their numbers grew, many towns were formed with the status of municipality (municipium). This helped to break up the old tribal organization. The municipia were endowed with large tracts of fertile land which were taken away from the tribes and distributed among those benefited by the grant of citizenship. The residents were the native principes (tribal leaders), veterans and immigrants from larger cities. In time the cities amassed great wealth which they invested in local improvements and sumptuous edifices. Small localities established around the military camps and outposts were the cannabae, which also had the tendency to grow.

Dalmatia and neighboring Bosnia were also important mining regions that provided iron, silver and gold for the Romans. Especially important were the iron works, which supplied weapons for the legions stationed along the Danube. The colonial policies which Rome followed in Spain and in Noricum and Moesia, she followed also in Istria, Pannonia and Dacia. In Pannonia the important Roman arteries were the rivers Drava, Sava, and the Danube. Naval flotillas cruised on the Drava and the Danube. Their naval base for the section of the rivers was in Mursa (Osijek), at the confluence of the Drava and Danube rivers.

After various changes by his predecessors, Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) divided the Roman Empire into 101 provinces. These were grouped into 17 dioceses, all of which were subordinated to four prefectures. Two Emperors (Augusti) and two viceroys (Caesars), each of them assisted by a praetorian prefect, presided over the prefectures. Thus, the vast Illyrian province established by Julius Augustus was subdivided into four provinces.

After the Roman rule was consolidated in Illyricum, Pannonia, Moesia and Dacia, it continued in force until the barbarian invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the meantime, momentous events took place in the area. Crushing of the great Pannonian rebellion under the leadership of the two Batons (6-9 A.D.), as well as the military campaigns of Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, show the importance which the Roman emperors attached to these provinces. An intense economic, social and intellectual activity had developed in the area. As a result numerous military camps, forts, towns, cities, bridges and aqueducts were built, manufacturing plants were established, quarries and mines were exploited, throughout the Danubian provinces.

 

The Roman Antiquities Found In Dalmatia And Pannonia

The most valuable remains at the head of the Adriatic are found in the Istrian towns of Pola (Pietas Julia) and Porech (Parenzo, Parentium). At Pola the Romans built a huge amphitheatre on the sea shore. During the Middle Ages the Knights Templar held tournaments in this amphitheatre. Another grand edifice is the Temple of Augustus and Rome, with many fragments scattered around the temple. It was used by the Venetians as a granary. The back wall of a temple believed to have been dedicated to Neptune is now being used as one wall of a modern building. These city gates still exist today: the Golden Gate, Porta Aurea; a gate with two arcs, Porta Gemina; and Hercules Gate which gives access through the city wall.

Proceeding on our archaeological journey south, we find the cities of Nin (Aenona) and Zadar (Jadera) to be important sources of Roman antiquities. In Zadar two ancient columns are still standing on the public squares. Ruins of a triumphal arch and portions of the ancient walls erected by Emperor Augustus, still exist. The museum of San Donato in Zadar contains many valuable ancient objects including stone inscriptions, statues, implements and glassware. There are interesting exhibits of glassware from nearby Nin (Aenona), but its more valuable objects such as busts of emperors and other objects were sold to the Museum of Udine. City walls of the ancient Greek Asseria near Benkovats, southeast of Zadar can still be seen.

Diocletian's palace

 

Diocletian's Palace And Its Historical Significance

The imperial palace of Diocletian is still used today for various purposes. Its mausoleum has been changed into a Christian cathedral. In the Middle Ages it was provided with a lofty campanile, which is the pride of the city of Split. The Temple of Aesculapius, the emperor's private chapel, was remodeled into a baptistery. Various premises are still used for stores, shops and private dwellings, while some of its arcades were converted into residential buildings. The aqueduct of the palace, nine kilometers long, was restored in 1878, and ever since has provided the city with drinking water.

In the Middle Ages Diocletian's palace served as a citadel giving the population of Salona and the surrounding communities shelter against the invading barbarians. In those days it became the cultural and social center of Dalmatia. It gave birth to the city of Split, the largest and most prosperous city of Dalmatia. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was used by the Venetians as a fort against the onslaughts of the Turks.

Ever since its completion toward the end of the 3rd century, Diocletian's palace has attracted the notice and admiration of later generations. A 4th century historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, mentions it. In the next century Sidonius Apollinaris describes Diocletian's tomb. In the 10th century emperor Constantinus VII, Porphyrogenitus, provides in his description of Dalmatia some details about the palace. He is the first writer to report on the conversion of the mausoleum into the cathedral of S. Domnius, local martyr. Numerous are the medieval Latin, Italian and Croatian writers who comment on the palace in the spirit of their time. In fact, every subsequent century produced new writers and new ideas on the value and significance of this grand edifice. Under the title: Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalato in Dalmatia, Robert Adam, an illustrious English architect, published a monumental work in 1764 with beautiful engravings of the palace, such as he saw it and as he reconstructed it in his imagination. The work of Adam was emulated, or reproduced by many writers who have written since on Diocletian's palace.

Adam's drawings were matched at the beginning of this century by the French authors: E. Hebrard, an architect, and J. Zeiller, an archeologist, in their splendid folio volume entitled Le Palais Diocletien, Paris, 1912. Excellent work was done also by a scholarly German architect, G. Niemann in his Der Palast Diokletians in Spalato, in 1910. In G. Kowalczyk's Denkmaler der Kunst in Dalmatien, 1910, C. Gurlitt discusses the palace from both architectural and military points of view and arrives at the conclusion that Diocletian meant his palace to be a real stronghold and center of the Roman Empire, a plan partially carried out a generation later by Constantine, through the founding of Constantinople.

A number of distinguished English writers followed in the footsteps of Robert Adam. Wilkinson Gardner wrote about it in his Dalmatia and Montenegro, 1848; Edward Augustus Freeman, the English historian, in his Subjects and Neighbor Lands of Venice, 1881, and Essays, 3rd Series. T. J. Jackson, the architect who restored the campanile of Rab (Arbe), in Dalmatia, the Quarnero and Istria, vol. 1, page 206, ascribes to Diocletian's palace a revolutionary role in the development of ancient architecture by saying: "In the palace of Diocletian at Spalato we have one of the earliest, perhaps the earliest step towards that departure in architecture which resulted in the development of the style of modern Europeů The palace of Spalato marks the era when the old art died giving birth to the new."

 

The Plan And Layout Of The Palace

Unlike the summer residence of Hadrian in Tivoli, which was merely the playground of the imperial family, the palace of Diocletian was a combination of military camp (castrum) and summer residence (villa), in which the aged emperor could spend his last years of life in security and leisure. Like any Roman castrum, the palace is quadrangular, but trapezoid in shape. Two sides have the length of 647 feet, while the other two sides are respectively 543 and 525 feet in length. This dissymmetry is explained by the irregularity of the rolling terrain. The palace covers an area of nearly eight acres. The building is surrounded by protective walls on three sides, while the fašade of the building was turned to the sea and did not need land protection. On an average the thickness of the walls was 61 feet, while their height varied between 51 and 72 feet, in accordance with the elevation of the ground. In spite of its deterioration through nearly seventeen centuries of existence, the palace contained, at last report 278 houses and 540 building structures with 3,200 inhabitants.

On the land side three gates provided communication between the wall-enclosed palace grounds and the suburban area. The northern gate opposite the main terrace of the portico was called the Golden Gate (Porta Aurea); the eastern gate facing Epetium (Strobrech) was the Bronze Gate (Porta Aenea); while the western gate was given the name of Iron Gate (Porta Ferrea). Each gate was flanked by two octagonal towers, while the corners of the walls were reinforced by four quadrangular towers rising 13 feet above the wall. In between the corner and gate towers the walls were strengthened with an additional quadrangular tower. Thus, the total number of towers was sixteen, since the fašade of the building was protected by the sea. Out of the original sixteen towers, only three are preserved. Two of these are used as private residences, while one of them constitutes municipal property. The other towers were demolished during the siege of the palace, or in more recent times by local authorities as bad risks.

The three interior sides of the perimetral walls enveloping the premises were flanked with two stories of arcades resting on massive pylons. The arcades on the ground floor faced the yard, while those of the upper story were turned outside. The lower story was used for warehouses and the dwellings of slaves, while the upper story provided living quarters for soldiers and employees.

The interior space was divided by two transversal roads into four unequal parts. The road connecting the northern or main gate, Porta Aurea, with the vestibule of the palace, divided the area into two halves, but the transversal road connecting the western gate, Porta Ferrea, and the eastern gate, Porta Aenea, allowed more space for the southern portion, for it had to accommodate both the mausoleum and the Temple of Aesculapius and the huge imperial villa facing the sea. Thus we have five quadrangles on the lot: the first extends along the entire sea front, from the western to the eastern octagonal corner tower, and occupies the interior up to the connecting line of the first two quadrangular towers. This plot received the structures of the imperial residence. The villa itself was connected through an interspace in which we found the ornamental vestibule, prothyron and peristyle, and the service buildings, kitchen, servants quarters and horse stables, with the huge mausoleum in the eastern half, and the beautiful Temple of Aesculapius in the western half of the area adjoining the transversal (west-to-eats) road. In the area north of this road we have two equal blocks disposed on each side of the main road (north-to-south), one of them assigned to the staff office buildings, while the other provided quarters for the imperial guard.

From the above description it is not difficult to see that the high and thick walls reinforced with sixteen towers, and the interior disposition of the enclosed grounds, served the purpose of a massive Roman castrum of the 4th century, when the Roman troops had to defend themselves from the onslaughts of barbarians, and had long lost their initiative of attack. Thus the security of the emperor and his family was the first consideration of the architect designing this palace. Whether it was also to serve as an administrative center of the empire, as some suggest, is another question, but the massiveness of the building and its commanding position over a network of military highways does not rule out such a possibility.

Because of its military purpose the palace at Asphalatus could not resemble the summer palaces of former emperors such as that of Hadrian on his sumptuous estate in Tivoli. In Hadrian's time there was no question of security and the architect's entire task was to create and introduce an edifice of beauty into the landscape. In comparison, the palatial residence of Diocletian was a simple and monotonous structure, only the fašade of which was softened by the architect's resort to decorative technique in order to break the stiff geometrical delineation of the huge block; hence the portico, and three loggias with their elevated arches as an ornamental part of it. Even that could not sufficiently relieve, in the estimation of the architect, the monotony of the long line of 42 arcades, and so he introduced rhythm in their sequence by raising the arch of the tenth arcade from the western and the tenth from the central loggia, thus providing two groups of ten and two of eleven arcades, supplemented by three loggias. This made the fašade from the sea a pleasant sight which could satisfy the esthetic requirements of the soldier-emperor.

The six towers of the north wall, with the same treatment of the outside arcades similarly offered a refreshing sight from the road leading to Salona. Between the two octagonal towers of this wall there was a passageway leading through the main gate, Porta Aurea, to the vestibule (now called rotunda) and the reception hall or tablinum of the palace. The Golden Gate itself was an elaborate edifice with two rows of blind arches: two of them in the lower row and seven in the top row. The arches rested directly on capitals of the columns based on consoles, without the support of entablature as the classic style required. The same deviation from the ancient usage is observed on all the arches of the peristyle gracing Jupiter's Temple. This innovation has been held by many historians and critics of art to be the very foundation of Medieval art which found its immediate application in the Romanesque basilicas of the early Middle Ages.

Alongside the two roads were wide roofed galleries which provided cooling shade in summer and shelter in case of rain. Beyond the transversal (west-to-east) road, however, the main road was bordered on both sides with superb columns of the peristyle, the most attractive architectural decoration of the focal group. As its southern base the peristyle ended in a magnificent prothyron or main entrance to the palace, which again led to the vestibule and thence to the tablinum or reception hall. Thus, the peristyle and prothyron formed an architectural ensemble which brought the beauty and grandeur of this exalted grouping of villa and temples. Transversely to the peristyle both Jupiter's Temple and the Temple of Aesculapius were flanked by arcades apparently more elaborate than the rest on this road.


Compiled by Marko Marelich
Retired Mechanical Engineer
San Francisco, California USA
October 29, 2005.