In eastern Serbia, near the provincial capital Zaječar, are the ruins of a fortified palace ensemble from Late Antiquity. It is regarded as the planned retirement palace of Emperor Galerius (around 250-311 AD). The inscription “Felix Romuliana” was found above a door; the emperor apparently dedicated the palace to his mother. The palace compound also includes two mausoleums and two mound graves associated with the emperor and his mother. Remnants of a tetrapylon were also found in a little pass nearby.
Felix Romuliana is one of the few well-preserved palaces from the period of what is called the tetrarchy on which intensive research can be conducted, because the still very rural area has never been overbuilt. Since summer 2007, the compound is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
A geomagnetic prospection in the immediate vicinity of the walled ensemble revealed numerous buildings, including two large horrea (warehouses), another church, and what are probably the remains of the preceding construction. The area was apparently densely settled from Late Antiquity into the Middle Ages. The test excavations have shown that a necropolis lay south of the palace and that the palace was surrounded by a ditch. A German-Serbian collaborative project has already finished a new topographical survey and an architectural survey of the entire palace. The researchers conducted a large-scale survey of the surrounding country to discover whether there one or more settlements existed in proximity to the palace and whether a shift in settlement activity can be found from prehistory to the Middle Ages. It was also not yet known how the plain was agriculturally used.
Center and Periphery
For archaeologists, the system of roads in the wider environs of the palace was a completely unexamined and an eminent object of investigation. Was the palace connected to Galerius’ residence cities Thessalonica and Serdica (today’s Sofia)? How were other late ancient imperial palaces and villas, for example Mediana, Niş, and Şarkamen, integrated in this system? Is it possible that old roads may even have been decisive in choosing the site for this palace? Did they change after the palace was abandoned? We hoped to gain insight into the relationships between the tetrarchic centers and the periphery.
For the geo-sciences, further research on the depressions and channels near the palace was interesting; the results of geophysical studies show that some of them must not yet have existed when the palace was built. Since the palace had to be abandoned in the Middle Ages and then was clearly “sealed” by a meter-high layer of silt, the question emerged of how these phenomena can be geo-scientifically explained. Can the abandonment of the settlement site in the Middle Ages be explained by changes in the volcanic landscape? Did deforestation lead to erosion? That would have influenced the local hydrologic balance. One of the essential issues was thus the climatic changes over the last 4000 years in the Crna Reka region in connection with the history of the area’s settlement through all the historical epochs, whereby the emphasis was placed on the Roman, Late Ancient, and Early Medieval periods. Finally, the researchers reconstructed the landscape and its development in a model. The palace and the surrounding topography were plastically presented in a 3-D model.