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Gamzigrad-Romuliana, Palace of Galerius

The Late Roman fortified palace compound and memorial complex of Gamzigrad-Romuliana, Palace of Galerius, in the east of Serbia, was commissioned by Emperor Caius Valerius Galerius Maximianus, in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries.

It was known as Felix Romuliana, named after the emperor’s mother. The site consists of fortifications, the palace in the north-western part of the complex, basilicas, temples, hot baths, memorial complex, and a tetrapylon. The group of buildings is also unique in its intertwining of ceremonial and memorial functions.


Gamzigrad-Romuliana is a Late Roman palace and memorial complex built in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, commissioned by the Emperor Galerius Maximianus. The strong fortifications of the palace are an allusion to the fact that the Tetrarchy Emperors were all senior military leaders. The spatial and visual relationships between the palace and the memorial complex, where the mausoleums of the Emperor and his mother Romula are located, are unique.

Criterion (iii): The fortifications, the palace, and the memorial complex are a unique testimony of the Roman construction tradition pervaded by the ideological programme of the Second Tetrachy and Galerius himself as their builder.

Criterion (iv): The group of buildings comprising the architectural complex of the Emperor Galerius is unique in that it intertwines the ceremonial and the memorial programme. The relation between two spatial ensembles is stressed by placing the Tetrapylon on the crossroads between the worldly fortification with the palace and the other-worldly mausoleums and consecration monuments.

The integrity and authenticity of Gamzigrad-Romuliana are clearly demonstrated: relatively few excavations have been carried out to date and there has been no attempt to reconstruct the much degraded remains. There are no plans for reconstruction beyond what is needed for conservation and can be substantiated through research, as these would diminish the level of authenticity.

The property is protected by: the Decision by the Institute for the Preservation and Scientific Examination of the Cultural Goods of the PR of Serbia (No 407/48, 19 March 1948); the Decision on the Identification of Immovable Cultural Goods of Outstanding and of Great Importance (Official Gazette 14/79); the Cultural Properties Law (The Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, No 71/94). A buffer zone has been established. The conservation of the remains is satisfactory. The property is managed at the level of the Republic of Serbia by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia.

Historical Description

The Gamzigrad fortified palace was built by the Roman Emperor Caius Valerius Galerius Maximianus, the successor of Diocletian in the Second Tetrarchy, at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century CE. This was substantiated by the discovery of a sculpted head in the Emperor's likeness during excavation of the baths.

The tetrarchy form of governance required the Emperor to abdicate after twenty years of rule and, having celebrated the vicennallia, to retire. Galerius followed the model of his ideological father, Diocletian, and made plans for the construction of a palace, surrounded by ramparts, in the area of his origin where he intended to spend the rest of his life.

Galerius was not able to devote himself to the construction of the fortress-palace until after his victory over the Persian king Narses in 297. With the title of Caesar and as the adopted son and heir of Diocletian, he began the work in his place of origin in Dacia Ripensis, today Eastern Serbia. He named the fortress Romuliana after his Dacian mother Romula. A fragment of an archivolt found in the excavations bears the inscription Felix Romuliana circled with a laurel wreath. The inner fortifications of the compound, the palace in the north-western part, and the small temple were erected in this first stage.

After the death of Constantius Chlorus in 306, Galerius became the most powerful man in the Roman Empire. Viewed from that lofty position, the fortress appeared to be too humble. Work then under way was abandoned to concentrate on a more monumental fortress encompassing the buildings already erected. A huge temple dedicated to Jupiter was erected in the south part of the compound. The new phase is characterised by even greater lavishness of decoration full of symbolic meaning, executed in various materials.

On the hill to the east of the fortified palace, Galerius built mausoleums for himself and for his mother flanked by consecrational monuments in the shape of tumuli. The latter are connected with the apotheosis - the symbolic elevation to the status of god.

As Caesar, Galerius was identified with Hercules and later, when he had been raised to the status of Augustus, with Jupiter. Connecting rulers with the divine hierarchy was one of the characteristics of tetrarchy. As a divine personification Galerius wanted to provide for his mother a place among the gods, and through the act of apotheosis he secured divine immortality for Romula.

The tetrapylon which marked a crossroads was erected above the intersection of the Roman road leading to Romuliana and the road to the memorial complex to mark the intersection of earthly and heavenly roads.

The main role in the construction of all the buildings was played by the V Macedonian Legion which followed Galerius in the battles he fought in the East and which served as construction labour in periods of peace.

After the Emperor's death in 311 life in the palace went on, but without royal ceremonies. The palace and other buildings were redecorated and put to other uses. This quiet decline continued until the end of the 5th century when the throne hall was converted into a three-aisle Christian basilica. At the time, along the eastern facade of the palace, another building was put up with an atrium in the centre and an apse with a small marble basin, probably a font. Several towers of the defensive bulwark were turned into craft shops manufacturing items needed by the new inhabitants.

At this time Romuliana was an important village community where a court official might have resided. Around the mid 5th century the compound sustained heavy damage and was burned, probably following the invasion of the Huns. In the second half of the 5th and the 6th century Romuliana was reconstructed, but it never regained its former splendour. The new buildings were inferior both in size and in the manner of construction.

During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian some extensive construction was undertaken. In this period considerable architectural and spatial changes were carried out. A monumental three-aisle basilica with a four-leaf font was erected in the palace compound, overshadowing the existing building with its exceptionally beautiful mosaics. The east gateway was abandoned and the west gate became the main entrance. Architectural decorative sculptural elements from the palace and temples of Galerius were reused as building material.

At the beginning of the 7th century, owing to frequent raids by the Avars and the Slavs, the site was abandoned. The remains of the former palace were reoccupied, as late as the beginning of the 9th century, when a small medieval settlement developed in the eastern part of the compound.

Last modified onWednesday, 19 September 2012 09:41
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