The Roman Times and Constantine the Great


Antique Naissus was progressing constantly since its foundation. It was built by the end of the 1st century BC as a military base on the right Nisava river bank, the area which is today occupied by Nis Fortress and Gradsko polje (City field). Subsequently to the formation of Upper Moesia province in 15 BC, it became an important trade centre apart from being a military and strategic one. During the reign of Marko Aurelius (161 to 180), the city became so significant that it received the status 'municipium' - a city with a certain degree of self-governing right. Since the time of Dioklecian rule (284-305), Naissus belonged to the province Dacia Mediterrana and in 4th century it became an Episcopal seat.

 

The ancient Naissus first flourished after the arrival of the Romans. In the period in which the famous Roman emperor and military commander Flavius Valerius Constantinus (Constantine the Great) was born in AD 274, Nis became a strong and invincible “castrum”. Likewise, when Constantine became the ruler of the entire Roman Empire, was mentioned as an important administrative, commercial, and economic centre of the province Moesia Superior, which Constantine plentifully adorned.

 Constantine the Great is an important historical figure in the world and in Nis, well known not only as an emperor and wise military leader, but also as a great visionary and defender of Christianity. His visions and dreams in which “labarum” or “The Christ Monogram” appeared, followed by the words of Christ: “With this sign you shall win” (In hoc signo vinces) led him to numerous battles, in which he defeated by far superior enemies. Such a chain of events logically led to the acknowledgment of Christianity as an official Roman religion in AD 313, by the famous “Edict of Milan”.

The history of the world and of Christianity will forever remember him as the person who took Christianity from the catacombs and gladiator arenas and brought it to the light of day, paving the way for what is today one of the biggest world religions. His portrait – Constantine's head in bronze (4th century), found in the Nisava riverbed, is displayed as a remarkable historical and national treasure in Belgrade National Museum (a copy is available in the Archeological Hall of Nis National Museum).

The Roman reign influenced local artists as well. The sculpture of Jupiter on the throne (late 1st century), found in the river Nisava in 1938, picturesquely presents the artistic preferences of Naissus residents. This proportional and simple figure, radiating power and dignity, surpasses numerous similar items in terms of its beauty (the original sculpture is displayed in the Archaeological Hall of Nis National Museum). The permanent set of exhibits at the Archaeological Hall in which the sculpture of Jupiter is exhibited, has recently been enriched with one more valuable artistic exhibit from that period, and that is the altar partition of pagan temple – ''the Fence with hermae'', with the representations of antique divinities Luna and Asklepios taken from the archaeological finding Mediana.

Apart from the remains of antique Naissus which were found in the area of the Fortress (the remnants of antique streets, facilities with domes and thermae), what also bears witness to the richness of Roman life is the archaeological site Mediana which brought to light the discovery that the inhabitants of Naissus settled not only the core of the city but also its surrounding. Thus it is assumed that Mediana represented an important centre of both the city and the system of distribution on the level of Empire for the distribution and supply of basic food products.