Researchers in Serbia have unearthed a rare ancient Roman triumphal arch at the historic site of Viminacium, near Kostolac, approximately 70 kilometers east of Belgrade. The discovery, made during the excavation of the main street of Viminacium, marks a pivotal moment in the region’s history.
The triumphal arch, dating back to the third century CE, is a monumental find, as Serbia joins a select group of countries boasting such architectural marvels. Leading archaeologist Miomir Korac, who spearheaded the excavation, told Reuters “This is the first such triumphal arch in this area… It can be dated to the first decades of the third century CE.”
The triumphal arch was revealed in December, adding to the already impressive array of historical artifacts found at Viminacium, a sprawling Roman city that existed between the first and sixth centuries. The city, with a population of 45,000 people, boasted a multitude of structures, including a hippodrome, fortifications, a forum, palace, temples, amphitheater, aqueducts, baths, and workshops.
The identity of the Roman emperor to whom the triumphal arch was dedicated became apparent through the discovery of a fragment of a marble slab with the inscription “CAES/ANTO.” This inscription led researchers to conclude that the arch honored Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, commonly known as Caracalla, who reigned from 198 to 217 CE.
Mladen Jovicic, another archaeologist involved in the project, expressed optimism about the ongoing excavations. “We are hoping to find more pieces… We have found one finely made pillar, beams, but we would like to find more from the inscription on the arch,” said Jovicic. The researchers believe that Caracalla’s elevation to emperor in Viminacium is a key historical event associated with the construction of the triumphal arch.
Dr. Ilija Danković, part of the expert archaeological team, highlighted the unexpected nature of the discovery. “We were completely surprised when we discovered that a section of the main street of Viminacium lacked a roadway and its substructure. Instead, we found a square-shaped foundation made of massive blocks of limestone. We continued with excavations and discovered three more such foundations! It became clear that these were the foundations of tetrapylons, a building on four pillars, with passages on all four sides. There was no doubt that it was one of the symbols of Roman architecture: a triumphal arch or the triumphal gate,” said Dr. Danković in his statement to the local press.
The Viminacium triumphal arch, built in the form of a tetrapylon with a single passage and an inscription field above the arched part, has dimensions of 10.40 by 6.25 meters. Remarkably, these dimensions closely resemble the Arco dei Gavi triumphal arch in Verona.
Archaeologists working on the site have also reconstructed the appearance of the Viminacium arch by comparing it to Caracalla’s arch in Djemila, Algeria, and using architectural parts found on-site. Caracalla, known for his transformative Edict of 212 CE granting Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire, played a crucial role in shaping the empire’s character.
Prof. Dr. Miomir Korać emphasized the significance of Viminacium in the proclamation of Caracalla as Caesar. “Viminacium was undoubtedly chosen because this area provided the best soldiers of the empire. Several of the best legions had to attend the ceremony of Caracalla’s proclamation as Caesar, and the proclamation ceremony took place in the 400-meter-long hippodrome, which we now know for sure existed in Viminacium,” stated Prof. Dr. Korać.
The ongoing excavations at Viminacium, which began in 1882, have uncovered a wealth of artifacts, including two Roman ships, golden tiles, coins, jade sculptures, religious items, mosaics, frescoes, weapons, and even remains of three mammoths. The vastness of the site, estimated at 450 hectares, and the absence of modern urban development have allowed archaeologists to explore only around 5% of the city, leaving ample room for future discoveries.