The Roman Emperors in Serdica

The Emperor Lutsius Domitsius Avrelianus

Lutsius Domitsius Avrelianus

Lutsius Domitsius Avrelianus was born on 9th of September, 214 in the family of local farmers sharecroppers who rented some land from the senator Avrelius. He started his military service in the legion very early and was distinguished for his physical power. He was grim and rough but with a gallant character. He became popular as a general with the Emperor and Clavdius II and when the third one from them died in 270, the armies in Panonia proclaimed Aurelianus as an emperor and the senate acknowledged it. He had to defend energetically that what was left from the Roman Empire and during the next year the emperor himself led the heavy battles against the Alemans and other German tribes who invaded north Italy till he devastated them in the battle at Fano. In order to defend Rome from new invasions he built a fortress wall which became popular as the Wall of Aurelianus. In 272 he went on a march to the east against and succeeded to return the most provinces and destroyed the army of the Palmir Empire and sieged Zenobia in its capital Palmira till he captured it. The people of Palmir surrendered but after the withdrawal of the Roman army they rose again. Avrelian came back the next year, killed the population and ruined the town and then conquered Egypt. At the beginning of 272 he attacked the independent Galo-Roman Empire to the west and conquered Galia. He led the Roman legions toward the Balkan Peninsula, conquered the Goths and chased them beyond the Danube for what he assumed the title Githicus Maximus. Then he reorganized the previous province Moesia into Dacia Ripensis with a capital Serdica. In 274 the senate officially conferred the title “The Restorer of the world” (Restitutor Orbis) to him.

The soldiers worshipped him for the enemies he had defeated himself and sang songs for him:”We won’t drink as much wine as the blood he has shed”. But the noble class revenged him by involving his soldiers in a conspiracy his main secretary who was afraid that the Emperor would punish him for misuse with money. The good-for-nothing made a list among the officers with the names of those who in pretense were chose to lose their heads, and in their march against the Persians in 275 Avrelian was killed near Byzantion (Tsarigrad).

The conversion of Emperor Galerius


On 1st March, 293 after he had accepted one warrior, who lived in the outskirts of Serdica as a son – in – law, the emperor Diocletian adopted him and proclaimed him Caesar under the name Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus. His parents were peasants who had escaped from the barbaric invasions in Dacia. The young Thracian was distinctive not only as a brave warrior – when there was the possibility in the battles – he wonderfully commanded the other legions. He loved his birthplace very much and his father in law also relied on town in the Sofia field, as he in 285 proclaimed it as the capital of the new Roman province Inner Dacia.

Christian times began…

But people who believe that you have to give the other cheek when someone slaps you, didn’t appeal to the brave warrior Galerius. As he grew up among them, he knew them very well and was afraid that when enemies invaded the Empire, they would be the reason for a defeat. Moreover his wife – Valeriya and his mother in law Priska – Alexandra were secret Christians, so he showed his rage on Jesus’s followers on the lands that he ruled.

In 305 Dioclecianus 20-year mandate finished and he retired from power, and the two Augusts became the formers Caesars Galerius and Constantius Chlor.

Galerius immediately employed his countrymen Sever II and Maximin Dayafor Caesars. At the end of 308 he proclaimed for the second August his associate (and countryman) Licinius, who was born in Moesia. According to the Latin orator Laktancius (popular as “the Christian Ciceron”), the emperor even thought to re-name the Empire from Roman to Dacian (ut non Romanum imperium, sed Dacis cumcognominaretur)…

Toward the end of 311 the health of Galerius worsened. The Christian authors interpreted his illness as a God’s retribution for his hatred and chase against the Christians, doctors considered his illness as a type of cancer…

Galerius called his co-emperor Licinius in Serdica (who ruled the east part of the Empire) and Caesar Constantine and in the middle of April – 30th April, 311 – they signed the Edict of Tolerance, which finished with the unconditionally: “We allowed Christians to live freely again and to organize their meetings but in that way that nobody would disrupt the order. With another message toward the judges we intend to show what they would do. That’s why because of our nobility, let they (the Christians) pray God for our salvation, for our country and for us so that the country can be undamaged and people can live in their homes uneventfully.”

Was it on that or the following day that Galerius hoped to enjoy miraculous healing? It’s possible. The father of the church’s history Eusebius had written that because the previous bitter persecutor had realized and believed in the Savior. He had obviously received forgiveness and quickly got rid of his tortures and died silently on 5th May.

Even today it is underestimated what happened in Serdica in April, 311. With this Edict of tolerance open the path of the Christian religion. Two years later the next emperor Constantine met his co-emperor Litsinius in Milano to sign together in Mediolanum (Milano today) a new edict to acknowledge Christianity as equal to the other religions in the Empire. Although a dozens of researchers remark that its essence is not an emperor’s edict but a letter to the Governors of the Roman provinces not to prosecute Christianity and simply reaffirms the Serdica one, and definitely the one in Milano is glorified and its ample anniversaries are celebrated. It is suitable because it happened in Western Europe.

The emperor Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

Flavius Avrelius Valerius Constantine was born on 27th of February, 274 in the town of the Thracian- Dardani Naisus (Nish nowadays) in the province Moesia and there he grew up. His father was the famous Roman commander Flavius Valerius, Caesar of the emperor Maximianus and his first wife Elena. He finished his education in the courtyard of the emperor Galerius.

In 312 the inhabitants of Rome called Constantine who was in Galia (France today). On his way to the Eternal city he saw at noon a bright shining cross in the sky. The Swiss geologist Jens Ormo connected the amazing apparition with a 140- meters crater in the Italian Appenines and thinks that the enormous pit on the Earth has appearedat that time from falling of an asteroid with a diameter of 10 meters and the crash of 1 kiloton was similar to a big nuclear explosion. Constantine watch the miracle and it seemed to him that writes: “You will win with that!” He was 40 and searched for the answer so persistently that …Jesus appeared in front of him. He awoke sure Savior ordered him to make the his martial banner like a cross. So he got up and did it. And he ordered his warriors to write crosses on their shields, helmets and weapons. He didn’t accept objections and on the next day the rush in the battle brought him a victory.

The jubilation of the Roman people helped him to proclaim the truth of the cross miracle that appeared on the road, and their triumphant support persuaded co-emperor Litsinius to compose and sign in Mediolanum (Milano today) with Galerius in Serdica ‘’another message toward the judges’’ as they ‘’ order ’’ them not to prosecute the followers of Jesus, because Christianity is legalized as equal for the other religions in the empire in…

It is very possible that a new church was built to be a martirium (a church for the grave for martyrs). Only the mosaic in the apse in the temple has survived and it wouldn’t match the miserable construction – it is obvious that the blessing of the saint – emperor has inspired the builders to impress with the appearance that above death raises up firmly the celebration of life and the miracle of resurrection. Constantine the Great built a big basilica in the region of the other of Serdica necropolis (in the today’s housing complex Lozenets). It was discovered in the excavation of the construction in the upper part of the Southern park in the autumn in 1999 and because it was in a private space until the contractors were persuaded to stop the excavation machines they had already excavated 900 square meters from the north- west part of the building complex in it. The preserved part of that historical monument is on an area of 800 square meters – less than the half of it. Despite that everything testifies about an extremely imposing construction, even if it is judged by the found architectural details in it: columns, capitals, marble facing… There are murals as well. The finds in temple to 3000 – coins, jewels, weapons and dishes – and they say that people who lived there were well off in the society. The reconstructed plan of the building hints that the length of the middle nave of the basilica is 35 meters – without the narthex and the apse with a diameter of 7 meters! The researchers estimated its height of 17,5 meters. There was a rectangular premise (pastophorii) on both sides of the open toward the nave apse. The side naves were half narrower and lower, that is why the light penetrated in the central frame through the windows under its vault- typical about the lights of the basilica.

In 330 the new capital Byzantium was open with great celebrations obviously organized not from the Christians in the yard of Constantine the Great. The emperor could not but take part in it – the town was remade in his honor and style, which would befriend him- it was known from Serdica what he liked and there everything was raised in brilliance and sense of grandeur.

As a man he was flattered that they renamed the town after him – Constantinople. But if there was a suitable case to leave the capital he did it and arrived in Serdica. He believed till the end that the place which God has chosen for the civilized mankind was there. That is why he left by will to build as if there was a main emperor’s town. It seems that he didn’t exclude the possibility one day to settle in Serdica again – this time forever…

Saint Elena didn’t wait for the moment her son went through the baptism font- she believed in the miracle of resurrection, she departed this world after two turnings of the seasons in Constantinople. And the emperor Constantine lived ten more summers on the throne.

He died in Nicomedia in 337 when he was still 65. His body was transferred triumphantly to Constantinople and was left in the St. Apostles temple built by himself. Maybe that is why people who lived in the lands of the Thracians where his last dwelling was with the deep good… Tsarigrad.

So call it even today their descendants, despite that on every map, guide and signboard the town is called already… Istanbul.

The palace of Constantine the Great

The palace of the emperor is in the south- east part of Serdica. Magnificent, multi- colorful geometrical mosaics on the ground floor, where he passed by for his statesmanlike deeds leaving his rooms, were found after the excavation works behind the Rila hotel. The findings show that the circular and octagonal rooms were domed. The bathroom was found to the south- which in its style and mosaic floors was tightly connected with the palace. Different water – conduits and canals served the small swimming – pools around the luxurious octahedral bathroom. A multi colorful mosaic covered the floor of the large entrance- hall in the western direction. The marble tub in its south edge had on its walls canals for heating (hypocaust). Around the basement of the capital 8 Kalojan street, are the remnants of the construction of the castle – a large well – cut and decorated lodging on the area of 400 square m with an inner courtyard, surrounded with a covered colonnade at the north part of which are situated large dwelling places, heated also with a hypocaust system. The walls are thick and carried a second floor, which like the rectangular halls below, looked at the south of the yard. Two entrances – halls connected the southern and northern wings of the home to the east, two rotundas (Circular buildings) and one octagon took turns in the southern side around the inner yard. According to their discoverer Magdalina Stancheva, whose descriptions we mostly rely on, “it can be considered undoubtedly that all the premises around the yard were covered with mosaics .The most frequently used colors were grey, black and dark brown, yellow, pink and white.

Emperor Markus Ulpius Trayan

Markus Ulpius Trayan

During the government of Markus Ulpius Trayan Serdica receives the right of town organization and government, and in honor of the emperor to the name of the town is added his clan name – Ulpii.

He was born on 18th of September, 53 in Italica (near the contemporary Seville in Spain) in the family of the prominent state and military figure Ulpius Trayan. He went to the army early and was in the active army near the borders of the empire for many years. He was distinguished for his power and skills and they ordered him in 89 to command a legion in Spain. That helped him to stand out better and in 91 the emperor Domicianus employed him as a consul. After that he was sent as a commander and governor in Germany and for his merits the Senate gave him the title Germanicus (“ German ”). In 97 he was adopted by Nerva and was proclaimed for an heir and when the next year he died, Trayanus became an emperor. He proclaimed that he wanted to be such an emperor as the one he wanted to have as a citizen and he was popular among the people of Rome. He added to the fund for the maintenance of orphans and poor families. He was in good terms with both the Senate and the army. He led two wars (in 101 and 105) with the Thracian – Dacians near the river Danube and beyond it, and they ended in 107 with invasion of a whole territory and its involvement in the Empire. Trayanus was given the honorable title Dacicus (“ Dacians ”) and in the lands to the north of the Danube the Roman province Dacia was founded. There were established romanised colonies of veterans and migrants from Italy.

In 109 his legions passed the southern slopes of Caucasus and compelled the local leaders of Kolhi, Iberiand and Sarmatito rule Rome. He turned the kingdom of the Arabs into a Roman province Arabia and till 111 the fortress Petra in Sinay was conquered.

In 114 he found a reason to invade Armenia, chased the Parthian people there and proclaimed the country as a province. He conquered the regions Assyria, Mesopotamia and Babylonia at the head of a large army, captured Selevcia and Hydra and occupied the fortified Parthian capital Ktezifon. The Roman flags rose along the coast of the Persian Gulf where the newly – built navy had a showy expedition. Till the beginning of 117 the war ended and the mighty Trayanus received from the Senate the titles Parthicus (“ Parthian ”) and Optimus Maximus Princeps (The best and the most glorious leader).

He was ready to reach the conquests of Alexander the Great to the east when uprisings broke out in Egypt, Cyprus and Northern Judea and in Mesopotamia even new Parthian armies appeared. He was forced to separate large quotas from the valley of the Tiger and the Euphrates in order to pacify these provinces. Then the people of Babylon rose up there. The Romans lost important fortresses and soon were made to leave Mesopotamia. Trayanus withdrew in Syria where he left for Rome to collect funds for resuming the war. On his way he died from dropsy in Selinunt (Kilikia, in Turkey today) on 8th August, 117. He is regarded as the most successful Princeps, deified by the Senate, which had the custom to greet every next emperor with the willing: ”Let be happier than August and better than Trayanus!”

Justinian I the Great

Justinian I the Great

He was born in 483 like Flavius Peter Sabatius in the town near Skupi (Skopje) Taurizium and is of rural origin. He got the name Justinian when his uncle Justin adopted him. Thanks to him Justinian was employed to work in the emperor’s courtyard and instead of going to the army, he remained in Constantinople. In 518, when emperor Atanasius died, he is in the upper circles of society and is one of the possible candidates for the throne but he gave up in favour of his uncle who was 70. Justin I believed in his nephew and gave him the rank of a general (magister militum) and a consul, and proclaimed him as an heir to the throne (augustus) in 527, four months before his death.

After the victory over the Persians in Dara in 530 and the following defeat at Kalinik the next year, instead of continuing the attack in the East, Justinianus contracted the “Everlasting peace” (which cost the empire 11 000 pounds of gold) and directed his aspirations to the West with the intention to return the lost provinces there. First, he decided to conquer the Kingdom of vandals in North Africa. In 533, 15 000 – army debarked in Tunis (today) and for less than a year the kingdom was devastated, Carthage was captured and the old Roman provinces along the cost of Gibraltar were restored. Two years later he took Dalmatia and Sicily, which were under the government of Ostrogoths then. He conquered South and Central Italy without any opposition. But in 539 the Ostrogoths settled the Persians to violate the contract with the Romaic and attacked the eastern borders of the Empire. They even devastated Antioch during the next year. The war tightened, and Italy was conquered finally in 561.

In 559 a huge attack of Bulgarian – Kurtiguri, led by Zabergan, invaded Thrace. The fortress system didn’t stop them and the Romeans succeeded to stave them off after heavy battles near the capital. The next year Slavs began to settle permanently on the Balkan. Eastern Empire waters hostilities with Persia from the Caucasus to Mesopotamia. The peace was signed in 562 and Constantinople had to pay a tax to the Persians annually.

Justinian built a lot. Along with the system of fortifications on the Balkan, the famous St. Sofia temple in Constantinople was erected during his time, which is so remarkable for his measures that during the sanctification of the cathedral on 27th December, 537 the emperor cried out: “I overwhelmed you, Solomon!. It’s obvious that not only with the testament of Constantine the Great to build in Serdica as in a capital city, he built a big St. Sofia cathedral. It is written that Justinian spoke bad Latin, Greek – as a barbarian, because… he remained a Thracian in his soul.
He changed utterly the state, the religion and the society. A skillful and prescient emperor, due to his good choice of advisors and commanders, he managed to concentrate equal powers both in inner and foreign – political plan. His main merit is the codification of Roman law in Corpus Iuris Civilis and because in the past in both sides of the Empire the laws worked, with the different emperors a jungle of laws is created. He synchronized them and even opened law schools (in Constantinople and Beirut).

He is the last Roman emperor who tried to subdue the whole Mediterranean. During his governance the transfiguration of the late – antique East Roman Empire into an Early Medieval started, which after centuries the scientists call Byzantium. Due to Christianity during his time the old Greek – Roman heritage turned into what we call today Byzantium Medieval civilization.