Six centuries of history and events are narrated in the exhibition “Treasures and Emperors. The Splendour of Roman Serbia”, which was presented today at a press conference in Rome in the headquarters of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism. The speakers at the conference were Debora Serracchiani, President of the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia; Antonio Zanardi Landi, President of Fondazione Aquileia; Goran Aleksić, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia in Italy; Claudio Strinati, art historian.
The exhibition, opening on Sunday 11th March in Palazzo Meizlik in Aquileia and on display until 3rd June, is organized by Fondazione Aquileia, the National Museum of Belgrade and the General Direction of the Fine Arts and Landscape of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in collaboration with the Polo Museale del Friuli Venezia Giulia, the Municipality of Aquileia and Associazione Nazionale per Aquileia, with the sponsorship of Cassa Rurale Fvg, FCA and Trieste Airport.
Sixty-two artefacts coming from the National Museum of Belgrade, the National Museum of Zaječar and Niš, the Museums of Požarevac, Novi Sad, Sremska Mitrovica and Negotin, and a historical cast of Trajan's Column (1861) from the Museum of Roman Civilization will guide us in a long journey in the wake of the Roman Empire, from its expansion to the East through the golden Age of Late Antiquity until its final sunset, when the limes could no more restrain the Barbaric invaders, including the Huns led by Attila, who also set Aquileia on fire.
To the farthest eastern end of present-day Serbia, the Danube wedges into the beautiful setting of the Iron Gates. Two thousand years ago the river marked the boundary of the Roman Empire, whose territories reached as far as Thrace (south-eastern Bulgaria, north-eastern Greece, European Turkey) and Dacia. Illyricum was the stage of crucial events, including Trajan's campaigns and the ascent of Diocletian and Constantine. It was a land of strongholds, legionaries and emperors, large imperial residences, wealthy city districts, thriving trade, a melting pot of civilizations and different cults.
To the Danube, a watercourse that was not only a frontier line but a boundary open to exchange and to the influences from the lands beyond, is dedicated the first room of the exhibition, with a multimedia sound and image installation.
The exhibits tell about territories that were homeland to as many as 17 or 18 emperors, from Hostilian to Constantius III, including Constantine the Great. Serbia saw the rise of monumental imperial residences, like Felix Romuliana, today's Gamzigrad, and of new cities, like Sirmium, now Sremska Mitrovica, which included a circus, a sign that the earlier urban settlement had grown into an important metropolis.
Roman Serbia was connected to Aquileia, a frontier city for the Roman Empire at the time of its expansion, lying at the crossroads of military and commercial ways, a river port of outstanding importance, a gate to the East and from the East alike. During the Late Empire especially, Aquileia entertained strong connections with the Danubian cities by way of the ancient military and commercial road leading to Singidunum, present-day Belgrade, and further east to the Black Sea.
The highlights of the exhibition, reporting about the solemn ceremonies of the Roman army are three parade helmets, and particularly a helmet from Berkasovo, gilded and studded with multi-coloured inlays of glass paste imitating gems, a real masterpiece of the arts and crafts of the Roman times. Equally magnificent objects are the bronze parade masks found along the constantly threatened Roman frontier.
A silver hoard found exactly along the frontier, in Tekija, can be admired in the exhibition: the precious objects must have been hidden on grounds of some imminent threat, in this case soon after 81, and bear remarkable evidence to the penetration of the Dacians into Moesia.
The kingdom of Dacia posed serious and constant threat to the provinces in the central and lower basin of the Danube – skilfully carved on the cast of Trajan’s column exhibited in Aquileia. For this reason, Trajan mounted two campaigns against Decebalus and had an imposing bridge built across the river.
A remarkable exhibit is a head of Venus discovered in 2003 during the excavations in a peristyle courtyard provided with a marble fountain. The artefact hints to the magnificence of the palace-circus of Sirmium, one of the residences of Constantine the Great. The statue of Venus had been brought there by Constantine or his successors as a means of political propaganda, with the intention to recall the values of Roma Aeterna. To the same purpose, several representations of Constantine started to appear on coins and art objects, his image represented with a diadem, head slightly bent backwards and gazing at the sky.
One of the most remarkable exhibits is the so-called Belgrade cameo made of multi-layer sardonyx, featuring an emperor on a horse, victorious over his beaten foe. However, the most representative work of art from Constantine's time is the famous bronze head with a diadem portraying the emperor himself, which belonged to a gilt statue found in his home town Naissus, today's Niš, an example of imperial might.
Another highlight is a red porphyry head portraying emperor Galerius from Gamzigrad, where the finding of an archivolt mentioning the name of the complex, FELIX ROMULIANA, prove that this was the site of the palace built by Galerius. Red porphyry – the hardest stone of all – is a symbolic reference to power and strength and its colour recalls sublime and dignity. These statues were aimed at celebrating and glorifying imperial power; hence, considering their remarkable dimensions, it is presumed that the red porphyry head of emperor Galerius from Gamzigrad and the left hand holding a globe may have belonged to a colossal statue portraying Galerius as the ruler of the world
Another section is devoted to deities, including a beautiful head belonging to a larger-than-life marble statue of Hercules discovered in the Palace of Galerius in Gamzigrad; two statues depicting the deity holding baby Telephus, the legendary founder of Pergamon. Other very interesting cults are related to the military world, including Mithras and, though with less certainty, a horse-riding hero, whom the representations of the so-called “Thracian Horsemen” or “Danubian Horsemen” refer to.
The catalogue of the exhibition, curated by Ivana Popović and Monika Verzár, including the pictures and descriptions of all exhibits, is published by Gangemi Editore.
Location: Palazzo Meizlik, Via Patriarca Popone 7 – Aquileia (Ud)
Durattion: from March 11th to June 3rd 2018
Opening times in March:
Mon-Fri: 9 am - 5 pm
Sat-Sun: 9 am - 7 pm
Opening times in April, May and June:
Mon-Fri: 9 am - 6 pm
Sab-Dom: 9 am - 7 pm
Monday 2nd April: 9 am - 7 pm
Wednesday 25th April: 9 am - 7 pm
Monday 30th April: 9 am - 7 pm
Tuesday 1st May: 9 am - 7 pm
Fees: € 4 full price ; € 2 reduced price
Free: Children of less than 18 years of age and all categories falling in the Mibact list