Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The (not) Backwaters of the Empire.

I was reading the most recent issue of Minerva on one of my cross-city tram journeys this week, and I came across an article I found rather interesting (many actually, but this one especially). It's written by Murray Eiland on the topic of "The Romans In Croatia".

The main focus of the article is, obviously, how Roman culture was present in Croatia, and to what extent it was influenced by Roman fashions (to quite some extent) over time. Eiland argues that Croatia is home to a wealth of Roman history, and most certainly not a backwater of the Empire.

As home to the Emperor Diocletian, it is most associated with Roman history as the home of his "retirement" Palace (an enormous building, fascinating for it's touches of militaristic architecture and design), but Eiland also discusses a wealth of statuary from Roman Croatia that has been discovered.

Members of the Imperial Family have turned up - in Augustan poses, which I think shows how the hellenistically inspired ruler cult of Augustus was spreading throughout the Empire. A number of more local busts and statues have also been discovered - many of them reflecting the fashions of the time - the realism/naturalism of the Flavian period and the classical idealism of the Augustan era, being two of the most obvious examples.

The upshot of all this is that Croatia was hardly a backwater of the Empire - and despite being most famous as the home of Diocletian - it has a deep and complex history during Roman times which is reflected in the sheer amount of archaeological discoveries.

From my own point of view, I sometimes have to resist the urge to have a Rome-centric view of the Empire, and articles such as this one remind my that other parts of it were so fully integrated into Roman culture that they deserve great attention too. I'd now love to visit Diocletian's Palace and see it for myself (this link to a site containing virtual tours of the Palace is awesome:

I believe the tacit notion behind Eiland's article is that many sites of the classical world are perhaps "off the beaten track" a little because they are not the glamorous centres of the Empire, but they're still very much worth visiting and they have so much to tell us about Roman life outside of Rome.

1 comment:

  1. I went to Diocletian's Palace a few weeks ago, it's amazing. The great thing about it is the layers - it's just been built on nad built on for centuries. There are some other very impressive Roman ruins in Croatia too - we went to see Salona, which is a fairly well preserved town, but I hear the amphitheatre up north at Pula is very impressive. (I've been to two of the three best preserved amphtheatres, the Colosseum and El Jem, I think Pula might be the third!)