Ulpiana / Iustiniana secunda

Franco-Kosovar Archaeological Mission in Kosovo (MAFKO)

MAFKO is a European archaeological mission supported by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (2018-) and the European Union Office in Kosovo (2019-), studying the evolution of the urban fabric of the city of Ulpiana-Iustiniana Secunda from the 2nd to the 7th century, through targeted stratigraphic excavations using the latest archaeological methods and large-scale geophysical surveys.

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Institutional Partners

AOROC - UMR8546-CNRS/ENS CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique ENS - Ecole Normale Supérieure | Paris EPHE - Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes European Union Office in Kosovo IAK _ Institut archéologique du Kosovo LabEx TransferS MAE, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, France PSL  - Paris Sciences et Lettres | université de recherche UNIVERSITY OF PRISTINA, Kosovo

Project leaders:
 Christophe J. Goddard (CNRS, AOROC),
 Michel Dabas (CNRS, AOROC)->http://archeo.ens.fr/Dabas-Michel.html],
 Milot Berisha (Kosovo Archaeological Institute),
 Arben Hajdari (University of Prishtina),
 Marco Maiuro (Università Roma 1 - La Sapienza).

Authors of the maps:
 M. Dabas (AOROC),
 Christophe J. Goddard (AOROC),
 V. Bernollin (AOROC),
 F. Berisha (U. Prishtina).

Institutional partner:
 European Union Office in Kosovo->https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/kosovo_en],
 Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs->https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/politique-etrangere-de-la-france/diplomatie-scientifique-et-universitaire/l-archeologie-et-la-protection-du-patrimoine/].

Since 2017, the mission is part of a scientific and academic cooperation between AOROC (CNRS- PSL/ENS, EPHE), the University of Prishtina, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Kosovo, its Archaeological Institute of Kosovo, cooperation extended in 2019 to the company Géocarta and in 2020 to the University of Roma 1 -La Sapienza.


The site

The name of the city, Ulpiana, obviously suggests that its foundation was linked to Trajan, the conqueror of neighbouring Dacia (106 AD). The city is mentioned by the geographer Ptolemy (III, 9, 6). Two dedications (AE, 1903, 285; 284) state that in the 2nd century it enjoyed the status of a municipe.
It should be noted that the emperor did not offer it the higher status of a Roman colony, unlike its northern Dacian colleague, the colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa (see AE, 1913, 55; 1931, 122; 124). In this case, the municipal rather than colonial status indicated the presence of an earlier urban entity that had only been Romanised by Trajan. Only new dedications and new excavations questioning the first phases of the site’s archaeology will be able to provide us with an answer. Nevertheless, the area has been frequented since the Bronze Age, as evidenced by a series of burials from the 11th and 10th centuries AD. The Franco-Kosovar excavations carried out between 2006 and 2010, under the direction of J.-L. Lamboley (U Lyon 2), E. Shukkriu (U. Prishtina) and A. Hadjari (U. Prishtina), confirm, in any case, that it was not until the 2nd century AD that a real development of its urban fabric was observed. Back to the manual line

During the High Empire, the city was the residence of a procurator of Upper Mesa, before becoming one of the most important cities of the new province created by Diocletian, Dardania. The latter corresponded to the south-eastern portion of the former province of Upper Mesa. It is worth remembering that the emperor Constantine himself was born in the capital of Dardania in Naissus (Niš). This implies that a rich and powerful local elite had been formed there, as is clearly shown on a dedication of Ulpiana (AE 1981, 731) by the presence of an ex protectoribus diuini lateris, an officer of the imperial guard, centurion or tribune who was at the side (lateris) of the emperor (diuini). Let us not forget that this was the rank most likely occupied during the same period by the future emperor Constantius Chlorus, father of Constantine (on the early elements of his career, see Anon. Val, I, 2; PLRE, I, 1979, 228; on Constantine’s birthplace: Aur. Vict. 40, 3-4; Epit. 41, 2; Anon Val. II, 2; Zos, II, 8.2-9.1-2; Amb. de ob. Theod, 42; Hier, Chron, a. 327; Firm, Math, I, 10, 16; Zion, XIII, 1). It is obvious that, like any provincial aristocracy, it must have invested considerable sums of money and built public monuments of a certain importance, which we have yet to discover.


The absence of excavations, at least until 1953, has long reduced the history of the city to a few literary and epigraphic mentions. Little is known about its last centuries of existence. All that is known is that the bishop of the city, Macedonius, was on the list of clerics who participated in the Council of Serica in 343 AD. The extent of the damage suffered by the city during the passage of Gothic troops in the early 5th century, and of the Huns during their repeated incursions into the region between 441 and 450 AD, is not yet clear (Priscus, 78, 248). Was the city attacked by the soldiers of Theodoric who had just ravaged Naissus in 471 AD? We do not know at present. We know that the region was hit by an earthquake in 518 AD (Count Marcellin, Chronicles, XI), but we cannot say how badly the city was affected. We only learn from Procopius that Justinian, who was also a native of Dardania (he was born in Tarausium, the present Gradište, about 20 km south of Skopje in Macedonia) wanted to restore the city. He had a number of buildings constructed in the city, which was rededicated and named Iustiniana Secunda (Procopius, de Aed., IV, 28-29).

Historians have long imagined that the attacks of the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century AD dealt the final blow to the city, emptying it of its population and condemning it to a rapid demise. The first campaign we conducted on the site in July 2018 challenges this simplistic reading of the end of a city that clearly had a much longer and more eventful history than we thought. Our report establishes that a whole series of floods that the site seems to have undergone during the 6th and 7th centuries have been neglected, without pushing the inhabitants of the city to abandon it.

State of the art

It was the excavations of E. Ćerškovi and Lj. Popović between 1954 and 1959, which located the ancient city of Ulpiana near the present-day town of Gračanica. These early archaeological investigations were limited to the northern sector of the walled capital of the city and to a necropolis along the river two hundred metres north of its walls. They were only resumed in 1978 by S. Fidanovski, who continued them in 1981-1987, while remaining concentrated on this same northern zone. With the exception of a rescue operation in 1996, it was not until 2006 that they were resumed under the direction of J.-L. Lamboley (U Lyon 2), E. Shukkriu (U. Prishtina) and A. Hadjari (U. Prishtina), co-director of our project. They were continued about a hundred metres to the southwest under the direction of H. Çetinkaya (Mimar Sinan University) between 2010-2016. In parallel, between 2008 and 2012, F. Teichner and F. Lüth, under the aegis of the Deutsche Archäologische Institut (Frankfurt), carried out a geophysical survey covering nearly 44 ha, accompanied by two test pits carried out some twenty metres north of the enclosure of the municiple and on the southern sector of the enclosure of the second urban core often presented (wrongly) as a castrum. Mr Berisha (Archaeological Institute of Kosovo) and co-director of our project, conducted in 2014 a series of surveys aimed at clearing a large portion of the ancient cardo maximus that ran alongside the fortified church discovered in 1959. Although these five archaeological surveys focused on the northern portion of the city’s urban centre, they yielded important data. However, to put it simply, less than 2% of this first urban quadrilateral has been the subject of an excavation or survey to date. And the various archaeological researches that have followed one another have rarely gone below the construction and circulation levels of the 4th-7th centuries AD. Hadjari, only a vague idea of the evolution of the city in its last centuries in the absence of any precise ceramic and stratigraphic data.

Thus far, only a limited number of buildings have been identified and excavated, concentrated to the north of the city’s main town. Most of the buildings that have been identified and excavated are located within the walled enclosure, a quadrilateral punctuated by semicircular towers, whose four gates seem to be located at the four cardinal points. A second enclosure with the same profile, located about a hundred metres east of the first, has been associated with a military camp to which our literary sources seem to refer.

A hundred metres from the northern gate and along the cardo maximus, a medium-sized court temple (11.50 x 7.50 m), bordered by a portico, gave way during Late Antiquity to a church with a T-shaped basilica plan (14 x 34 m), which eventually received an enclosure with circular towers bisecting the layout of the ancient cardo maximus (60 x 70 m). It has sometimes been claimed that the temple was dedicated to Serapis, based on a fragment of a funerary inscription, by confusion between the name of a dedicator in the nominative and that of a god (Parović-Pešikan 1983, p. 47 no. 50). The precise chronology of these different constructions could only be proposed (for its late-antique phases) thanks to the resumption of a Franco-Kosovar archaeological mission on the site and thanks to the precise and complete analysis of the ceramic material inventoried since 2006 and during our own campaign of July 2017.

About 100m further south, west of the cardo, an octagonal baptistry (13m diameter) was invented by a Turkish team from the Mimar Sinan University, led by H. Çetinkaya, in 2012, and 5m immediately north of it, a second, adjacent, three-aisled basilica, with a narthex to the west and a large eastern apse (8 x 5.5m, which still has the attachment points of its chancel barrier on the floor). It was of an imposing size (20 x 40 m) between 2013-2015. Unfortunately, this excavation did not adopt a stratigraphic approach, and there was no ceramologist present. The archaeologist imagines that it was erected as early as the 4th century, before being rebuilt and extended a century later, based solely on aesthetic criteria that are so fragile, whereas the functions of one of the figures mentioned on some of the basilica’s mosaics can only be later than the last third of the 5th century AD (a count of the city mistaken for a military count by Çetinkaya, 2016b, p. 42). Moreover, there is no evidence that the basilica was necessarily built on top of an earlier church. It should also be noted that the lower structure, which was levelled, was slightly larger than the church (from 2 m in the south to 2.10 m in the north). It should not be forgotten that many basilicas were installed in the basilica-shaped reception rooms of urban or suburban houses in the late period. The inscriptions on its mosaic pavement list some donors, but do not specify the religious dedication of the complex. The building can only be linked a priori to the local saints Florus and Laurus (contra Çetinkaya, 2016a, p. 374). Its size and the presence of a baptistery obviously give some idea of its importance.

To the north of the city walls, two hundred metres outside the ramparts, a necropolis and a basilica of unknown destination were discovered as early as 1956. More recently, two test pits for geophysical surveys by F. Teichner and F. Lüth uncovered a potter’s kiln situated to the north-east of the northern gates.

A second fortified quadrilateral, located to the east of the first, with a surface area of about 9 ha and also provided with an enclosure, was the subject of a survey in 1956 of the towers that were still visible at the time and of a verification survey of its southern layout in 2008-2012 by F. Teichner (2015) and F. Lüth, who excavated a quarter of one of the semicircular towers found along its walls. A general elevation of the topography of this complex is to be noted, situated at about 1 m at the 4th century AD traffic level of the intramural centre of Trajan’s municiple. This fundamental fact is of particular interest for understanding the evolution of the challenges posed by the city’s topography to the development of its urban planning. We will come back to this.

Most of the public monuments proper to any Roman city, its forum, a theatre, an amphitheatre, thermal baths, its temples, remain to be discovered. Some of them can be seen on old aerial photographs as well as on geophysical surveys carried out by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. This situation from an archaeological point of view is exceptional. It promises to be able to follow the evolution of a Roman city over time and to be able to follow, thanks to the most recent archaeological methods, its last years during Late Antiquity (4th-6th centuries AD) and its abandonment in the Middle Ages, since the main part of the urban centre of the city remains untouched from an archaeological point of view.

Problematic: from the ancient city to the medieval town, from temples to churches

If our knowledge of the transition between Late Antiquity and the High Middle Ages has made significant progress since the publication of the monographs of C. Lepelley (1979-1981, followed by W. Liebesschuetz 2001), this is largely due to the focus of scientific research on the question of the city between the 4th and 7th centuries A.D. and the development of archaeological research. The stakes are high because the transition from the ancient city, including its late form, to the medieval city, constituted a real revolution on the urban, political and cultural levels. First of all, it involved the abandonment of a model of political organisation, the city-state, which was not reduced to a simple town. From a geographical point of view, the city comprised a main urban centre, its chief town, secondary settlements and a fairly large territory. Thus, until 369-375, Grenoble (which then became Gratianopolis) was the secondary settlement of the city of the Allobroges, whose capital was Vienne. Thus, following the evolution of the urban fabric of the cities and the presence or disappearance of certain symbolic buildings, political (forum, curia, enclosure), religious (temples, churches) or festive (theatre, amphitheatres), allows us to follow the attachment of certain communities of the Early Middle Ages to an urban culture inherited from Antiquity. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to do so, as the archaeological foundations of this field of research remain fragile. Our interest in this period of cultural transfer has come too late, so to speak (Goddard et al. 2006; forthcoming). Most of the great Italian, (North) African, Greek or Oriental (Turkish, Syrian or Egyptian) sites were often explored at an early date, at a time when we were more interested in the foundation of cities, in the construction of their public buildings, than in their destruction, their abandonment or their medieval transformations. As archaeological interventions multiplied in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, many sites saw their late antique and medieval layers destroyed, their material dispersed or preserved outside the context of their discovery. There is therefore often a certain vagueness about these centuries, which are so important. It must be said that until 1972 and the work of J. Hayes, we did not have a typology of the ceramic material and therefore no indicators to establish the chronology of this urban and cultural transition. What became of the cities in the 6th and 7th centuries is not only often unknown, but for a large number of them we will probably never know, especially for their urban centres. The extensive excavations that have taken place there prevent us from understanding this. Of course, it is always possible to isolate here and there more or less preserved sectors, but the enterprise often proves to be difficult. This is the interest of the Ulpiana site in Kosovo, for the centuries of transition between Antiquity and the Middle Ages.

The project

Our project focuses on the evolution of public spaces and religious topography in the city of Ulpiana in Dardania during Late Antiquity. It pays particular attention to the end of the temples and the appearance of churches in the urban fabric of the city. - It focuses on the case of a church located about 100 metres south of the northern gate of Trajan’s municipe and along the cardo maximus. The latter was located in the south-east corner of the portico of an abandoned temple. It eventually received an enclosure at a time when the urban fabric was undergoing profound transformations and when a new urban centre appeared barely 1 km east of the site of the former chief town of Ulpiana in the Early Empire. - Establishing a precise chronology of these different phases is an important issue for understanding the respective weight of natural, military, political and religious factors of an Illyrian city in Late Antiquity. - Our project also has another objective, which is not without importance for our knowledge of the urbanism of Illyria during Late Antiquity, for its economic dynamics and more broadly for the future of archaeology in Kosovo: the study of ceramic facies.

The methods of investigation

Our research is multidisciplinary in nature, since it uses, in a reasoned way, the latest archaeometric methods (chemical, palaeobotanical, etc.), surveys applying the latest techniques (photogrammetry, 3D, GIS, online database), while applying the finest stratigraphic approach possible. It combines this approach with the use of the latest geophysical methods (ARP, radar), in order to place our work in the broader framework of the study of the entire urban fabric of the two settlements that succeeded each other on the site from the 2nd to the 7th century.