FELIX ROMULIANA

Galerius, who subsequently became the Emperor of Rome and a divinity (293 – 311 AD), was born ca 250 AD in the province of Coastal Dacia, in a place “not too far from Serdica”, where he grazed cattle in his youth and therefore wore byname Armentarius – the Herdsman, all his natural life. The most recent results of archaeological research extra muros of the magnificent palace, which Galerius built in the place of his birth and named it after his mother Romuliana, prove that Galerius’ birthplace was once a large urban settlement, with numerous luxurious public and private buildings.

Galerius was a personable, robust man, an epicure and an extremely brave soldier, devoted throughout his life to his step-father Diocletian, who was founder of the Tetrarchy, strongly connected to his native land, fellow countrymen and relatives and, above all, to his mother Romula, who was “an ardent devotee of mountain divinities” and a sworn enemy of Christians. It is believed that the massive persecution of Christians by Diocletian was commenced under Galerius’ influence, as well as that 4th and most severe Diocletian’s Edict against Christians, issued in 304 AD, was entirely Galerius’ doing. It is less known, however, that just two years before the famous Constantine’s Edict of Milan of 313 AD, Galerius issued an edict in Nicomedia, on April 30th 311 AD, by which the persecution of Christians was ceased.

The court complex in the vicinity of the present day village of Gamzigrad is walled by a unique defensive system: a double fortification, formed from the remains of the older fortification nested into the younger fortification. Galerius was able to start building the older fortification only after his great victory of 297 AD, over Persian Emperor Narseh, while building of the younger fortification started in 305/6 AD.

The pilaster with representation of tetrarchs in medallions testifies that 305 AD, the year in which Galerius was proclaimed Augustus (1st of May), is the year which we can consider as the beginning of building of the palace. The whole complex was probably supposed to be completed by celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Galerius’ reign (vicennallia) and his voluntary abdication in 313 AD. Emperor’s illness, which progressed unchecked since 310 AD, diverted the course of building from the fortified profane core towards the sacral complex on Magura. Finally, his death in 311 AD undoubtedly represented also the death of his, i.e. the ideological concept of the Tetrarchy.

Iconography of ornaments found in the Gamzigrad palace is the most impressive visual expression of the idea and political concept of the Tetrarchy. Floors of the palace were covered by impressive and high quality mosaics, walls decorated with luxurious frescoes and facings of precious stone, niches filled with sculptures carved of rare and intractable stone, such as red porphyry – all of which being a pledge of eternity. Apart from Hercules, the mythological hero with whom he identified himself, Galerius paid particular respect to Bacchus (Dionysus), using the myth of Dionysus as the foundation for the myth of himself and of his divine mother. The entire decoration of Romuliana, as well as the decoration of the Emperor’s Royal Palace in Thessalonica, are dedicated to the eternally youthful and constantly resurrecting God. Impressive material evidence of double apotheosis, Galerius’ and Romula’s, was discovered on the Magura hill, about 1 km (0.6 mi) away from Romuliana’s main gate.

Like Dionysus and his mother Semele, who joined Gods on Mount Olympus after Dionysus’ triumphant expedition to India, Galerius – the New Dionysus – and his mother Romula, were apotheosized from the summit of the Magura hill.

Mosaic carpets, which once covered floors of Galerius’ legacy, primarily panels with representations of Dionysus at a feast, Venatores and the Labyrinth, in a certain way support the same idea. Like architectonic elements and sculptures, but much livelier, they tell a story of divine Galerius, representing the most powerful segment of a stage arrangement which is both over dimensioned and over saturated by details, crafted to represent a cosmic origin of an ideology. The whole arrangement of the stage is subjected to Dionysus – Galerius, who is in the leading role, while the mosaic representation of the God Dionysus is the essence of the complete architectonic and decorative conception of Romuliana: a divinized man enters into the realm of the immortals.

Together with the unique and utterly irrationally built defensive system, all decorative elements of Galerius’ palace near Gamzigrad, if one disregards undisputed and captivating beauty of some of them, force themselves on one just by their overemphasis. It is just that excessive emphasizing of power, that almost overwhelming feeling of omnipresent and styptic power, which leads us to conclusion that, even if his biological time had not run out, Galerius’ “ideological” time was certainly and stringently running out.

Maja Živić, MSc
Archaeologist – Curator

 

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  1. […] examples of Roman architecture in this region. It’s well known for its frescoes and mosaics. Gamzigrad-Romuliana is a Late Roman palace and memorial complex built in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, […]

  2. […] Visiting the site, you can see the fortifications around the palace, a preserved mosaic, some remaining columns, and Magura hill.  This hill is where Galerius and his mother Romula underwent apotheosis after their deaths, the process by which a mortal ruler becomes a god. From the curator of the National Museum: […]