Kostolac (Serbia) (AFP) – Amid the devastation that followed World War I, Verica Ivanovic’s grandfather used whatever building materials he could find to build the family home, including, unwittingly, bricks from the Roman Empire.
The house and its ancient foundations are still used by the family of Stari Kostolac in central Serbia on the outskirts of what was once a large Roman settlement and military garrison then known as Viminacium.
It wasn’t until years later that the family realized the bricks were tinkered with from the ruins belonging to structures of the once mighty empire.
Emilija Nikolic, associate researcher at the Institute of Archeology in Belgrade, believes that the bricks found on Ivanovic’s house probably date from the 3rd or 4th century CE.
“It’s a little embarrassing, I know it’s Roman. But everyone was doing it,” Ivanovic, 82, told AFP.
The fields around Viminacium remain an archaeological gold mine teeming with ancient coins, jewelry, and other artifacts.
In an abandoned backyard near Ivanovic’s house are the remains of an ancient Roman wall.
“We were plowing potatoes in a field. I looked down and saw a cameo … When I shot it with my hoe, I saw a beautiful female face,” Ivanovic said. . “It’s in a museum now.”
For centuries, the people around Stari Kostolac have used the bricks, mosaic tiles and other pieces of antiquity that were found in abundance in the area to meet daily needs.
“Nineteenth-century historians noted that a peasant from a nearby village used a sarcophagus as a feeder for pigs,” Nikolic told AFP.
Today the sarcophagus – which features images from the ancient Greek myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece – resides in a museum.
According to archaeologists, Viminacium was once the provincial capital of the region of Moesia in Rome and was home to a population of around 30,000 at its peak.
Tens of thousands of artifacts have been unearthed in the area so far, including a Roman bath with heated floors and walls, a fleet of ships, and hundreds of sculptures.
The ancient city is also said to have housed one of the largest necropolises discovered in the territory belonging to the ancient Roman Empire, with around 14,000 tombs discovered.
Viminacium began to decline after the Huns invaded in the mid-5th century AD and was completely abandoned by the time the Slavs arrived in the area in the early 7th century.
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The archaeological site is also the only major Roman settlement that does not have a modern city built on top of it, experts say.
“You can’t see Londinium anymore because modern London is there. No Lutetia or Singidunum – Paris and Belgrade are built on it,” said Miomir Korac, director of the Belgrade Institute of Archeology.
Stretching beneath the cornfields of Stari Kostolac are the remains of the entire ancient city – including temples, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, a mint and an imperial palace, according to extensive analysis, Korac said.
To date, only two to three percent of the area has been excavated and explored by experts.
But centuries after its fall, the old garrison town was again under siege.
For more than four decades, nearby mining projects, including the recent expansion of a coal project and a power plant, have increasingly encroached on the region.
“It definitely put (the site) in danger, as many old buildings have already been destroyed by the construction of the mine,” Nikolic said. “We saved what we could.”
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