Dardania under Roman Rule

Episode I: Establishing Roman Rule over Dardania

The successful campaign of Sribonus Curio (75-73 B.C.E.) against Dardania was not followed by the immediate annexation of this region from the Roman Republic. The Dardanians continued the resistance against the Romans. It can be stated that, after Curio’s campaign, their territory was turned into a semi-independent state (foedus iniquum). The Dardanians resisted the Roman invasion and were even able to destroy the military force of the Roman proconsul Gaius Antonius Hibrida around 63 B.C.E. Later, the Dardanians are involved in the battle of the triumvirs (49-46 B.C.E.) supporting Pompey against Julius Caesar. Notably, a contingent of Dardanian cavalry is mentioned as part of the ranks of the Pompey’s army. Some scholars have taken this participation of the Dardanians as evidence that Dardania was put under Roman rule by this time. It follows that they must have had the obligation to supply the Roman army with troops. However, this evidence is not enough in itself to make such a claim. The Dardanian support towards Pompey could have well been of a voluntary nature. Therefore, the status of Dardania remains unclear during this time. It can be suggested that Dardania continued to remain unconquered in a large scale. This Dardanian resistance would explain the other campaigns that were undertaken by Romans against them in the following years. Marc Antonius himself conducted one such campaign in 38 B.C.E, when he sent his troops in Dardanian lands. Later, in 29 B.C.E., Marcus Crassus led another Roman campaign that involved Dardania. This time the main enemies of Rome were the Dacians and the Bastarnae. Cassius Dio, while writing on the causes of this campaign, reveals the following:

Bastarni [Bastarnae], having then crossed the Ister [Danube], conquered Moesia which was opposite their land, and then also the Triballi who were her neighbours, and the Dardani [Dardanians] living in their [Triballian] land. And all the time they did that, they had nothing to do with the Romans, but when they crossed Mount Haemus… [modern Stara-Planina]” (Cass. Dio, Historia Romana, LI 23, 2)

Petrović suggests that the Dardanians of the Triballian land refer to the area of South Morava and Nišava rivers. It follows that this territory was not of primary concern to the Romans prior to the campaign of Crassus. These struggles clearly show that the Romans were trying to establish their authority upon an otherwise unconquered region. Regarding the Dardanians themselves, there is no report on whether the troops of Crassus fought against them directly.

The Roman rule over Dardania must have officially been established around 28 B.C.E. through the Moesian War. This war would link the administrative status of Dardania with the soon to be created Roman province of Moesia and then with that of Moesia Superior. It was the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus who can be granted with the establishment of Roman rule over Dardania. On the celebrated triumph of Augustus in August of 29 B.C.E. Appian writes the following:

Augustus subdued the whole Illyrian country, not only the parts that had revolted from the Romans, but those that had never before been under their rule. Wherefore the Senate awarded him an Illyrian triumph, which he enjoyed later, together with one for his victory over Antony.” (Appian, Historia Romana, Illyrike, 28)

The fragment presented above apparently also refers to Dardania either as an entity that had revolted against the Romans or as one that had resisted the Roman rule. In fact during 28-15 B.C.E., Dardania may have temporarily been included within the administrative boundaries of the Macedonian province. It can be assumed that no permanent Roman garrison was stationed in Dardania prior to 16 B.C.E. This assumption is made based on the fact that in 16 B.C.E., the assault of the Scordisci against the province of Macedonia was not met with an organised resistance in Dardanian territory. It was only one year later (15 B.C.E.), that the large province of Moesia was created including within it the Dardanian territory.

Artistic depiction of an Illyrian soldier equipped with an Illyrian helmet and shield with a mountain suggesting the roughness of the terrain on his back.
Artistic depiction of an Illyrian soldier equipped with an Illyrian helmet and shield with a mountain on his back suggesting the roughness of the terrain.

Episode II: Roman Administration

The inclusion within the province of Moesia put the Dardanians under an unnatural administrative and legal framework. The traditional relations of Dardania with the southern territories of the Mediterranean were ignored in favor of an administrative unit that was oriented towards the northern regions of the Danube. The general population apparently did not support this administration. Their dissatisfaction was expressed in continuous raids against Roman cargos and merchants, carried out by Dardanian rebels (latrones Dardanianicii). In 86, the administrative reform of emperor Domitian resulted in the division of the Roman province of Moesia into two parts: Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior. This main purpose for this division was the Roman aim to better protect the Danube front line. This division did not change the northern orientation of Dardania, now part of Moesia Superior. However, it may have increased the importance and the weight of the Dardanian territory as a land rich in ores within a province that was roughly twice as small as the previous province of Moesia. Also, a Romanization process helped in establishing a more efficient Roman rule over the territory.

Dardania and Upper Moesia was considered of crucial mining importance for the Roman Empire in the same manner the Africa proconsularis was considered of crucial agricultural importance. Within the province of Moesia Superior (Upper Moesia), apart from the military/legionary territories, municipal territories, and private estates, Dardania represented one of the four major divisions each named after local tribes, alongside the lands of the Pincenses/Picenses, Tricornienses/Tricornenses, and Moesi up north. The rich mining lands across Dardania, as in all Upper Moesia, belonged to the imperial treasury (fircus). The remaining territories were occupied by native tribal settlements (civitates peregrinae). The native inhabitants had the obligation to work into the mines or in other estates of the imperial treasury.

An important administrative centre was established in Ulpiana. Meanwhile, the whole Dardanian territory was composed of several centres grouped together into some few areas (civitates Dardanicae). These areas were developed in accordance with the economic interests of the fiscus and especially based on the mining centres that constituted the Metalli Dardanici complex. There were at least five such areas established across Dardania and their centres were notably: I) Municipium Dardanorum (Socanica), II) Ulpiana, III) Remesiana (Bela Palanka), IV) Timacum Minus (Ravna) and an additional centre located somewhere near Lamudum (Lopate), Vizianum (Konjuh), or Kratiskara (Kratovo).

The Roman military administration was responsible for the unity of fiscal organisations and peregrine. The Roman troops protected the mining areas while also being involved in the ore mining process itself and mining administration. The road network, along which precious monetary cargos were transported, also required the protection of the armed troops (especially after 250). Thus, along the territory of the Dardanians, the order was maintained by the cohorts or local militias such as cohorts I Aurelia Dardanorum and II Aurelia Dardanorum. These cohorts were presumably established by emperor Marcus Aurelius around 169, during the wars of the Marchomani. The I Aurelia Dardanorum must have been based somewhere at Timacum Minus (Ravna) and/or Timacum Maius (Knazhevc). The II Aurelia Dardanorum was based at Naissus but the epigraphic evidence suggests that it also served in other forts, notably at Timacum Minus (Ravna), and Praesidium Pompei (near Aleksinac). Both these cohorts, each with 600 soldiers, were apparently created out of Dardanian latrons. By distributing them at the northern border of Dardania, the emperor Aurelius decreased the danger of cargo raids from latrons across Dardania. Regarding the protection of the mine districts, other local units were established to carry out this function during the I-II centuries. This was the case of the Ala Vespaziana Dardanorum, that consisted of 500 Dardanian knights and that protected the mine region of Artanë/Novobërdë-Kopaonik.

Ptolemy mentions Naissus as being one of the four main towns in Dardania. The epigraphic text Naisso Dardaniae discovered in Rome and pertaining to the Early Principate period supports the statement of Ptolemy.

In 279, the province of Dardania was created as part of the prefecture of Illyricum (praefectura praetorio per Illyricum). This reform by emperor Diocletian reestablished the traditional relations of Dardania with the Mediterranean realm. The borders of the Dardanian province were almost the same as the ones of the ancient Dardanian kingdom, apart from the northeastern part which was awarded to the already established province of Dacia Ripensis.

Map of Upper Moesian Dardania published by Vladimir P. Petrović. The borders of ancient Dardania and modern Kosova are also shown. The land route Lissus-Naissus-Ratiaria (Lezhë-Nish-Ratiaria) provided the shortest land route that linked the Adriatic Sea with the Danube River and Danubian frontier.
Map of Upper Moesian Dardania published by Vladimir P. Petrović. The borders of ancient Dardania and modern Kosova are also shown. The land route Lissus-Naissus-Ratiaria (Lezhë-Nish/Nis-Ratiaria), that passed mostly through Dardania, provided the shortest land route that linked the Adriatic Sea with the Danube River and Danubian frontier.



Appiani, Historia Romana, Illyrike, 28.

Dionis Cassii Cocceiani, Historia Romana, LI.

Petrović, V.P. (2007). Pre-Roman and Roman Dardania. Historical and Geographical Considerations. Balcanica, 27, 7-22.

Shukriu, E. (2008). Prehistory and Antique History of Kosovo. Thesis Kosova.

The Ancient Silver City of Damastion

Episode I: Evaluating Strabo’s account

One of the most discussed issues regarding the Illyrians of classical antiquity has to do with the presence of a major city with rich silver mines in the Balkan hinterland. This city minted its own silver coins and was controlled for a long time by the major Illyrian tribe of the Dardanians. It even turned into the capital of Dardania for some time. This city was called Damastion and its location, being of cultural and economic importance, remains unknown to this day.

For the first time Damastion is mentioned by the ancient historian and geographer Strabo who states that the silver mines of the city were located near the lands of the Illyrian tribes of the Taulantii, Parthini, Brygi and Bylliones. Thus, the geographical location of these tribes may help in pinpointing the potential area where Damastion stood. In addition, the Taulantii inhabited the area around Dyrrachium/Epidamnos (Durrës) in current central Albania. The Parthini, who may have represented a tribal branch of the Taulantii, were located north of the later, in the hinterland between Dyrrachium and Lissus (Lezhë). The Brygi, who seem to have been a small tribe, may have been located horizontally somewhere in the lands between Dyrrachium and Lychnidos (Ohrid). The Bylliones were the Illyrians who inhabited the city of Byllis (Hekal,Albania) and its surrounding region. They, as the Parthini, were part for a long time of the Illyrian kingdom of the Taulantii. Thus, if we refer to the description of Strabo, then the silver mines of Damastion and the city itself were located near the lands of the tribes mentioned above.

Strabo adds that the tribes of the Dyestae and the Enchelii (Encheleae) ruled over Damastion. Here he may be referring to a possible rule of king Bardylis of the Encheleae (an Illyrian tribe) over Damastion. A possible rule of Damastion by Bardylis may have helped substantially the financial prosperity of his kingdom. The other mentioned tribes of the Dyestae may have been of Thracian origin. In such a case, Strabo may have implied a common Illyrian-Thracian rule over the city and its silver mines.

Position of the ancient tribes and regions including the ones mentioned in the article (from Papazoglu 1988b as illustrated by Morgan 2009)
Position of the ancient tribes and regions including the ones mentioned in the article (from Papazoglu 1988b as illustrated by Morgan 2009).

Episode II: The proposals on the location of Damastion

Many scholars have given their assumption regarding the possible location of Damastion. Their proposals include Epirus, the hinterlands of Dyrrachium and Apollonia, and even regions as far north as Dalmatia (current Croatia). Various proposals include Dassaretis, the region south of lake Lychnidos (lake Ohrid). However, the issue with this area stands in the fact that the geological structure of its lands makes the presence of the silver mines here impossible. In addition, Strabo mentiones other places in relation to Damastion, notably the Eoerdi, Elimeia, and Eratyra. The first two were part of the region of Lyncestis while the position of Eratyra remains unknown. Thus, it is reasonable that the regions corresponding with the ancient Lyncestis be taken into consideration as possible locations of ancient Damastion.

Among the proposals, Paeonia represents an interesting option. Paeonian kings are well known for having produced various coins with the inscription “Damastion” (“ΔΑΜΑΣΤΙΝΩΝ”) in them. The Paeonian option seems more plausible when we consider the existence of several silver mines in the area between Scupi (Skopje) and Pautalia (Kyustendil). The main problem with this area is that it is located further east from the Illyrian tribal lands mentioned by Strabo.

Alternative proposals include current southern region of Albania; current regions of Mati and Dukagjini in northern Albania, and Pelagonia in FYR Macedonia. Another option proposed by Mirdita states that Damastion might have been located near the current village of Kishnica in Kosova, between modern Janjeva/Janjevo and Prishtina/Pristina. This area is also known as a mining region where antique mines have been reported. Thus it makes Kishnica an option worth considering. Further northwest, another potential location is found. It refers to the rich in minerals area of Kopaonik mountain range (south of modern Serbia). The mountainous region of Kopaonik was known by the Roman references as Municipium Dardanicum and served as a mining center in the Roman imperial period. The only issue with this area, as with Paeonia, is that it is located somewhat far from the suggested lands of Strabo.

Episode III: A brief ancient history of Damastion

Based on another fragment of Strabo, provided by a document stored and recently discovered in the Vatican, Damastion may have been established initially as a Hellenic colony. According to the fragment, the colons came from Aegina and Mandra after Athens forced them out of their lands in 420 B.C.E. If this is the case, then this represents a unique case in the history of Hellenic (Greek) colonization since such colonies were usually established along the coastlines whereas Damastion appears to have been established deep into the hinterland. The city may have taken the name of the leader of the colons, “Damastes” or “Damastos” (from an attested ancient Greek personal name), followed by the ancient Greek particle “on”. In such a case, the Hellenic colons must have had problems retaining the control of the city since it lacked the access on sea routes and hence the crucial communication with other Hellenic trade centers. Thus, even in such case, Damastion soon fell in the hands of the native Dardanians.

It is assumed that Damastion started to emit its first silver coins around 395 B.C.E. After some time it apparently fell under the rule of the powerful Illyrian monarch Bardylis I (r. 393-358). The control over Damastion may have helped Bardylis expand his commerce with other populations of the north and other tribes around his state. Furthermore, under the model of Damastion, Bardylis established in 365 B.C.E. another center for coin emission in Daparri of current Kosova.

The mentioning of a common Illyrian-Thracian rule over Damastion suggests that the city should be searched in an area located in between the Illyrian tribes and the Thracian tribes. As such, Dardania, inhabited by the Illyrian tribe of the Dardanians, in modern Kosova, represents the area that best suits this description. It should be noted that the Dardanians expanded their control way east, all the way into the borderlands of the Thracian tribe of the Triballi. This Dardanian expansion occurred after Alexander the Great defeated the Thracian Triballi. As a result of this situation, the search for Damastion and its silver ores is narrowed down into the area that was once controlled by the Dardanians.

Episode IV: A Treasure Hunt

In order to determine a more precise location of Damastion, we can observe the places where coins emitted from this city have been discovered. However, it is at first useful to make a summary of the types of coins that Damastion emitted. Its coins are divided into three types: the tetradrachmas, the drachmas, and the tetrobols. The coins with the most value, the tetradrachmas, have the figure of Apollo featured on them while the two other types of smaller values, the drachmas and the tetrobols, manifest figures illustrating the activities of the people and the mine. The drachmes also feature a female head while in the tetrobols reapers the figure of Apollo.

There are more than 40 coins of Damastion discovered in various places across the southwest Balkans including countries such as Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Kosova, Serbia, and Croatia. However, it has been noted that most of the smaller denominators of drachmas and tetroboles are found in the area that consists with current region of southern Kosova. This is of special interest when considering that smaller denominations are usually concentrated around the mines from which they have been emitted. Also, the geological structure of this area allows for the presence of an ancient silver mine. Based on the same view, the area around modern Skopje should also be evaluated as a region where in antiquity the Illyrian kingdoms of Dardania and Paeonia bordered. The ancient literature available also tends to put Damastion in the current region of southern Kosova and/or Skopje. These sources mention Damastion as the capital of Dardania while also allowing other interpreters to assume that Paeonia controlled Damastion in certain periods.

The pattern of find spots of coins produced by Damastion. Larger dots represents coin hoard discoveries whereas smaller dots represent single coin finds. The grey area illustrates a concentration of finds, especially of smaller denominators (drachmas and tetrobols) in current south of Kosova. As such the grey area represents the most adequate location for ancient Damastion according to this pattern.
The pattern of find spots of coins produced by Damastion. Larger dots represents coin hoard discoveries whereas smaller dots represent single coin finds. The grey area illustrates a concentration of finds, especially of smaller denominators (drachmas and tetrobols) in current south of Kosova. As such the grey area represents the most adequate location for ancient Damastion according to this pattern.

One recent proposal suggests that Damastion is located in the current village of Popovë, west of Podujeva/Podujevo, in Kosova. In this locality, the traces of an ancient city with its surrounding walls can be noticed along with the remnants of a castle and traces of melted metals. Towards the castle, that is distanced about 1,500-2,000 meters from the surrounding walls, an ancient road 2.5 meters wide made up of stones is directed. Furthermore, this site is located near the rich mines of Kopaonik Mountain (also known as the “Silver Mountain”). The nearby river of Kaqandoll must have served for washing the metals and the coins. Thus, the ancient city of Damastion may have well been located in this city that fulfills all the criteria presented by ancient writers and modern scholars.



Imhoof-Bumler.(1874). Ztschr.f.Numism. p. 99.

Pollozhani, M.(2015). Qytetet e harruara Ilire, lashtësi e pandriçuar. Retrieved from: www.arbresh.info/kulture/qytetet-e-harruara-ilire-lashtesi-e-pandricuar/.

Morgan, D.U.(2009). The pattern of Findspots of Coins of Damastion: A Clue to Its Location.

Strabo. Geographica.