Borders in the Roman Empire

The precursor of Ljubljana, the roman Emona – Colonia Iulia Emona – was founded by Augustus in the first decades of the first century AD, on the left bank of river Ljubljanica.

Ljubljanica runs through Ljubljana Marshes. Shot from a kite.

The previous inhabitants of these lands were Taurisci, a Celtic tribe that were wiped out by Octavian in the early stages of Illyrian wars around year 35 BC. Not long after that the Roman republic became Roman Empire, and its victorious armies settled in newly conquered lands. New provinces were established – Noricum, Pannonia, Illyricum, Dalmatia – and new cities were founded. Emona was among them.

Ljubljanica with its old, silted-up channel running on the left.

Thanks to archaeological explorations – still ongoing – we now know a lot about Emona. But up until recently we didn’t know an important detail about it: which Roman province was Emona and its ager part of?

Ljubljanica again. Bear with us, it is relevant to this story.

The question of administrative location of Emona within the Roman Empire was hotly contested. “It was in Noricum Mediterranensis!” “It was in Pannonia, you fool!” “You are both such idiotae – can’t you see it was in Dalmatia?” “You spelt Histria wrong!” etc.

Yes, you guessed. It’s – Ljubljanica.

All this very learned shouting and wrestling would continue forever – if it wasn’t for a large stone lying on the muddy bottom of Ljubljanica river, bearing an inscription.

FINIS. The End.

Upper part of the stone with an inscribed word FINIS – the end (or boundary).

Ljubljansko Barje, a large moor south and west from Ljubljana, is a great place for flying kites, and one of the most important and rich archaeological sites in Slovenia. Many fascinating finds – from the oldest wooden wheel in the world to at Roman cargo ship, from prehistoric pile-dwellings to medieval swords – found there changed and shaped our knowledge of history. And among those really important finds is this particular stone.

Front and back side of the stone.

It is a boundary stone. Its full inscription – FINIS EMONENSIUM / AQVILEIENSIUM – means the end (or border) [of territories] of Emona / Aquileia. .

The boundary stone was found by divers in 2001 in Ljubljanica right here, just before a large meander that still stands out in an otherwise quite straight river channel.

This type of Roman border stone was used to mark a border between city agers, not between provinces. Therefore our stone clearly shows that Emona and Aquileia were part of the same administraive territory! And we know where Aquileia was: in Italia, territory of the city of Rome itself (Italia was not a province, but an area with a special status, divided by Augustus in eleven regia) – specifically, in Regio X: Venetia et Histria.

The long outstanding question of the place of Emona within the Roman Empire is thus (at least partially) resolved. Colonia Iulia Emona was founded within Italia proper as its most eastern outpost, trading center, and emporium.

All this from just one stone, ha? And god knows what more treasures (and knowledge) Ljubljanica is still hiding …

All photos (except of the boudary stone) taken with Nikon 1 J1 on a Great White Delta kite.

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