Ulpiana, an ancient Roman city

Ulpiana was an ancient Roman city located in what is today Kosovo. It was also named Justiniana Secunda. Ulpiana is situated in the municipality of Lipljan. In 1955, under Resolution No.v.E.K.21/55, Ulpiana was added to the Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance list.


Ulpiana lies in a fertile land, near the left bank of the river Gračanica where nearby there is a mine which has been used since Roman times. These days you can find the ruins of the city around 9 km in south-east of Pristina and it includes the municipality of Laplje Selo. Because it’s located on the left side of the river in Gračanica it’s considered as a fertile land, near there is a mine which was used in Roman times and had a great role on the development of the most important cities on the Roman province of Dardania.

In the geo-physical research made by an Albanian archaeologist and also foreigners, have been found out that there are more than 100 ha worth objects that Ulpiana lies in. On the north side of the city is the cemetery,where there have been found lots of objects:the foundations of a Basilica (Paleolithic-Christian)of early Christianity build in the beginning of the 4th century by Emperor Justinian. Also found is the north entry of the city with its walls and a memorium, a room or a form of funeral. The ruins of a building with a beautiful mosaic are found in the south of the city. The research was mainly focused on the antic objects which have been found on the sides of the main road which connected the antic city with the region. The attention was given to the findings of the objects in the north entrance of the city. With the addition of the use of air photography and satellites in the past years archaeologists, with no costly digging, were able to find and describe lots of big antique buildings which included a public bathroom, the forum (administrative center of the city), a residency of the bishop in the era of the early Christianity, and a baptismal chapel.

Name “Ulpiana”

Ulpiana during the 3rd and 4th century achieved its peak of development and had the name of Municipum Ulpiana Splendisima In 518 e.s.a, after the earthquake Justinian gave a new name to the city: Justiniana Secunda.


Ulpiana played an important role in the development of the most important cities in the Roman province of Dardania. Ulpiana is mentioned in the ancient sources since the second decade on the 2nd century AD since then it played an important role during the invasive expeditions when the emperor could stop during the travel. Ulpiana became an important center episcopal Episcopal joining Scupi city (modern Skopje, Macedonia) until the establishment of Justiniana primes.

Under “NOTICIJI” (Not. Digna. Or. IX, 44) Ulpiana had a great garrison also in Pseudocomitatenses Ulpiansis. Exists evidence that czar Theodosius I during the transition to Teselanikne has stayed some time in Ulpian (cod. THEOD I 33-34) in the 5th century, the city had been under the rule of the Goths and it was destroyed in 479 when King Theodemir sent his son Theodoric the Great with 3,000 soldiers to destroy the city. While Ulpiana walls were ruined at the time of the catastrophic earthquake of the year 518, when according to the chronicle and writings of Marcelino were entirely destroyed several towns in the region of Dardania.

When this devastating earthquake hit the province of Dardania, most of the city of Ulpiana had to be repaired. Emperor Justinian rebuilt the ruins of the fortifications and buildings objects. The ancient city had strong fortifications, with semi-circular shaped tower that reached up to 35.5 ha in area. Ulpiana together with the surroundings, counting Castrum and other supporting facilities covering an area of 120 hectares.

Ulpiana is important because its premises were inhabited continuously over a long period of time. People have lived here since prehistoric times, during the Roman period and the early Byzantine.

Archaeological excavations

Ulpiana / A view of the Northern Necropolis
A view of the Northern Necropolis

The first landfills in the ruins of the ancient city were made before 1990. Ulpiana archaeological research for the first time took place in 1953, with four graves were dug in the northern part of the cemetery. Investigations are concentrated in the northern settlement and cemetery, where different findings have been discovered: the foundations of a basilica (paleo-Christian) early Christianity, built at the beginning of the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian, the northern entrance of fortification (walls of the city) and Memoriumi, a small room or ambient funeral.

Since the start of excavation in Ulpiana, in this important Roman-Byzantine city there are very few written knowledge. Few writings have come from memorials manuscripts which street descriptors who have visited this area since the 19th century wrote. Ulpiana city mostly was studied by N.Vuliċ, he had the opportunity to collect and distribute written stories from Kosovo and Ulpiana. These stories he presented at the beginning of the 20th century together with A. Premeshtajnom. Later on this story Roman writers have added some new data again between the two world wars. N. Vuliċ also in some cases provided explanations for historical events Ulpiana. Full statement of historical events of the city on the basis of data from ancient times and in the epigraph monument was presented by B. Sarie in “Realencyclopadie” which E. Qershkov directed to the data on new materials from landfill archaeological 1954−1959. Ulpiana was mentioned for the first time in the 2nd century BC about archaeological data (Rtol. III, 9.6), in the case of counting Dardania cities: Naisus, Skupi, Arribantion and Ulpiana. From before the Roman period, the city’s history has not given any information unless signs. Because of these signs we realize that Ulpiana in the 2nd century had municipal status and was the source of border stations (station Ulpianensis).

The remains of the building with beautiful mosaics are found in the southern part of the city, which have been excavated recently by municipal workers when placing pipes and water pipes across the zone that covers the ancient. In 1974, at the location of the field Çerkezi, not far from Ulpiana, a large mound was discovered that combustion residue contained a princess. Also discovered a rich treasure containing silver items, perfume bottles and everyday objects. Relying on knowledge of the traditions of burning body and associated objects discovered along with the princess (or rather the remains of it) it can be said what the remains are dated it somewhere in the 3rd century BC.

Other research in this area took place between 1981 and 1987, these led from Belgrade Archaeological Institute in cooperation with the Institute for Protection of Monuments in Kosovo as well as the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments and the Institute for the Protection and Presentation of Cultural Valuesin Pristina. Mainly focused research in the excavations of ancient objects, which were discovered on both sides of the main road linking the ancient cities in the region.

In 1982, has discovered a prehistoric cemetery in the center of the ancient city, that the transition period between the bronze and iron period (13th–9th centuries BC). In 1993, the Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments of Pristina, undertook conservation work in memorium and marble sarcophagus. In 1995, repairs to water pipes in the area in question led to the discovery of some of the foundations of a building. Determining the exact date of the establishment of Ulpiana is not easy.However, relying on archaeological finds excavated so far as prehistoric ceramics, tombs of the Bronze period Lower Bernice culture, as well as other findings early and late period of iron, we can say that Ulpianais established on a prehistoric dwelling somewhere in the 1st or 2nd century AD. Construction then continued more or less in the 6th century AD.

Excavated Objects

he object which have been found in the ruins of the city are several but most important ones are: a woman’s head, a man’s head, the head of Eros and the tragic mask.

Woman’s head

Ulpiana excavation site objects - woman's head
Ulpiana excavation site objects – woman’s head

The sculpture represents a portrait of middle aged woman made of white fine–grained marble, 18 cm high. In the psychological structure of this portrait, realism is the predominant means of representation of the inner life and a certioni stillness in the contrast soft modeling supports even more the impression of meditation, yearning, sensitivity and restraint. The details of the face with the small, lightly marked locks on the forehead, all shaped in a masterly manner, emphasize its individual characterizations. The whole treatment of the face points to a high quality work of art; it is obvious that its artist was an excellent sculptor who probably worked in some art centre where the tradition of the classical Greek sculpture inherited though the classicist sculpture of the late Hellenism and the art of Hadria’s epoch, was still respected. In contrast to the finely modeled hair and small locks on the forehead and over the ears, the braids are done very simply: by vertical and slanting broken cuts.This head was found in the layer which E.Cerskov, according to the other archaeological material, judges that it dates from the middle of the 3rd to the beginning of the 4th century. Considering stylistic characteristics and analogy we can estimate more precisely that it dates from last quarter of the 4th century.

Man’s head

It is a marble head of a strong middle-aged man, which judging by its size (height 33 cm), was a part of a life–size statue. The portrait is realistically sculptured; it is characterized by simple modeling: the “realism” of hair and beard carved in such a way is obtained beard carved in such a way as obtained only with the pay of lights and shadows and when looked at form a certain distance. In the attempt to represent the psychological state, here, too, the greatest attention is paid to eyes’ and their expression and this effect is brought into prominence instead of a more detailed modeling of face features. It is made in the manner of the late Roman portrait art which culminated around the middle of the 3rd century when some of the greatest Roman portraits were created.

Head of Eros

This marble head(height : 15.6 cm) a small, plump Eros with childish face and long, curly hair. According to the stylistic characteristics and analogies and historical contexts it can be the sculpture and circumstances of the finding it makes it impossible to a determine its precise purpose and meaning.

Tragic mask

It is a powerful male face modeled in a very realistic way with explicit characteristics of Roman theatrical mask and without almost and distinctive work features. It is made in grey marble (height 27.5 cm) and is a remarkable work, probably an import from some better known art centre. It was found on the site of the North Necropolis. Its features and details on the face are made extremely plastically and grotesquely. were probably inserted in the big eye-sockets, as was the case with some marble heads representing theatrical masks. Observing it as a whole and examining some typical details, experts are inclined to think that the models looked for in the tradition of the Roman theatre in the 1st century AD goes on the territory of Yugoslavia, is reflected in its stylistic and artistic characteristics as well as in the fact that it is one of a few theatrical masks made as a full monumental stone sculpture. It is one of the finest sculptures ever found in Ulpiana and it probably dates from the 2nd century.


The researches about tombstones in Ulpiana started at 1953.The researcher that began the research was Nikolić. He found four graves in the northern Necropolis.After him between 1954 and 1959 two other researchers made some systematical researches. Their names were Ćerskov and Ljubiśa Popović. These researches were a great success and answer in so many questions about this ancient city. In the first year of the excavations they found out a memorial in that buildings here were a lot of sargofags with different construction. One of the sarcofagi were made of merćmer was in the centre of that place on the floor made by mermer plates. The space was named “memoria” where there were found 3 big graves which made of brick and one smaller with a plate during the works they found 2 tombstones decorated with cravings and on one of them there was an inscription in honor of Elia Clementila. In another grave there was a tombstone with the whole family craved. There was found another monument which is important for ulpiana because of inscription on it dedicated to Mark Ponti Varan and it gave the archaeologist the date not just about Mark Ponti but about the arrangement of the town.The interesting thing that they found in this tombstone was that this one was bigger than the others and belonged to a whole family.

Ulpiana was an ancient Roman[1] city located in what is today Kosovo. It was also named Justiniana Secunda.
An ancient Roman city Ulpiana, excavation site

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *