The journey of Argonauts
Map Of Emona

The Beginnings Of Roman Emona

The late Antique authors Zosimus and Sozomenus linked the foundation of Emona to the expedition of the Argonauts in the 13th century BC, in line with the description of the journey of Jason and Medea and  their Colchian pursuers along the River Danube to the Adriatic Sea in the epic Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes in the 3rd century BC.

Pre-Roman settlements of the present-day Ljubljana

The area of the present day Ljubljana was already inhabited in the Late Copper Age , with the settlement remains excavated at the site of Špica around 2500 BC, which belonged to the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings Around the Alps Culture, UNESCO World Heritage sites in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, France and Slovenia .

In the 13th century BC , the location at the foot of the hill of Grajski grič was chosen for the permanent settlement with the oldest cemetery near SAZU building and some finds in the Prule area near the River Ljubljanica.

finds from the Late Copper Age Špica

The Arrival of Romans

The late Antique authors Zosimus and Sozomenus linked the foundation of Emona to the expedition of the Argonauts in the 13th century BC, in line with the description of the journey of Jason and Medea and  their Colchian pursuers along the River Danube to the Adriatic Sea in the epic Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes in the 3rd century BC.

The tomb of Caesernius, 1 st century BC, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
A Roman dagger with scabbard from Cardo C 1, Emona, 1 st century BC, City Museum of Ljubljana

Roman Colony Of Emona

  • Roman colony called Colonia Julia Emona was founded by Octavianus ( later called Augustus) sometime between 33 BC and 27 BC. It was settled by Roman veterans and belonged to Italy as the easternmost town of Italy within the Roman Empire.
  • The boundary stone dividing the territories of Aquilea and Emona was found at Bevke.
  • The imperial building inscription from 14 or 15 AD mentions Augustus and Tiberius’ donation to Emona ( probably walls) .
Emona imperial text, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Emona boundary stone, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana

  • During the Emperor Claudius I ( 41-54), there was intensive building activity in Emona, especially in buildings intented for everyday use. City walls and certain insulae were rennovated, first wall paintings appeared and there was also the development of water supply and communal infrastructure in Emona.

a head of Emperor Claudius I from Emona,, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
parts of a wall painting from the time of Claudius I, City Museum of Ljubljana
A grave of a female surgeon from Emona from the Flavian Dynasty ( 69-96 AD).
  • The metallic cup has engravings of fauna (birds) and flora on the outer rim. The bronze scalpels with iron handles, tweezers, a needle and other artifacts are basically no different from nowaday tools .
  • ( City Museum of Ljubljana)

Emona citizen

  • The Roman Empire’s greatest extent was during the time of the Emperor Traianus ( 98-117).
  • From the Traianus era, there is a gilded bronze portrait statue, known locally as “Emona Citizen”, the only preserved monument with a statue on a column that was erected for a civilian – i.e., not a member of the imperial family – in the entire territory of the Roman Empire.

Luxurious objects in Emona

A golden seal ring from 2 nd century AD from Cardo H , City Museum of Ljubljana
Millefiori style cup from Emona, 2nd half of the 1 st century AD, City Museum of Ljubljana

Gods In Emona

  • The world of gods worshipped at Emona was an interesting blend of various cults from all over the Roman Empire such as indigenous local goddess Aecorna, Aesculapius, Belenus, Ceres, Diana, Hercules, Hygia, Jupiter, Jupiter Depulsor, Laburus, Lares, Magna Mater ( Cybele), Mercurius, Mithras etc.

an altar to Anatolian goddess Magna Mater from Križanke.
A statue of a Celtic god Belenus from SAZU area of Emona, 1st century BC, City Museum of Ljubljana
sacrificial altar with an inscription dedicated to a deity of springs Fontanus from the Slovenska Street in the immediate vicinity of the Roman forum
The Roman well from Kongresni trg, Emona, 1 st century AD.
The Roman pavement from beneath the Slovenska Road , Emona, 1 st century AD, made in opus signinum technique, decorative and durable, and almost as hard as concrete.

Romanization Of Native Population in Emona

  • Although most of Emona population was of Italian origin, some of them were indigenous to the area. They managed to integrate themselves into the Roman society, earning enough money to erect a funeral monument for themselves and their families. They were also able to transform their personal names into a gentilicium, as, for example, the Vibunnii.

Tombstone of Vibunnia Matrona from Emona , National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana

Emona’s hinterland

  • Emona’s administrative territory or ager stretched from Atrans (Trojane) along the Karavanke mountains towards the north, near Višnja Gora to the east, along the Kolpa River in the south, and bordered to the west with the territory of Aquileia at the village of Bevke. It included, for example, a village of Ig.

a pair of centenarians on a stele from Ig near Emona erected by Fronto, the son of Vibius for himself and his wife Secunda, a daughter of Maximus, on the occasion of death of their 60 years old daughter Bugia, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana.

In 238 AD citizens of Emona burned  down their town in order to halt the advance of the Emperor Maximinus Thrax towards Aquilea in the  Roman civil war.

Ivory dolls from the eastern Emona cemetery girl’s grave, 3d century, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
A bronze Venus statue from insula XXIX, Emona, 3d century, City Museum of Ljubljana,

Constantine The Great And Emona

  • The rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire was due to the civil war victories of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in the first two decades of the 4th century.
  • According to Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, one of the reasons for the war between the Emperors Licinius and Constantine the Great was that the Licinius destroyed the busts and statues of Constantine at Emona in 316.
a marble head from the destroyed statue of the Emperor Constantius I Chlorus, father of Constantine the Great , from Emona, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana

Christianity in Emona

  • In 381, the Emonian Bishop Maximus participated at the Council of Aquilea. Two letters were sent from Antiochia in 376 and 377 to the virgines of Emona and Anthony the monk by Saint Jerome born in Stridon, in the area of Pivka in Slovenia.
  • At the beginning of the 5th century a rectangular baptistery with a small pool in the centre was built alongside the central courtyard. The baptistery floor is covered in a multi-colored mosaic with inbuilt inscriptions bearing the names of the donors and the builder archdeacon Antiochus.
  • Christian cemetery complex at Gosposvetska Street containing more than 350 burials centered around the burial chapel of a very important woman. Within a decade of her burial, her square chapel was demolished and a larger structure was built to enclose her tomb. Around the new structure and inside it, Emona’s Christian community began to practice a burial practice known as ad sanctos, in which the deceased are interred near the tombs of saints and other holy remains.
Golden jewelry from the grave of a 6 years old Christian girl from the Christian cemetery at Gosposvetska street. The sarcophagus burial was combined with the costly grave goods
A blue glass drinking bowl made in Antiochia or Alexandria from the tomb of the important Christian woman. A Greek inscription on the inside of the bowl instructs the owner to “Drink to live forever, for many years!”

Roman Civil Wars and Emona in the second half of the 4th century

  • A hoard of double and triple solidi from 352 was found at Igriška Street when a legitimate Emperor Constantius II took over Emona from the usurper Magnentius in the civil war.
  • The baking mould depicting the triumphal procession of the Emperor Theodosius in Emona due to his victory over the usurper Magnus Maximus in Poetovio, modern Ptuj in Slovenia in 388.
Solidi Coins from Emona, National Museum of Slovenia, Ljubljana
a baking mould with a relief capturing the triumphal procession of Theodosius ‘ victory over Maximus in 388 from a Roman bakery in insula VI, Emona

Roman poet Pacatus wrote a panegyric to Theodosius

  • “Nor was loyal Emona slow to rush forth when your approach was announced: its gates were thrown open and people poured out to meet you. That city , as if breathing again after a long siege- for as it lay at the foot of the Alps, the tyrant had worn it down like a threshold of war- was transported with joy so great and artless that had its delights not been sincere, it would have appeared excessive.”

Long Distance Trade

A faceted glass Kowalk” beaker of the Chernyakhov Santana Mures culture of Ukraine from the Northern cemetery of Emona, 4th or 5th century AD
Remains of the Chinese silk on the glass vessel from Emona from the time of Augustus 1st century AD
A bronze flask with enamel inlay from the northern cemetery of Emona, made in Britain, 2 nd half of the 2nd century, City Museum of Ljubljana
A gold ring with a garnet from Sri Lanka from Emona, Augustus time, National Museum of Slovenia
A figural bronze vessel from Erjavčeva Street, Emona, made in Alexandria, Egypt, 4th century, City Museum of Ljubljana

The End of Roman Emona

The Roman Empire was divided into an eastern and a western half in 395 AD. During Honorius reign ( 395-423) Emona was still flourishing as evident  by remains of  the Emonan house at Jakopičev vrt, dating from the late 4th and early 5th centuries with  the high-quality building finishes and utilities (floors, mosaics, heating). The central dwelling place was a summer room and its floor was made up of a two-colored geometrical mosaics.
But by mid 5th-century, the majority of Emona’s inhabitants had already left Emona, seeking refuge at hillforts in the surounding areas. The Huns sacked Emona in 452 .

Emonan house
Hunnic trilobate arowhead from insula IX and a Hunnic quiver-hook from insula XXXII

Traces of life in abandoned Emona and its surroundings

  • Ostrogothic garrison with their families during the Germanic Gothic rule 493-538 established a settlement and a cemetery in Dravlje area.This was followed by brief Eastern Roman rule 538-546 and Germanic Langobard rule 546-568, and in the 7th century Slav rule under the Avar Khaganate.
Ostrogothic finds from the Dravlje cemetery.


  • Bekljanov Zidanšek Iris et al: Emona, mesto v imperiju, Mestni muzej Ljubljana, 2014
  • Ciglenečki Jan et al: Koptske tkanine iz zbirke Narodnega muzeja Slovenije, Narodni muzej Slovenije, 2019
  • Gaspari Andrej et al: Prazgodovinska in rimska Emona , Mestni muzej Ljubljana, 2014
  • Gaspari Andrej et al: Voda v rimski Emoni, Mestni muzej Ljubljana, 2016
  • Istenič Janka et al: Rimske zgodbe s stičišča svetov, Narodni muzej Slovenije, 2014
  • Istenič Janka et al: Rimska vojaška oprema iz reke Ljubljanice, 2019, Narodni muzej Slovenije, 2019
  • Miškec Alenka et al: Severno emonsko grobišče- raziskave na najdišču Kozolec, Narodni muzej Slovenije, 2020
  • Županek Bernarda et al:Emona MM, Urbanizacija prostora, nastanek mesta, Mestni muzej Ljubljana, 2017

Leave a Reply

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