Lost Roman Cities of Dalmatia – Asseria

My long lasting love for history and archaeology resulted with several tours and original programs. One of those is Lost Roman Cities – tour dedicated to one of the most deserted areas of Croatia and to one of the most beautiful parts of Dalmatia.

Once inhabited by thousands of Illyrians and later Romans, the area between Zadar, Velebit Mountain and Šibenik is now slowly becoming a home only for birds and wild animals.

Two thousand years ago, a mighty Asseria ruled part of the region called Liburnia, fighting with neighbors over pastures and fields and welcoming emperors. Now, just magnificent walls remain and most of the city is burried under meadows and fields.

The church on long gone standing Roman Forum of Asseria. Notice the fields in the distance.
The church on long gone Roman Forum of Asseria. Notice the fields in the distance.

Asseria was founded in the pre-historic iron-age period. It was then an important settlement and center of the Liburnians, the Illyrian tribe that inhabited the area before the Romans. Scholars think that name Asseria originates from word in Illyrian that describes the “mast” or high position since it is located on 234 m high hill. It had a very prominent position on the road that connected the colony of Iader (the present day Zadar) with other the municipal centers like Nedinum (Nadin), Varvaria (Bribir) and the military outpost in Burnum (Ivoševci). The boundaries of the territory of Asseria reached as far north as the village of Bruška and east to Dobropoljci. The borders were established to control the pastures for livestock. Some border stones from the time of the Roman emperors Tiberius, Nero and Vespasianus, which marked the borderlines, have been found and preserved.

The impressive walls of Asseria unearthed some 10 years ago...
The impressive walls of Asseria unearthed some 10 years ago...

This ancient site is found some 6 kilometers from Benkovac, near the village of Podgrađe. It is about 600 meters long and about 150 meters wide. The main entrance was on the west side until, in 113 AD, a triumphal arch in honor of emperor Trajan was erected on the north side. It commemorated Emperor’s visit to Asseria on his way to the Dacian war.

Old entrance to Asseria.
Old entrance to Asseria.

Asseria is now slowly being excavated but it is simply incredible that such an important site is not being actively promoted and that foreign universities or museums are not participating in the works. It partially has to do with the attitude of local archaeologists who would be happiest people on Earth if all the finds are “theirs”… Unfortunately, their jealousy is preventing some spectacular places to be seen and the only way is through our tours.

Traditional Illyrian cipus tombstones.
Traditional Illyrian cipus tombstones.

Today, Asseria is still quite impressive with it’s walls, later wall created from the rubble and monuments… Apparently, the refugees from Sirmium – that has fallen to the Huns in 5th century AD – have been telling stories of terrible atrocities so the Asserians, feeling unsafe as the Empire was shaking, created another wall in front of the old one. There have not been found any evidences of battle so it is believed that Asseria has just been abandoned…

Today, the megalithic walls tell the story of once rich city that slowly vanished and we can just hope that there will be people smart enough to start massive works on unearthing the walls, the streets, temples and mosaics of Asseria…

Lost Roman Cities Tour