Excavations at the Roman amphitheatre of Viminacium, east Serbia, have brought to light two remarkable rare jade figures amongst other finds.
Viminacium was the provincial capital of the Roman province of Moesia (now Serbia). The city, which dates back to the 1st C AD, lay on the Roman road the Via Militaris, and was clearly a site of major importance. The archeological site occupies a total of 450 hectares and includes temples, an amphitheatre, government buildings and Roman baths.
Its location on the Via Militaris gives a clue to its importance – it was a military camp of considerable size and troops may have been stationed here as early as the reign of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). The Emperor Claudius (41-54) garrisoned Viminacium, along with other Moesian cities , for the Moesian legions. The first legion to be stationed there seems to have been the VII Claudia that came there in 52 AD from Dalmatia.
During the Dacian Wars Trajan made Viminacium his headquarters and the town became a colonia with minting privileges in 239 AD housing Legions IV and VII.
The Roman amphitheatre gives some idea of the size of the settlement, since it could house 12,000 people. The ongoing excavations are directed by Miomir Korać of the Viminacium Archaeological Park and it was he who made the announcement of the find of not one, but two, rare jade sculptures.
The first figure, 35 centimeters long, was not complete but was of interest in that it was made out of a single piece of jade. The second figure, found shortly afterwards, was also incomplete, but of excellent craftsmanship. Both figures are missing their heads and one is broken off at the torso. Korac speculates that they are of local production and hopes to find more evidence to support this claim.
The amphitheatre itself is in an excellent state of preservation with walls up to five metres high and other finds include a gilded eagle that seems to have been part of a chariot and massive iron door fittings.
The use of jade for sculptures at this time is quite unusual, in Europe it was used by Neolithic lake dwellers for axes and other tools, but is not well attested in later periods. The first source of European jade was discovered in 1885, near Jordansmuhl in Silesia, Poland. Until then, it was thought that the material for European Neolithic jades was imported from Asia.
Now research has shown that both forms of jade, jadite and nephrite, occur in Poland, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Prehistoric jade ceremonial weapons have been found in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Great Britain. More information on jade can be found at http://arts.jrank.org/pages/9688/Jade.html
There is anecdotal evidence of the use of jade in ancient Egypt, but this is unconfirmed though nephrite is also reported in the Eastern Desert. So, we eagerly await Professor Korac’s finding on the local working of jade in ancient Serbia, as this would open up an entirely new area for enthusiasts of this beautiful mineral.