Justiniana Prima

Justiniana Prima (Latin: Iustiniana Prima, Serbian: Јустинијана Прима, romanized: Justinijana Prima) was a Byzantine city that existed from 535 to 615, and currently an archaeological site, known as or Caričin Grad (Serbian: Царичин Град), near modern Lebane in southern Serbia. It was founded by Emperor Justinian I (527-565) and served as the metropolitan seat of the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, that had jurisdiction over the provinces of the Diocese of Dacia.[1][2]

Justiniana Prima
Native name
Serbian: Јустинијана Прима/Justinijana Prima or Царичин Град/Caričin Grad
Remnants of the city
LocationPrekopčelica, Lebane
Founded535 AD
Built forArchbishopric, Imperial estate
Governing bodyRepublic of Serbia

In 1979, archaeological site of Justiniana Prima (Caričin Grad) was added to the Archaeological Sites of Exceptional Importance-list, protected by Republic of Serbia.


The establishment of the Archbishopric is mentioned in Justinian's own Novel XI from 535, when he promotes the Metropolitan to an Archbishop, independent from the Archbishop of Thessalonica. The establishment is seen as part of the feud between Justinian and the Archbishop of Eastern Illyricum, who was a papal vicar.[3]


Aeroimage in 1937. Photo archive of the Military Geographical Institute of Serbia[4]

The city was founded by Emperor Justinian I. It existed from the 530s to 615 and was designed as a splendid bishop's seat. The city was a completely new foundation in honour of the nearby village of Tauresium, the birthplace of Justinian. According to Procopius Bederiana, the birthplace of Justinian's uncle and mentor Justin I was nearby. There has been a long debate about the identification of these historical places. The huge correlation between the archaeological site and the description by Procopius as well as finds of seals of the bishop of Iustiniana Prima are strong arguments for an identification of Justiniana Prima with Caričin Grad.[5]

The city planning combined classical and Christian elements: thermae, a forum, and streets with colonnades. Typical Mediterranean features went along with numerous churches.

Justinian himself ordered the foundation of the city by law in 535, establishing the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, making it at the same time the capital of the prefecture of Illyricum instead of Thessaloniki (although this is disputed among historians). It also was chosen as the seat of the Dacian diocese.

Thessaloniki, however, did not actually lose much of its administrative functions during the short lifetime of Justiniana Prima. Still, the new foundation was not without importance and Justinian made sure that this city, which was one of his favourite projects, received all the necessary support. In 545 Justinian issued another law underlining the episcopal rights and status of Justiniana Prima, which is also confirmed by letters that were exchanged between Justinian and Pope Gregory I at the end of the 6th century.

"He therefore built a wall of small compass about this place in the form of a square, placing a tower at each corner, and caused it to be called, as it actually is, Tetrapyrgia. And close by this place he built a very notable city which he named Justiniana Prima, thus paying a debt of gratitude to the home that fostered him. In that place also he constructed an aqueduct and so caused the city to be abundantly supplied with ever-running water. And many other enterprises were carried out by the founder of this city - works of great size and worthy of especial note. For to enumerate the churches is not easy, and it is impossible to tell in words of the lodgings for magistrates, the great stoas, the fine marketplaces, the fountains, the streets, the baths, the shops. In brief, the city is both great and populous and blessed in every way."
Procopius' description of Justiniana Prima in The Buildings.

The town was abandoned at around 615. Invading Avars coming from north of the Danube may be one factor, missing political interest in the town after the time of Justinian may be another. Among many other imported finds the presence of 2 pieces of a specific type of fibulae[6] and handmade pottery have been understood as an indication of the presence of Slavs already before the Avar incursion.[7]

Archaeological site

There have been archaeological excavations for nearly 100 years with the participation of French and more recently also German researchers. There is a permanent exhibition in the national museum in Leskovac. At the site itself monuments there are impressive remains of the fortification, the acropolis as well as of several churches and many other buildings.

See also


  1. Meyendorff 1989, pp. 56-57.
  2. Turlej 2016.
  3. p. 100, excerpts from his novella
  4. The Military Geographical Institute of Serbia
  5. V. Ivanišević, Caričin Grad (Justiniana Prima): A New-Discovered City for a ‘New’ Society, in: S. Marjanović-Dušanić (Hrsg.), Proceedings of the 23rd International Congress of Byzantine Studies. Belgrade, 22–27 August 2016 : plenary papers (Belgrade 2016) 107–126
  6. Мано-Зиси 1955: 168–170; 1957: 313
  7. Janković