Pre-Slavic Culture in Macedonia
Prehistory. The geographic location of Macedonia allowed contact between two cultural spheres: the Aegean and the Anatolian. This contact was the reason why Macedonia since prehistory took a significant part in the cultural development of the Balkans. The finds at Vrshnik, near Tarinci (in the region of Shtip) are proof of the existence of the "Vrshnik" or east Balkan culture of the Neolithic. The Neolithic sites by Anzabegovo (also near Shtip), by Zelenikovo and Madzari (near Skopje), Buchim (Radovish), Lopate (Kumanovo), and somewhat later in Pelagonia and Ohrid, where primitive pottery has been discovered, prove that a native cultural tradition-though a tradition susceptible to outside influences, especially from the east-developed in Macedonia.
This Neolithic development was discontinued at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. in the early transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (2600-1200 B.C.). Sites from this period have been discovered in Macedonia at Skopje, Crnobuka, Shuplevac and Bakarno Gumno. The discoveries at these sites include stone houses, pottery with smooth coatings, graphite-painted ornaments, roughly stylized seated figures and roughly-modeled figures with an opening on the upper part and a modeled head.
The discovery of graves in Demir Kapia (near Bitola) by Saray Brod and the central grave from Viso (also near Bitola) are significant, as all take the form of a stone chest; the existence of a special kind of local, painted ceramic known as babushti ceramics; research on necropolises in Eastern Macedonia by Radanje and Orlovi Chuki; research on the graves under the tombs in Orizari (near Kochani), Vuchidol and Brazda (near Skopje); all provide ample information about the life and cultural circumstances of Macedonia during the Iron Age (1200-400 B.C.). The last centuries of this era represent a period of strong Hellenistic influences over the region, noticeable both in the processing of ceramics and in the common forms of jewelry, metallic vessels and other metallic articles found at Trebenishte, Radolishte, Vsoi, Tegovo and at other sites throughout Macedonia.
Internal clashes, the most important being clashes of ethnic and social character, helped to frame some of the features of the general development of culture on Macedonian soil. In this prehistoric period, the Illyrian and Thracian cultures clashed and intermingled. Later, from the 6th century B.C., Greek culture was of great influence, followed by Roman culture during the first few decades A.D. All this led to the establishment of new religions and ideological, ethnic and economic movements, which left their traces on the development of art.
Antiquity. The influence of ancient cultures in Macedonia is beyond doubt, considering the direct contacts of Macedonia with civilizations in Greece and Asia Minor. From the 8th to the 6th century B.C., more than 30 Ionian colonies were founded along the Lower Macedonian coast and on the peninsula of Chalcidice, whereby contact with inland Macedonia increased in strength, frequency and duration. In such a way, the late pre-Classical cultures spread to Macedonia. From Trebenishte (near Ohrid), Beranci (near Bitola) and Tetovo have come discoveries of rich princes' graves, bronze vases and gold and silver jewelry from Ionian and Chalcidician towns, clearly of Syrian and Persian origin. The graves contained expensive glass vessels from Egypt as well. The time of Philip II is characterized by the first silver and bronze coins minted in Macedonia. In larger Macedonian towns, surrounded by ramparts and earthworks, Greek master craftsmen began to ply their wares, facilitating the extensive penetration of Greek culture into Macedonia. Such was the case in the towns of Stybera (Chepigovo), Alkomenai (Buchin), Bryanion (Graishte), Eudarist (Drenovo), Gurbyta (Zgropolci), Bylazora (Titov Veles) and Stenai (Demir Kapija), the Paeonian capital.
The growing strength of Hellenistic culture on Macedonian territory was disrupted by an invasion of Celts and Dardans in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., as well as by the incorporation of Paeonia into the Lower Macedonian state. On the other hand, the conquest of Macedonia by Rome in 168 B.C., after the defeat of King Perseus, and the transformation of Macedonia into an landlocked Roman province signaled a Roman presence on Macedonian territory. Roman rule lasted for almost nine centuries, until the invasion of the Slavs in the second half of the 6th century. Roman rule allowed, among other things, the conveyance of precious articles from southern Italy, Pergamo and Alexandria. It appears that, at the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. and perhaps for some time before that, Roman culture in Macedonia reached its highest level of influence: the towns of Skupi (present-day Skopje), Stobi, Bargala, Heraclea Lyncestis (near Bitola), Lychnidos (present-day Ohrid) and a few others prospered under Roman rule.
Skupi. During an attack by the Goths and Huns (268-269 A.D.) many towns in Macedonia were completely destroyed. Some of them were rebuilt and renewed as administrative centers of the empire; Skupi was one such, becoming the capital of Dardania, a region extending from Nish to Veles. During Roman rule Skupi, owing to its geographical location, became a strategic point and trade center from which Roman rule spread towards the greater part of western Illyria. Skupi remained within the framework of the Roman Empire for more than 500 years; the most typical characteristics of Roman architecture can be found in the city's ruins, which have been extensively studied. The inscriptions in Skupi are written in Latin and the art is typical of Roman provincial art. Skupi was destroyed in a disastrous earthquake in 518 A.D., and later rebuilt where the Serava River empties into the Vardar River. During the reign of Emperor Justinian (the first half of the 6th century), the town developed as a significant ecclesiastical center. As such, it survived to see the arrival of the Slavs-but as with other Roman towns, Skupi declined in size and sophistication during Slav rule. The decline of urban life in Macedonia signaled the definite end of the ancient world in Macedonia.
Excavations carried out in the ancient town of Skupi have uncovered a typical Roman theater with galleries, spaces for spectators and an orchestra and a stage, once luxuriously ornamented with sculptures. This theater is much more beautiful and luxurious than the theater in Stobi, built in a Greek style. Beside the theater, excavations in Skupi have so far found the foundations of a large basilica mosaic-decorated floors and fresco-covered walls.
Stobi. The ancient town of Stobi is mentioned for the first time in 197 B.C., but the beginnings of the town can be traced back at least 400 years earlier. The central part of Stobi consists of an early Christian complex of religious structures dating from the 4th to the 6th century A.D.. The preserved buildings of the town include a theater built in the 2nd century A.D., luxurious palaces with fountains and mosaics, as well as church buildings of basilica type with floor mosaics, wall mosaics and fresco-paintings. Taken as a whole, these structures indicate the growth of Stobi by 300 to 400 A.D.. The Partenius' palace, where King Teodosius guested in 388 A.D. and the Peristerius' and Partinius' palaces are also of exceptional beauty. Religious architecture includes Bishop Philip's basilica, while more structures more representative of Roman religious architecture are the Central and the Northern basilicas, and the two basilicas outside the town near the town cemetery. A total of 18 floor mosaics have been discovered in Stobi, all illustrating stylized animals worked in soft green, deep blue, ocher and reddish tones. The oldest known mosaics containing monograms of Jesus Christ have been discovered in the old Bishop's Basilica in Heraclea Lyncestis. The ancient town of Heraclea, an important military center and strategic point along Roman Via Ignatia highway, is located at a distance of two kilometers from Bitola. The theory that the town was built by Philip II is based only on presumptions, but it is known that the town existed for more than a thousand years and had been a capital of the region of Lyncestis, after which it had got its name, for the greatest part of its existence. Initial research and excavation in Heraclea began in 1938, and since 1959 Heraclea has been systematically studied. Archaeological expeditions to this ancient town have discovered numerous monuments of Roman culture: a portico, a thermae, a horseshoe-shaped theater and a number of basilicas. The later discovers are logical, as Heraclea was an episcopal residence for a long time. Numerous mosaics have been found there: the three naves in the Large Basilica are covered with mosaics, while the mosaics in the nartex are considered to be mosaics of the highest visual quality and among the richest of iconographic accomplishments. The theme of the mosaics is the Christian universe: in the center of the elongated rectangle there is a kantharos where vines grow and deer and pheasants-Christ's symbols-walk. In addition to the architectural monuments, many inscriptions and tombstones from the Roman and early Christian period have been found in Heraclea. Exceptionally beautiful is the head of the orator Aeschines from the 4th century B.C., the original of which rests in the British Museum in London, as well as the copy of Athena Parthenos by Phidias and a number of votive monuments and memorials. All this is an indication of the highly developed culture and artistic life in Heraclea.
Lychnidos. Ohrid (Lychnidos) existed as an Illyrian town from the date of its foundation until the late Classical period, but the earliest historical record of it is from 217 B.C. The subjection of Macedonia and Illyrian territories to Roman authority meant the beginning of the development of Ohrid as a Roman stronghold. Ohrid possessed an important strategic position due to its location on the Via Ignatia. Ancient Ohrid bequeathed to future centuries its magnificent theater of 5,000 seats and excellent acoustics, as well as ruins of a large ancient citadel. Floor mosaics with personifications of the four rivers of Paradise have also been discovered, and the basilicas in Studenchishte, Radolishte and St. Erasmus possess preserved floor mosaics.
Bargala. Recent archaeological research reveals that the transition from the late Classical period to the early Christian period was witness to the raising of many structures. The late Roman town of Bargala was situated where the Kozjachka River joins the Bregalnitsa River, and was included within the province of Mediterranean Dacia. In the 4th and 5th century A.D. Bargala grew into a cultural and ecclesiastical center covering nearly five hectares and surrounded by 2.20 meter walls. The early Christian complex consists of one three-nave and one smaller single-nave basilica, and the bishop's residential building. The name of the town is mentioned for the first time in 451 A.D. in the lists of the Chalcedonian Council, where the Episcope Dardanius of Bargala placed his signature immediately after that of Episcope Nicolas of Stobi, both of them mentioned among a group of episcopes from Macedonia. Remnants of the ancient town of Astibo (present-day Shtip) have also been discovered in the vicinity of Bargala.
In general, about 130 early Christian basilicas have been discovered in Macedonia, not only in ancient towns but also in villages and desolate sites.
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