Was Damastion the northernmost city in Alexander’s empire? If you want to believe publications from Serbian media and also historians and archaeologists, then yes! Located near Bujanovac in southern Serbia, near the Macedonian border, lies this archaeological site known as Kale Krševica. But, is this site really the northernmost city that was under Macedonian rule? Is this site really the ancient city of Damastion?
The latter is uncertain. To this day, historians argue about it, or rather they try to locate Damastion. So far without success. There are some theories about the location, but no consensus has been reached.
In the first case, that this site was really the northernmost city under Macedonian rule, there seems to be agreement, at least in Serbia. Archaeological finds support this conclusion, they say. The Kale Krševica site is in Serbia also called “the oldest settlement with urban structures in our country”. In addition, in 2010, Serbian authorities declared the archaeological site of Kale in Krševica as a site of exceptional importance.
Strabo is the only one who testifies the existence of Damastion
The ancient geographer Strabo was the only one who mentioned the city of Damastion. However, in his work Geographika he did not give any position information about the city in his seventh book.
Let’s see what Strabo wrote when he mentioned Damastion:
… But the Illyrian tribes which are near the southern part of the mountainous country and those which are above the Ionian Gulf are intermingled with these peoples; for above Epidamnus and Apollonia as far as the Ceraunian Mountains dwell the Bylliones, the Taulantii, the Parthini, and the Brygi. Somewhere near by are also the silver mines of Damastium, around which the Dyestae and the Enchelii (also called Sesarethii) together established their dominion; and near these people are also the Lyncestae, the territory Deuriopus, Pelagonian Tripolitis, the Eoerdi, Elimeia, and Eratyra. In earlier times these peoples were ruled separately, each by its own dynasty.
Quote from The Geography of Strabo published in Vol. III of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1924. It is also called Strabo 7.7.8 for short.
From these lines (and another mention by the same author) historians have attempted to locate the city. So far, without success.
Hardly anything is actually known about Damastion. Two scant mentions of the city by an ancient geographer. But a lot of own coins they minted. These coins have been found in many places in the Balkans, mainly in southern Serbia, northeastern Kosovo, eastern Macedonia, western Bulgaria, the Shkodër region of Albania and even Romania, Trieste and Corfu.
If you consult the free encyclopedia Wikipedia, you will read the following about the “lost” city:
Damastion (Ancient Greek: Δαμάστιον) was an ancient city in the area of central Balkans, known for its silver coins dating back to the 4th century BC. It is attested only in Strabo who says that the city had silver-mines and locates it in Illyria. The ancient author reports that the city was under the authority of the Illyrian tribes of Dyestes and Enchelei, and that Aegina colonized it. At 356–358 B.C. the mines came under the control of Macedon.
The exact site of Damastion is not yet identified with certainty. Various sites in Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania have been considered as the location of this ancient town.
It is not known where this city is located, but historians and archaeologists have named Kopaonik (Kosovo-Serbian border), Artana or Novo Brdo (Kosovo) or Tepeleni (southern Albania) as locations. Even the Macedonian capital Skopje is being considered as a location. The latter in particular is being strongly contested by the Greek side. According to Greek doctrine, the Ancient Macedonian Kingdom “never got as far as Skopje”. Or as they arrogantly say, Alexander the Great would never have set foot in that territory.
However, this theory is now being shaken, especially when you consider the location, which we mainly mentioned at the beginning. Near Bujanovac, in southern Serbia.
Krševica Fortress (Kale Krševica) is an ancient archaeological site near Bujanovac in southern Serbia. The history goes back to the 13th century BC. It is an acropolis (settlement built on a plateau or hill) combined with elements of a 5th or 4th century BC Hellenistic-Mediterranean urban settlement. (Bronze Age) with its stone walls and necropolis. The settlement had in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC at least 3,000 inhabitants.
Among the finds are coins of Alexander III. of Macedon, Philip II, Cassander and other kings of Macedonia, indicating that it should be considered the northernmost ancient Macedonian city. The Paeonian tribe of Agrianes lived in this region, the Skordisci are said to have destroyed the city in 279 BC. Dr Petar Popovic from the Institute of Archeology in Belgrade thinks it could be the ancient city of Damastion.
First finds as early as 1966
The settlement had an extremely strategic position on a plateau overlooking the South Morava River and the Vranje Valley. On the slopes of the plateau there is a village, in the houses of which there are often stone blocks from the old settlement. Its acropolis extends into the valley of the Krševička River.
Archaeologists recorded the first finds as early as 1966. 25 finds are very rare gold coins from the times of Philip II and Alexander the Great, each worth around €50,000. The pottery of the early Iron Age (1200 BC) is also worth noting. Identical pieces of pottery have been found in Cernica (Romania), Gadimlje, Oraovica (near Radoviš/Macedonia) and in the Skopje Basin.
The remains of public buildings protected by a rampart have been discovered on the Acropolis. A tower, a large building that probably housed a warehouse, as well as other objects whose purpose today we can only guess. Floors with house altars were found, which were probably intended for rituals of a public or private nature. Residential buildings were located on the other part of the plateau, as evidenced by the discovered mills and bread ovens. Several building levels, which were obviously demolished and rebuilt after leveling, testify to the intensive construction activity during the existence of this settlement. As expected, the youngest layer with a building complex from the end of the 4th or beginning of the 3rd century BC is the best preserved and marks the end of life in this settlement.
From numerous data it can be concluded that the largest part of the settlement was located on the terraces sloping down to the valley of the Krševička River. Only minor sounding and geophysical surveys were conducted on the slopes under dense vegetation. The scientists spent most of their time researching the foothills of the site (also called substructure).
In 2003, a small sounding at great depth revealed a monumental wall of large boulders. It took several years of work to unveil a large building complex that occupies more than a thousand square meters. In the central part of the complex there is a stone platform with walls that fork along the slope. To the north of this, several building horizons have been found, beginning with numerous holes for the pillars of wooden structures. In the upper layers there are remains of buildings and stoves with a dome. A large number of broken vessels were also discovered in this northern part, where, in addition to ceramics of local origin, parts of amphorae and luxury ceramics from Attic workshops were also found.
Large hydrotechnical complex discovered
In the southern part there is a complex that had a very specific purpose – it was a system of regulation and water supply. Today, this part of the locality is rightly called the hydrotechnical complex. It consists of a fenced area framed on three sides by a platform and walls of carefully worked blocks of stone, while on the fourth side the cliff is cut into the slope. In the central part there is a large building with a vault and two openings. A stone fence has been preserved on one of them. This imposing building was built of massive blocks of stone, about ten meters long, six meters wide and apparently at least six meters deep. Thanks to the fact that for centuries it was covered with thick sand deposits from the Krševička River, it was completely preserved.
At first glance at the hydrotechnical complex, even a layman can see how precisely this undoubtedly expensive project was carried out. That could only be done by top craftsmen from Greece or Macedonia. The whole complex was of inestimable importance for the entire settlement. This is shown by the fact that the reservoir could hold an average of 200,000 to 250,000 liters of water, which could cover the needs of two to three thousand inhabitants.
As for the archaeological work on the substructure, it should be noted that the objects are located at a depth of more than four meters and, under normal conditions, the area is constantly under water due to strong underground springs. For years, excavations here have meant the continuous operation of pumps in 24-hour operation, which certainly makes research more difficult and expensive.
“Therefore, it remains open whether we can complete the research and then protect the hydrotechnical complex and present it to the public, or whether we have to leave this to fate due to lack of financial means,” is the tenor of Serbian historians and archaeologists.