Caričin Grad-Justiniana Prima: imperial vanity project, northern Illyrian powerhouse and stepping stone to the re-conquest of Western Illyricum
This paper will explore the historical context for the foundation of the city of Justiniana Prima in the 530s. Whereas the majority of historians have cited ecclesiastical/religious factors, this paper will focus instead on three political motives for the establishment of this new ecclesiastical capital in northern Illyricum. First, it will look at the official propaganda surrounding the city’s foundation, as seen in textual sources such as Procopius’ Buildings book 4 and Novella 11. This rhetoric, when considered alongside Justiniana Prima’s numerous lavishly decorated churches and impressive infrastructural elements, would suggest that the city was a crucial ingredient in Justinian’s drive for political legitimacy, power and immortality. Second, references to recent military and political successes along the Danube west of the Iron Gates in Novella 11 along with the obviously Christian and imperial character of the new capital can be explained in the context of Justinian’s aggressive military and political drive to establish closer control over the central and northern provinces of eastern Illyricum. This had already resulted in military campaigns, recruitment drives and missionary expeditions among barbarian groups living in these regions since the emperor’s accession 527. Finally, by highlighting that Sirmium had been the traditional capital of Illyricum prior to the age of Attila, Novella 11 makes clear that at this stage, the imperial authorities viewed the reintegration of the Dacian diocese as a step towards the eventual conquest of Western Illyricum. This responded to rival propaganda emanating from the Gothic kingdom in Italy since the 500s, suggesting that Western Illyricum belonged to and was being made less barbarian by this Gothic, neo-Roman empire.