ENCOUNTER WITH THE
SOUTHERN ISTRIA (CROATIA)
After 3-day stay on Brijuni Island we
toured around Istria South visiting Medulin first before turning
our next 3-day stop at Rovinj. En route we passed through the village
where we noticed an archaeological signboard of a place named VISAČE or
NESACTIUM. We followed that sign and soon we came upon a narrow farm
looking conspicuous so we were looking for somebody to ask about the
Soon we met two ladies who told us that we are on good track and to
for some 500m until we would come to a gate where the road ends. We
right place with a locked gate but our informants arrived soon after
us how to bypath the blocked entrance. We have arrived at a rather old
site of that one could see some foundations of a Roman Temple at the
Nesactium Municipium and of two early Christian Basilicae from the
of the 6th century.
The access road from Valtura
village to the site of
Nesactium or Visače
at bottom left in this aerial
picture viewing south.
I never heard anything about
NESACTIUM or VISAČE
before and I could not get any prospect or information locally from a
site office that was locked. Back home I went through various Lexica
with GOOGLE in Internet where I have found enough data to compose the
(South of Istria)
ISTRIA IN PRE-ROMAN TIMES
The pre-Roman and Roman
is on a hill rising above the valley of small Budava River
the village of VALTURA. This now-a-days village is not far away of a bay on the
south-eastern coast of Istria and some 11km far from City of Pula.
idyllic environment of low groves is a birds sanctuary in the spring
burned by summer heat for people from a nearby smaller village named
that name could be a corrupted version of Nesactium.
Titus Livius (Livy), Roman
mentioned in his work “Urbe Condita” three cities Nesactium (the
and Faveria in connection with the wars between the HISTRI and Romans
beginning of 2nd century B.C. One had assumed that Nesactium should be
of Vizace even before the excavation started. When a votive altar
the Emperor Gordian from 3rd century A.D. was discovered one could
the engraved names there could be in some way related as mentioned in
Publica Nesactiensium”. This place of Nesactium has had a glorious past
many stories and legends told regarding this lonely place that
many traces of antiquity too. The subsequent archaeological diggings
the veil from the secrets of Nesactium that was the famous capital of
HISTRI that was an autochthonous Illyrian tribe.
The map at left map shows South Istra today and in the enlarged
NESACTIUM at right.
The archaeological excavations
in the 20th century and helped to uncover the historical reality about
glorious past of this Histrian town. These excavations have produced
a prehistoric necropolis, as well as from Roman and early Christian
Nesactium was a Histrian hill-fort or fortified settlement of Istrian
inhabitants. The final and decisive battle took place between the
the Romans in 177 B.C. and the Histri subsequently came under Roman
The HISTRIS as inhabitants of a
isolated Peninsula of Istria couldn't expect any particular danger from the Celtic
coming from the North or from the creation Greek colonies on the
western coast. At those times began the transformation of Histrian
the pre-history into the history. The Histri as a tribe were mentioned
and Roman written historical sources but there no record of the town of
Pula as such. The centre
of Histris of Nesactium was located at the southern Istria where a
existed and that is the most important archaeological site now.
uncovered here remains of a prehistoric cemetery, a Roman Municipium
(Municipality) and two early Christian basilicas that date before the
Sculpture of the two-headed-god
Ancient writers described the
Histri) to be known as buccaneers and by their piratical activities.
Romans conquered the North of Italy and the Territory of Veneti they
had a good excuse to check upon the Histrians activities by 221 B.C.
The Roman first expedition probably ended with the surrender of some
who might have promised that they would not attack Roman galleons
is most probable that Romans have destroyed a hill-fort of Histri sited
to present-day Pula is it was not mentioned ever after. Such a strong and
hill-fort placed at a favourable place certainly would have been a
important to the Histris. This former Pula
most likely located near a coastal spring in a deep and well protected
where ships could be well anchored. There are no written historical
that would confirm that the piracy was almost endemic along certain
stretches of the Mediterranean throughout the times of Classical Antiquity though. The
an ordinary occupation that could have been considered as a kind of
line to general works too. Only established antique states with
political and military power could confront pirates and guarantee safe
travel and transport of goods that was so essential for their economic
ISTRIA DURING EARLY ROMAN TIMES
Romans created the military
settlement of Aquileia (Oglej) to
strengthen their positions in Istria. Histrians regarded this as a threat to their
independence, and in
181 B.C. attempted to prevent building of this settlement but were
Then King Epulo (aka Epulone or Aepulo) took over the leadership of
He was an uncompromising ruler, eager to fight, and started
resist Romans straight away. Romans sent
an army against him in 178 B.C. but Histrians shrewdly surprised them
foggy morning so that Romans had to abandon the battle field and all
supplies of food and wine. This was too fatal for Histris who, despite
physical superiority and warlike fervour, had succumbed to their
By late afternoon of the same day they were in an utter drunken stupor
the returning Romans defeated them easily by killing many and taking
Histrians to the captivity.
The park site of excavated
Nesactium or Visače with the part of churchyard at
The Histri were famous for
resistance but subsequently Romans succeeded smashing it after
substantial reinforcements from Rome.
The decisive battle started when Consul Manlio Vulsone marched with
many legions against the Histris later in 178 B.C. The Histri resisted
years at the hill-fort of Nesactium that was their tribal, political
religious centre. After some time passed the Romans diverted the Budava River
circled the fortifications. The Histris thought it was a miracle and
panic and not to be taken alive, started killing their women and
threw them over the walls in front of their horrified enemy. King Epulo
many of his fearless warriors killed himself by his own sword. The
historian Livy described it as the “miraculo terruit abscissae aquae”.
The survivors were turned into
some Histris continued to resist at in their remaining fortresses of
Faveria. The Romans destroyed them soon
after the battle of Nesactium thus ending the Histrian independence
total certainty. After this second Histrian war the Romans possessed
strategic points in Istria and secured the navigation along the peninsulas coastal
After the fall of Nesactium Histris lost their political independence
tribe or as a confederation of tribes and their culture ceased to exist
it had been present on the peninsula for almost a millennium.
GOVERN THE ISTRIA PENINSULA
The Romans erected a chain of
stations along the coast after 177 B.C. to control the coastal sea
ending Histris piratical incentives. Still Histri were not subdued yet
Romans had occupied the towns and the coastal strip at first only. No
have been found of Romanization in cities or settlements of colonists
first phase of contacts between the autochthonous Histri and the
sporadic contacts and influences of the Roman culture toward the
took some time before the cultural amalgamation could get underway.
progress started when the Romans had established their own settlements
built own cities aka coloniae and munciepiae.
Probably a small Roman military
had been set up at the Kaštel (castelliere, castle) nearby of present Pula and
in the bay
that had one of the best and largest anchorages in the northern Adriatic. The
commercial life had developed around such a military station or a small
fortress and it played an important role in Roman conquests as the
into new areas even before Roman armies did it. The trade itself often
subsequent conquests particularly when Rome was
in some affairs with certain tribes and in order to protect the
its merchants. This happened so in Istria between 177 and 54 B.C. as Rome had
with other tribes and peoples along the Adriatic coast in the move
eastwards. Thus inner parts of Istria were not ready for more intensive Romanization yet. The
authority was entrusted to the governor of Galia and a third of the
become State property (ager publicus). The Romans carried out the first
agrarian reform in Istria and prohibited Histrians to trade that provoked them to
against the authorities.
Partly reconstructed Roman
Nesactium showing the
basilica built-up walls as today.
When the Romans conquered and
whole of Istria several changes took place in administration, economy,
architecture at the previous Nesactium. Then the city became an
municipality by mid of 1st century A.D. The Romans built there an urban
with temples, bathhouses and taverns on the highest plateau of the
settlement. Private comfortable houses with porticos and cisterns were
constructed on gentle slopes and the urbanization extended into the
valley below. The indigenous Histrian goddesses were not erased from
were worshipped besides the official Italic deities too. Some oriental
Egyptian cults existed that was proven by a large amount of found
utensils there too. The later were brought in by ships from various
the classical world that came to anchor in the Budava Bay.
Many names of present places in
preserve the Histri source like Trst or Trieste (in Italian) from
Pula or Pola from Pietas Pulia, Poreč or Parenzo from Parentium, Buzet or
Pinguente from Piquentum, Piran or Pirano from Pyrrhanum, Umag or Umago
Sepomagum, Visače or Monticchio from Nesactium etc.
ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE AT VISAČE (NESACTIUM)
The archaeological site of
contains remains of a necropolis (a prehistoric cemetery) dating back
first half of the first millennium B.C. Also there is the Roman
thermae and early Christian basilicae dating to a period prior to the
century. A visitor could view the progress of excavations at that site
a few discovered fragments of relics and artefacts in a small guard
provided it is open and that contains some photographs and ground-floor
of former structures. The approach pathway leads to the Porta Polensis
Nesactium that also is the present entrance to the archaeological site.
The excavation of Nesactium
(Scavi de Nesazio) started
by the Italian Government in 1902.
The first systematic
excavations started in
1902 uncovering a rich prehistoric Histrian cemetery dating back to the
century B.C. continuing up to the Roman conquest in 2nd century B.C.
One had found
in these tombs home-made objects and rich imported goods that relate
culture and the place Nesactium to almost every Mediterranean and
European culture. Pottery from Nesactium is rich both in form and
showing circles, spirals, semi-circles, and horizontal ribs in relief.
types of pottery are black polished vases with an engraved pattern
a white paste and in a form of meanders or other geometric ornaments.
Excavated objects at Visače are two situlae and a Roman
Some black polished jugs having
handle are decorated with oblique ribs or a linear and pointed zigzag
A grave discovered in 1981 contained vessels that were not produced in Istria and probably
from piratical activities of the Histris. The recovered bronze objects,
particularly the situlae, are water pails made of bronze sheets were
with naval battle scenes normally not found on similar ones originating
eastern Alpine and Cisalpine regions.
Objects from some 250 tombs of
Romans were found mostly along the access route and are kept the
Museum of Istria (AMI) in Pula
including other discovered ceramic and metal artefacts. One had
located two Roman residences outside of the city walls at a lower level
those are not discernible anymore. Some 800 meters of Nesactium city
been uncovered between 1932 and 1934 as built by Romans during the 5th
A.D. These walls follow the terrain contours and were erected upon
Roman ramparts and over first prehistoric stockades too. They are 1.60
wide, and up to two meters high with several interruptions of defensive
castellierae as confirmed by the square tower foundations there.
* * *
For this compilation I have
general Lexica and the web-page created by Marisa Ciceran in March 01, 2002 and updated by November 20, 2002. Copyright
1998-2002 IstriaNet.org, USA.
See also at URLs:
historical outline of Istria” and
* * *
When writing about the Roman
NESACTIUM I remembered a large wall depiction that hung in the corridor
Primary School (1931-36) in Osijek (Croatia). The scene represented the Romans attaching a hill-fort
their military paraphernalia in the surrounding
similar to the one of now-a-days Visače. The
defenders fought fiercely against the intruding Romans and in
desperation were throwing women and children on the attacking soldiers.
this picture showing the battle for Nesactium?