In the north part of the Republic of Serbia, close to Croatia, there is a town called Sremska Mitrovica. Beneath the streets of this town, there was a Roman city called Sirmium, which was the capital of the Roman province of Pannonia. The archaeological site of the ruins is open for visits by those who are curious about the past.
This was an important territory for the Romans, and many military families either lived there or spent some time in this region. Hence, it is not surprising that up to 17 Roman Emperors were born in modern-day Serbia.
Roman Emperors Born on the Territory of Modern Day Serbia
Historically Significant Roman Emperors Born Near Sirmium
- Marcus Aurelius Claudius ‘Gothicus’, or better known as Claudius II was born in Sirmium in May 214. He was a Roman emperor between 268 to 270 and is important for defeating the massive Gothic invasion at Naissus (modern Niš, Serbia) .
- Aurelian was also born in Sirmium in September 214 and ruled the Empire between 270 and 275. He opposed Quintillus and re-united the empire in 273 when it had split into 3 warring parts. Aurelian was murdered in 275 in modern Çorlu, Turkey.
- Constantine the Great, known also as Constantine I was born in February 272, in the Roman town of Naissus (modern Niš). He was an emperor for 31 years – He became the Western emperor in 306, and the sole Roman emperor in 324, and ruled until his death in 337. Constantine, I was a visionary and to this day is one of the most famous emperors. He was the founder of the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and also the first Roman emperor who legalized Christianity.
Emperors During the Crisis of the Third Century
- Trajan Decius was the first Roman emperor born on the territory of the Balkan Peninsula. More specifically, he was born in 201, in Budalia (modern Martinci, a village in Serbia). He ruled from 249, when he defeated and killed Philip the Arab, until 251, when he was killed by the Goths. In 250, he ordered the Decian persecution of Christians.
- Herennius Etruscus was the first-born son of Decius. He was born in 227, near Sirmium. He was co-emperor with his father from early 251 to June 251 when he was killed along with Decius in the battle of Abritta against the Goths.
- Hostilian was the younger son of Trajan Decius, also born in Sirmium in 230. Hostilian was elevated to a Caesar by his father, in May 251, and upon Decius’ death, he allegedly ruled along with the new emperor, Trebonianus Gallus. Hostilian died in 251, most likely from a plague.
- Quintillus was also a native of Sirmium, and was the brother of Claudius Gothicus. He was an emperor only for a few months in 270. He was either killed by his own soldiers or committed suicide.
- Maximian also is known as Maximian Herculius was born in Sirmium, in 250. He was a Caesar from 285 to 286, elevated by Diocletian, and an emperor from 286 to 305. He governed the territories of Spain, Italy, and Africa and was known as a persecutor of the Christian religion. Maximian killed himself in 310 on Constantine’s orders.
- Constantius Chlorus was born in the Roman province of Dardania which used to be a territory of Moesia Superior (modern Serbia). He was born in 250, and ruled as an emperor for one year, between 305 and 306. He was the father of Constantine the Great. Before becoming an emperor, he had a distinguished military career and was elevated to a Caesar in 293.
- Marcus Aurelius Probus was one more emperor born in Sirmium, in August 232, and ruled the Roman Empire from 276 to 282. He might have been an ethnic Dalmatian since his father’s name was ‘Dalmatius’ – most likely a ‘Dalmatian’ (ethnonym in the Croatian region of Dalmatia) and not a personal name. Although a popular and successful general, Probus was killed in a mutiny by his own soldiers.
Late Empire (Post-Constantine)
- Jovian was born in 331, in Singidunum, a city that later evolved into modern-day Belgrade. He was a ruler of the Roman Empire between 363 and 364. He had a career in the imperial guard, being a protector-domestic under Constantius II and Julian, and later a chief of the guard. Jovian was a Christian, and as soon as he came to power, he forbid pagan practices. In his seven months of ruling, he concluded peace with the Persians and gave them all Roman territory east of the Tigris River, which caused a revolt among his soldiers.
- Gratian was born in Sirmium, on April 18, 359. His father, Valentinian I, made Gratian and Augustus in 367 when he was only eight years old. After the death of his father in 375, he became the new emperor. Although popular, in 383, he was deserted by his troops when he went to Gaul to impede Magnus Maximus, who in a meantime was proclaimed emperor in Britain. Gratian attempted to escape but was treacherously murdered.
- Flavius Julius Constantius, or Constantius II, the second son of Constantine the Great, was also born in Sirmium, in 317. He ruled the Roman Empire from 337 to 361. There is a detailed record of the reign of Constantius II by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus. He was in indefinite and bloody warfare with the Persian king Shāpūr II, between 338 and 350. He also promoted Arian Christianity and persecuted pagans.
- Maximinus Daia, born in Felix Romuliana (modern Gamzigrad in Serbia) in 270, was a co-emperor of Constantine I, between 310 and 313. He became involved in the Civil wars of the Tetrarchy which were a series of conflicts between Roman co-emperors. These wars were the end of the Third Century Crisis. Maximinus Daia was defeated by Licinius.
- Licinius was also native of Felix Romuliana, was emperor between 308 and 324, and ruled jointly with Galerius, 308-311, Maximinus, 311-313 and Constantine I, 313-324. Most of the time, he was Constantine’s rival and in 325 was abdicated and murdered by him.
- Vetranio was a co-emperor of Constantius II, for nine months in 350. He was born in Moesia. In 360, he committed suicide.
- Constantius III was born in Naissus. He ruled the Empire from February to September, 421, jointly with Honorius. Died suddenly in September, 421.
Balkans and Roman Emperors
The territory of the modern Republic of Serbia was a developed Roman center. There are numerous archaeological sites across the country where one can see the ruins of the Roman cities. Not only Roman emperors were born in Serbia, but also generals and soldiers who contributed to the greatness of the Empire.
Besides Naissus, Felix Romuliana, and Sirmium, historical figures from the Roman Empire were born all across the territory of the Balkan Peninsula.
Several other emperors were born in the general area, including Diocletian, born in Salona, modern-day Solin, in Croatia; Justinian, born in Tauresium, an archaeological site near Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia; Valentinian and Valens, were both born in Cibalae, Pannonia Secunda – today’s Vincovci, a city in Croatia; and a few others in modern Albania and Bulgaria.