Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Miroslava Mirković, Municipium S( ): A Roman Town in the Central Balkans, Komini near Pljevlja, Montenegro. BAR international series, S2357. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2012. Pp. iv, 86. ISBN 9781407309439. £28.00.

Reviewed by Hrvoje Gračanin, University of Zagreb

Version at BMCR home site

Miroslava Mirković, a former professor of Ancient History at the University of Belgrade, is a well known name to anyone dealing in history of the Balkan region in Roman times. Her most recent study is dedicated to a small Roman town located in what is now the village of Komini near Pljevlja in northern Montenegro, close to the border with Serbia.

The main purpose of the study "was to collect, comment and republish all the inscriptions from this place and to try to reconstruct the life of the city from the 1st to 4th century", based "on the literary, archaeological and epigraphic evidence" (p. iv). The epigraphic material looms large.

The first, introductory chapter (pp. 1-8) contains basic information on the discovery and publication of Roman inscriptions from the area of Pljevlja, by travelers who passed through in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, by officials, the military, and scholars of different fields who visited Pljevlja and its environs in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. A brief survey of the archaeological investigations relies on research in the Komini area performed in the 1960's and 1970's by the late professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Belgrade Aleksandrina Cermanović-Kuzmanović.

The second chapter (pp. 9-24), "Local population: natives and immigrants," starts with the examination of the literary evidence and scholarly opinions on the ethnic groups in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula, and in the Komini area in particular, during the pre-Roman and Roman times. Special attention is paid to the identity of the Pirustae and the extant of their territory, to which she offers no answer of her own.1 Mirković assumes the presence of a "Celtic ethnic component" in the settlement based on the archaeological and onomastic material (pp. 17, 21-22), and even proposes that the Celtic Scordisci, or some Celtic splinter group, may have moved down the Drina and Lim valleys and ended up in the area around Pljevlja at some undefined moment following the Celtic migration in the 4th century BC (p. 21). However, she herself admits that the finds from two necropolises excavated in Komini do not predate the 1st century BC (pp. 15, 17) and that certain names "could be Celtic rather than Illyrian" (p. 21), although she goes on to claim that "some names on the Pljevlja inscriptions are Celtic" (p. 22). She concludes that the population of the Roman town consisted largely of immigrants, whereas the Illyrian inhabitants did not identify themselves as a separate ethnic group (p. 23).

The third chapter "Roman town in the region of Pljevlja: Muncipium S()" (pp. 25-51) is the book's central chapter. First Mirković offers a quick view on the position of the town's remains and the Roman road system in the area, and provides information on the estimated size of the town and the extent of its municipal territory. She suggests Municipium S(plonistarum) as the likely candidate for the town's name. Relying on the epigraphic evidence, she gives a glimpse into the town administration and the presence of soldiers and veterans from the Roman legionary and auxiliary units, and detects native settlements in the town's territory. A special focus is on the town's population, where onomastic evidence is used to determine the native element in the Roman families from the town and its territory. She ends this section with a comment that the Romans and natives were buried side by side in the town's cemetery (Necropolis II).

The fourth chapter "Cemeteries, graves and families in the Roman municipium" (pp. 52-60) lists the variety of Roman family names from the town territory, and notes the most prominent families. The fifth and final chapter "Peculiarities of the nomenclature and kinship system in Municipium" (pp. 61-64) is dedicated to a limited study of names with two cognomina, and the kinship relationship of the persons mentioned in the inscriptions. In the Conclusion (pp. 65-66) the results of Mirković's study are repeated. The book also has an addendum entitled "Native names in the surrounding of Pljevlja and Prijepolje and in the region of Ivangrad" (pp. 71-72), and an appendix with plates showing the selection of monuments with inscriptions (pp. 73-82).

This book offers some useful, primarily descriptive, information on the Roman municipality in the Komini area. Mirković closely follows published scholarship on the onomastic material from the central and western Balkan area, however, with little new analysis or comparative study. The book considers all available evidence directly linked with the Roman town but offers no systematic attempt to situate the town in the context of the Roman urban culture in Illyricum or elsewhere. Furthermore, Mirković's aproach is rather outdated, and the methodology seems untouched by recent developments in the field of archaeology as well as advances in the study of Roman onomastics (the works of Iliro Kajanto, Mika Kajava and Heikki Solin are absent from the Bibliography). Although the prose is somewhat awkward at times, typographical errors are few.2 On the positive side, the book features numerous illustrations, mostly black and white, which enable better visualisation of the contents. To conclude, Mirković has undoubtedly succeeded in the first part of her proposed aim, naimely, "to collect, comment and republish all the inscriptions", and that is the greatest value of the book. As for the second part, "to try to reconstruct the life of the city", the reader will find much scope for future work.


1.   When considering the conflicting statements of the sources, which assign the Pirustae to the Dassareti (Livy) as well as call them a Pannonian tribe (Strabo), Mirković fails to allow for a possibility that the sources describe different situations at different times. She also seems to be oblivious to the ongoing discussion about ethnicity and identity formation in antiquity. For a brief insight into the problems with regard to the ancient Illyrians see D. Dzino, 'Deconstructing 'Illyrians': Zeitgeist, Changing Perceptions and the Identity of peoples from Ancient Illyricum', Croatian Studies Review 5 (2008), pp. 43-55, especially pp. 45-49.
2.   There are some inconsistencies: 'town' and 'city' are both used for the Municipium S(), and the modern municipality is mostly rendered as Pljevlja but sometimes as Pljevlje (p. 25, 61, 65, 66).

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