An overview on ecclesiastical organisation in Dardania


  • Luan Përzhita


Recent years' investigations in Kosova have attested that the late antique centers are often presenting unique values for the urbanization of this territory, primarily during Justinian's rule and later during the Middle Ages. Several paleobyzantine monuments, small towns or fortified settlements make up the basic structural remains of this period. Their study has just begun to draw up a new picture on our archeological knowledge as well as on early Christian architecture in Kosova. It is of a great importance to refer to previous discoveries and researches of paleochristian architecture remains as well as to the many new results achieved recently at Kosova. Recent archaeological excavation at Korishtë (Prizren), Harillaq (Fushë-Kosovë) and Kasterc (Suharekë) have not only ascertained the respective fortified systems but also produced a paleochristian church, ranking it within the 6th century sites in Dardania. The construction of several religious buildings in the previously explored territory such as those of Vërmicë, Banja near Pejë, or traces of an apse discovered while constructing the modern road Pejë-Banjë, date back to the 4th – 5th centuries.
The churches of Bela Cerkve and that of Studenica, constructed over preexisting structures, date back in the 6th century. Within this group can be further included the church of St. Angelus in Prizren, which however dated to the 10th century, the decorative and architectural elements suggests an early Christian original setting. The first written document that attests on the ecclesiastical organization in the province of Dardania is the first council, organized by Emperor Constantine in AD 325, mentioning the bishop’s name of Dardania’s metropolis. Nevertheless, a number of other sources indicate that dardanian territory had embraced much earlier the ideas of Christianity. One significant indication is the mention of dardanian martyrs, Flori and Lauri, in Dardania in the middle of the 2nd century AD, in Acta Sanctorum and Ulpiana as martyrdom place. It also turns out that in the Council of Nicaea was participating the dardanian bishop "Dacus Dardaniae". Another important center for the evolution of the Christian religion in Dardania, except Skopje, is Ulpiana, which is ranked as a bishopric center in the 4th century. The ecclesiastical organization of Dardania during the 4th and 5th centuries was based on dioceses such as Skopje, Ulpiana, Neutina, Diokletiana, Mariana, Justiniana Prima, Stobi etc. According the historical sources of the 6th century (552-559), major religious reaction fulminated in Ulpiana, due to the decree of "Tria Capitula". Such a 6th century phenomenon is related to the disagreement of the dardanian religious leaders to the decision of Pope Virgilius. This apparently expresses principally the establishment of religious stable structures in Dardanian and its important policy in the existing hierarchy, since as it is already known, they did not signed in the council of Pope Virgilius for
the punishment of " Tria Capitula ". But this document is of great importance since here are mentioned Dardania’s Bishopric as well as Dardania's representatives as it is the case for the archbishop of Justiniana Prima, Benenat; Sabin from Zepara, the prophet of Naissus and the bishop of Justiniana Secunda, Paul and so on. At the same time, all the communications kept for the Dardanian Church such as those of Pope Celestine I, Innocent I (c.441), Gelasius I (c. 493), Simak (c. 513), Gregory the Great ( c.592) as well as those of the emperors. In the second novel CXXXI (c. 545) the dardanian emperor of Byzantine empire, emperor Justinian, fixed up the status of the archbishop and of the vicariate of Justiniana Prima. At the same time here is also recorded the correspondence of
the dardanian bishops, particularly Emperor Leo I August, signed by Bishop Ursil, Dalmat and Maksim, as well as another correspondence addressed to Pope Gelasius, etc. The conversion of population into Christian coincided with two great waves
of barbarian invasions in the Western Balkan territory. The period between c.700- 850 marks the beginning of the transformative processes in the East and West parts of the Empire. The first two centuries after the arrival of Slavs in the territory of Dardania are dark and full of uncertainty, not only for history but specifically for ecclesiastical circumstances. During the 9th to 12th centuries the Slavs were settled in the Balkan and carried out the long process of their Christianization. The lack of historical sources produced difficulties in ascertaining the situation for this period as it is accompanied by the lack of ecclesiastical data of the 9th century Bulgarian Empire. The inflow of the Slavs, undoubtedly destroyed the ecclesiastical life that had flourished until that time. For a certain period of time, all the connections to Rome as well as other coastal cities were braked of. Alternative evidence testify that Skopje mentained such connections as long as the end of the 7th century due to participation of a dardanian bishop in the 7th Ecumenical Council of c.787. During the reign of Leo III, (717-741), the bishopric of Justiniana Prima depended on Constantinople. In 787, the bishops of Dardania participated in the Nicaea Council, while the Byzantine emperor Leo III (717-741) placed the bishopric
of Justiniana Prima under the patriarch of Constantinople. The Archbishopric of Skopje appears once more in the documents of c.864, where the Bulgarian leader, Boris, was baptized as a Christian in Ballshi church together with his followers. This
proves that the inhabitants of Southern Dardania were not Slavic.Furthermore, the bishopric of Skopje emerges in the documents of 864 as an important ecclesiastical center. At the time of Emperor Boris (852-889), hasitating between Rome and Constantinople, the emperor addressed the general 8th Council of Constantinople (869-870), where was agreed for Bulgaria to be included in the Patriarchate of Constantinople where Dardania will also be included. Only in the 10th century the diocese of Skopje is mentioned among other dioceses of the great empire of Samuel. Since AD 602 this is the first time that the former Eccelesia Scupina is mentioned. During the 9th to 11th centuries the Byzantine authority extended not only in the coastal cities but also within the hinterland. The keeping under control of the old Roman roads across the river valleys more than an attempt to create a terrestrial connection to the metropolis was linked to the interest of metals, especially those of the northeastern part of Dardania. It is certainly known that in the beginning of the 11th century the Serbs assaulted the fortified sites of Zveçan and Lipjan quite often. On the other hand, the frequent presence of the local population along these roads is proved by the important arbërorian settlements established in Dollc Zym, Ponorc, Kosharë, Kusarë, Zitza, Gjonaj, Vermicë, Zatriq and others. This fact should be related to the Byzantine administration's cautiousness to ensure the transport of metals from Dardania along Drin valley. Terrestrial communications facilities as well as favorable living conditions in Kosova region have determined this area as very attractive for settlements. Referring to the previously published material produced by survey investigations and archaeological excavations, we assume that early medieval centers include several settlements originating from late antiquity within which churches of the 9th – 11th centuries are constructed, as it is the case for Prizren, Ujmirë, Dollc, Harillaq, Vlashnje, Pejë, Pecë, etc., The transition from the
ecclesiastical administrative structures of the first phase (to the end of the 6th – 7th centuries AD) to that of the second phase, documented in the 9th to 10th centuries, certainly achieved gradually. Early Middle Ages is characterized by the construction of several small churches. Most important is the ecclesiastical continuity, which is due to the survival of the early Christian communities. The Slavs did accept Christianity only after the middle of the 9th century, when Bulgarians converted to Christian after the decision of their leader Boris, while the Albanian population of Kosova appears to have been fully adapted during the last
Bulgarian occupation of the second half of the 9th century. As it is argumented in this discussion, the research of the dark age period needs further detailed and contextual investigations in order to ascertain a number of questions concerning this important field of the Balkan history.


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How to Cite

Përzhita , L. (2023). An overview on ecclesiastical organisation in Dardania. Iliria, 40(40), 225–234. Retrieved from