Roman Lapidarium of the National Museum of SloveniaThe displayed collection presents over 200 stone monuments with Roman Latin inscriptions
15. 6. 2006

Roman Lapidarium of the National Museum of Slovenia

The displayed collection presents over 200 stone monuments with Roman Latin inscriptions, full of information on the monuments and the Roman period on Slovenian territory.

The National Museum of Slovenia also has a beautiful lapidarium amongst its holdings. The stone monuments are mostly from Emona and Ižanski kot, but also fromTrojane, Zasavje and Dolenjska, given that the museum was the only scientific and cultural institution of the Carniolan region for several decades. The Latin word lapis means stone, the lapidarium is therefore a place where stone monuments are stored.

The formation of the Lapidarium

The formation of the lapidarium is closely tied to the history of the museum, which was established in 1821. Count Franz Hohenwart arranged the first epigraphic collection in the Lyceum building, where the museum was first arranged, and it is legitimate to regard it as the founder of the museum lapidarium. When an annexe was added to the museum building during the time of director Karel Dežman, the Roman stone monuments also found their place in the ground floor and basement corridors, which were embedded into the walls of the ground floor corridor in a disorderly manner due to a lack of space.

Roman stone monument with inscription – a first-rate historical document

In the absence of other written sources from the same period, every Roman stone inscription is a first-rate historical document of its time. Ancient inscriptions are therefore the most important source for studying the political, military, social and economic history of the present-day territory of Slovenia and exploring the ways in which the Roman Empire was organised. By studying the inscriptions, it is possible, for example, to identify migrations within the Roman Empire, reconstruct the administrative hierarchy, family relations, and in such a way build up an image of Roman society. Numerous inscriptions illuminate the career of individual military personnel, senators, state and city officials, and often mention or even describe in detail the events of Roman history, about which other sources remain silent. On some inscriptions, the exact dates of the construction of certain public buildings are mentioned directly or indirectly. Ancient inscriptions enable personal names to be studied, as well as people who hide behind these names (this is investigated by a study called prosopography). The inscriptions also provide an insight into the Roman rulers and gods. They also inform us about the police, education, health care, about the life span of the people and the causes of death. Milestones inform us about the structure of the public road network, and the sarcophagi and urns about the way burials were conducted in various periods. And we could continue counting.

As these are often physically very heavy monuments, it is difficult to move and dismantle them. The stone monuments had to be removed from the walls. This revealed some unknown ornamental motifs and depictions. The monuments had to be cleaned, conserved, sometimes also consolidated and assembled. Analyses of the stones were made to find out more about the material used in the production of the monuments. All the monuments were then evaluated by an epigraphy expert, who transcribed, dated and commented on the Roman lapidarium inscriptions. The first corpus of all Roman stone monuments of the National Museum of Slovenia was published in the Situla monograph series, thus setting the standard for the further publication of Roman monuments in Slovenia, as an important segment of the movable heritage of the Roman period. A guide to the Roman lapidarium was also published, elucidating the narratives of the inscriptions to the non-expert public in simple terms. We also issued a guidebook or workbook for young people. Since the texts on the monuments speak about all the layers of Roman society, electronic information on almost all segments of the Roman period on Slovenian territory is available to visitors.

Preservation, storage and presentation of movable cultural heritage to the public

The demanding project reflects our attitude towards cultural heritage. This is the most important mission of the national museum – to preserve, store and present the movable cultural heritage to the public, through which it also educates the public. It must be admitted that the project, with interruptions, has lasted for a decade, nevertheless it still reflects the motto of Emperor Augustus from the beginning of the 1st century AD, this being Festina lente – a goal can be achieved only through slow, deliberate action, with knowledge and dedication.

More than 200 Roman stone monuments tell visitors about the Slovenian territory in the Roman period from the 1st to the 4th century on the ground floor of the building and in the glass pavilion in the garden of the National Museum of Slovenia.

A guide to the lapidarium by Marjeta Šašel Kos, PhD was also published to accompany the exhibition.