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Burnum (Croatia)

Roman Camp and City in Croatia


Stone Arches at Burnum

Stone Arches at Burnum


Burnum is the Roman name of a settlement and fortified camp on the Krka River in the Sibenik-Knin district of central Croatia, in the hinterland across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Burnum is called locally "Hollow Church", Šuplja Crkva), but its location on the ancient border between Liburnia and Dalmatia made it a significant military outpost between the pre-Roman and Late Roman periods.

The area was first conquered by the Roman legions during the Illyrian campaigns of the emperor Octavian, sometime between 72-32 BC. Burnum was one of five legionary fortresses established in Illyricum; the others are Tilurium, Siscia, Poetovio and Carnuntum.

A military camp was built first at Burnum during the first century, and, under Hadrian's rule, Burnum attained the status of a city. Burnum was on the Roman Road through Dalmatia. According to Tacitus, garrisons established at Burnum included XX under Augustus, quartered there briefly between battles in AD 9 and XI (AD 33-34), "not too distant to be summoned, should Italy require them"; and, under Claudius, XI Claudia pia Fidelis (AD 42-67) and IV Flavia Felix (AD 56-57).

The municipality of Burnum held a forum, town gates and an amphitheatre. Burnum remained an important center in Roman Dalmatia until it was burned and abandoned at the beginning of the Gothic-Byzantine War of AD 535-554.

Roman Buildings at Burnum

The site of Burnum (sometimes Ivoševci) has not been reoccupied since the sixth century and it is currently an agricultural field. Still extant at the site are elements of the Roman city, including evidence that the site had a square plan, a fortification ditch and a plaza/forum. Two stone arches from the basilica are still present (shown in the photo) out of the original five and a large amphitheater has been recently excavated and restored by the University of Zadar and the Museum of Drniš. An aqueduct flows underground throughout the city, some 30 kilometers in length.

Geophysical investigations, including satellite and aerial imagery, magnetometer survey, electrical resistivity and ground penetrating radar supporting topographic mapping of the Roman features. The investigations led to the discovery that there are significant remaining elements of Burnum buried beneath the surface of the site, including significant portions of the second century AD municipality. These elements include internal roads, public areas and structural complexes, perhaps military barracks and residences.

Archaeology at Burnum

Burnum was first described during the mid-1770s by the Venetian abbot Alberto Fortis. Fortis reported that the standing stone arches were what the locals referred to as the Hollow Church or Trajan's castle. Arthur Evans included a report of Burnum in his 1885 book Ancient Illyria, but did not apparently visit the site. The Austrian Archaeological Institute of Vienna excavated at the site in the early 20th century and again in the 1970s.

Since 2005, Burnum has been under investigation by the Burnum Project, an international project between at the University of Zadar, the Civic Archaeological Museum of Drniš and the Department of Archaeology of Bologna University, under the direction of the Centro Studi per l’Archeologia dell’Adriatico in Ravenna, Italy.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Ruins of the Roman Empire, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Boschi F. 2011. Geophysical Survey of the Burnum Archaeological Site, Croatia. Archaeological Prospection 18(2):117-126.

Campell DB. 2006. Roman Legionary Fortresses 27 BC-AD 378. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Evans A, and Destani BD. 1885 [2006]. Ancient Illyria: An archaeological exploration. London: I.B. Tauris and Co.

Popovic I. 2010. Silver jewelry of autochthonous style from south and south-east parts of roman province Dalmatia. Starinar 60:95-110.

Zunino A, Benvenuto F, Armadillo E, Bertero M, and Bozzo E. 2009. Iterative deconvolution and semiblind deconvolution methods in magnetic archaeological prospecting. Geophysics 74(4):L43-L51.

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