Monday, 7 July 2008

Roman ruins in Thessaloniki

I've just returned from Thessaloniki where there are a number of excellent Roman ruins associated with the Emperor Galerius. All are within a few minutes walk of one another in the city centre. Moving from North to South, the first building is Galerius tomb. It was never used for this purpose and has been variously a Pagan temple, a Mosque and a Church. Its now commonly known as the Rotunda of St. George and is the best preserved of the three monuments.

Next is Galerius Gate, a triumphal victory arch built by the Emperor in 298 AD to commemorate his defeat of the Persians and the capture of Ctesiphon. Although much of the arch has been destroyed, as you can see, some of the marble detail still remains and the images depicted are fascinating. It tells the story of Galerius great victory over Narses, the Persian King of Kings. It is not a literal interpretation, however, and includes such fictions as Galerius engaging Narses in single combat. In all its a stunning bit of work.

Finally, further South, are the ruins of Galerius' palace. Little more than the foundations remain and these are now the home to dozens of stray cats.

Because of his role in the persecution of christians at the end of the third century Galerius has often recieved something of a bad reputation (when mentioned at all, he has the misfortune of falling between Diocletian and Constantine who both tend to command more attention from Historians). Seeing these ruins, however, one can not help but imagine how they must have looked when they were built. And it helps us understand that Galerius was a significant figure in his time. He was an important military leader and the last Roman to meet with any signifcant success against the Sassanid Empire.