Ever since the earliest human history, Risan has provided favorable geological and climatic conditions for human survival and settlement, as well as for the navigation shelters and bases. Therefore it should be of no surprise that the Risan Bay and its hinterland provide traces of the ancient, prehistoric human life through archeological findings such as: mounds, caves and settlements, with or without traces of ramparts.
The stone and earth mounds known as tumuli are concentrated on the edge of the karst fields and on the slopes of the surrounding hills. In some of them, tombs made of stone boards have been found with human skeletons in fetus position inside them. Among the discovered items were fragments of ceramic objects, as well as metal decorations and weapons from the Bronze and the Stone Age.
Stone mounds have been found in Grahovo, Trešnjevo, Ržišti, Grab, Ržani Do, Izvori and Bat in Cuce. Earthen mounds have been found in the Tivat field and in Rubež by Niksic.
Two localities in particular point to the life of the prehistoric man who had inhabited the very coast of the Risan Bay. They are the Spila cave and the rock in Lipci.
The first human settlements in this region are linked to the Neolithic epoch or the New Stone Age. That was established by the evidence found in the Spila cave. The cave contains objects from the Old Adriatic Neolith 5500 BC to 4500 BC ,ceramic objects characteristic for the Mediterranean and belonging to the Middle Neolithic period (4500 to 3800 BC), while the ceramic found in the upper layers belongs to the New Adriatic Neolith or the period from 3800 to 3000 BC.
The second Risan Bay archeological locality is the Lipci Rock. Drawings on the rock are located about 7 meters from the foothill and were first mentioned in 1961. These prehistoric drawings show a group of seven deer running in front of two horse-mounted hunters as well as decorative elements of rectangular shape and a boat with two masts, ropes and hoisted sails.
The elements of the drawings show the everyday reality for the contemporary inhabitants of the area. However, they also show a ritual of a culture where the deer was a sacred animal.
Having these drawings in mind, the Lipci Rock findings belong to the period when both hunting and sailing were crucial for survival of the local population. The drawings could not be exactly dated, but some people believe that they date back to the very beginning of the 8th century BC, which would be the Bronze or the Old Iron Age, while others link them to much older periods.
The Roman period
The Roman conquering of the Illyrian state and the area of the Boka Kotorska Bay began in 229 BC with the war against Queen Teuta. The Illyrian state existed until the year 168 BC, when the Romans took on overall control, having defeated the Illyrians. The Romans ruled the Boka Bay for over five centuries, up until the fall of the western Roman empire in 476 AD.
From the very beginning of their rule, the Romans applied the policy of Romanization, which they adjusted to the local circumstances. This strategy was carried out rigorously, especially in the coastal area, which included the Risan Bay. One of the most significant towns of the Roman period, Duklja or Dolcea, was established in the close vicinity of the Boka Bay.
Many inscriptions survived since the Roman period to testify that Risan was a Roman colony and a municipium. For instance, an inscription in Rogatica mentions Risan as a colony, and then emphasizes that the face on which the inscription is placed represents an individual of high standing. This shows that Risan was a very well developed and organized community.
The Greek settlement
The Greek influence in the Adriatic coast region, including the Boka Kotorska Bay and some mainland areas, began in the 6th century BC. Some authors believe that Rhizon was a Greek colony, while others believe that the Greek and the Illyrian settlements coexisted side by side ─ that the Illyrian town was on the slopes of Gradina hill, while the Greek town was at the foot of the hill. In any case, Risan entered the Hellenistic sphere. Risan had some Greek settlers, who lived and traded with the Illyrians.
The Greeks settlers came to trade with the Illyrians and lived side by side with them. Because of the material and the spiritual advantage of the Greeks, they greatly influenced the development in this area. The Illyrians who lived in Risan respected the accomplishments of the Greeks and imitated their way of building fortifications, constructing ships, minting coins, making certain objects, and probably even their way of cultivating grapevine and olives.
Two inscriptions, which have been moved to Perast, show that in Risan there were some Greeks who were full time merchants. The inscription in Prcanj, known as the Dionysus inscription, talks about Risan as a trading, nautical and cultural center of the Boka Bay.
All of the found inscriptions testify of the great influence that the Greek culture had in Risan and in the Boka Bay, especially on the spiritual level.
The Illyrian epoch lasted for several centuries. The historical role of Risan during this time period could be traced by the archeological findings. The remains of the Illyrian culture in Risan include the fortress, the walls or ramparts, pottery objects, jewelry and money. The Illyrians followed the Greek model in building strong fortifications. Today, the Cyclops walls on the right bank of the river Spila and the traces of acropolis on the Gradina hill serve as witness to this.
The rampart remains are nowadays visible on the right bank of the river Spila. In literature they are sometimes called “Cyclops walls” because of the large size of its stone blocks and because they are somewhat similar to the walls built in Greek towns. The walls are 3.5 m thick, they have both the outer and the inner side made out of large blocks, while the core of the wall is made of big rocks and small stones. The outer and inner sides are connected with the so-called “counter walls” which pass through the core every few meters. Over time, the ramparts experienced many changes and only a small fraction of them was preserved in their original form.
The ramparts on the Gradina hill also hold great value. On the top of the hill, the traces of old Illyrian walls are visible in three different spots. They are made of large quadrants, processed and cut on the horizontal junctions, so as to fit more compactly, representing the remnants of an Illyrian-Greek acropolis. Most scientists believe that they belong to the earliest phase of construction of this fortification, which is the second phase of the rise of the Illyrian rulers.
The Illyrian Risan is, above all, conveniently located in the Bay for the reasons of trade, navigation, traffic and strategy. For its location, it was crucial that it could be easily reachable by the sea route, and could have easy access to the Mediterranean countries and cities.
Of great significance is also the portable archeological material from the Illyrian period, found in the Risan archeological site called Carine. Part of the material, namely ceramic objects, is kept in the Kotor museum, but most of them have been lost. Also found in Risan were small female statues made out of clay, golden earring with a lion head shape on one end, and two silver bracelets with endings in the shape of a head of a snake, which was a sacred animal among the Illyrians.
In the excavation site Carine, at the depth of 130 meters, archeologists found walls 2-5 meters in height that formed three separate rooms. Two of the rooms are connected, while the third one is separated by a canal, which most probably carried water. Floor remains made of ground red brick and pebbles were also found there. It was established that in one of the rooms was a hearth, for it contained traces of ash and soot. Amphorae and other ceramic objects were also found there, as well as some objects of iron and bronze.
Various coins were found in Risan and it was concluded that this city used to have its own mint. The fact that its money was spread over a large area, together with the presence of foreign currencies from both nearby and faraway regions, show that Risan was a developed city where trade was well established. This contributed to the development of political, economic and cultural contacts and connections with many other cities and allowed Risan to become an important harbor that attracted merchants.
For this reason, Risan is considered an important locality when researching the Illyrian and Hellenistic periods, and the Roman period as well, because it was a town in which the economic and cultural flows converged for a long period of time.
Archeological Research and Significant Archeological Discoveries
The mention of Risan in many ancient writings have attracted the attention of foreign scientists, archeologists and historians to the area. In the 19th century these writings introduced Risan to the world public as an important classical locality.
During the excavations, architectural and decorative fragments from Roman structures were found, as well as tombs, sarcophaguses and sacrificial altars, bronze statuettes, a torso of a Roman emperor, and a large amount of Illyrian and Roman money.
In 1939, while making sewage canals for the Risan hospital, the workers had by accident come upon the architectural remnants of the Roman period.
During the Italian occupation in 1942, an Italian archeologist dr. Valenti performed excavations in Carine. He found statues, money, fragments of marble, and columns. The discovered material was carried off to Italy. It is unclear where this treasure is now, and some people believe that Risan was robbed.
The most important archeological discovery in Risan are the Roman mosaics, which hold a great value because they stand as separate from the rest of the Roman legacy in the South Adriatic coast and present day Montenegro region.
The total area of the discovered mosaic complex is about 790 m2. It consists of a rectangular central space attached to a series of rectangular rooms. On one side of the five rooms is a hallway that connects them and on the other is the main room named Atrium (Latin for “lobby”).
According to the reconstruction of the discovered and still unexposed areas, the base of the building without the hallway is square shaped. The rooms are symmetrically arranged ─ with chambers on all four sides of the central room. This is in full accordance with the geometrical structure that had been used in the construction of Roman houses of this type.
The base of the central room also has a square shape. During the soundings in this area in 1961, three well preserved column bases have been found (nowadays they are held in a specially enclosed space which is part of the mosaic complex). However, their original location and position in relation to one another could not be determined. It is likely that their purpose was to hold a roof. This space had to be protected with a roof because of the heavy rains Risan is known for, in contrast to the similar Roman villas in other climate areas, where these spaces were roofless and had a pool that collected rainwater.
A tomb made of semi-carved stone was found in the eastern part of the central room, next to the western wall of the room no. 3 and partly the room number 4. The tomb is rectangular in shape; it has a bed with a raised head and an interior canal that runs along its side. For the experts, the origin of the tomb and the time it was built is still unclear. According to the local tales, it was opened several times, and the objects discovered in it were later distributed in an unknown direction. During the research in 1961, the tomb was reopened and a human skeleton was discovered, but it is unclear what had happened to it.
Four out of the five rooms which have been excavated on the eastern side of the villa (namely no. 1, 2, 4, and 5) are abundantly and beautifully decorated with floor mosaics. This kind of decoration was something that Romans paid great attention to.
In the room number 1, the whole floor area is covered with a white, black and gray mosaic which consists of the center field and eight side fields containing figures and scenes. Unfortunately, three of the fields have been ruined and later they were replaced with plain white mosaic.
The central field consists of several concentric circles, hemmed with squares and areas filled with wavy lines, chess squares, series of triangles, rectangles, half-moon ornaments and stylized floral ornaments. The central field is separated from the side fields by a narrow black border.
The middle field on the north side has been preserved. It consists of the main rectangle and two smaller ones with rhombuses and concentric circles in them, while several small rectangles are placed around the main one and decorated with various alternating motifs. The same field would have been on the opposite side of the central mosaic field, had it been preserved.
The middle field on the east side also consists of rectangles, separated by a vine ornament with heart-shaped endings. In the smaller of the two rectangles, two rhombuses are separated by a series of half-circle ornaments. The center of the rhombus is decorated with concentric circles. This field also had a matching field on the opposite side of the central field of the mosaic.
Finally, three corner fields of the mosaic floor in room no.1 have been preserved. They are filled with chess square ornaments (165 alternating black and white squares with a small cross inside each of the white squares), and hemmed with half-moon ornaments.
The fourth such field which is located in the south corner of the mosaic has not been preserved, but it is most likely that it looked exactly like the other three.
In the room no. 2, which is somewhat smaller than the room no. 1, almost the whole floor is covered with a mosaic which, like the previous one, is composed of a central field and side fields. The base of the central figure, or a six leafed rosette, is a circle inside an octahedral inside a rectangle, whose sides connect to the four sides of the octahedral. All of this is situated inside a rhombus with very skillfully crafted circles and rosettes in all four corners. Triangles connect to the four sides of the rhombus; inside them are stylized plant ornaments with heart-shaped leaves. Around this whole picture is a wide multi-layered border with meanders, triangles, chess squares and small rectangles. The mosaic in this room, best preserved of all, had been done in the same colors as the one in room no. 1.
The room no.3 is the only room without a mosaic floor. Its floor is made of lime cement and brick. Some believe that this room was perhaps the main entrance to the house.
The mosaic in the room no.4 is the simplest and its dimensions are somewhat smaller than the previous two. It is shaped as a perfect square and decorated in chess squares. These fields are alternately black and white, and there is 289 of them in total. Every square is decorated with a small cross of the opposite color. This figure also has a wide border with a series of triangles.
In the room no.5, the mosaic is the most interesting and the most artistically valuable. It also covers the whole area of the floor, but it conceptually differs from the mosaics in the other rooms.
On the small white mosaic base, triangles, squares, rhombuses and half-circles are placed in a certain symmetrical fashion. Two rhombuses contain circles with eight leafed rosettes in their centers. The central field is divided into 16 squares which are diagonally intersected with stylized plant ornaments. This mosaic also has a very skillfully crafted border. The colors of the mosaic are diverse: they include red, blue, green, black and white. The shape of the mosaic squares also varies.
The one thing that makes this mosaic especially beautiful and gives it great value, is the medallion crafted in its center. The medallion is also enclosed by a black border, with white meanders weaved into it, and it shows the figure of a man. The figure represents the god of sleep ─ Hypnos.
Hypnos is represented as a half-naked youth. He is not asleep nor is he in a sleeping position, but is placed in the half-reclined pose with his legs crossed. The lower half of his body is covered with a see-through mantle through which his legs are visible. He leans on the head of the bed with his right arm, which is bent at the elbow, while the palm of his left hand is placed on his right shoulder. Behind his shoulders, folded wings are visible. Everything is crafted out of fine mosaic pieces, with extraordinary shading.