‘The earliest mention of Rhizon dates back to 4 BC, when it had been the main fortress in the Illyrian state where Queen Teuta took refuge during the Illyrian Wars. During her short reign, Rhizon became the capital of her empire. In Roman times, Rhizinium is documented as an oppidum civium Romanorum. Two Roman routes led through the Bay of Kotor. The most prosperous time for Roman Rhizinium came during the first and second centuries. Five mosaics are the most valuable remains of that period – not only for Risan but also for Montenegro.
One of the Risan mozaics (not Hypnos)
The best preserved one shows Hypnos, the Greek deity of dreams. It is the only known image of this kind in the Balkans. The invasions of the Avars and Slavs left Risan deserted.
The last reference of a bishop in Risan dates back to 595. In the 10th century, the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus includes Risan among the inhabited towns of Travunia, while the priest of Doclea considers Rissena to be a district.
During the Middle Ages, Risan lost the significance it used to have in the ancient times. In the mid 15th century, Risan was referred to as the town of Herceg (duke) Stjepan. In 1466, the Venetians offered to give Brač island and a palace in Split to Herceg Stjepan, in exchange for his two towns (Risan and Novi) in the Boka Kotorska. In 1482, the Turks took Risan, together with Herceg Novi, from Herceg Stjepan’s son Vlatko. Only in 1688 Risan became Venetian as part of the Albania Veneta with the Venetian name of Risano.’
The northern part of the region was handed to Austria as part of the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in 1814, taking over from Napoleonic control.
A few km along the coast towards Morinj at Lipci there are prehistoric rock carvings, depicting deer and geometric patterns.
Various teams of archaeologists have explored the town and the surrounding area. In the 1870s, the famous British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the discoverer of the Mycenaen site at Knossos, referred to ‘the foundations of houses, including a mosaic pavement, to be seen about half an hour up the mountainous steep on the East and near a delicious fountain’. Clearly this is not the same as the mosaics currently on public display about 100m from the sea. Roman roads, an acqueduct and a Hellenistic grave were still visible across the landscape. Evans’ find of a field strewn with coins enabled him to identify Risan as a mint in the time of Prince Ballaeos. (sources Bradt Montenegro p144, and Absolute SAStronomy)
Since 2001, a team from Warsaw University’s Research Centre for Antiquity of South-Eastern Europe has been excavating at the Carine site near the town centre as well as underwater, directed by Prof Dr Piotr Dyczek.
From my meeting with Professor Piotr Dyczek in Risan July 2010:
‘According to Professor Dyczek, the Illyrian layers in Risan are so close to the surface because the upper layers were stripped off during the Austro-Hungarian period, and afterwards, to create more level space for building. This meant that there is nothing left from the Hellenistic, Roman, Venetian or later periods. The walls of the ancient fortified town have been found to be about 1km long, and this coupled with the sizes of houses/ rooms already excavated would indicate a possible population of about 1500 to 2000. This was pretty substantial for that time. Traces of the wall have been found near the seawall of the modern Teuta hotel, which is probably the furthest extent seaward. Inland, the wall skirts the retaining wall for the school. The river forms the eastern boundary.
Although remains have been found down to 2m below the water table/ sea level, excavating this properly is too costly, as it involves the use of methods to keep the water out of the area under examination. The level sinks by about 3mm a year under normal circumstances anyway, and the major earthquake of 1979 dropped the level by a full metre.
In addition to the fortified town at sea level, there is the fortress on the hill above the town, where a full spectrum of eras is present. One find this season was a marble head of a woman showing hair decoration typical of the Hellenistic era. A piece of a marble column with Corinthian design was also found. There are also traces of a shrine.
The major find this season was a collection of 4000 coins minted by Ballaios during his reign 190 to 175 or 168BC. The metal (ie silver or bronze) will only be determined after conservation which is taking place in Kotor.’
Professor Piotr Dyczek emailed me in September 2011 with this report of his team’s activities in June/ July:
” … The season in Risan was very intersting from archaeological point of view – we found new hellenistic house – so-called House of Aglaos ( because we found one Gnathia dih with grafitto AGL and only two greek names have that letters Aglaos or Aglaophon so we take shorter) An most intersting find – gold ring with agat gemma with representation probably of Artemis very, very good preserved. … ”
In 2016 at the foot of the school steps, his team discovered a palace dating from the 3rd century BC, a building named in antique sources – a rare occurrence in modern archaeology. He has since published a book on based on his research: Rhizon, isbn 978-83-935339-8-9.