Lives Journal 14

Milan Shtruc



Ljubljana is older than Rome


There are certainly only a few nations in the world that would turn their history to their own detriment, as is the case with us.1 American Slovene Dr. Edi Gobec argues that the cause of this is to be found in Slovene victimization. As a result, any mention of history or other facts that do not conform to established stereotypes is accepted by her victims with skepticism or even ridicule.2 The same is true of myths and legends, which are otherwise an important part of every national tradition and identity.

Even the most ancient Greek and Roman histories are also largely composed of myths and legends, among which the Greek legend of the founding of Emona by Jason also relates to our history.3 Today we know that many mythical stories have often proved to be descriptions of true events from the distant past, which were made more attractive by mythological additions, probably also to make the stories more interesting.

An ancient story tells us that in the thirteenth century BC Argonauts led by Jason of Thessaly fled from Colchis with Queen Medea and a golden fleece. They were supposed to travel along the Danube, Sava and the Ljubljanica river and from there continued their journey to the Adriatic Sea.4 Jason learned about this possible waterway from his friend Argos. Otherwise, this Argonaut’s waterway was actually open even until the 18th century.5

Quite a few facts prove that in the case of Jason's Emona this is not a completely fictional story. For example, the ancient description of the Argonauts' route through our territory at that time is incredibly accurate in describing the geographical features, which include the famous Postojna Gate, which is still today the most adequate connection from the wide continental area with the Adriatic Sea.

Edward Brown writes about this voyage in detail in his book from 1673: A short report of some voyages to Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thessaly, Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Friuli. According to Brown, the Argonauts began their voyage in Argos Pelasgicum in Thessaly, sailed along the rivers Ister (ancient name for Danube), Sava and Ljubljanica and stopped in Carniola. The author says that during his trip from Vienna to Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Friuli and Venice, he also visited the capital of Carniola, famous for being founded by the Argonauts. Thus, on his journey he would visit the place of their departure from Thessaly, as well as the place of their landing, that is, Ljubljana.6 The author is convinced that the Argonauts supposedly founded Emona, later Ljubljana, in 1223 BC, although most other sources cite 1222 as the founding year of this city.7

The Byzantine church historian Sozomen also attributes the establishment of the first settlement in the Emona area to Jason and the Argonauts. They were supposed to have sailed along the Sava and Ljubljanica River in the 13th century BC. Close to the source of the Ljubljanica, they are supposed to encounter marshes and a large lake where a mighty swamp monster lived. This is what Jazon was supposed to overcome in his heroic struggle and therefore Ljubljana should be given a dragon as his trademark. It is interesting to note that even today we still do not know what the adult form of the Human fish (Proteus anguinus) from the Postojna underground should look like. We can still only guess about this, as it never really reaches its adult form.

Argonauts are also expected to stop at the source of the Ljubljanica River near today's Vrhnika. In ancient times, there was an important port, as evidenced by the name Nauport or Nauportus, as Vrhnika was called by the Argonauts. The name should consist of the Greek word nays 'ship' and the Latin word portus 'port'.8 Argonauts were supposed to dismantle the ship here, transfer it by land to the coast, and then continue their journey to the land of the Italians.9

The name of the city of Emona was not chosen by chance either, as in the story of the Argonauts Jason was born in the ancient province of Emonia or Thessaly, in present-day Greece. So this is a pretty logical link, according to which Jason would name the newly established settlement Emona after his birthplace.

The legend of the Argonauts has long been widely regarded in our country as a myth with a realistic basis. Their ship was depicted in the coat of arms of the Illyrian Kingdom (established 1816, Austrian Empire), and is still now in the coat of arms of the Municipality of Vrhnika.

Today, few people know that in addition to the generally accepted counting years after Christ, until the end of 19th century the people of Ljubljana still counted years also after the foundation of Emona known as »Ljubljana counting«. This method does not differ from other similar counting, since also Romans based their counting on the legend of the founding of Rome. They also often used the beginning of the reign of their rulers to begin the count. Occasionally, a similar method was also often used later. For example, even in France, for some time the beginning of the French Revolution or the fall of the Bastille was considered as the starting point for counting years.

So far, many myths and legends have been unnecessarily removed from our consciousness, which could significantly enrich the understanding of our own past. Even in this relation to the mythical past, we differ from many other nations, where mythology forms an important part of identity and national awareness.

An additional curiosity regarding Jason's Emona provided the inscription on a memorial tablet, built into the wall of the old parish church of St. Rok in Ljubljana Dravlje. Unfortunately, after some renovation or at time when a new church was constructed, the tablet was »lost«. The inscription on it shows that counting years after the »Ljubljana era« was in force also in the 17th century. Janez Vajkard Valvazor in The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (Slava Vojvodine Kranjske) wrote about this tablet: »At the suggestion of the Ljubljana’s canon Dolinar, the nobles of Ljubljana and the community of Dravlje vowed to build the church in honor of St. Rok. The plague immediately stopped as cut off and not a single man died of this disease anymore. The erection began in the same year to eternally commemorate this event and they wrote on the church’s wall the inscription: »Divo Rocho ad depellendos epidemicae morbos«.10

As Valvazor cited the content of the inscription only partially, the parish priest Lojze Shtrubelj presented the entire inscription in his book, and translated it from Latin into Slovene: »Holy Rock, God’s chosen patron, to chase away infectious diseases: not only to the vow that a sanctuary will be built here in his honor, because he calmed down, extinguished and suppressed the plague in Dravlje in 1644, but also the whole province of Carniola from the plague, which raged and murdered for the third year already in Styria, Carinthia, Croatia and Gorizia all the way to neighboring borders, abducted, saved and protected, to their patron, as proof of heavenly power and human hope, as well as in recommendation to later generations, city of Ljubljana. Christian period 1682, which is 2904 of Ljubljana count.«11

According to this way of counting, Ljubljana is significantly older than Rome. However, since in both cases it is a legend, the question is why the one about the Argonaut’s establishment of Emona would be less »credible« than the one about the establishment of Rome in 653 BC by the twins Romulus and Remus, the abandoned sons of the god Mars, who were breastfed and raised by a wolf.12

It is interesting that many Ljubljana citizens wished the New Year even until a century ago after the Ljubljana way of counting years.13 doubtedly wish us not only Happy New Year 2020, but also Happy New Year 3242 Ljubljana count.


Translated by author 




1 One of such falsification is also the new »finding« that in 1991 the Slovene nation transformed from nation (narod) into nation (nacija), the latter being just a foreign word, also used in Slovene, but with the same meaning, (France Verbinc: Slovar tujk, Cankarjeva zalozhba v Ljubljani, 1968, p. 471).

2 Slovenian American TIMES, Leon von Caprivi, State Chancellor of Germany, by Edward Gobetz, vol. VI, p. 6: »As such, they have sometimes been stereotyped by writers, journalists and politicians of dominant nations as a ‘people without history’ … As anyone familiar with the consequences of victimization will easily understand, as victims of such stereotypes, quite a number of Slovenians have often humbly accepted them ...«

3 In 2015, there was a celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Emona. This was based on very modest remains of two stone slabs, which after being assembled should confirm that a wall (murum) was built at that time in Emona. A closer investigation revealed that the fragments originate from different slabs, they are found at different locations, originate from different quarries, vary in letter size, line spacing, and also fringe shapes are different. Of course, even after composing these two fragments, the word murum could not be found.

4 Wikipedia lists 85 members of the Argonaut crew, who are scheduled to sail with Jason; Argonauts,, last modified on 1 Jan 2015 at 15:14.

5 Tadej Bratok, Ljubljanica, Thousand Faces of the Green River, (from article, pp. 23-24).

6 Bozhidar Jezernik, Edward Brown's Travels of Ljubljana in 1673, Ljubljana, newsletter of the municipality, Nov. Dec. 2004, pp. 54-55.

7 Edward Brown in The Short Report on a Few Journeys ... states the year of Emona's foundation in 1223 BC, while most other sources cite the year 1222 BC. This was among other, recorded on a memorial plate in the church of Dravlje. Similarly the foundation of Emona in 1222 BC was stated by John Ludwik Schönleben in his work on Emona in 1674.

8 Vrhnika, Wikipedia,; last modified 17 Jan 2015, at 21:42.

9 Emona,, last modified 16 Dec 2014, at 10:42.

10 Janez Vajkard Valvazor: The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, II volume, book 8, p. 820.

11 Lojze Shtrubelj: Dravlje, a new tree from the old roots (Dravlje, iz starih korenin novo drevo), Dravlje Parish Office, Ljubljana, 1981, p. 18 (highlighted by M. Sh.).

12 "It is said that Romulus and his twin brother Remus, apparent sons of the god Mars and descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, were suckled by a she-wolf after being abandoned, then decided to build a city …(653 BC)«, History of Rome, Wikipedia, last modified 29 Dec 2018, at 23:01.

13 Marjeta Shterbenc: Awakened Local Consciousness in Dravlje; Newsletter of the City of Ljubljana, Chetrtne skupnosti, CS Dravlje, p. 58.




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