Niš is a town of long and rich history. It is located in Niš valley which used to be a crossing point of two main natural routes of the old Balkans. The archaeological findings from the territory of the town and its surroundings bear evidence of its cultural and historical development over a period of several thousand years. Numerous archaeological sites reveal the remains from all epochs of prehistory, from Neolithic through the Early Iron Age. This is confirmed by many traces of material culture: remains of settlements, graves, hoards and single finds. The most important sites are Bubanj and VelikaHumskaČuka. The settlements are on the river terraces or hillfort type at dominant elevations suitable for defense and watching.
The Bubanj-Hum group of the middle Balkan region has been singled out due to the significance of the findings from those sites and their position in the prehistory of the Balkans.
The oldest settlement of the Bubanj hill belongs to the Neolithic: in the Eneolithic – a transitional period from Neolithic to the Metal Age – four residential horizons have been singled out. The youngest settlement on the Bubanj hill (Bubanj III) dates back to Bronze Age.
The oldest settlement on VelikaHumska Čuka belongs to the Eneolithic period. There are some chance finds of the Bronze and the Iron Age.
At the Roman site Mediana there was also confirmed the prehistoric settlement (Mediana I-III).
The ancient Roman town of Naissus emerged, existed, persisted and perished in the western part of the vast, east-west oriented Niš valley of irregular ellipsoid shape. Twenty two kilometers wide and forty four long, it encompasses an area of approximately 630 km2 which makes it one of the smallest in the South-Morava region. The ravines of the Nišava, Kutinska and Južna Morava rivers make the valley exceptionally well connected with other valleys in the region: Belopalanačka, Zaplanjska, Leskovačka and Aleksinačka. The ancient traffic routes carved through those ravines gorges were, just like the modern roads do, connecting Europe with Adriatic, Aegean and Black seas, contributing significantly to the trade, economic and cultural trends of the time, and everything else necessary and important for the lives of both ancient and present-day people. Nais had a central position in the Roman province of Upper Moesiastretching across the territory of present-day Serbia.
The origin of the town’s name has not yet been reliably revealed. Archaeologists, historians and linguists are still discordant and divided on the issue, suggesting different solutions: from assumptions that it is of Celtic, Thracian, Illyrian, pre-Indo-European origin, to claims that it was named after the river on which it was located.
Just as all towns and civilizations of the world have their beginning, life and end, Nais encounters its downfall in the 5th and 6th century. Not only was that period sinister for the population of the Balkans, but it was also hard for the Roman Empire in general. The Balkan Peninsula and South Europe encountered a huge social and ethnic collapse and migrations of many nations and tribes who destroyed the defensive systems on the Danube and devastated the Illyrian and Thracian towns in their plundering raids. Nais was conquered and devastated by Huns in 441, then by the Goths in 471, the Slavs in 578-579, and, most likely, by the Avars in 587. After those devastation, the population of the town fled southwards to fortified Salonika. The life in the town died out some time around 614 AD, which year marks the end of antiquity in Nais. Its remnants are now buried deeply underneath the Turkish Fortress and modern Niš. Luckily, at least indirectly, we can judge about its social, spiritual, historical, cultural and economic life on the basis of the archaeological findings presented at the exhibition.
The oldest coin originating from Niš and its surroundings indicates the trading links with the Greek and Roman world. Ever since, through the centuries and civilizations, the presence of coin as the means od commodity exchange in this region has been evidenced by frequent and abundant archaeological findings. Coins came into use in Niš region in the pre – Roman period. The coins from the time of Roman Empire found in Nais and its territory are truly plentiful. It is evidenced in all three metals: gold, silver and bronze – and is of different nominal values. Individual findings of the Roman imperial coins can be chronologically classified from 1st to middle 5th century. The National Museum of Niš maintains several hoard of denars from Kamenica and a big antonian hoard from downtown area. After the division of the Roman Empire in 396 into the Western adn Eastern Empires, the coins of both empires were used in the town territory as means of payment, as evidenced by the presence of the Byzantine coins from 5th to 13th century.
The stone monuments kept in the National Museum of Niš originate from the ancient Nais and its territory (Ravna, G. Matejevac, Nozrina, Osmakovo). Diverse as thet are in terms of their contents, they can be divided into votive, sepulchar and constuction monuments. They have engraved epigraphs in latin (votive icons and sculptures are an exception to his, as their epigrahs are in Greek).
The monuments encompass a very long period of time spanning six centuries, since the arrival of the Romans by the end of the 1st century until the 4th century. The significance of epigraphic material is huge for the history of Nais because it is located in the province of Upper Moesia which was not a particular sphere of interest of ancient writers. The text of the epigraphs contain the data which is valuable for the study of issues such as the town, presence of military units, religious issues, art, customs, language, general culture and level of literacy. The listed elements necessary to explore the town’s history can be studied from the epigraphs, but also from the shape of monuments, as well as from the symbols and ornaments on them.
The data of the Slav’s setting and their advancement in this area in 6th and 7th centuries are available from the Byzantine sources which basically shed light on war incidents and raids; it is only after that, namely as late as in the 11th century, that there are records on the town named NISOS, which is referred to not only as fortified, but also as so well developed that at the time of the Stefan Nemanja (1166-1196) it was one of the most well-know Serbian towns with a tendency to become the capital of the Serbian state, as evidenced by the exhibits.