10th Century Lead Seal of Bulgarian Tsar Petar I Discovered by Locals in Field near Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

The back side of the newly found lead seal of Bulgarian Tsar St. Petar I (r. 927-969) shows the Emperor with his wife, Tsaritsa (Empress) Maria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The back side of the newly found lead seal of Bulgarian Tsar St. Petar I (r. 927-969) shows the Emperor with his wife, Tsaritsa (Empress) Maria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A lead seal of St. Tsar Petar I (r. 927-970 AD), one of the most notable rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), has been discovered by locals in a field near the medieval fortress Rusocastro, Kameno Municipality, Burgas District, in today’s Southeast Bulgaria.

Tsar Petar I was the second son of Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927) and the successor of his throne. Unlike his father, Tsar Petar I did not wage victorious wars, and dedicated his reign to Christianity, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and the Old Bulgarian literature and culture. For this, he was canonized as a saint by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

His long reign was for the most part a period of peace, which, however, ended in a decline by the 960s. Several decades later, in 1018, the First Bulgarian Empire was beaten and conquered by Byzantium.

The newly discovered lead seal of Tsar Petar I has been found in a field about 400 meters away from a well tower located in the Rusocastro Fortress, which is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD, the last major victory of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396), the Burgas Regional Museum of History has announced.

The Battle of Rusocastro was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century. It was also the last major battle of the seven-century-long Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars for domination of the Balkan Peninsula (lasting from the 7th until the 14th century), which ended when, weakened by their hostilities against one another, among other factors, Bulgaria and Byzantium were both conquered by the Ottoman Turkish invaders at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.

During the 1332 Battle of Rusocastro, the then still young Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) led personally his troops against the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD). As a result, the Second Bulgarian Empire forced Byzantium to rescind its claims to the rich medieval cities on the southwestern Black Sea coast which remained parts of Bulgaria for a few more decades.

The Burgas Museum of History carried out the 2014 archaeological excavations of the Rusocastro Fortress in October-November 2014, with its Director, Milen Nikolov, as the lead archaeologist.

“During the excavations, the residents of the town of Zhelyazovo have provided the team with a number of finds discovered by them during their agricultural work. One of them is especially important. It was found during the cultivation of a gardin about 400 meters away from the well tower. This is a lead seal, a bulla, of the Bulgarian Tsar Petar (r. 927-969),” says the Burgas Regional Museum of History in a release.

It adds that the front side of Tsar Petar’s seal features a depiction of Jesus Christ with a halo, and a cross inside the halo; the back side shows the medieval Bulgarian emperor with his wife, Tsaritsa (Empress) Maria.

The Burgas Museum emphasizes that the artifact is one the best preserved seals of medieval Bulgarian Tsars to have ever been found. It is the first seal of Tsar Petar I to have been found in the geographic region of Thrace (i.e. today’s Southeast and South Central Bulgaria).

The only other seal of Tsar Petar I to have been found south of the Balkan Mountains, i.e. in Southern Bulgaria, was discovered in the Krakra Fortress in the city of Pernik located to the west of Sofia, and is part of the collection of the Pernik Regional Museum of History. (Tsar Petar I’s seal from Pernik is a silver seal).

The front side of St. Tsar Petar I's seal depicts Jesus Christ. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The front side of St. Tsar Petar I’s seal depicts Jesus Christ. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The Museum also says its latest digs at the Rusocastro Fortress were designed to complete the archaeologists’ work from 2009 and 2010 at a fortified passage and a well tower which were unearthed back then.

They have now managed to excavate the entire southern part of the said fortified passage where they discovered the ruins of an 8.2-meter-wide fortress tower. They have also explored the eastern and western walls of the passage up to the point where the two walls were destroyed by quarry blasts in the 1960s. The quarry nearby was used for extracting construction material for the Ravnets Air Base of the Bulgarian Air Force.

The excavations of the well tower at lowest part of the passage of the Rusocastro Fortress are said to have produced “unexpected discoveries”.

“It has become clear that its walls were as thick as 2.9 meters which is one of the most monumental constructions in Southern Bulgaria. Its outer contours are not rectangular unlike the inside of the well itself but they probably had a pentagonal shape, with the front of the tower literally touching the road between the towns of Rusocastro and Zhelyazovo,” the Museum explains in its release.

The excavations of the well tower (above) and other structures at the Ruscoastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The 2014 excavations of the well tower (above) and other structures at the Ruscoastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Rusocastro Digs Rusocastro Digs 2The latest digs at the Rusocastro Fortress have yielded a wide range of really important finds including a rich coin collection and several bronze belt appliqués.

“[The bronze belt appliqués] are definitely a product of the early medieval Bulgarian (i.e. Ancient Bulgar) culture. These finds have confirmed once again the great importance of Rusocastro not only during the Second Bulgarian Empire (12th-14th century) but also in the 9th-10th century (i.e. the height of the First Bulgarian Empire). Technically, such belt appliqués which are frequent finds in Pliska, Veliki Preslav (i.e. the first capitals of the First Bulgarain Empire), and all of Northeast Bulgaria, in Southern Bulgaria have been found only in the Rusocastro Fortress,” explain the archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

The October 2014 excavations are the first digs at the Rusocastro Fortress since 2011 because in 2012-2013, the Museum did not get any funding for its exploration. The 2014 excavations have been funded by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, Kameno Municipality, and the Rusocastron Foundation, a NGO.

The Museum has thanked the Mayors of Rusocastro, Georgi Ganchev, and of Zhelyazovo, Medzhit Mehmed, for helping out the archaeological team during the 2014 digs.

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An Ancient Bulgar bronze belt applique discovered during the latest digs at the Rusocastro Fortress. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

An Ancient Bulgar bronze belt applique discovered during the latest digs at the Rusocastro Fortress. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Belt Applique RusocastroBackground Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas. Rusocastro was also known as “The Red Fortress” because of the red stones it was built of.

In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.

The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.

The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World”, where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.

The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.

Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield” of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact  that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.