Newly Found Outer Fortress Wall of Ancient Durostorum in Bulgaira’s Silistra Linked with Roman Emperor Diocletian, Archaeologist Says

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

The construction of the newly discovered outer fortress wall of the Roman city of Durostorum (Dorostorum) in the Bulgarian Danube city of Silistra is likely linked with the personality of Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 285-306 AD), according to archaeologist Prof. Georgi Atanasov from the Silistra Regional Museum of History.

The discovery of the previously unknown outer fortress wall of Durostorum, one of the main outposts and cities of Ancient Rome on the so called Limes Moesiae, i.e. the frontier area of the Roman Empire on the Lower Danube, was announced last week. It was made during rescue excavations over the rehabilitation of the city’s water supply and sewerage network.

“Among the many structures that our team has excavated in the past six months, there is one which warrants the greatest attention. Experts in Antiquity history and archaeology have always wondered why a city like Durostorum had only one fortification during the Antiquity period, namely, the military camp of Ancient Rome’s Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion), while the civilian structures where the population resided had no fortifications whatsoever,” explains Atanasov, as cited by Radio Focus Shumen and the Focus news agency.

He adds that this perceived lack of additional fortifications of the Ancient Roman city in Bulgaria’s Silistra seemed rather illogical given the importance of Durostorum in the 2nd-3rd century AD for the Roman Empire.

“We have solved this puzzle only now. At four locations near the Danube River in both the eastern and western direction we have unearthed a rather robust fortress wall, over 2 meters thick, with rectangular towers, which protected the entire inhabited territory of the ancient city,” says the Silistra archaeologist.

The newly found outer war of Durostorum encompassed also the military camp of Rome’s Legio XI Claudia, as well as the castle built on the bank of the Danube after the 4th century AD. The new discovery means that the previously known fortification was an inner city fortress wall, while the newly found outer fortress encompassed the entire city including the Canabae of Durostorum.

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Atanаsov notes that preliminary data based on evidence collected in the archaeological excavations indicates that the outer fortress was of the Roman city was built at the end of 3rd or the beginning of the 4th century AD, which could mean a link with Roman Emperor Diocletian.

“We know from several written sources and several transcripts that at the very end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th century Emperor Diocletian visited Durostorum twice. We also know about his major construction works along the Lower Danube. It all indicates that we probably should link this newly found fortification precisely with Emperor Diocletian,” elaborates the Bulgarian archaeologist.

He points out that the outer fortress wall is just one of the ancient and medieval structures newly revealed at Durostorum, which remained a major fortress and urban center during the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire with the Slavic name Drastar (Drustur).

The archaeologists working on the rescue excavations of Durostorum / Drastar already comprise three teams, and expect to come up with more important findings about the ancient and medieval Danube city. However, so far the outer fortress wall which defended Durostorum in the 4th and the 5th century AD remains their most significant discovery.

“What we have found is very important for the topography and history of Durostorum. This is a gap that has been filled, and it has proved that, as we expected, the city was reliably defended at the time of the great barbarian invasions. Apparently, the invasion of the Goths when the city was captured and destroyed caused an intervention on part of the [Roman] Emperor for the fortification of this city which was symbolic for the Empire on the Lower Danube,” Atanasov hypothesizes.

He has also announced that the archaeologists in Silistra will participate in the rescue excavations over the city’s rehabilitation of its water supply and sewerage system at least until September 2015.

They have already completed their documenting of 12 Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman structures from the Antiquity and Middle Ages in the city of Durostorum / Drastar / Silistra.

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Atanаsov points out that the present rescue excavations in Silistra are limited to the areas of the construction works, which restricts the archaeologists to only registering the structures they uncover partly or fully, but they are still useful because they will provide benchmarks for proper archaeological excavations of Durostorum / Drastar in the future.

However, local activists from Silistra have been more critical of the restrictions on the current rescue archaeological excavations, complaining that the Durostorum – Drastar Archaeological Preserve will likely continue to be the victim of institutional neglect on part of Bulgaria’s central government and the local authorities in the Danube city.

The newly discovered outer Late Roman fortress wall is located near the ruins of structures from later time periods: a medieval Bulgarian patriarchal basilica, and the alleged location of the Imperial Danube Palace of the Bulgarian Khans built by Khan (or Kanas) Omurtag, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire in 814-831 AD.

Earlier, the Silistra archaeologists have hypothesized that the existence of an outer fortress wall of the ancient city of Durostorum means it was of essential importance for Rome, and might have been a “symbol city in the Roman Empire”.

The fact that Durostorum was never vacated by the elite military unit Legio XI Claudia might also mean that it was the capital of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior (later divided into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor), instead of the Black Sea city of Tomis, today’s Constanta in Romania, as had been believed until recently.

Atanasov says this hypothesis belongs to Romanian archaeologist Prof. Ioan Piso from the Babes Bolyai University in the city of Cluj-Napoca, pointing out that the capital of a Roman province is supposed to be the headquarters of a major military detachment, while no legion was stationed at Tomis. Further evidence is the discovery during past excavations of Durostorum by archaeologist Peti Donevski of three Roman inscriptions with the names of the governors of the province of Moesia Inferior.

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria's Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra have discovered the outer fortress wall as well as a number of buildings from the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum, and medieval structures from the periods of the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman Empires. Photo: Krasimir Koev

Atanasov adds that Dorostorum / Drastar, today’s Silistra, has been a regional capital at least five times since the Antiquity, and that in the 10th-11th century AD it might have been the largest city in the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

In addition to the discovery of the allegedly outer Late Antiquity fortress wall, in an Ancient Roman public building from the 2nd century AD the Bulgarian archaeologists have found for the first time at Durostorum / Drastar well preserved wall murals. 

The murals are colored in a particular nuance of red known as “Pompeian red” which is named after the rich buildings painted with this color in the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii in Italy, as well as in deep blue, green, and yellow colors.

The Silistra archaeologists have been conducting rescue excavations in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra, a major urban center with a rich ancient and medieval history, since October 2014 because of the rehabilitation of the city’s water supply and sewerage network, after construction workers came across archaeological layers from Dorostorum / Drastar.

So far the archaeologists in Silistra have discovered a total of 20 ancient and medieval structures from Durostorum / Drastar as a result of their rescue excavations. Those include 9th-10th century AD public buildings from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire, a medieval Ancient Bulgar settlement located on the outskirts of the medieval city, and part of the Ottoman Turkish fortifications built after the Ottoman invasion of the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th century.

The rescue excavations in Silistra are being conducted by archaeologists from both the Silistra Regional Museum of History, and the branch office of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences based in the northeastern city of Shumen whose team in Silistra is led by archaeologist Stanislav Ivanov.

A skeleton from the period of the Ottoman Empire has also been found during the rescue excavations of ancient Durostorum and medieval Drastar in Bulgaria's Silistra. Photo: Krasimir Koev

A skeleton from the period of the Ottoman Empire has also been found during the rescue excavations of ancient Durostorum and medieval Drastar in Bulgaria’s Silistra. Photo: Krasimir Koev

A map of the archaeological preserve of the ancient city of Durostorum / medieval city of Drastar, today's Bulgarian Danube city of Silistra. The preserve was set up in 1971. The latest discovery of the previously unknown outer fortress wall, however, renders this map incomplete as it turns out that it shows only the inner city fortress around the Roman military camp of Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion), which the outer wall defended both the military camp, and the cilivilian settlement nearby, the so called Canabae legionis. Map: Silistra Regional Museum of History

A map of the archaeological preserve of the ancient city of Durostorum / medieval city of Drastar, today’s Bulgarian Danube city of Silistra. The preserve was set up in 1971. The latest discovery of the previously unknown outer fortress wall, however, renders this map incomplete as it turns out that it shows only the inner city fortress around the Roman military camp of Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion), which the outer wall defended both the military camp, and the cilivilian settlement nearby, the so called Canabae legionis. Map: Silistra Regional Museum of History

A 3D reconstruction of the fortress of Drastar (today's Silistra, Durostorum in Thracian and Roman times) in the 9th-14th century (most of the period of the medieval Bulgarian Empire). Photo: Silistra Regional Museum of History

A 3D reconstruction of the fortress of Drastar (today’s Silistra, Durostorum in Thracian and Roman times) in the 9th-14th century (most of the period of the medieval Bulgarian Empire). Photo: Silistra Regional Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Durostorum (Dorostorum) – known as Dorostol or Drastar (Drustur) during the periods of the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages – is the precursor of today’s Bulgarian city of Silistra. It was originally founded as an Ancient Thracian settlement on the Lower Danube. In 29 AD, the Romans built there a fortress keeping the settlement’s Thracian name of Durostorum (or Dorostorum). After his victories wars over the Dacians north of the Danube, Roman Emperor Trajan stationed the elite Claudius’ 11th Legion – Legio XI Claudia – at Durostorum, and the fortress remained its permanent seat until the demise of the Roman Empire. In 169 AD, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD), Durostorum was made a Roman city – a municipium. Between the 2nd and the 4th century AD, it was a major urban and military center of the Roman Province of Moesia Inferior (later divided into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor), and a major Roman stronghold against the barbarian invasions. The earliest 12 Christian saints from the territory of today’s Bulgaria are Roman soldiers executed in Durostorum during the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian between 303 and 313 AD, including St. Dasius and St. Julius the Veteran. In 388 AD, today’s Silistra became the seat of a Christian bishopric. Roman general Flavius Aetius (391-454 AD), who is known as “the last of the Romans” for his army’s victory over the Huns in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 AD, was born in Durostorum. During the barbarian invasions of Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars the city was ransacked several times. It was rebuilt during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

The Slavs settled in Durostorum around 590 AD, and named it Drastar (Drustur). The city became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) around 680 AD. Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD) is known to have built there a large imperial palace known as the Danube Palace of Bulgarian Khans where later Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927 AD) resided in 896-897 AD. In 895 AD (during the Bulgarian-Hungarian War of 894-896 AD), the Magyars (Hungarians), allies of Byzantium, besieged the Bulgarian army under the personal command of Tsar Simeon I the Great in the fortress of Drastar but were repulsed. The next year the Magyars were decisively defeated by the Bulgarians in the extremely fierce Battle of Southern Buh (in today’s Ukraine) which eventually led their tribes to retreat to the west and settle in the region of Pannonia essentially founding today’s Hungary.

During the later years of the First Bulgarian Empire the region around today’s Silistra was known for its rock monasteries. In 927 AD, Drastar became the seat of the first internationally recognized Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Damyan. In 969 AD, it was captured by Knyaz Sviatoslav I of Kiev, the ruler of Kievan Rus in 945-972 AD, but two years later it was conquered by Byzantium under Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976 AD) in the Battle of Dorostolon, and renamed Theodoropolis, after military saint Theodore Stratelates. In 976 AD, Bulgaria’s Tsar Samuil (Samuel) (r. 977/997-1014 AD) regained the city until 1001 AD when it was again conquered by the Byzantine Empire.

Drastar was a metropolitan’s residence and a major fortress during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). In 1279 AD, under Tsar Ivailo (r. 1277-1280), Drastar withstood a three-month siege by the Mongols. It was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD (ca. 1400 AD, according to some sources), and turned into a major Ottoman fortress. Subsequently, Silistra has remained a major urban center in the Lower Danube region.