Skeletons Found under Late Antiquity Fortress Wall of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna Were Buried in Early Christian Necropolis, Archaeologist Reveals

The four skeletons found near and under the newly discovered Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos (Odessus) in Bulgaria's Black Sea city of Varna were buried in a small Early Christian necropolis in the 4th century AD, the Varna archaeologists have found. Photo: TV grab from NovaTV

The four skeletons found near and under the newly discovered Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos (Odessus) in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna were buried in a small Early Christian necropolis in the 4th century AD, the Varna archaeologists have found. Photo: TV grab from NovaTV

The four skeletons which were discovered in March 2015 under the newly found Late Antiquity fortress wall of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus) in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna were buried in a small Early Christian necropolis.

This has been revealed by Alexander Minchev, an archaeologist from the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History), as cited by the Bulgarian private news agency Focus.

Speaking about the results of the rescue excavations conducted in March 2015 as part of the rehabilitation of the downtown of Varna, when the local archaeologists discovered a previously unknown Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos, Minchev said the skeleton finds were not “sensational” – apparently referring to the media hype about the discovery of the first skeleton under the previously unknown fortress wall, which was at first described by the media as a “giant” but was later found to have been tall only 165 cm (about 5 feet 4 inches).

“Before the construction of the wall, there had been a very small necropolis in this area, probably from the 4th century AD, and part of the skeletons we found were buried during the [wall’s] construction. We discovered one of them laid parallel to the outer side of the wall, and his left limbs had been removed from the spot designated for the fortress wall, and had been carefully placed on his chest. The builders respected the dead, as they should,” Minchev explains.

“This is a necropolis which predates the construction of the [Late Antiquity] wall. This is a very important fact for us because these graves were positioned in the east-west direction, and there are no grave gifts, which is typical for the Christian way of burial of the dead,” he adds.

Minchev points out that this discovery leads to the conclusion that the fortress wall was probably built at the end of the 4th century AD, after Christianity had become an official and widespread religion in the Roman Empire, since in 313 AD Christianity was declared a legal religion equal to other religions in the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD), and in 330 AD is was declared the only legal religion even though pagan cults continued to exist for more than 100 more years.

With respect to the recently revealed and previously unknown Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos (which is known to have had at least three different fortress walls from different time periods), the Varna archaeologists have an idea for its exhibition in situ. They would like to restore the section of the Late Antiquity fortress which goes under Varna’s downtown pedestrian zone so that the passersby can view it.

Archaeologist Alexander Minchev also says the fortress wall in question could be built up in order to provide the passers-by with better visibility of it.

Check out our stories about the Spring 2015 rescue excavations of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna (in reverse chronological order):

Archaeological Monuments from Ancient Odessos Hold Great Potential for Cultural Tourism in Bulgaria’s Varna, Museum Director Says – June 2, 2015

Archaeologists Discover Main Aqueduct of Ancient Odessos during Rescue Excavations in Bulgaria’s Varna – April 28, 2015

Flooding Ruins Newly Found Late Antiquity Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos in Bulgaria’s Varna – March 30, 2015

Water Utility in Bulgaria’s Varna Cracks 5th Century Earth Jar, Submerges Ancient Odessos ‘Like Atlantis’ – March 28, 2015

‘Giant’ Man’s Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Turns Out to Be ‘Only’ 165 cm Tall – March 28, 2015

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Varna Unearth 3 More Skeletons, Identify Necropolis under Fortress Wall of Ancient Odessos – March 28, 2015

Giant’ Skeleton Found under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna Not Fully Dug Up, Measured Yet, Archaeologists Inform – March 26, 2015

Archaeologists Dig Up Ancient Skeleton from under Odessos Fortress Wall in Bulgaria’s Varna – March 17, 2015

Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Hand Mill, Odessos Fortress Wall in Varna – March 13, 2015

Workers Stumble Upon 1500-Year-Old Earthen Jar in Odessos Archaeology Preserve in Bulgaria’s Varna – January 22, 2015

Background Infonotes:

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Eneolithic Varna Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts dating back to the 5th millenium BC.

Ancient Odessos is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC. However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia. Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Romes successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century. It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos. The wall (rampart) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing. Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna. It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.