Archaeologists Uncover Ruins of Thracian, Roman City Almus in Bulgaria’s Lom during Construction

Archaeologists Uncover Ruins of Thracian, Roman City Almus in Bulgaria’s Lom during Construction

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Almus in Bulgaria's Danube town of Lom. Photo: Bulgaria Travel

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Almus in Bulgaria’s Danube town of Lom. Photo: Bulgaria Travel

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman, early Byzanine, and medieval Bulgarian city of Almus have been uncovered in the Bulgarian Danube town of Lom during construction works for the rehabilitation of the town’s water supply and sewerage system.

Almus, originally a Thracian settlement, was a Roman city in the 1st-5th century AD, and was later an important settlement in Early Byzantium, the medieval Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. It has been excavated only partly, and none of its archaeological structures have been restored.

As a result of the unearthing of new parts of the Almus Fortress, archaeologists from the Lom Museum of History led by Valeri Stoichkov have staged rescue excavations, Miroslav Markov, an archaeologist in the Montana Regional Museum of History, has told Radio Focus Vidin.

Markov further says that the only planned archaeological excavations in Bulgaria’s northwestern Montana District are digs at an Early Christian basilica in the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Montanesium. These excavations will be funded by Montana Municipality but their starting date is unclear yet.

About 4 decares (app. 1 acres) of the total area of the Montanesium Fortress has not been researched by the archaeologists yet.

“This fortress has already undergone several projects for archaeological conservation and restoration, the last one being in its southeastern part,” Markov explains.

The archaeologist says also that the archaeological sites in the Montana District, especially in the rural areas, continue to be plagued by treasure hunting raids.

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian, Roman, Early Byzantine, medieval Bulgarian and Ottoman city of Almus (Artanes) are located in the Kaletata Quarter of today’s Bulgarian Danube town of Lom. The Roman fort and road station of Almus was built at the location of an Ancient Thracian settlement around 29 AD, while the fortress itself was built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, when it was part of the district of the nearby Roman city and colony Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (today’s Archar) in the province of Moesia Superior. Almus is believed to have been the ancient name of the Lom River. The Roman city of Almus is located on the Via Istrum, the Roman road going along the Danube, whose construction started during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (r. 19-37 AD). Almus was also the starting point of a Roman road leading from the Danube to Serdica (today’s Sofia). It is believed that in Roman times the Danube port of Almus served both military and commercial vessels. In the middle of the 5th century AD, Almus was captured and ransacked in the barbarian invasions of the Huns. It was later an important city in Early Byzantium, the medieval Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman period the settlement was protected with a rectangular rampart.

Almus was mentioned in the 4th century AD Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia), and was mentioned in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, “The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus”), an Ancient Roman register of road stations. Almus was marked on some Western European maps from the 16th-17th century. The name of Almus has been found in Latin inscriptions on epigraphic monuments explored by 19th and early 20th century archaeologists such as Bogdan Filov, Gavril Katsarov, Vaclav Dobruski, Felix Kanitz, and Konstantin Josef Jirecek.

The archaeological excavations of Almus have explored a 70-meter section from its western fortress wall, which is 2.2 meters wide, and was 200 meters long. The total area of the Almus Fortress is about 41 decares (app. 10.1 acres), and is shaped like a pentagon with round fortress towers at its angles. The discovered archaeological artifacts are stored in the Lom Museum of History. The Almus Fortress has not been restored even though it harbors great potential as a cultural tourism site. The fortress walls are made from river stones, and the city had two water pipelines – one made of clay, and another one made of lead. It is believed that Almus did not develop crafts because of its proximity to Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria. The necropolis of Almus contains masonry graves, and sarcophagi.

Almus was discovered for modern-day archaeology in 1864 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz. At the end of the 19th century it was explored by Dimitar Marinov and Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Josef Jirecek. In 1925, an archaeological society called Almus was founded in the town of Lom. Almus was granted the status of a “monument of culture of national importance” by the Bulgarian government in 1971. It was excavated in 1986-1990 by a team of the Lom Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The early history of today’s northwestern Bulgarian city of Montana is primarily associated with the Ancient Roman military camp and later city and Fortress of Montanesium, initially known as Castra ad Montanesium (“castra” meaning “camp” in Latin) from the Roman Antiquity period (1st-4th century AD). However, the earliest traces of civilized life on the territory of Bulgaria’s Montana date to the Chalcolithic Age (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), from the 5th-4th millennium BC, and have been discovered in the lower archaeological layers on the site of the Montanesium Fortress. During the 1st millennium BC the place was inhabited by the independent Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi, which was allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful Ancient Thracian state. From this period, the Montanesium Fortress features preserved sections of the pre-Roman, Ancient Thracian fortress wall, over 1 meter thick, which is located under the Roman fortress’s large fortress tower.

The Roman Empire conquered the region of Montana in today’s Northwest Bulgaria around 29 BC (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by Ancient Rome in 46 AD) setting up a military camp, Castra ad Montanesium, on top of the existing Ancient Thracian settlement. The archaeological sources about the history of the Roman city of Montanesium come largely from Roman epigraphic monuments. The Romans were interested in the region of Montana because of its ore deposits and the opportunities for mining gold, silver, lead, and iron, especially along the Ogosta River and the Zlatitsa River. The region was one of the major gold mining centers in the Balkan Peninsula in the 1st-3rd century AD. The earliest known Roman military detachment to set up camp at Montanesium in the 1st century AD was Cohors Sugambrorum. The epigraphic monuments indicate the intensified presence of Roman servicemen from Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion) and Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion) from the first half of the 2nd century AD until the middle of the 3rd century AD; Numerus Civium Romanorum was stationed there in the first half of the 3rd century AD, and Cohors III Collecta – in the middle of the 3rd century AD.

The Roman military camp Castra ad Montanesium is mentioned in an inscription from 134 AD; as a result of its development as a settlement, in 160-161 AD, it received the status of a Roman city – municipium – with its own territory (Regio Montanesium) likely corresponding to today’s Bulgarian District of Montana located between the Danube River to the north, and the Balkan Mountains to the south. It was part of the Roman province Moesia Superior where it was the second most important city after the arsenal city on the Danube, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria), whose ruins pillaged by modern-day treasure hunters can be found today near Bulgaria’s Archar. In 271 AD, Roman Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275 AD) transformed the province of Moesia Superior into the province of Dacia Aureliana with its capital at Serdica (today’s Sofia), after vacating Dacia Traiana beyond the Danube. Around 283 AD, Dacia Aureliana was divided into two provinces, Dacia Mediterranea, with its capital at Serdica, and Dacia Ripensis (“Dacia from the banks of the Danube”) with its capital at Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria), and Montanesium as its second most important city. The name of Montanesium is known from several epigraphic monuments from the 2nd-3rd century AD. Its etymology probably stems from the Latin words “mons” (mountain) and “montani” (mountaineers). Specific hypotheses about its origin range from the name of a Roman military detachment called Cohors Montanorum, which was stationed there in the second half of the 1st century AD (whose presence, however, is only indirectly implied in the sources), to the city’s location at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, and to a cult shrine in the pre-Roman settlement.

The Fortress of Montanesium also had a large water spring. It was the site of an ancient rock shrine which was an important cult center during the Roman Age when pilgrims worshipped there a number of Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman deities, including Diana and Apollo, who were the city’s Hellenistic Age patrons, as well as Jupiter, Dionysus, Roman god of woods and fields Silvanus, medicine god Asclepius, also known as Aesculapius, and his daughter Hygieia, Thracian supreme god Heros, also known as the Thracian Horseman, Hermes, Heracles (also known as Hercules), Mars, Persian deity Mithra (Mitra), and the spring nymphs. Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the Ancient Roman city of Montanesium have discovered numerous sculptures, votive tablets, and inscriptions left as gifts by a wide range of pilgrims from the military, civilians, aristocrats, and common folk.

Barbarian invasions by the Goths in the middle of the 3rd century AD disrupted the life of the Roman city of Montanesium leading to a reconstruction of its fortress. At the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century AD, around the time of the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD), Montanesium flourished together with the numerous Roman villas in its suburbs. The Antiquity shrine and the Roman villas were destroyed at the end of the 4th century AD in a new wave of Gothic invasions. Between 440 and 490 AD today’s Northwest Bulgaria was overrun by the Huns and the Goths; Montanesium waned until the 6th century AD when it was ultimately destroyed by the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs (between 500 and 560 AD), like the rest of the Roman cities in today’s Northern Bulgaria. The Slavs who settled there named the city Kutlovitsa which remained its name during the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire, in the 12th-14th century AD, Kutlovitsa was the center of a Christian eparchy.

During the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), in 1688, Kutlovitsa, and more precisely a nearby area known as Zheravitsa, was the site of a major battle between the Bulgarian Catholic rebels who organized the Chiprovtsi Uprising, and the Ottoman Turkish forces. After Bulgaria’s National Liberation in 1878, Kutlovitsa received a city status in 1891, and was renamed Ferdinand after then Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand (r. 1887-1918). In 1923, it was one of the centers of the botched September Uprising organized in the rural parts of the Tsardom of Bulgaria by the Bulgarian Communist Party with lavish funding from the Communist International (Comintern) and the Soviet Union. After Bulgaria was occupied by the Red Army in 1944, and the communists came to power in a coup d’etat, the city of Ferdinand was renamed Mihailovgrad in honor of Hristo Mihailov, a local communist functionary who was one of the leaders of the botched September Uprising. The city regained its Roman name Montana only after the communist period ended in 1989, in 1993, with a degree of Bulgaria’s first democratically elected President Zhelyu Zhelev (1935-2015). The Montanesium Fortress was partly restored in 2012-2014 as a cultural tourism site with EU funding from Operational Program “Regional Development”, with a grant of BGN 1.3 million (app. EUR 665,000).