Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Inscription at Aquae Calidae Revolutionizing Knowledge about Last Years of History of Ancient Thrace

The newly discovered Ancient Thracian inscription from Aquae Calidae is dated to 26-37 AD, about a decade before the Odrysian Kingdom, and respectively Ancient Thrace, was fully conquered by the Roman Empire. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The newly discovered Ancient Thracian inscription from Aquae Calidae is dated to 26-37 AD, about a decade before the Odrysian Kingdom, and respectively Ancient Thrace, was fully conquered by the Roman Empire. Photo: Burgas Municipality

An ancient inscription providing valuable information about the history of Ancient Thrace in its last years before its conquest by the Roman Empire has been discovered by the archaeologists excavating the city of Aquae Calidae (the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve) in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas.

The inscription is in Ancient Greek, and is recorded on a marble slab. It is dated back to the 20s-30s of the 1st century AD, roughly about the same time as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

It belongs to Apollonius, son of Eptaikentus (Eptaykent), who was the strategos (military governor) of the lands around the city of Anchialos, today’s Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Pomorie.

UPDATE: A translation of the Ancient Thracian inscription can be read here.

“This is a historical monument of international importance," archaeologist Miroslav Klasnakov, the deputy of lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov, is quoted as saying regarding the discovery because of the information it provides about the last years of the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful of the Ancient Thracian states, which existed between the 5th century BC and the 1st century AD.

The inscription was discovered on June 9, 2015, but has been announced only now, at a special news conference in the Burgas Regional Museum of History, reports the press service of Burgas Municipality.

The inscription itself has been found built into an altar in the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae (known as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages), whose ruins are presently being excavated further because of a water supply and sewerage rehabilitation project, and are also being partly restored in order to be turned into a cultural tourism destination.

The immediate interpretation of the meaning of the inscription is that Aquae Calidae was much more than just an ancient resort with mineral baths; rather, it appears to have been a developed administrative center in Ancient Thrace, and was probably a completely separate settlement from Anchialos.

The real value of the discovered inscription, however, has to do with the fact that it mentions the names of three of the last Thracian kings of the Odrysian Kingdom from the Sapaean Dynasty as well as their dynastic links.

The inscription is the first historical source ever discovered to mention the children of Odrysian Thracian King Rhoemetalces II (r. 18-38 AD) and his sister Pythodoris II (also known as Pythodorida II (r. 38–46 AD)), and confirms that the Thracian Queen Pythodoris was the daughter of King Cotys III (r. 12-18 AD), who in turn was the son of Rhoemetalces I (r. 12 BC – 12 AD).

The inscription is dated more specifically to between 26 AD and 37 AD, the time when Jesus of Nazareth was already in his mature age, and was attracting followers in the Roman province of Judea.

While the Sapaean Dynasty ruled what can be described as a client state of the Roman Empire, the Sapaeans were the last Kings of the Odrysian Kingdom, i.e. of Ancient Thrace, and just about a decade after 37 AD, in 46 AD, the Romans deposed them, thus turning Thrace into just one of the many Roman provinces.

The news conference of the archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History working on the excavations of the Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve: (L-R) Museum Director Milen Nikolov, Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov, lead archaeologist Dimcho Momchilov. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The news conference of the archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History working on the excavations of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve: (L-R) Museum Director Milen Nikolov, Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov, lead archaeologist Dimcho Momchilov. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The newly found inscription also mentions a shrine built by Apollonius Eptaikentus, strategos (military governor) of the region of Anchialos under the Sapaean Thracian King Rhoemetalces II.

The shrine was dedicated to Ancient Greek and Thracian goddess Demetra (the Thracians shared much if not all of the mythology of the Ancient Greeks), and the marble slab with the altar where it was found was probably part of a temple dedicated to her. The archaeologists believe that it is very likely that the shrine will be discovered in Aquae Calidae, i.e. in today’s Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas.

Part of an early Christian reliquary discovered in the Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Top Novini Burgas

Part of an early Christian reliquary discovered in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Top Novini Burgas

During their rescue excavations of Aquae Calidae, the archaeologists have also discovered part of the western fortress wall and the western gate of the city as well as part of an Early Christian reliquary.

“This was a big surprise for us. For the first time we have unearthed another fortress wall after discovering the northern fortress wall in 2011. It is precisely this (western) section where we have found the inscription," lead archaeologist Dimcho Momchilov has explained.

“We have come upon this find while we were building the new water supply and sewerage system of the Burgas quarters Vetren and Banevo. This is no gold but it is worth more than gold. This inscription fills in the gaps in the history of the last Thracian kings. Keep in mind that we have excavated only 10% of the territory of Aquae Calidae. After this discovery, we are going to intensify the archaeological excavations because we also expect to discover not just the shrine of Demetra but also a large Early Christian church since we have also found part of a reliquary," says Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov.

While the inscription in Greek by the Anchialos strategos Apollonius is the most important recent find, Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, has presented a wide range of archaeological artifacts discovered in the ongoing digs at Aquae Calidae.

An inscription with part of the name of Gaius Pantuleius Graptiacus, Governor of the Roman province of Thrace around 172 AD. Photo: Burgas Municipality

An inscription with part of the name of Gaius Pantuleius Graptiacus, Governor of the Roman province of Thrace around 172 AD. Photo: Burgas Municipality

Those include another inscription with part of the name of Gaius Pantuleius Graptiacus, the Governor of the Roman province of Thrace during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD), more specifically around 172 AD. The name of Pantuleius Graptiacus is known from two other inscriptions – one found in Philipopolis, today’s Plovdiv, and another one found in Pizos (Pisos) in today’s Dimitrievo in Southern Bulgaria.

A bronze fibula discovered in the Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Burgas Municipality

A bronze fibula discovered in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Burgas Municipality

One of the wooden combs from the 11th-13th century AD discovered in the Aquae Calidae - Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Burgas Municipality

One of the wooden combs from the 11th-13th century AD discovered in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photo: Burgas Municipality

Other discoveries from the recent archaeological research at Aquae Calidae include fragments from bronze maces (clubs), fibulas (brooches), belt buckles and applications; Byzantine lead seals; wooden combs from the 11th-13th century AD; a bone comb from the 6th-7th century AD, which are typical of the Germanic tribes.

A seal of Theodora, Byzantine Empress from the Macedonian Dynasty in 1042 and in 1055-1056 AD, which is unique because it features a depiction of the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary). Photo: Top Novini Burgas

A seal of Theodora, Byzantine Empress from the Macedonian Dynasty in 1042 and in 1055-1056 AD, which is unique because it features a depiction of the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary). Photo: Top Novini Burgas

Another impressive find is a seal of Byzantine Empress Theodora from the Macedonian Dynasty (r. 1055-1056 AD) with a depiction of the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary); it is said to be the only imperial seal with an image of the Virgin Mary to have ever been found.

A wide range of ancient, medieval, and even Modern Era coins have also been found in the excavations of the ancient city of Aquae Calidae – from the Ancient Greek colonies on the Western Black Sea coast (i.e. today’s Bulgarian Black Sea coast), the Thracian Odrysian Kingdom, the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and all the way to the Third Bulgarian Tsardom, i.e. modern-day Bulgaria.

Aquae Calidae Coin 1

Some of the numerous coins discovered during the excavations in the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve. Photos: Burgas Municipality

Aquae Calidae Coin 2Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov has emphasized time and again that the recent archaeological discoveries at the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve as well as in the Poros (Burgos) Fortress on Cape Foros demonstrate that Burgas is not a 200-year-old fishing settlement but that it has a history of more than 2,000 years.

Nikolov has even likened the archaeological layers at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis to a “cake" because of its layers dating to different periods – Prehistory, Ancient Greece, Ancient Thrace, Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Empire, Ottoman Empire – and has pledged even more intensive efforts in the further archaeological research and exhibition of the preserve, which is supposed to welcome tourists any day now.

Background Infonotes:

The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters" in Latin) is an archaeological site located on the territory of Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, on the site of today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo. It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD). Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.

The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs" by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there. The name b comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times. The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.

In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city" in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort" for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.

After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground. The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.

Aquae Calidea – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan FIlov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Senior Fellow Tsonya Drazheva and Ass. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve".