Bulgarian Archaeologists Discover Previously Unknown Coins in Medieval City Missionis near Targovishte

Bulgarian archaeologists Angel Konakliev (left) and Nikolay Ovcharov (right) showing some of the newest discoveries from the medieval city of Missionis / Krum's Fortress near Bulgaria's Targovishte: Konakliev holds a 5th-6th century AD clay lamp, and Ovcharov - a medieval fishing hook. Photo: Targovishte Municipality

Bulgarian archaeologists Angel Konakliev (left) and Nikolay Ovcharov (right) showing some of the newest discoveries from the medieval city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress near Bulgaria’s Targovishte: Konakliev holds a 5th-6th century AD clay lamp, and Ovcharov – a medieval fishing hook. Photo: Targovishte Municipality

Two coins from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396), which are said to are unknown, have been discovered during the ongoing excavations of the Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian city of Missionis, also known as Krumovo Kale (Krum’s Fortress) near today’s northeastern city of Targovishte.

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Konstantin Dochevv, an archaeologist and numismatist from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, both coins originated from a previously unknown medieval Bulgarian mint located further to the northeast, somewhere between today’s cities of Varna and Dobrich, rather than in the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo), reports the website of Targovishte Municipality.

The discovery of the coins and other archaeological artifacts has been announced by archaeologists Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov and Angel Konakliev, lead archaeologist of the excavations of Missionis, a major city in Bulgaria’s medieval empire, which was first founded by the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 5th-6th century AD.

One of the coins is a silver coin of Bulgarian Tsar Georgi I Terter (r. 1280-1292 AD) which imitates Venetian coins from the same time period. The other is a copper coin of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD).

According to Ovcharov, the newly discovered coins from the archaeological excavations of Missionis, which started on July 10, 2015, evidence the city’s active trade relations, especially with the Black Sea coast. In the 13th-14th century AD, Missionis / Krums Fortress controlled the route between Varna on the Black Sea coast and the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad.

Lead archaeologist Angel Konakliev says the archaeologists keep unearthing the destroyed ruins of medieval buildings, including a fifth Christian church.

Other discoveries include coins from the Late Roman / Late Antiquity period as well as household items such as a fully preserved clay lamp with grape decorations on its sides which is dated to the 5th-6th century AD.

The archaeologists have also found a breast icon of the Virgin Mary from the 10th-11th century which is to be taken to an iconography lab in the southern Bulgarian city of Kardzhali where it is to be studied and restored. Another newly discovered item is a piece of glass which was probably part of the decoration of the frame of a larger icon.

The Targovishte archaeologists have also discovered a stone ax, which is similar to stone axes discovery in the prehistoric and ancient settlement mound of Polyanitsa located nearby.

A fishing hook apparently designed for catching large fish is one of the newly found items which is said to be similar to hooks found in the 1960s during the first excavations of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress. It has led the archaeologists to contemplate on whether the nearby Vrana River was not considerably larger in the past.

The Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian city is currently being excavated by a total of 30 archaeologists and workers with funding totaling BGN 50,000 (app. EUR 26,000) of which BGN 30,000 have been provided by Targovishte Municipality, and the rest – by private donors.

(L-R) Archaeologist Angel Konakliev, Targovishte Mayor Krasimir MIrev, and archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov presenting the latest finds from the medieval city of Missionis near Bulgaria's Targovishte, including two previously unknown Bulgarian coins. Photo: Targovishte Municipality

(L-R) Archaeologist Angel Konakliev, Targovishte Mayor Krasimir MIrev, and archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov presenting the latest finds from the medieval city of Missionis near Bulgaria’s Targovishte, including two previously unknown Bulgarian coins. Photo: Targovishte Municipality

Background Infonotes:

The Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Missionis, also known as Krumovo Kale (Krum’s Fortress) is located 7 km southwest of the northeastern Bulgarian city of Targovishte. The fortress has an area of 25 decares (app. 6 acres), while the medieval city itself covered an area of 150-200 decares (up to 50 acres). The eastern section of the fortress wall has a gate with two towers.

The Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was built in the 6th century AD, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD) as part of Byzantium’s fortifications in today’s Northern Bulgaria designed to stop the barbarian invasions of the Slavs, Ancient Bulgars, and Goths. The fortress was destroyed by the barbarians in the 6th century AD. During the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), in the 9th century AD an Ancient Bulgar settlement emerged on top of its ruins. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), the fortress wall was rebuilt of stones and mortar as part of fortification system defending the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo).

A lot of information about the medieval city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress is found in the Tabula Rogeriana, the work of Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi, completed in the court of Norman King Roger II in Sicily in 1153 AD. In it, together with other medieval Bulgarian cities, Al-Idrisi mentions the mysterious city Missionis, a large thriving city at the foot of a mountain with busy markets, whose residents got rich through trade. Al-Idrisi’s work is the last written document to mention Missionis whose name may later have been changed to Kosovo. In 1393, the Bulgarian city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks after a fierce siege. The shallow Christian graves discovered there by the Bulgarian archaeologists testify to the slaughter committed by the Ottomans who burned down the city, and it never recovered. Ottoman historian Mehmed Nesri (d. 1520) writes that during the campaign of Turkish vizier Ali Pasha in 1393, after the Ottomans had conquered the city of Shumen, and were advancing to the west against the Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad, they faced the fierce resistance of the strong fortress Kos Ova. Its brave lord is said to have told the Turkish messengers, “We will never renounce our master (Tsar Ivan Shishman) to obey the Turks!" Because of their resistance all of the surviving residents of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress / Kosovo were enslaved.

The exact location of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was debated in the early 20th century Bulgarian archaeology even though Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil had estimated that it was located 7 km west of Targovishte. It was first discovered in 1962 when Prof. Dimitar Ovcharov started archaeological excavations on the hill known to the local population as “Krum’s Fortress". The digs yielded stunning results – strong fortress walls from the 5th-6th century preserved up to a height of 3-4 meters. The archaeologists unearthed the ruins of two large Christian churches as well as residential quarters. The archaeological excavations of Missionis were stopped in 1972, and were restored in 2004 by Targovishte archaeologist Angel Konakliev who discovered a second fortress wall deep inside the thick fortress nearby as well as more medieval residential quarters. His major discovery has been a third Early Christian church, a basilica, which was 34 meters long, and 10.5 meters wide. In the middle of the basilica, the archaeologists found a floor imprint of the church’s main chandelier with dimensions 3×2 meters. Apparently, it fell down at the time of the destruction of the temple which is believed to have been a bishopric cathedral because of traces from the stone pedestal of the bishop’s throne. The coins discovered inside the basilica belonged to Early Byzantine Emperors Anasthasius I (r. 491-518AD), Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), Justin II (565-574 AD), meaning that it was built in the 5th century AD. The building was destroyed in the horrific barbarian invasions of the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century. Missionis (Krum’s Fortress) was revived during the First Bulgarian Empire, and was an especially important medieval city during the Second Bulgarian Empire.