Archaeologists Find Maimed Figurine of Roman God Mars in Ancient City Missionis near Bulgaria’s Targovishte
A mutilated figurine of Ancient Roman god Mars has been found by archaeologists during the excavations of the Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian city of Missionis, also known as Krum’s Fortress, whose ruins are located near today’s northeastern city of Targovishte.
The Mars figurine had its head, arms, and legs removed as part of an anti-pagan ritual, according to the Bulgarian archaeologists.
“This is a way in which the owner of this figurine demonstrated that they had renounced the old pagan gods, and had adopted Christianity,” explains archaeologist Angel Konakliev from the Targovishte Regional Museum of History, as cited by BTA.
Konakliev and his colleague Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in spoke at a news conference in Sofia where they also showed a medieval lead cross reliquary and bronze icon found in Missionis / Krum’s Fortress which were first shown to the public in the northeastern city of Shumen last week.
The 14th century AD lead cross was actually discovered during the excavations of the medieval city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress back in 2008 but its conservation and restoration have taken a long time, and it has been shown to the media and the public just now.
The cross, which has compartments for keeping holy relics of Christian saints, appears to date to the last years of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.
The lead cross reliquary from the Late Middle Ages features depictions of the crucified Jesus Christ and the praying Mother of God (Virgin Mary) next to him as well as three figures which are believed to represent the first followers of Christ – the apostles Andrew, Peter, and Paul.
Angel Konakliev, who has served as the lead archaeologists in the excavations of the ancient and medieval city near Targovishte, has pointed out that because of its large territory – about 700 decares (app. 173 acres) – but not only, Missionis / Krum’s Fortress keeps yielding numerous and diverse finds.
Some of the other interesting recently found artifacts include bone combs from the Early Byzantine period which were used not so much for combing but as decorations in the hair of noble Byzantine women, as well as a silver coin with the image of Bulgarian Tsar Georgi I Terter (r. 1280-1292 AD) which is the only one of its kind ever found.
Nikolay Ovcharov reminds that Missionis was first excavated in 1962 by his father, late archaeologist Prof. Dimitar Ovcharov. After that, however, there was a long pause in the research of the ancient and medieval city near Targovishte, with the digs being resumed only in 2004 as a result of the activism of archaeologist Angel Konakliev, and the support of Targovishte Municipality.
The archaeologists have emphasized that at the end of the 14th century, after a long and tough siege, the medieval Bulgarian city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was razed to the ground by the invading Ottoman Turks.
The Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Missionis, also known as Krumovo Kale (Krum’s Fortress) and Kosovo, 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.
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 a 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.