Archaeologist Finds Gladiator Relief, Inscription Mentioning Roman Caesars in Ancient City Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora

A marble slab from a temple frieze depicting two fighting gladiators has been found during rescue excavations of the Roman city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria's Stara Zagora. Photo: Duma daily

A marble slab from a temple frieze depicting two fighting gladiators has been found during rescue excavations of the Roman city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora. Photo: Duma daily

A marble slab from the frieze of an ancient temple in the Roman city of Augusta Traiana depicting two fighting gladiators has been discovered together with herms and an inscription mentioning Roman Caesars during rescue archaeological excavations in the southern Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora.

The marble slab which is 115 cm long and 83 cm wide has been discovered by archaeologist Maria Kamisheva from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History, reports the Bulgarian daily Duma.

The slab is decorated with the clearly visible depictions of two gladiators – one of them attacking with a sword and a shield, and another who seems to be retreating, holding a spear and a trident.

The gladiator slab was most probably part of the frieze – the central part of an entablature of ancient buildings often decorated with reliefs – of a Roman temple in the city of Augusta Traiana.

The archaeologists carrying out the rescue excavations have also found two hermssculptures with human heads above a plain lower section. The herms come from the same Roman temple. Both are decorated with male heads wearing what appear to be gladiator helmets.

Archaeologist Maria Kamisheva from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History shows the newly found gladiator relief from a Roman temple frieze in the ancient city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria's Stara Zagora. Photo: Kmeta

Archaeologist Maria Kamisheva from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History shows the newly found gladiator relief from a Roman temple frieze in the ancient city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora. Photo: Kmeta

Another exciting discovery is a donor’s inscription stating the exact year when the Augusta Traiana temple was built – 303 AD. The inscription says the temple was erected by the governor of the Roman province of Thrace, Emilius Alexander, “for the glory of Roman Caesars Galerius Valerius Maximianus and Flavius Valerius Constantius” (i.e. Galerius and Constantius Chlorus).

Galerius and Constantius were part of the so called Tetrarchy, a government system introduced by Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD) in which the Empire was governed by two Augusti (Senior Emperors) and two Caesars (Junior Emperors). When the Tetrarchy was set up in 293 AD (the so called First Tetrarchy), Diocletian ruled the East of the Roman Empire as Augustus together with Galerius as Caesar, and Maximian ruled the West of the Roman Empire as Augustus together with Constantius Chlorus as Caesar.

Thus, Galerius (Galerius Valerius Maximianus) ruled in 293-305 AD as Caesar under Emperor Diocletian and in 305-311 AD as Augustus alongside Constantius, then Severus, then Constantine; and Constantius Chlorus (Flavius Valerius Constantius) ruled in 293-305 AD as Caesar under Maximian, and in 305-306 AD as Augustus alongside Galerius.

A map of the Roman Tetrarchs under the First Tetrarchy, the system set up by Emperor Diocletian under which the Roman Empire was ruled by two senior and two junior emperors. Map: Wikipedia

A map of the Roman Tetrarchs under the First Tetrarchy, the system set up by Emperor Diocletian under which the Roman Empire was ruled by two senior and two junior emperors. Map: Ssolbergj, Andrei nacu, Wikipedia

The donor’s inscription with the names of the Roman Caesars Galerius and Constantius Chlorus is the third donor’s inscription to have been found at the site in the downtown of Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora which is being excavated at present, with archaeologist Maria Kamisheva expecting more finds as the digs progress to the earlier archaeological layers.

Another archaeological site located about 50 meters away from the excavations of what was a Roman temple has yielded another interesting find – a stone stele with an inscription in Greek which was re-used for construction in the Middle Ages. The inscription has not been read yet but it is said to be dating to the 3rd century AD.

Archaeologist Maria Kamisheva from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History shows the newly found gladiator relief from a Roman temple frieze in the ancient city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria's Stara Zagora. Photo: Duma daily

Archaeologist Maria Kamisheva from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History shows the newly found gladiator relief from a Roman temple frieze in the ancient city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora. Photo: Duma daily

Another discovery from the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora, restored colorful Roman mosaics of “Dionysus’s Procession” from the 4th century AD, are about to be shown to the public for the first time.

Background Infonotes:

The Augusta Traiana – Vereia Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora features the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Augusta Traiana founded by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) (after whom it was named) on the site of a previously existing Ancient Thracian settlement called Beroe. (Some recent research indicates it might have been founded by Trajan’s successor, Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD).)

It saw its greatest urban development later under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD). It quickly became the second most important city in the Roman province of Thrace after Philipopolis (Trimontium), today’s Plovdiv.

The Roman city of Augusta Traiana covered a territory of about 500 decares (app. 125 acres). During the Late Antiquity, it was visited by several Roman Emperors including Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD), Caracalla (r. 211-217 AD), and Diocletian (r. 294-305 AD), which is seen as a testimony to its importance.

In the 2nd-3rd century, Augusta Traiana minted its own coins (a total of 874 of them have been found, as of 2016); it is known to have had commercial contacts with faraway regions and cities such as Sparta, Aquincum (today’s Budapest in Hungary), and the province of Syria.

In the middle of the 4th century, Augusta Traiana became one of the major Early Christian centers in the Balkans.

In the Late Antiquity (4th-6th century) the city of Augusta Traiana was once again known under its original Thracian name of Beroe. Much of it was destroyed by barbarian invasions – by the Goths in the 4th century, the Huns in the 5th century, and later by the Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars. The invasions of the Bulgars and Slavs in the late 7th century, around the time of the two peoples formed the First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD), effectively ended the life of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Beroe / Augustra Traiana as it was.

It became part of Bulgaria under Khan Tervel (r. 700-718 AD), who called it Boruy. The city was a major bone of contention during the numerous wars between Bulgaria and Byzantium and became known as Vereia after Byzantium conquered the eastern parts of the First Bulgarian Empire in the late 10th century. Bulgaria reconquered it during the early years of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD).

In addition to its Neolithic, Ancient Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian heritage, the territory of the city of Stara Zagora is dotted with Ancient Thracian archaeological sites, including more than 30 known temples of the main god according to Thracian mythology, the Thracian Horseman.

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The Stara Zagora Neolithic Dwellings Museum is part of the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History. It features what are described as “Europe’s best preserved homes from the early Neolithic period". It is based on discoveries made at a Neolithic settlement in the western part of the city dating back to the 7th-6th millennium BC first excavated in 1969 during rescue digs. In addition to the best preserved in situ early Neolithic dwelling in Europe, the museum also features an exhibition of prehistoric art.