Archaeologists Discover Coin Treasure in Recently Found Fortress Pharmakida near Bulgaria’s Primorsko, Link It to Rome’s Third Mithridatic War

The ancient coins from the 2nd-1st century BC discovered in the Pharmakida Fortress near Bulgaria's Primorsko are used to date its demise to the time of the Roman Republic's Third Mithridatic War (73-63 BC), and more specifically to a Roman campaign in 72 BC. Photo: National Museum of History

The ancient coins from the 2nd-1st century BC discovered in the Pharmakida Fortress near Bulgaria’s Primorsko are used to date its demise to the time of the Roman Republic’s Third Mithridatic War (73-63 BC), and more specifically to a Roman campaign in 72 BC. Photo: National Museum of History

A treasure containing coins of the Ancient Greek colony Apollonia Pontica, today’s Bulgarian Black Sea resort Sozopol, as well as coins of Macedon Emperor Alexander the Great minted after his death, has been found by the archaeologists excavating the Pharmakida Fortress, which itself had been a previously unknown fortress first discovered in June 2015.

The coin treasure discovery has been announced by the Bulgarian National Museum of History in Sofia whose archaeological team is carrying out the excavations at the Pharmakida Fortress near the Black Sea town Primorsko in Southeast Bulgaria.

The Museum says that 2 days ago the archaeologists excavating the main fortress tower of Pharmakida (meaning “the healer’s" fortress) started to dig up ancient coins from the end of the 2nd century BC and the beginning of the 1st century BC.

These are silver and bronze coins of the Ancient Greek colony Apollonia Pontica, the predecessor of today’s Bulgarian Black Sea town of Sozopol, and coins of Macedon Emperor Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC) which, according to Bulgaria’s National Museum of History, were minted even long after his death “because [they were] in high demand".

The archaeologists from the team of Assoc. Prof. Ivan Hristov, who is the Deputy Director of the National Museum of History in Sofia, have found a couple of dozen ancient coins so far but expect their number to grow as they keep digging up the tower of the Pharmakida Fortress.

“Apparently, this was the cash safe of the governor of the fortress which was was left behind after the fortress tower was engulfed in flames during its conquered," says the Museum statement.

It adds that the dating of the newly found coin treasure also helps date the demise of the Pharmakida Fortress, which, unlike other similar ancient fortresses, was not revived in the subsequent historical periods.

Thus, based on the coins they have discovered, the archaeologists from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History now hypothesize that the Pharmakida Fortress was destroyed for good during the military campaign of Roman Republic general Marcus Lucullus (ca. 116 – ca. 56 BC) against King Mithridates VI of Pontus (r. 120 – 63 BC), ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus in Anatolia.

The campaign occurred during the so called Third Mithridatic War (73 – 63 BC) in which Rome ultimately prevailed over the Pontic Kingdom (Pontus).

“The cities and the Ancient Thracians inhabiting [what is today Bulgaria’s] southern Black Sea coast were allies of Mithridates VI who sent to their aid forces led by commander Epithinchanonus. However, the [Roman] legions of Marcus Lucullus routed the forces of Pontus as well as the troops of Apollonia Pontica and the Thracians. Apollonia Pontica was razed to the ground. Judging by Pharmakida’s case, apparently the Thracian towns in the region had the same fate," concludes the statement of the National Museum of History in Sofia.

The Pharmakida Fortress near Bulgaria’s Black Sea town Primorsko was discovered only in June 2015 in the thick and subtropical forests along the Ropotamo River in Southeast Bulgaria.

The discovery was made by Assoc. Prof. Ivan Hristov, Deputy Director of the National Museum of History, who has also been excavating several other archaeological sites along Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast, including the Talaskara Fortress on Cape Chervenka (Chrisosotira).

Hristov has identified the name of the Pharmakida Fortress (which means a “healer" in Ancient Greek) on old maps of the local forestry service. Even though the name had been marked on the old maps, however, the fortress itself had remained unknown to the science of archaeology until its recent discovery.

The previously unknown fortress, which appears to have been inhabited by Ancient Thracians, has an area of about 3 decares (app. 0.75 acres), and is located on a hill with natural defenses on one of the curves of the Ropotamo River. The surrounding steep rocks make it very hard to reach the stronghold, and it can only be accessed through a narrow wood path whose route leading up to it is guarded by a fortress tower.

Bulgaria’s National Museum of History attributes the name Pharmakida to an ancient cult for deities of healing and medicine.