Archaeologists Discover Early Christian Medallion in Burgos (Poros) Fortress in Bulgaria’s Black Sea City Burgas

Archaeologists Discover Early Christian Medallion in Burgos (Poros) Fortress in Bulgaria’s Black Sea City Burgas

This 6th century AD Early Christian and Early Byzantine medallion featuring eight equal-arm crosses has been found in the ancient Burgos (Poros) Fortress in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

This 6th century AD Early Christian and Early Byzantine medallion featuring eight equal-arm crosses has been found in the ancient Burgos (Poros) Fortress in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. Photo: Burgas Municipality

A previously unseen Early Christian bronze medallion is the most intriguing recent archaeological find from the excavations of the ancient fortress Burgos (Poros) on Cape Foros in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas.

The medallion in question is the second notable Early Christian artifact discovered in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress in 2015, after in the spring the local archaeologists found there a lead reliquary containing ashes from the grave of St. John the Baptist.

The medallion has been discovered during the excavation of a building from the 6th century AD, i.e. the Early Byzantine Period, in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, has announced at a news conference in Bulgaria’s Burgas.

During the press conference he and the Mayor of Burgas also spoke about the potential for underwater archaeology efforts for the further exploration of Burgos (Poros).

The medallion was cast of bronze; it is round, and has a diameter of 3.5 cm. Its obverse features eight crosses, one of which is depicted in the middle, and the other seven are in its periphery.

The central cross image was covered with white enamel, and the periphery – with yellow glass paste.

“Finds like that are rare in world archaeology. Such medallions were made of bronze, silver, and gold for the decoration of cult vessels, cups, chalices, dishes, reliquaries," say the experts from the Burgas Regional Museum of History.

The reverse of the Early Christian medallion discovered on Cape Foros has traces of wood which is taken to mean that it was attached to a wooden surface.

“There is enough evidence that these kinds of medallions adorned boxes or wooden covers of liturgical books. That is why, at the present stage we assume that the medallion from Foros adorned the cover of a gospel book or a box used for keeping a liturgical item such as a book or a chalice," explained the Burgas archaeologists.

They add that the form and decoration of the Early Byzantine medallion found in the Burgos (Poros) fortress in Bulgaria’s Burgas seem “extremely similar" to an image from the San Vitale Basilica in Ravenna, Italy:

“One of the mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale shows a church altar in a time of service. The altar table’s cover features round medallions in which the central images are equal-arm crosses just like that of the medallion from Cape Foros."

The archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History have pointed out this is the first time an Early Christian medallion of this sort has ever been found during the archaeological explorations of the ancient cities along Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast such as Mesembria (Nessebar), Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), Deultum (Debelt), Peronticus / Agathopolis (Ahtopol), and Urdoviza (Kiten).

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Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov (left) and the Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History Milen Nikolov (middle) at the news conference presenting the latest archaeological discoveries in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros. Photo: Burgas Municipality

Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov (left) and the Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History Milen Nikolov (middle) at the news conference presenting the latest archaeological discoveries in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros. Photo: Burgas Municipality

The excavated ruins of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros, on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria's Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The excavated ruins of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros, on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria’s Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

In addition to presenting the newly found Early Christian medallion to the public, during their news conference the Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History Milen Nikolov and Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov (unrelated) also presented the results from the latest archaeological excavations of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros.

Burgos (Poros) has been excavated in the last years with funding from Burgas Municipality, which has invested major efforts into the (re)discovery of the history of the city of Burgas, and developing it as a destination for cultural tourism based on the two ancient and medieval predecessors – the Poros (Burgos) Fortress and the city of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis.

In July and August 2015, the archaeologists from the Burgas Museum worked on the excavations of a Roman villa with hypocaust (underfloor heating). It was first found in 2013.

The Roman villa in Poros dates back to the 3rd century AD. However, in the 6th-7th century AD, a couple of Early Byzantine buildings were built on top of it. It is in one of these buildings where the Early Christian bronze medallion described above was discovered.

The archaeologists have excavated several large 6th century AD Byzantine buildings. One of them is 10 meters wide, and the other is 8 meters wide. Their stone masonry walls are 1.1 meters thick.

In one of the buildings the archaeologists have found a water drainage system of sewers leading the waste waters directly into the Black Sea.

Other archaeological artifacts discovered in the buildings include large pithoi (ceramic vessels) for storing agricultural produce as well as hearths, and a depot containing over 30 amphorae which are already being restored.

The Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History Milen Nikolov shows one of the more than 30 amphorae discovered in an Early Byzantine storehouse in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros. Photo: BTA

The Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History Milen Nikolov shows one of the more than 30 amphorae discovered in an Early Byzantine storehouse in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress on Cape Foros. Photo: BTA

No everyday household items have been found, however, leading the researchers to conclude that the buildings in question were most probably used as storehouses during the Early Byzantine period which stored goods shipped through the port of Poros (Burgos).

Below the Early Byzantine archaeological layers, the Burgas archaeologists have reached the walls of the 3rd century AD Roman villa. They have now discovered that the Roman villa was 20.8 meters long and 10 meters wide, and had 9 rooms.

Its western rooms had hypocaust (underfloor heating). Their floors were made of strong pink mortar and slabs. The Roman villa in Burgos (Poros) was built around the middle of the 3rd century AD, and existed until the 330s AD.

The 2015 summer excavations of the Poros Fortress have yielded over 200 archaeological artifacts. Those include a half-preserved statuette of a Roman citizen in a gown, bronze applications, silver and bronze Roman coins from the period between the end of the 2nd century AD and the first half of the 4th century AD, luxury red gloss (terra sigillata) ceramics, a large number of marble tiles, and marble window cornices.

The Early Byzantine buildings from the 6th-7th century AD have yielded coins of all Byzantine Emperors from the beginning of the 6th until the beginning of the 7th century, including Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD), Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), Emperor Justin II (r. 565-574 AD), Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (r. 574-582 AD), Emperor Maurice (r. 582-602 AD), and Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610 AD).

Other Early Byzantine finds from the latest excavations of the Burgos (Poros) Fortress in Bulgaria’s Burgas include bone applications, awls, clay lamps, and the handle of a very big clay lamp with an image of an even-arm cross.

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The Early Christian medallion with other archaeological finds from Burgos (Poros), including the half-preserved statuette of a Roman citizen. Photo: E-Burgas

The Early Christian medallion with other archaeological finds from Burgos (Poros), including the half-preserved statuette of a Roman citizen, and the handle of a very big clay lamp with the image of an equal-arm cross. Photo: E-Burgas

Ancient clay lamps discovered during the excavations of Burgos (Poros). Photo: BurgasNews

Ancient clay lamps discovered during the excavations of Burgos (Poros). Photo: BurgasNews

The 6th century Early Christian medallion found in Bulgaria's Burgas has a diameter of 3.5 cm. Photo: E-Burgas

The 6th century Early Christian medallion found in Bulgaria’s Burgas has a diameter of 3.5 cm. Photo: E-Burgas

Also check out our stories about other archaeological discoveries in the Burgos (Poros) Fortress in Bulgaria’s Burgas:

Bulgarian Archaeologists Come Across Late Antiquity Toilet at Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Bulgarian Royal Seal at Rusocastro Fortress

Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Lead Reliquary with Ashes from John the Apostle’s Grave during Excavations of Ancient Fortress Burgos (Poros)

Background Infonotes:

The ancient and medieval fortress and port of Burgos (Poros) is located on the Cape of Foros in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas. It was first excavated in 2008 by archaeologists Milen Nikolov (currently Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History), Dr. Tsonya Drazheva, and Konstantin Gospodinov, after access to its site was denied for decades because of the existence of a nearby military base which has been closed down in recent years. Part of its fortress wall was first discovered in 1989 during the construction of a cow farm. Even though there have been traces of ancient life, the fortress and port city of Burgos (Poros) on the Cape of Foros in Bulgaria’s Burgas is dated back to the Late Antiquity / Late Roman period, with the Bulgarian archaeologists uncovering a large number of buildings, artifacts, and pottery vessels dating back to the 4th-6th century AD. Their excavations have revealed a complex set of fortifications, including walls, ramparts, and towers, which were rebuilt and reorganized multiple times from the 4th until the middle of the 15th century, and were in use throughout this entire period by different states: the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire. Some of the more interesting finds including a stone block with an Ancient Roman inscription in Greek mentioning the name of Roman Emperor Gordian III (r. 238-244 AD); a 2nd century AD inscription carved into stone stating that “burgi" (fortifications) were built on the border of the Roman colony of Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt) – hence, possibly, the name Burgos; a basilica; the remains of a small monastery called “St. George" which is described in a 13th century Byzantine source; the 6th century lead tube reliquary containing ashes from the grave of John the Apostle in Ephesus, Anatolia.

The Foros pennisula was marked on Italian and Catalan maps from the 13th-17th century as an old fortress and port under the name Poro (strait) or Poros, which means that the fortress defended the waterway entry point of the nearby Lake Mandra which flows out into the Black Sea. A stone inscription dating back to the 2nd century AD (presently exhibited in the Burgas Regional Museum of History) discovered on the site states that “burgi" (fortifications) were built on the border of Roman colony Deultum (located some 10 km inland from the Black Sea coast near today’s town of Debelt). Historians believe that there used to be a large fortified port along the waterway between Lake Mandra and the Black Sea which served and protected the Roman city of Deultum. The Roman road station called Pudizo marked in the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia) has been discovered in this same area.

The area of the Burgos (Poros) fortress and the Cape of Foros is also famous for being the site of a major battle during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). The so called Battle of Skafida (named after the Skafida River and the Skafida Fortress, another medieval fortress located nearby) took place in 1304 AD when the forces of Bulgarian Tsar Theodore Svetoslav (r. 1300-1322 AD) defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Michael IX Palaiologos (Palaeologus) (r. 1294-1320), after having reconquered earlier the nearby Black Sea cities of Rusocastro, Mesembria, Anchialos, Sozopolis and Agathopolis. The victory in the Battle of Skafida helped the Second Bulgarian Empire regain most of the region of Thrace from Byzantium bringing it a period of relative stability at the beginning of the 14th century, after feudal strife had put it in a state of permanent dynastic crisis at the end of the 13th century.

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