Archaeologists Discover Marble Gladiator Head, Decipher Newly Found Inscription from Ancient Roman City Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora

This head of a gladiator's marble statue has been found during the recent 2015 summer excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana in the southern Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora. Photo: Monitor daily

This head of a gladiator’s marble statue (in the middle) has been found during the recent 2015 summer excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana in the southern Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora. Photo: Monitor daily

A marble head of a gladiator is the latest find from the 2015 summer excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana whose ruins are located in the downtown of today’s southern Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora.

Earlier, in August 2015, the team of archaeologist Maria Kamisheva from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History discovered a marble slab from the frieze of an ancient temple in Augusta Traiana depicting two fighting gladiators as well as herms and an inscription mentioning Roman Caesars.

The marble head from a gladiator statue has been found on the same spot as the marble slab with the fighting gladiators’ relief; its discovery was announced during the recent Night of the Arts held at the Stara Zagora Museum when it was also shown to the public for the first time, reports the Bulgarian daily Monitor.

In addition to showcasing the marvelous gladiator head, the archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora have announced they have deciphered the second inscription that they found at another archaeological site located about 50 meters away from the excavations of what was a Roman temple.

Not only does this second inscription reveal that the temple in question was dedicated to the ancient deity Hermes, but it also indicates that the Roman city of Augusta Traiana had a stadium as well as an odeon, an Ancient Greek and Roman public space for musical and theatrical performances and competitions.

The newly deciphered inscription, which is in Ancient Greek, dates back to the first half of the 3rd century AD. It reads, as follows,

“[he] furnished the columns (the portico of the temple) of Hermes all the way to the wide street leading up to the Odeon at his own [expense]".

As mentioned above, this second inscription was discovered engraved into the architrave of a portico found during the 2015 summer rescue excavations by the team of archaeologist Maria Kamisheva.

According to archaeologist Dimitar Yankov, one of the researchers who has spent decades studying the Ancient Roman city in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora, the inscription is clear-cut evidence that Augusta Traiana had a stadium and an odeon.

He also points out that there are indications that the Roman city in question had a gymnasium, an ancient training facility for competitors in public sports games.

“There are many pieces of evidence that the city had a gymnasium… The [sports] contests were held at the forum at first but later these events were moved to the north where a stadium was built," Yankov is quoted as saying.

He adds the stadium of Augusta Traiana might have been located close to the temple of god Hermes, whose ruins the archaeologists excavated over the summer, since Hermes was deemed a patron of traders and athletes.

The odeon of the Roman city of Augusta Traiana might also have been located near the temple of Hermes but no conclusive evidence has been found for its location.

Several decades ago another Bulgarian archaeologist, Prof. Dimitar Dimitrov, documented two marble slabs from Augusta Traiana decorated with dancing bacchantes from the company of god Dionysus.

However, back then the slabs were turned in to the museum without information as to where exactly they were found which leaves the existence of an odeon in Stara Zagora still a hypothesis, and its location – a mystery.

A similar motif but of “Silenus with Bacchantes" can be seen in detail in a 4th century AD Late Roman mosaic which was recently restored and made accessible to the public in Stara Zagora.

Also check out our recent stories about the archaeological discoveries and restorations from the Roman city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora:

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

Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora Unveils Restored Ancient Mosaics from Roman City Augusta Traiana Showing ‘Silenus with Bacchantes’

Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora Promotes Neolithic Dwellings, Roman City Augusta Traiana as Tourist Destination

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.

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Odeon is the name for a public Ancient Greek or Roman building built for musical and poetry shows and competitions. The word comes from Ancient Greek, and means “singing place" or “building for musical competitions". The first Odeon was built in Ancient Sparta around 600 BC. Three Ancient (Roman) Odeons have been discovered in Bulgaria so far – in Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Nicopolis ad Istrum in Northern Bulgaria. It is believed that the Plovdiv Odeon was first used as a bouleuterion, a building for the council of citizens (boule) in ancient city-states (poleis), but was later used as a space for theatrical performances.