Archaeologists Discover Huge Ancient Roman Horreum (Granary) in Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria’s Popovo
A huge Ancient Roman building from the 4th century AD which appears to have been a horreum (i.e. a granary) has been discovered during the recent archaeological excavations of the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near the town of Popovo in Northeast Bulgaria.
Popovo Municipality has now made public for the first time the findings of the 2015 archaeological digs of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress, which was built between 308 and 324 AD, during the joint reign of Roman Emperors Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD) and Licinius (r. 308-324 AD) who ruled the Roman Empire together as rivaling Augusti under the Tetrarchy system. (Licinius was defeated and executed by Constantine in the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324 AD.)
The huge Roman building, which is the main find from the 2015 excavations of the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress, was at least 60 meters long and at least 25 meters wide even though it has not been fully revealed yet.
The building in question had two stories and a basement; it had a massive two-winged door which was 2.4 meters wide. The walls of the building are 1.3 meters wide, and were reinforced with outer buttresses (counterforts).
The horreum was constructed using the Ancient Roman building technique known as opus mixtum which includes the alternating of stone and bricks bound together with strong mortar.
The foundations of the Ancient Roman granary in the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress were discovered at a depth of over 2 meters. They were made with “concrete” consisting of mortar and crushed stones lying on top of wooden poles stuck deep into the ground.
The space in front of the southern entrance of the building had a portico with a colonnade of eight massive stone columns, while the floor of both the building and the portico was tiled with square bricks of varied size.
Based on its architectural details and a comparative analysis, the archaeologists have concluded that the huge Roman building was a horreum, possibly a government-owned granary.
This conclusion is seen as confirming that the region of today’s Bulgarian town of Popovo was a breadbasket in the Roman Era.
Together with its portico, the horreum found in the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress appears to be the largest in terms of area among all ancient warehouses that have been found in Bulgaria.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the Roman granary was plundered and set on fire around 378 AD when it is known that the fortress was taken and burned down by the Goths during the so called Second Gothic War (378-382 AD) of the Roman Empire.
The building was partly rebuilt at the end of the 4th century AD but never regained its original function as a horreum.
During the two-month archaeological excavations of the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress in the fall of 2015, which were funded by Popovo Municipality, the archaeologists have discovered about 150 copper coins of Roman and Byzantine Emperors from the 4th and 5th century AD as well as over 70 household artifacts.
The digs of the Roman and Byzantine fortress have been led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Oleg Alexandrov from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” and by Vladimir Stoykov, an archaeologist from Popovo Municipality.
They were consulted by Prof. Dr. Ivanka Doncheva from Veliko Tarnovo University, the long-time researcher of the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress in the 1990s and 2000s, and also included members of the staff of the Popovo Museum of History and 20 volunteers from the nearby cities of Shumen and Targovishte.
Bulgaria declared the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress a monument of culture in 1976. In 2010, the Bulgarian government granted Popovo Municipality management rights for the fortress which has an area of 40 decares (10 acres). Subsequently, in 2013, a partial archaeological restoration carried out with EU funding (almost BGN 4 million (app. EUR 2 million)) has turned Kovachevsko Kale into a cultural tourism attraction called “Archaeopolis”.
Now Popovo Municipality says it is working on a new project for the conservation and partial restoration of archaeological structures at Kovachevsko Kale which were discovered in 2013.
These include a trapezoid staircase with two secret entrances, a postern (secondary gate) near the thermae (public baths) that was walled up, and a sluice gate (cataracta).
“The realization of this project will shed a new light on the scope, practicality, and creativity of the ancient architects and engineers who designed and constructed the huge fortification of Kovachevsko Kale,” concludes Popovo Municipality while also reminding that the fortress survived for about 270 years, and it saw devastating barbarian invasions by the Goths, Huns, and Avars.
The Kovachevsko Kale Fortress is a Late Antiquity and Late Roman fortress located 6 km west of the town of Popovo, Targovishte District, in Northeast Bulgaria. (“Kale” is a Turkish word meaning “fortress” left over from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria whose proper names are sometimes unknown.) Its present-day name comes from the names of the nearby town of Kovachovets and the Kovachevska River.
The Kovachevsko Kale Fortress is located at the junction of the small river Chepez Dere and the Kovachevska River, in a small plain, near three relatively large plateaus.
During the Cretaceous of the Mesosoic Era, the region was the bottom of a warm tropical sea, a fact testified to by the numerous finds of belemnite fossils.
The Late Roman fortress Kovachevsko Kale near Bulgaria’s Popovo was built in the 4th century AD fortifying a medium-sized Roman city. Based on the numerous coins, the bricks with imperial seals, and the construction technology, the archaeologists believe that impressive fortifications were erected between 308 and 324 AD, during the reigns of Roman Emperors Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), and Licinius (r. 308-324 AD) who ruled the Roman Empire together as rivaling Augusti under the Tetrarchy system. (Licinius was defeated and bby Constantine in the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324 AD.)
The Kovachevsko Kale features a mighty fortress wall which was about 3.2 meters wide, and encompassed an area of more than 40 decares (app. 10 acres). It had 17 towers sticking out of the fortress wall, including 4 round towers at its corners, two gates, a bridge over the Chepez Dere river, and a underground water bmade of clay pipes.
The archaeological excavations of the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress started in 1990, and have been in progress ever since. The archaeologists have excavated a total of five fortress towers – two on the northern fortress wall, two on the western gate, and one on the western fortress wall.
Other finds from the excavations include the ruins of a pagan shrine and a building next to it, a large building from the Byzantine period as well as two buildings from the 4th century AD located in the southern part of the fortress.
During the excavations, the archaeologists have discovered a total of three archaeological layers formed as a result of the construction and collapse of the Roman structures as well as an earlier layer predating the construction of the Roman fortress by several centuries which dates back to the Late Iron Age, i.e. the period of Ancient Thrace but has not been explored yet.
The first period of the life of the Roman fortress Kovachevsko Kale ended when the city was set on fire in the Second Gothic War of 376-382 AD, and life was not restored to the city immediately. The second period refers to the time until the invasions of the Huns led by Attila around 447 AD. The third period was ended by the destruction caused by the invasion of the Slavs and Avars in the 580s.
The latest Byzantine coins to have been found in Kovachevsko Kale were mined by Byzantine Emperor Justin II (565-578 AD) in 578 AD. Coins from other times periods that have been found in or around the fortress – from the 3rd, 10th and 11th century, are said to be unrelated to the history of the city.
The Kovachevsko Kale Fortress was first explored by Bulgarian-Czech archaeologist Karel Skorpil at the end of the 19th century who found that Kovachevsko Kale was the second road station on the Roman road from Marcianopolis (today’s Devnya) to Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Nikyup).
The first archaeological digs there were rescue excavations during a reconstruction of the Popovo – Byala Road in 1965. Regular excavations started only in 1990, and have been carried out by archaeologists from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”.
During the digs in 1993-1995, in one of the fortress towers, the archaeologists found the skeletons of three people which are believed to have been killed by a strong earthquake which destroyed the inside structures of the tower. In 1998, on the outer side of the fortress wall near the same tower, the archaeologists discovered a construction inscription in Latin which has not been fully deciphered.
All five of the excavated fortress towers in Kovachevsko Kale had three stories and roofs made of wood and covered with large clay roof tiles (tegulae).
The numerous coins discovered in the fortress include coins of at least 29 Roman and Byzantine Emperors, 5 empresses, and even several bronze coins of King Philip II of Macedon. The coins have been minted in at least 13 cities in the Roman Empire – Alexandria, Antioch, Cyzicus, Constantinople, Nicomedia, Rome, Ticinum, Augusta Treverorum, Aquileia, Sirmium, Siscia, Thessaloniki, and Heraclea. There are also individual coins from the 3rd century AD from the cities Marcianopolis, Odessos, and Nicopolis ad Istrum.
Bulgaria declared the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress a monument of culture in 1976. In 2010, the Bulgarian government granted Popovo Municipality management rights for the 40 decares (10 acres) of the fortress. Subsequently, in 2013, a partial archaeological restoration carried out with EU funding (almost BGN 4 million (app. EUR 2 million)) has turned Kovachevsko Kale into a cultural tourism attraction called “Archaeopolis”.