Coins of 42 Roman and Byzantine Emperors Discovered at Late Antiquity Fortress Kovachevsko Kale near Bulgaria’s Popovo So Far

A map showing the location of the major mints in the Roman (and late Byzantine) Empire where the coins discovered so far at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria's Popovo originated. Photo: Popovo Municipality/Popovo Museum of History

A map showing the location of the major mints in the Roman (and late Byzantine) Empire where the coins discovered so far at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria’s Popovo originated. Photo: Popovo Municipality/Popovo Museum of History

The archaeological excavations of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress of Kovachevsko Kale, which is located near the town of Popovo in Northern Bulgaria, have so far led to the discovery of coins of a total of 42 Roman and Byzantine emperors and a number of other rulers from the Antiquity period.

These include also coins of six empresses, commemorative coins of the cities Rome and Constantinople, barbarian coins, government-issued fake Roman and Byzantine coins, and a few bronze coins of King Philip II of Macedon and Emperor Alexander I the Great, Popovo Municipality and the Popovo Museum of History have announced based on analysis of latest and past archaeological finds.

The coin finds are from all archaeological excavations at Kovachevsko Kale since the start of regular digs there in 1990.

A total of more than 4,500 Roman, Byzantine and other ancient coins have been discovered at the fortress near Popovo so far, with the largest number of coins, over 2,400, having been in 2,400 when the Popovo Museum of History participated in the most large-scale archaeological excavations at Kovachevsko Kale.

The Kovachevsko Kale Fortress is believed to have been built 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.

The impressive fortifications were erected to protect the medium-sized Roman city existing there, whose real name remains unknown, against the barbarian invasions targeting the Roman province of Moesia Inferior (Lower Moesia, today’s Northern and Northeast Bulgaria) from the lands north of the Danube. (Learn more about the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress in the Background Infonotes below.)

The city and the fortress were badly damaged in the invasions of the Goths in the 4th century and the Huns of Attila in the 5th century, and were ultimately destroyed for good in the invasion of Slavs and Avars at the end of the 6th century AD.

The 2015 excavations of the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress have led to the discovery of a huge Ancient Roman building from the 4th century AD which appears to have been a horreum (i.e. a granary), and the conclusion that the city was settled en masse by Visigoths in the late 4th century.

Now the Popovo Museum of History says that the coins discovered so far at the fortress were minted in a total of 15 different cities of the Late Roman Empire: Aquileia (in today’s Italy), Alexandria (in today’s Egypt), Antioch (in today’s Turkey), Arelate (Arles, in today’s France), Cyzicus (in today’s Turkey), Constantinople (Istanbul, in today’s Turkey), Lugdunum (Lyon, in today’s France), Nicomedia (in today’s Turkey), Rome (in today’s Italy), Siscia (Sisak in today’s Croatia), Sirmium (in today’s Serbia), Thessaloniki (in today’s Greece), Ticinium (Pavia in today’s Italy), Treves (Trier in today’s Germany), and Heraclea Pontica (Karadeniz Eregli in today’s Turkey).

Coins discovered at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria's Popovo. Photos: Popovo Municipality/Popovo Museum of History

Coins discovered at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria’s Popovo. Photos: Popovo Municipality/Popovo Museum of History

Kovachevsko Kale Coins 2 Kovachevsko Kale Coins 3 Kovachevsko Kale Coins 4 The largest number of coins found at Kovachevsko Kale originated in Constantinople, Nicomedia, and Cyzicus.

Individual coins from some of the major Roman and Early Byzantine cities in today’s Bulgaria have also been found at the fortress near Popovo. These include Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Nikyup), Marcianople (or Marcianopolis) (today’s Devnya), Odessus (Odessos) (today’s Varna), Augusta Traiana (today’s Stara Zagora), and Serdica (today’s Sofia).

The Popovo Museum of History reiterates the conclusion that based on the abundant numismatic material, the artifacts, and the seals found on bricks, it is believed that the massive fortress known today’s as Kovachevsko Kale was built at the end of the joint rule of Roman Emperors (Augusti) Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), and Licinius (r. 308-324 AD), i.e. shortly before 324 AD.

The latest coins which have been discovered at the fortress to date are folles minted during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justin II (r. 565-574 AD), which is said to be about the time when the residents of the city and fortress of Kovachevsko Kale abandoned it for good in search of safer places to settle.

Discoveries of bronze coins from the 4th century BC refer to a time long before the construction of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Fortress, while coins from the 2nd and 3rd century AD, and from the 10th-11th century do not correspond to the cultural layers, and probably ended up amid the ruins of Kovachevsko Kale accidentally, the Popovo Museum notes.

It has also published a list of all ancient rulers and their relatives whose coins have been discovered at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress in Northern Bulgaria so far:

King Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC)
Faustina the Younger (ca. 130-175 or 176 AD), wife of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD)
Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD)
Roman Emperor Caracala (r. 198-217 AD)
Roman Emperor Macrinus (r. 217-218 AD)
Roman Emperor Elagabalus (r. 218-222 AD)
Roman Emperor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235 AD)
Roman Emperor Philip the Arab (r. 244-249 AD)
Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (r. 268-270 AD)
Roman Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275 AD)
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (r. 276-282 AD)
Roman Emperor Carinus (r. 283-285 AD)
Roman Emperor Maximian Herculius (r. 285-286 AD as Caesar; r. 286-305 AD as Augustus, under Diocletian)
Roman Emperor Galerius (r. 305 as Caesar, 305-311 AD as Augustus)
Roman Emperor Maximinus II Daza (r. 305-308 as Caesar, r. 308-312 AD as Augustus)
Roman Emperor Licinius (r. 308-324 AD as Augustus)
Roman Emperor Licinius II (r. 317-324 AD as Caesar)
Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD)
Helena, mother of Constantine (ca. 250-ca. 330 AD), a posthumous issue
The city of Rome (330-337 AD) – commemorative coins
The city of Constantinople (330-337 AD) – commemorative coins
Theodora, wife of Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus (r. 293-305 as Caesar, r. 305-306 AD as Augustus)
Fausta, second wife of Constantine I the Great (289-326 AD)
Roman Emperor Crispus (r. 317-326 AD as Caesar)
Roman Emperor Dalmatius (r. 335-337 AD as Caesar)
Roman Emperor Constantine II (r. 337-340 AD as co-emperor)
Roman Emperor Constans (r. 337-350 AD as co-emperor)
Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361 AD)
Magnentius (r. 350-353 AD as usurper)
Decentius (r. 350-353 AD as usurper)
Roman Emperor Constantius Gallus (r. 351-354 AD as Caesar)
Roman Emperor Julian II the Apostate (r. 361-363 AD as sole Augustus)
Roman Emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375 AD)
Eastern Roman Emperor Valens (r. 364-378 AD)
Roman Emperor Gratian (r. 375-383 AD)
Western Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus (r. 383-388 AD)
Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II (r. 375-392 AD)
Roman Emperor Theodosius I the Great (r. 379-395 AD)
Aelia Flaccilla (356-386), first wife of Emperor Theodosius I
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Arcadius (r. 395-408 AD)
Aelia Eudoxia (d. 404) wife of Emperor Arcadius
Western Roman Emperor Honorius (r. 393-423 AD)
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408-450 AD)
Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III (r. 423-455 AD)
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD)
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justine II (r. 565-578 AD)
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Leo VI the Philosopher (r. 886-912 AD)
Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028 AD)

Coins discovered at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria's Popovo. Photos: Popovo Municipality/Popovo Museum of History

Coins discovered at the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria’s Popovo. Photos: Popovo Municipality/Popovo Museum of History

Kovachevsko Kale Coins 6 Kovachevsko Kale Coins 7 Kovachevsko Kale Coins 8 Kovachevsko Kale Coins 9 Also check out our other recent stories about the Kovachevsko Kale Fortress in Northeast Bulgaria:

Pottery Analysis Reveals Visigoths Settled En Masse in Northeast Bulgaria Shortly before Roman Empire’s Division

Archaeologists Discover Huge Ancient Roman Horreum (Granary) in Kovachevsko Kale Fortress near Bulgaria’s Popovo

Background Infonotes:

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 later executed by 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 PopovoByala 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".