Two Family Tomb Sarcophagi from Roman City Augusta Traiana Found during Construction in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora
Two huge funeral sarcophagi used as family tombs from the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana, part of the Augusta Traiana – Vereia Archaeological Preserve, have been discovered by accident during construction works in the southern Bulgarian city of Stara Zagora.
The sarcophagi have been found on a property next to the Badechka River during the construction of a hypermarket store.
Several days ago, the construction workers hit with their excavators the four rough stone slabs covering them, leading to rescue excavations led by archaeologists Maria Kamisheva and Atanas Atanasov from the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History.
The tombs have been opened by lifting the heavy stone slabs covering the sarcophagi by crane in the presence of reporters.
They are part of the eastern necropolis of Augusta Traiana, one of the three necropoli of the city, whose location had been known, but which had never been excavated before, reports the Trud daily.
The Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Augusta Traiana was probably founded ca. 107 AD 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 quickly became the second most important city in the Roman province of Thrace after Philipopolis (Trimontium), today’s Plovdiv.
Learn more about the history of Augusta Traiana (known as Vereia in the Middle Ages) in the Background Infonotes below!
The new discovery has come a day after the Stara Zagora Museum presented a book whose author, Museum numismatist Mariana Minkova, researched all known coins minted by the city of Augusta Traiana.
The ancient sarcophagi were made from marble blocks which were 2.2 meters long and 1.5 meters wide; they were strengthened with metal brackets covered with lead.
They appear to have been used as family tombs by local Thracian or Roman families during the Thracian-Roman period (i.e. after the Roman Empire conquered all of Ancient Thrace in 46 AD) numerous times, possibly for more than a century.
The tombs were closed with stone slabs; no inscriptions have been discovered on their lids or walls so far.
Inside one of the two sarcophagi, there are remains from at least six people as six skulls have been identified; only a single skeleton appears to have been fully preserved, however.
The eastern necropolis of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora was in use throughout the entire 2nd century, and up until the middle of the 3rd century.
In their initial examination, the archaeologists have identified a number of artifacts from the inventory of the ancient family tombs such as a coin, a glass vessel, and small box, and a belt buckle. They are yet to study the finds in detail.
“This find is very important and valuable for our museum since it was part of the eastern necropolis of the ancient city of Augusta Traiana. We have found two very solid tombs made of well carved stone blocks… It is presumed [at least] one of them was a family tomb since 6-7 people were buried in it but not simultaneously. It probably belonged to a rich family,” Petar Kalchev, Director of the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History, has told Darik Stara Zagora.
He adds that the tombs most probably date back to the second half of the 3rd century AD.
The sarcophagi will be excavated further, studied in detail, dismantled, and then reassembled outside the Stara Zagora Museum.
Archaeologists Maria Kamisheva and Atanas Atanasov are expected to provide further details about their discovery and the preliminary results from their rescue digs at a news conference on Friday, March 18, 2016.
Also check out our recent stories about the archaeological discoveries and restorations from the Roman city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora:
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.
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.