Bulgaria’s Ruse, Romania’s Constanta Start Project for ‘Interactive Visualization’ of Roman Empire’s Lower Danube Frontier (Limes Moesiae)

A map showing the most important Roman strongholds along the limes, the Lower Danube frontier of the Roman Empire, before the conquest of Dacia north of the Danube in 106 AD. Map: Zeigelbrener, Wikipedia

A map showing the most important Roman strongholds along the limes, the Lower Danube frontier of the Roman Empire, before the conquest of Dacia north of the Danube in 106 AD. Map: Zeigelbrener, Wikipedia

Universities and museums from Bulgaria’s Danube city of Ruse and Romania’s Black Sea city of Constanta are starting an EU funded project for creating “interactive visualization" of the Ancient Roman heritage of their respective regions.

The Roman heritage in question refers to the so called Limes Moesiae, the system of frontier fortifications that the Roman Empire built along the Lower Danube as a defensive measure against barbarian invasions.

The project is entitled “Ancient Roman Cultural Heritage Interactive Visualization Environment for the Cross-border Area between Bulgaria and Romania", and is worth almost EUR 500,000, of which EUR 421,000 are provided from the European Regional Development Fund under the EU Interreg V-A program.

The leading partner in the realization of the project is Ruse University “Angel Kanchev", with the Ruse Regional Museum of History and the Museum of National History and Archaeology in Constanta, Romania.

The total funding of EUR 495,000 will be distributed as follows: Ruse University – EUR 293,000, of which 13% (EUR 38,000) are provided by the Bulgarian Ministry of Regional Development as co-funding, and 2% (EUR 5,800) by the university; Ruse Regional Museum of History – EUR 102,000; Constanta Museum of National History and Archaeology – EUR 100,000.

The funding contract for the project has been signed in the Interreg Regional Office for the Bulgaria-Romania Program in the Danube city of Calarasi, Romania, Ruse University has announced.

“The main goal of the project is the preservation and promotion and the historically and culturally important sites from the lower part of the Roman Limes which is a candidate for the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites," says the Angel Kanchev University.

The Bulgarian-Romanian Interreg project on the Roman cultural heritage is supposed to be completed in 18 months, i.e. by October 2017.

More specifically, its main activities provide for the categorization and selection of the Ancient Roman heritage sites, digitization of the resources about them, aerial and onsite photographing, creating information databases, development of web resources, training events, and promotional activities.

The Bulgarian-Romanian project is supposed to result in two integrated tourism products and a joint strategy, and to bring at least 4,500 additional tourists per year to the respective Ancient Roman sites.

The predecessor of today’s Danube city of Ruse in Northeast Bulgaria, the Roman fortress of Sexaginta Prista, was one of the many strongholds that were part of the Limes Moesiae, the Lower Danube frontier.

Some of the other Roman fortresses from the Limes located in Bulgaria include Durostorum (today’s Silistra), Novae (today’s Svishtov), Ratiaria (today’s Archar), Ulpia Oescus (today’s Gigen), Iatrus (today’s Krivina), Dimum (today’s Belene), Transmarisca (today’s Tutrakan) Almus (today’s Lom) Bononia (today’s Vidin), Abritus (today’s Razgrad), Zaldapa (today’s Abrit).

The signing of the funding contract for the Bulgarian-Romanian project in the Interreg office in Calarasi, Romania. Photo: Ruse University

The signing of the funding contract for the Bulgarian-Romanian project in the Interreg office in Calarasi, Romania. Photo: Ruse University

An information poster for the Bulgarian-Romanian Interreg project on Ancient Roman heritage. Photo: Ruse University

An information poster for the Bulgarian-Romanian Interreg project on Ancient Roman heritage. Photo: Ruse University

A map of today's Romania showing the Limes Moesiae along the Lower Danube and two more Roman lines of defense in Dacia, north of the Danube, the Constantine Wall and the Limes Transalutanus. Map: ChristianChiritta, Wikipedia

A map of today’s Romania showing the Limes Moesiae along the Lower Danube and two more Roman lines of defense in Dacia, north of the Danube, the Constantine Wall and the Limes Transalutanus. Map: ChristianChiritta, Wikipedia

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman settlement and fortress of Sexaginta Prista (meaning “Port of the Sixty Ships") in today’s Bulgarian Danube city of Ruse was built on top of an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement. Archaeological research has proven that the Sexanginta Prista Fortress was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement existing as early as the 3rd century BC. In fact, the hill where the settlement is located was a Thracian shrine for performing cult rituals which remain unknown to this day. There the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered hundreds of Ancient Thracian ritual pits dating to the 1st century BC-1st century AD, of which about 50 have been studied. The archaeological discoveries from the Thracian ritual pits include pottery vessels, bronze artifacts, coins, bones; a unique richly decorated zoomorphic vessel depicted an eagle’s head as well as several fibulas. Other archaeological findings include an Ancient Thracian jug from the 2nd-1st century AD containing organic matter from domestic animals, an ancient ceramic vessel from the Greek island of Rodos dated to the 3rd century BC, household vessels, and transportation vessels, which are taken to mean that the settlement had a well developed trade.

The first written account about the Fortress of Sexaginta Prista comes from “Geography", the 2nd century AD work of Greco-Egyptian ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy (ca. 90-168 AD). The city was also mentioned as Sexantapristis in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, “The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus"). The name of Sexaginta Prista has been compared to the name of a Roman port on the Italian Peninsula meaning “100 chambers" because one hypothesis about its name has it that in Roman times Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse in Bulgaria) had 60 dock spots for Roman ships. Another hypothesis claiming to be based on all available historical sources has it that the name of the Sexaginta Prista Fortress stems from events at the end of the 1st century AD during Roman Emperor Domitian’s (r. 85-89 AD) wars with the Dacians, the powerful Thracian people living north of the Danube River. Back then, an entire Roman legion consisting of 6,000 men was ferried across the mouth of the Rusenski Lom River where it flows into the Danube. Exactly 60 Roman ships were used for this effort. Subsequently, the fortress was called Sexaginta Prista to celebrate the ensuing victory over the Dacians. It is possible that until then the fortress in question was known by the Thracian name of the Rusenski Lom River. Whatever the real origin of Sexaginta Prista’s name may be, the fact of the matter is that the name itself underscores the city’s importance for the Roman Navy because the “Port of the Sixty Ships" (today’s Bulgarian city of Ruse) is one of only two Roman frontier outposts on the Limes Moesiae, i.e. the Lower Danube frontier region, which have names connected with sailing. The other one is Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria whose name is derived from the Latin word “ratis" (raft) or from “ratiaria", a type of vessel.

Archaeological excavations conducted at Sexaginta Prista in 2005-2006 have demonstrated that the location of the original Roman military camp which existed between the 1st and the 3rd century AD remains unknown. There are hypotheses that it was built near the mouth of the Rusenski Lom River. The Roman archaeological finds on the hill of the fortress date to the 2nd-3rd century AD. The discovered structures include building remains from the canabae, a temple of god Apollo with votive tables of Apollo and the supreme Thracian deity, the so called Thracian Horseman also known as Heros, pottery, coins, and a sacrificial altar dedicated to Apollo, among others. The orientation and planning of the Apollo Temple reminds of a Christian temple. It is similar to pagan temples in the town of Ruchey, Southern Bulgaria; Benwel, England; and Porolisum in Dacia (today’s Romania). Its planning is construed as evidence that the early Christians modeled their churches on the Roman pagan temples. Apollo’s temple in Sexaginta Prista existed until the end of the 3rd century AD, and after that, possibly in connection with the adoption of Christianity, it was demolished, and a principium (the main building of the command staff of the Roman camp (castra)) was built in its stead, most probably during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD). This is also when the Late Antiquity fortress walls of Sexaginta Prista (unearthed in 1976-1978) were erected. The principium was in use until the early 380s when the city was damaged by the barbarian invasions of the Goths, and again until the beginning of the 5th century. Out of a total of 204 coins discovered in Sexaginta Prista during the latest archaeological excavations in 2005-2006, about 100 date to the 4th century AD.

Archaeological finds of coins and pottery indicate that the hill of Sexaginta Prista was inhabited during the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine period (5th-6th century AD), and during the First Bulgarian Empire in the 9th-11th century. Not unlike the rest of the Roman fortresses on the Limes Moesiae, the Roman city of Sexaginta Prista was overran by barbarian invasions several times, the last one being the invasions of Avars and Slavs at the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th century AD, which put an end to the life of the city in the Early Byzantine period. In the 9th-10th century AD, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), the Bulgarian settlement Ruse was built on the site of the Roman ruins of Sexaginta Prista. The discovery of a Christian grave and other human bones are taken to mean that in the 12th-14th century, i.e. during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1186-1396 AD), the hill was one of the necropolises of the medieval Bulgarian city of Ruse. The other archaeological finds on the hill of Sexaginta Prista are from the end of the Ottoman period, i.e. the 19th century.

The ruins of Sexaginta Prista are located in the northwestern part of today’s Bulgarian city of Ruse on a hill next to the Danube River. They were first designated by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz at the end of the 19th century based on the distances marked on Roman road maps. The first major archaeological excavations of Sexaginta Prista were conducted at the end of the 19th century by the Czech-Bulgarian bothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are the founders of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology. Further rescue excavations were made in the first half of the 20th century during the construction of Ruse’s Military Club. Regular archaeological excavations were conducted in 1976-1978 and again in 2005-2006. The excavations have revealed a 50-meter section of Sexaginta Prista’s northwestern wall, a fortress tower, six Roman buildings, and a temple of Apollo. The excavations in 2006 discovered the ruins of the Roman military headquarters which was used from the first quarter of the 4th century AD until the 410s AD (it was dated based on the discovered coins and pottery). Since 2002, part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Sexaginta Prista have been exhibited in situ as a cultural tourism site.

The principium (plural: principia) was the administrative and religious center, and was the most important building in any Roman fort. It was situated at the centre of the fort where the via praetoria and the via principalis crossed.