Museum of Roman Mosaics from Ancient Marcianopolis in Bulgaria’s Devnya In Dire Need of Investment, Director Says

A detail from the mosaic of gorgon Medusa, early 4th century AD, in a Roman villa, exhibited in situ in the Museum of Roman Mosaics of ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople) in Bulgaria's Devnya. Photo: Devnya Municipality

A detail from the mosaic of gorgon Medusa, early 4th century AD, in a Roman villa, exhibited in situ in the Museum of Roman Mosaics of ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople) in Bulgaria’s Devnya. Photo: Devnya Municipality

The Museum of Ancient Roman Mosaics in the town of Devnya, Varna District, in Northeast Bulgaria, a little known but rather worthy cultural landmark, badly needs investments for restoration and excavations of structures from the Late Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis (Marcianopol), according to its Director.

Marcianopolis was a major Roman city which was the capital of the Moesia Secunda province in the 4th century AD. It was damaged by barbarian invasions and restored multiple times by Rome and later Byzantium (i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire), and in the Middle Ages was succeeded by a smaller Bulgarian fortress called Devina, the predecessor of today’s Devnya.

The Museum of Roman Mosaics in today’s Devnya exhibits in situ the ruins of a Late Antiquity Roman villa from Marcianople, with its wall and floor mosaics. The most important of these mosaics depict characters from the Ancient Greek and Roman mythology such as Zeus, Antiope, Ganymede and the gorgon Medusa.

“We need to complete and improve the quality of the mosaics exhibited in the Museum," Ivan Sutev, Director of the Museum of Roman Mosaics in Devnya has told Radio Focus Varna.

“This time a much greater attention must be paid to the neighboring archaeological structures. I hope that in the near future we will be able to find direct funding for conducting such excavations," he adds.

The Museum of Roman Mosaics was opened in 1986 as a result of almost a decade of excavations of ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople). However, its design has been subjected to criticism, including on part of archaeologist and later its curator Anastas Angelov.

Unfortunately, much of the archaeological structures of the city of Marcianopolis, a provincial capital in the Roman Empire, have been destroyed, including by urban construction in Devnya during Bulgaria’s communist period (1944/8-1989), and other structures have not been excavated in full or restored (such as the ancient amphitheater which was explored in the late 1950s.).

Director Ivan Sutev points out that the mosaics presented in the Museum are of very high quality, featuring 16 different colors and four types of materials – marble, limestone, clay, and glass paste.

He says that there is constant interest in the Museum of Roman Mosaics by Bulgarian visitors but has complained that foreign tourist numbers have been affected by last year’s decline in the number of tourists from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus in the Bulgarian Black Sea resorts. However, the 2016 forecasts for Bulgaria’s foreign tourist numbers are more favorable.

Groups of foreign tourists traditionally visit the Museum on organized tours from the Black Sea coast around Varna from where it is a 30 km drive.

Sutev has also emphasized that on May 21, 2016, Bulgaria’s Devnya and the Museum of Roman Mosaics from ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople) are going to celebrate the 30th anniversary since the Museum’s opening with a number of special events.

Learn more about ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople) and the Museum of Roman Mosaics in Bulgaria’s Devnya in the Background Infonotes below!

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A detail from Late Antiquity mosaics from the Museum of Roman Mosaics in Bulgaria's Devnya. Photo: Museum of Roman Mosaics

A detail from Late Antiquity mosaics in the Museum of Roman Mosaics in Bulgaria’s Devnya. Photo: Museum of Roman Mosaics

The Museum of Roman Mosaics from ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople) in Bulgaria's Devnya. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

The Museum of Roman Mosaics from ancient Marcianopolis (Marcianople) in Bulgaria’s Devnya. Photo: Spiritia, Wikipedia

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis or Marcianople succeeded by the Bulgarian fortress Devina in the Middle Ages are located in today’s town of Devnya in Northeast Bulgaria, Varna District. It was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement.The city was initially called Parthenopolis but was renamed by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) after his victory over the Dacians north of the Danube in 106 AD in honor of his sister Ulpia Marciana.

It was first mentioned in an inscription found in the Roman city of Lambaesis in the province of Numidia (in North Africa) by an inscription of a discharged Roman military veteran from Legio III Augusta (Augustus’ Third Legion) who was born in Marcianopolis.

The name of Marcianopolis was mentioned in the 4th century AD Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia), and in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, “The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus"), an Ancient Roman register of road stations. Altogether, it was mentioned or described a number of times in a wide range of ancient epigraphic and literary sources, the last being a work by Byzantine historian Theophylact Simocatta from 596 AD.

An important strategic centre, the city was part of the Roman province of Thrace until 187–193, and then of the province of Moesia inferior. Its fortress wall was probably erected after an invasion by the Costoboci in 170 AD. The city grew substantially during the period of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD). It was first besieged by the Goths in 248-249 AD, and then conquered in 250 AD by the Gothic chieftain Cniva.

It is believed that during this conquest a large coin treasure (possibly the city treasury) was hidden. It consists of about 100,000 silver denarii minted between 64 and 238 AD by a total of 44 Roman emperors and empresses, and weighing a combined total of 350 kg. The treasure was discovered by accident in 1929 in the outskirts of Bulgaria’s Devnya, on the territory of the former Roman city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople). Today, nearly 69,000 of these coins are kept in the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and more than 12,000 are kept in the Varna Museum of Archaeology. Thousands more are believed to have ended up in the hands of private collectors and treasure hunters.

In 267 AD, Marcianopolis (Marcianople) was targeted by another major barbarian invasion of the Goths and other tribes but was not conquered. Under Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD), Marcianople became the main city of the newly formed province of Moesia Secunda, one the six provinces in the Diocese of Thrace. It was continuously rebuilt growing in importance gradually eclipsing Odessus (Odessos), today’s Black Sea city of Varna.

In 332 AD, Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD) visited Marcianople during a campaign against the Goths and other barbarian tribes led by his son Constantine (later Co-Emperor Constantine II, r. 337-340).

In 368 AD, Roman Emperor Valens used it as a winter residence and a de facto temporary capital during his campaigns against the Goths in the First Gothic War of 367-369 AD. Later, in 376 AD, Valens allowed a group of Visigoths to settle as foederati in the provinces of Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor. They rebelled the following year, and defeated the Romans in a major battle near Marcianopolis. Valens himself perished fighting the Goths in the Battle of Adrianople of 378 AD.

In the 4th century AD, Marcianople was the center of a bishopric as testified by a bishop’s basilica discovered there in 1957.

Later, as in the Early Byzantine period, in 447 AD, Marcianople (Marcianopolis) was conquered and destroyed by Attila’s Huns after the Battle of the Utus (Vit) River. It was rebuilt in 471 AD, and settled with Ostrogothic foederati who remainded there until 488 AD.

In 587 AD, Marcianople (Marcianopolis) was briefly conquered by the Avars, and in 596 AD, it was used to rally the troops of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire for their campaign against the Avars and Slavs north of the Danube. The large Roman and Byzantine city was once against destroyed by the Avars and Slavs in 614-615 AD and was ultimately abandoned.

After the Slavs settled in today’s Bulgaria in the 7th century AD, they called the ruins of Marcianopolis Devina. The archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman amphitheater of Marcianople have also led to the discovery of a small Ancient Bulgar fortress whose wall is 3.4 meters wide. It was built with large limestone blocks extracted from the collapsed Antiquity buildings of the Roman / Byzantine city.

The Ancient Bulgar fortress at Devina / Marcianopolis was probably built during the reign of Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD), one of the most notable rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) known for his large-scale construction project. The preserved structures from this fortress include two pentagonal gate towers.

The Ancient Bulgar fortress was expanded in the 10th-11th century, and was ultimately destroyed and abandoned when the Ottoman Turks invaded the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) at the end of the 14th century. After that, the settlement which emerged as today’s Bulgarian town of Devnya was moved to the west.

The excavated ruins of Marcianopolis (Marcianople) feature remains from the Roman amphitheater, a Roman villa, and Roman / Byzantine mosaics some of which have been preserved and exhibited in situ in the Museum of Mosaics in the town of Devnya, a bishop’s basilica, and another basilica.

The ruins of ancient Marcianople were first identified in 1829 (during the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829) by Russian archaeologist Ivan Blaramberg. At the end of the 19th century, they were described by Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Jirecek.

The ancient amphitheater of the Roman and Byzantine city of Marcianopolis was partly excavated in 1958-1961 by archaeologist Goranka Toncheva from the Varna Museum of Archaeology.

Many of the structures, including a huge villa urbana were excavated during five archaeological seasons between 1976 and 1986 by archaeologists Alexander Minchev, Petko Georgiev, and Anastas Angelov.

The excavated ruins with their beautiful Late Roman and Early Byzantine wall and floor mosaics have been exhibited, some of them in situ, in the Museum of Roman Mosaics in the town of Devnya.

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The Museum of Roman Mosaics in the town of Devnya, Varna District, in Eastern Bulgaria, was opened in 1986 as a result of almost a decade of archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople). It was designed by architect Kamen Goranov. However, the design has been criticized by archaeologist and later curator of the Museum Anastas Angelov for putting too much stress on the Roman ruins.

The Museum incorporates the ruins, floor and wall mosaics of an Ancient Roman Late Antiquity building. It was a Roman villa urbana constructed in the late 3rd – early 4th century (possibly during the reign of Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD)) on top of the ruins of an earlier building destroyed when the Goths captured Marcianopolis in 250-251 AD under their chieftain Cniva. The building in question was restored several times, and existed until the ultimate demise of the Roman city caused by the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs in the early 7th century. (Later the city was succeeded by an Ancient Bulgar fortress from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire called Devina.)

Because of one of the floor mosaics in the villa depicting Zeus and Antiope, it has been referred to as the “House of Antiope".

The Late Antiquity building which is today’s Museum of Roman Mosaics in Devnya had the area of an entire insula (quarter) – it is 37.15 m wide and 37.75 long. It had a total of 21 rooms with a combined area of 1,402 square meters whose walls were decorated with colorful plasters and frescoes. Five of the rooms had colorful floor mosaics which have been well preserved, and are considered some of the best examples of Roman mosaic art in Bulgaria. Three of them are exhibited in situ, while the rest have conserved, restored, and exhibited in a place different from where they were discovered.

The mosaics feature a total of 16 different colors, and are made of marble, clay, limestone, and colored glass with the techniques opus tessellatum (tiles aligned in horizontal or vertical lines) and opus vermiculatum (tiles aligned so as to draw an outline around the shapes).

Even though Christianity emerged as the dominant and later official religion in the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, the mosaics in the building that is today the Museum of Mosaics in Bulgaria’s Devnya are exclusively pagan in character. They feature depictions of characters from Ancient Greek and Roman mythology such as Zeus, Antiope, Ganymede and the gorgon Medusa, as well as floral and geometric motifs and images of exotic animals.

The best-known of the mosaics in the Museum is the depiction of the gorgon Medusa surrounded by the shield of Athena. The image is not particularly frightening, and the researchers believe the mosaic was designed as a talisman protecting the home from evil.

A mosaic of Zeus and Antiope lies on the floor of the bedchamber of the villa. Because of it, the villa, and the Museum respectively, have been referred to as the House of Antiope. According to archaeologist and curator of the Museum, Anastas Angelov, the image of Zeus and Antiope is among the few surviving ancient depictions of that episode. Zeus is portrayed as a young satyr who kidnaps Antiope attracted by her beauty. The mosaic has two inscriptions in Ancient Greek which explicitly label the characters “satyr" and “Antiope".

Another mosaic in the villa depicts the story of Ganymede who is transported to Mount Olympus by Zeus transformed into an eagle; it covers the oecus, the largest premise. A bad badly damaged Seasons mosaic in the women’s apartments features images of animals, geometric motifs and personifications of the four seasons of which Fall has been preserved. The Museum also showcases the geometric Pannonian Volutes mosaic which was moved there from another ruined ancient building of Marcianopolis.

Learn more about the Museum of Roman Mosaics in this description (in English) on the website of Devnya Municipality.

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The amphitheater of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople) in Bulgaria’s Devnya was excavated in 1958-1961 by archaeologist Goranka Toncheva from the Varna Museum of Archaeology. The foundations of the amphitheater have been preserved but it has not been fully researched. It covers an area of about 4,000 square meters, and is 65 meters long and 58 meters wide. It had 12 rows of seats, 14 sections, and two arched entrances. During the excavations, the archaeologists found part of a limestone block similar to the material that the amphitheater seats were made of bearing an inscription in Ancient Greek with the name “Alexander". It has been speculated that was a rich resident of Marcianople who purchased the right to reserve the respective seat.