Bulgaria’s Razgrad Holds Antiquity Festival at Ancient Thracian, Roman City Abritus

The opening of the 2016 Ancient Abritus Festival in the Roman villa urbana in the ancient city near Bulgaria's Razgrad. Photo: Razgrad Regional Museum of History Facebook Page

The opening of the 2016 Ancient Abritus Festival in the Roman villa urbana in the ancient city near Bulgaria’s Razgrad. Photo: Razgrad Regional Museum of History Facebook Page

An Antiquity Festival has been held by the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad celebrating the archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage of the Ancient Roman city of Abritus with a wide range of events.

Abritus (today’s Razgrad) was first an Ancient Thracian settlement established no later than the 5th century BC but reached its height as a Roman and later Byzantine city in the Late Antiquity.

The archaeological conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman city Abritus completed by Razgrad Municipality in 2014 was worth BGN 6.2 million (app. EUR 3.17 million) most of which was EU funding.

The Abritus Archaeological Preserve was established by the Bulgarian government in 1984 on a territory of about 1,000 decares (app. 250 acres) including monuments from Ancient Thrace, Ancient Rome, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

Learn more about the history of the Ancient Thracian and Roman Abritus in the Background Infonotes below!

The Ancient Abritus Festival, as it is formally known, organized by Razgrad Municipality was started with the opening of a new exhibit at the Razgrad Regional Museum of History on Saturday, June 25, 2016.

The exhibition “The Mounds of Cothelas" is dedicated to the far-reaching research and excavations by archaeologist Prof. Diana Gergova of the Kingdom of the Getae (Gets), the Ancient Thracian tribe which inhabited today’s Northeast Bulgaria and Southeast Romania (which were either the same, or closely related to the Dacians, and are often referred to as Getae-Dacians or Thraco-Getae).

The title of the exhibition presents the discoveries Gergova has made in recent years in the Sboryanovo Archaeological Preserve near the town of Sveshari, Isperih Municipality, Razgrad District, including of the capital of the Getae Dausdava and numerous ancient burial mounds (tumuli) dating back to the rule of Cothelas, the powerful King of the Getae, in the 4th century BC.

More recently, Gergova’s work made headlines with the discovery of the Sveshtari Gold Treasure, also known as the Treasure of Cothelas, in the Great Svetshari Mound (also known as Omurtag’s Mound) in 2012, the discovery of royal chariot with two horses in 2013, and the discovery of another large treasure in the grave of a Getian priestess in 2014.

Gergova’s contribution to Bulgarian archaeology and the development of the Razgrad region has been recognized with a special award (check out the Razgrad Museum’s Facebook Page album) by the Razgrad City Council, the Prof. Ananie Yavashov Award, named after the famous Bulgarian educator, archaeologist, and botanist Ananie Yavashov (1855-1934) (who is the grandfather of world famous Bulgarian-American artist Christo Javacheff)

The Antiquity Festival was also opened with a formal ceremony (check out the Razgrad Museum’s Facebook Page album) at the Roman villa urbana in Abritus, which featured a historical reenactment of the moment when Roman Emperor Decius declared his son Herennius Etruscus his Co-Emperor, and of the Emperor’s speech before his troops before the Battle of Abritus in June 251 AD.

In the Battle of Abritus, Scythian forces under Goth chieftain Cniva routed the Romans killing both Emperor Decius and his son and Co-Emperor Herennius Etruscus.

The opening of the Abritus Festival. Photos: Razgrad Regional Museum of History Facebook Page

The opening of the Abritus Festival. Photos: Razgrad Regional Museum of History Facebook Page

Abritus Festival 3

The second day of the Ancient Abritus Festival has featured events such as reenactments of gladiator fights, fights between Romans and barbarians, a parade of Roman clothing, demonstrations of a Roman market and cuisine, and workshops and games for children. The Antiquity Festival in Abritus was concluded with a concert.

In 2015, during the excavations of the Roman city near Razgrad, the archaeologists excavated a large Late Antiquity building from the 6th century AD discovering a wide range of artifacts – including bronze coins of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD) and fragments from amphorae.

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The official poster for the 2016 Ancient Abritus Festival. Photo: Darik Razgrad

The official poster for the 2016 Ancient Abritus Festival. Photo: Darik Razgrad

Children running during a treasure hunt in ancient Abritus organized as part of the festival. Photo: Razgrad Regional Museum of History Facebook Page

Children running during a treasure hunt in ancient Abritus organized as part of the festival. Photo: Razgrad Regional Museum of History Facebook Page

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Abritus are located outside the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad. For a long time, in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the Bulgarian archaeologists and historians thought the Zaldapa Fortress located further to the northeast was the city of Abritus because of the name of the small town of Abrit located near Zaldapa. However, the ruins of Abritus were discovered some 100 km to the southwest, near the city of Razgrad, in 1953. The ruins of Abritus were identified after the discovery of an inscription fragment reading “Abr…". In 1980, on its outskirts Bulgarian archaeologists found a limestone roadside pillar from the reign of Roman Emperor Philip the Arab (r. 244-249 AD) reading in Latin that it stood 1 Roman mile (1,492 meters) from Abritus. The name Abritus was also written on a limestone sacrificial altar dedicated to Hercules (Heracles) dated between 139 and 161 AD, which was found in 1954. The name Abritus is believed to stem from the Latin words “abrumpo" (terminate, interrupt) and abruptus (steepness, slope), and is taken to mean an “interrupted slope".

Abritus (today’s Razgrad) was first an Ancient Thracian settlement established no later than the 5th century BC, and possibly even earlier, with archaeological excavations revealing Late Bronze Age Thracian homes, and Ancient Greek coins of Macedon King Philip II (r. 359-336 BC), and Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 AD), Thracian King Seuthes III of the Odrysian Kingdom (r. ca. 330-ca. 300 AD), and from the Ancient Greek colon of Odessos (today’s Varna) in the 3rd-2nd century BC. An inscription in Ancient Greek discovered in Abritus in 1953 from the 20s AD is dedicated to god Apollo. It dates to the reign of Thracian King Rhoemetalces II, who was a “Client Ruler" in association with his mother Antonia Tryphaena of the Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace under the Romans from 18 to 38 AD. Rhoemetacles is known to have crushed Thracian rebellions against the Romans who declared him “King of the Thracians". Bulgarian archaeologists believe that the Thracian population of Abritus before the establishment of the Roman city consisted of Odrysians (Odrysae) and Gets (Getae), as well as possibly Celts.

The Ancient Roman city of Abritus was built in the 1st century AD on top of an Ancient Thracian settlement; later Abritus became one of the most important Roman cities in the province of Moesia Inferior. It is believed that the Roman city started as a Roman military camp of Сohors II Lucensium around 78 AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), while some historians believe that the city was founded by Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD). The earliest testimony about the stationing of the Roman cohort Cohors II Lucensium on the territory of today’s Bulgaria is a Roman military diploma from January 7, 78 AD, found in the Roman city of Montanesium, today’s Montana in Northwest Bulgaria. It is also known that in 136 AD Cohors II Lucensium was stationed in Kabile, one of the Ancient Thracians capitals, located near today’s Bulgarian city of Yambol.

The civilian Roman settlement, the so called сanabae legionis, emerged at the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Towards the end of the 3rd century AD Abritus acquired many urban features, and in the 4th century AD it was mentioned as a civitas, a city. Abritus was one of the fortifications on one of the main north-south Roman roads going through Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Marcianopolis or Marcianople (today’s Devnya) – Mesembria (today’s Nessebar) – Deultum (today’s Debelt) – Adrianople (Odrin, today’s Edirne in Turkey). Two other east-west secondary Roman roads passed near it was well: Sexaginta Prista – Marcianopolis – Odessos (today’s Varna), and Nicopolis ad Istrum – Marcianopolis – Odessos. In the later Roman period, the population of Abritus consisted of Romans, Thracians, Greeks, and other settlers from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. It worshipped the Roman deities from the Capitoline TriadJupiter, Juno, and Minerva, as well as Hercules (Heracles), Hermes, Venus, Hygieia, Epona Regina (a Celtic deity protecting horses, donkeys, and mules), and the Thracian Horseman (Heros), among others. Christianity spread to Abritus in the 2nd century AD; in the 4th century AD Abritus became the seat of a bishop subordinate to the archbishop of Marcianopolis.

Ancient sources mention Abritus in connection with the Battle of Abritus in 251 AD, in which the Roman forces were defeated in the barbarian invasion of the Goths, and Roman Emperor Trajan Decius (r. 249-251 AD) and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus (r. 251 AD) were killed. In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae. The Goths raided a number of Roman cities reaching as far south as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv). They were initially beaten by Emperor Trajan Decius at Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Gigen). However, in the Battle of Abritus the following year he perished with his son Herennius Etruscus in a swamp near the Beli Lom River. At the beginning of the 4th century AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), the Romans built a large fortress in Abritus. The city of Abritus had a fortified area of 150 decares (app. 37 acres), four gates, and 35 fortress towers (one of the gates and six of the fortress towers together with a section of the fortress wall remain beneath Razgrad’s pharmaceutical plant producing antibiotics, and cannot be excavated). An unfortified civilian settlement was located on a territory of another 150 decares outside the fortress walls meaning that the total built-up area of Abritus was about 300 decares (app. 75 acres).

Regardless of its robust defenses, however, the Late Antiquity Roman city of Abritus was conquered and ransacked several times by barbarian tribes, including by the Goths in 251 AD, and in 376-378 AD, the Huns of Attila in 447 AD, and the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD. In the Early Christian period, Abritus was the seat of a bishop, and the middle of the 6th century AD, it was rebuilt during the reign of Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). After it was destroyed by the barbarian invasion of the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD, however, at the end of the 6th century AD, the city of Abritus waned, and was abandoned. The year 586 AD is described as the year of the destruction of a number of Roman cities and strongholds along the Limes Moesiae, the Lower Danube frontier of the Empire, in today’s Bulgaria, including Abritus (today’s Razgrad), Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (today’s Archar), Bononia (today’s Vidin), Ulpia Oescus (today’s Gigen), Durustorum (today’s Silistra), Marcianopolis (today’s Devnya).

Abritus was resurrected during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) when at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century AD (in the 7th century, according to some sources) a Bulgarian fortress was built on top of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine fortifications. The Bulgarian fortress at Abritus was ransacked by Knyaz Svietoslav I Igorevich, ruler of Kievan Rus (r. 945-972 AD) who invaded the First Bulgarian Empire in 968-971 AD). The fortress existed until the 1030s-1040s (after the First Bulgarian Empire was defeated by Byzantium in 1018 AD) when it was destroyed by the invading Pecheneg tribes, and has never been populated again. A medieval Bulgarian settlement from the 13th-14th century AD located nearby was called Hrazgrad, today’s Razgrad. It was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388-1389 AD.

The archaeological excavations of the ruins of the Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian city later identified as Abritus began in 1887 by Prof. Anani Yavashov, a Bulgarian naturalist and archaeologist, native of Razgrad (and grandfather of world famous Bulgarian-American architect Christo Javacheff). Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil also explored the ruins at the beginning of the 20th century. The systematic archaeological excavations which identified the Roman ruins near Razgrad as the ancient city of Abritus began in 1953 by Prof. Teofil Ivanov, and continued until 1972. One of the most interesting archaeological finds from Abritus is the largest gold treasure from the Late Antiquity to have ever been found in Bulgaria – it contains 835 coins from the 5th century AD weighing a total of 4 kg, and dating to the reigns of a total of 10 Eastern Roman Emperors and 1 Western Roman Emperor.

The Abritus Archaeological Preserve was established by the Bulgarian government in 1984 on a territory of about 1,000 decares (app. 250 acres) including monuments from Ancient Thrace, Ancient Rome, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire. In 2011, Razgrad Municipality started a project for the archaeological conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman city Abritus worth BGN 6.2 million (app. EUR 3.17 million) most of which was EU funding. The project was supposed to be completed in 2013 but newly revealed archaeological structures necessitated new excavations, and the restoration was wrapped only in the fall of 2014, with final permits issued by the Bulgarian construction authority in May 2015.

Other historical monuments in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad, in addition to the Abritus Archaeological Preserve, include structures from the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. These are the mosque built in 1616 on top of an earlier mosque built by Ibrahim Pasha, a grand vizier of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD), and monuments from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (the 18th-19th century) such as the clock tower built in 1864 by Tryavna architect Todor Tonchev, and Bulgarian homes with Revival Period architecture in the Varosha Quarter.

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