Goths Burned Down Ancient City Aquae Calidae in 4th Century AD, Bulgarian Archaeologists Conclude
The latest archaeological excavations in the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae, known as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages, whose ruins stand today in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas, have led the archaeologists to conclude that massive 4th century AD fires there were caused by Gothic tribes invading and raiding the Roman Empire.
The archaeological preserve “Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis” located near today’s Burgas Mineral Baths resort was an ancient spa resort known as Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) in the Antiquity, and as Thermopolis in the Middle Ages. It features structures and artifacts from all major civilizations that inhabited the territory of modern day Bulgaria – from Ancient Thrace and Greece to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire.
It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).
“This summer’s excavations have confirmed the enormous importance of Aquae Calidae for the history of [today’s Bulgarian territories] in the 4th-6th century AD when the barbarian tribes of the Goths and Avars were invading [the Roman Empire],” says the Burgas Regional Museum of History in its announcement about the latest discovery from the 2016 excavations in the ancient and medieval “Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis” Archaeological Preserve.
The excavations have been conducted in the the Roman thermae (public baths) in the northern section of the ancient and medieval spa resort. They are led by Assoc. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov from the Prof. Dr. Asen Zlatarov University in Burgas, with Miroslav Klasnakov from the Burgas Museum and Yavor Rusev from the Yambol Regional Museum of History as deputy lead archaeologists.
Their team has been excavating archaeological layers from the Late Antiquity (4th-6th century AD) which are found at a depth of 4-6 meters, and contain traces of destruction caused by fire.
“There is no longer any doubt that the 4th century fires date back to the Goth attacks and the permanent settlement of the Goths here,” according to lead archaeologist Dimcho Momchilov.
It is noted that the Museum notes that the first pieces of evidence that the Goth invaders burned down the ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Aquae Calidae in the 4th century AD appeared as early as 2012 when the Burgas archaeologists unearthed funerals in scorched layers in the vestibule of the Roman thermae (public baths).
At the same time, the excavations of Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis have revealed that the ancient city was burned down once again in the 6th century AD in raids by Avar tribes led by Khagan Bayan, the founder of the Avar Khaganate. Evidence of this was discovered as early as 2014 when the Burgas archaeologists found a monogram of Byzantine general Castus, who is known to have fought the Avars for many years.
In addition to reaching the conclusions that the Late Roman and Early Byzantine city of Aquae Calidae was raided and burned down by the Goths in the 4th century, and by the Avars in the 6th century, the archaeological team has discovered a number of intriguing artifacts and structures.
In the 4th-6th century AD layers of the Roman thermae, the archaeologists have found ceramics and coins from the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD). A number of the newly discovered coins are commemorative coins minted in connection with the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the city of Byzantium – renamed Constantinople – in 330 AD.
The most impressive new find is the head of a large stone statue wearing a tiara. The sculpture probably depicted “a person of the highest rank”, possibly an emperor.
Among the “surprises” of the 2016 summer excavations so far has been the discovery of monumental archaeological structures about 15-20 away from the section slated for the present digs. These structures are to be excavated at the end of the season because they require special examination by the archaeologists, the Burgas Museum says.
The researchers have also stumbled upon a 3.6-meter-wide wall located in the northern section of the site, underneath an ancient street and massive columns discovered back in 2009 by late archaeologist Tsonya Drazheva. The large wall was remade into an entrance, and the material from it was used to pave the place, the excavations have revealed.
The Burgas archaeologists have also discovered a large number of Late Antiquity pipelines which brought cold water to the Roman thermae of Aquae Calidae. In the same layer, they have found a lot of crushed marble fragments which were part of the decoration of the public baths.
The 2016 excavations of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve are set to continue throughout July and August, and the Burgas Museum of History has invited history and archaeology enthusiasts to visit the preserve and observe the field research in progress from a specially built atrium.
Also check out our recent stories about archaeological discoveries at Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis in Bulgaria’s Burgas:
…and our recent stories about the development of the Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve as a cultural tourism destination:
The originally Ancient Thracian city of Aquae Calidae (meaning “hot waters” in Latin) is an archaeological site located on the territory of Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Burgas, on the site of today’s Burgas quarters of Vetren and Banevo.
It is proven that Aquae Calidae – known in the Middle Ages as Thermopolis or Therma – was visited by important ancient and medieval rulers such as Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BC), Byzantine Emperors Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD) the Great and Constantine IV the Bearded (668-685 AD), Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel (r. 700-718/721), and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD).
Archaeological excavations have found that the Aquae Calidae mineral baths were used as early as the Neolithic Age, with three prehistoric settlements being located there in the 6th-5th millennium BC.
The Ancient Thracians settled near the mineral waters in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, turning the major spring into the revered ancient “Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs” by the middle of the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was wrapping up the conquest of Ancient Thrace. The earliest written testimony about the ancient spa resort Aquae Calidae dates back to the 4th century BC when Philip II of Macedon went there.
The name “Aquae Calidae” comes from the name of a Roman road station near the mineral springs which was erected along the major Roman road Via Pontica running along the Western coast of the Black Sea. The Sanctuary of the Three Nymphs was revered in Roman times.
The Roman baths at Aquae Calidae were rebuilt and expanded in the early years of the Byzantine Empire – the 4th-5th century, with fortress walls constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great.
In the Middle Ages, Aquae Calidae became known as Therma or Thermopolis (“warm city” in Greek). In 708 AD, Khan (or Kanas) Tervel, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, defeated the army of Byzantine Emperor Justianian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) in the first Battle of Anchialos close to Thermopolis, conquering the ancient and medieval “spa resort” for Bulgaria. Another interesting episode from the history of Thermopolis has to do with the so called Latin Empire established when the knights from the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople.
After Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 and captured Latin Emperor Baldwin of Flanders (also Baldwin I of Constantinople), the next year the Latin Emperor’s brother, Henry of Flanders, marched against Bulgaria conquering Thermopolis, looting the city and burning it to the ground.
The city of Thermopolis never recovered even though the mineral baths themselves were rebuilt later and used by Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in 1562. In modern-day Bulgaria, in the 20th century the town near the mineral baths was known as Banevo until the 1980s when it was renamed to Burgas Mineral Baths; it became part of the city of Burgas in 2009.
Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis was first excavated in 1910 by renowned but controversial Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov (known as Bulgaria’s pro-German Prime Minister during World War II). The contemporary excavations were started in 2008 by Senior Fellow Tsonya Drazheva and Ass. Prof. Dimcho Momchilov. In 2011, the ancient and medieval city was formally declared “The Aquae Calidae – Thermopolis Archaeological Preserve”.