Archaeologists Discover Bronze Legs of Mounted Statue in Imperial Cult Temple in Roman Colony Deultum near Bulgaria’s Debelt

Well preserved legs from one or more, possibly mounted, bronze statues have been discovered during excavations in the Ancient Roman colony Deultum in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Well preserved legs from one or more, possibly mounted, bronze statues have been discovered during excavations in the Ancient Roman colony Deultum in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A well preserved lower part of an Antiquity bronze statue consisted of two legs has been discovered during archaeological excavations in the Temple of the Imperial Cult in the Ancient Roman colony Deultum near the town of Debelt in Southeast Bulgaria.

The discovery which consists of the legs from the statue of a man mounted on a horse has been made by the team of Assoc. Prof. Hristo Preshlenov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The find is still under examination, has not been fully unearthed, and it is even possible that the two unearthed bronze legs might have been parts of different Roman statues, reports the Bulgarian National Television.

The bronze statue legs have been discovered in the same spot where the famous bronze head of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD), which is now on display in the Deultum Museum, was found during the excavations of Deultum back in 1987 by the team of Assoc. Prof. Petar Balabanov.

Deultum is especially interesting because it was a Roman colony, which according to Roman law signified a status equal to that of Rome itself. In today’s Bulgaria, there are only three Roman cities which enjoyed this status – Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) near Burgas, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria) near Archar, Ulpia Oescus near Gigen.

The Ancient Roman city of Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) was built in the 1st century AD near a previously existing Ancient Thracian settlement called Debelt or Develt. It was settled by Roman military veterans from the Augustus’ Eight Legion (Legio VIII Augusta) near the Mandra Lake (today the Mandra Water Reservoir) where it also had a port connecting it to the Black Sea.

Deultum was first declared an archaeological preserve (DeultumDebelt) in 1988; however, until now it lacked a number of adequate facilities leading local officials to declare that the Preserve has now been formally opened after a delay of nearly 30 years.

Other views of the newly discovered Roman bronze statue legs from Deultum. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Other views of the newly discovered Roman bronze statue legs from Deultum. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Deultum Roman Statue 2 In April 2016, Bulgaria unveiled the all-out renovation of the Deultum Archaeological Preserve which was carried out by the Sredets Municipality and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology under a project funded with BGN 2.8 million (app. EUR 1.4 million) in EU funding under Operational Program “Regional Development", with Sredets Municipality providing BGN 490,000 in co-funding. The project was entitled “Deultum – Door to the Mysterious Strandzha Mountain".

Archaeologists have proven that the bronze statue of Septimius Severus, of which the head was part, was made by local artists in Deultum, with bronze from nearby deposits.

TV reports have stipulated it is also possible that the newly discovered bronze legs might have been part of the same statue, and that all parts of the statue could be found which would make it the only fully preserved Roman statue from the respective time period. However, these reports have been questioned by archaeologists with the argument that the newly discovered bronze legs are barefoot which would be typical of a deity statue.

“It is no accident that elements from bronze statues are found [here] because [here] we have a statue group presented emperors and deities. Respectively, these two legs that we have found probably belonged to [a statue of] a deity because they are barefoot," says in turn Krasimira Kostova, Director of the Museum of History in the nearby town of Sredets.

According to the archaeological team, the discovery of the lower part of a Roman statue is the most important discovery in the Roman colony Deultum since the finding of Emperor Septimius Severus’s head in the 1980s.

The Temple of the Imperial Cult in Deultum, which was originally a temple of god Asclepius, is believed to have been established in the 2nd century AD.

The newly found bronze statue legs are also said to be from the 2nd-3rd century AD but the find is yet to be dated more precisely based on the discovery of five Roman bronze coins.

The coins are also expected to provide an answer to the question when exactly the Temple of Imperial Cult in Deultum was destroyed.

Four of the five bronze Roman coins discovered together with the bronze statue legs. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Four of the five bronze Roman coins discovered together with the bronze statue legs. Photo: TV grab from BNT

“This is awesome! Now we are going to find out when this occurred. Because the statue is from the 2nd-3rd century but [it is unknown] if it was destroyed in the middle or end of the 3rd century, or the 4th century… Now our colleagues are going to tell us," Assoc Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology and a long-time researcher of Deultum, is quoted as saying.

“So far, we have over a meter of rubble under which this statue has been found. The coins will be entered in the museum fund, and the conservation laboratories right away, so we are going to have the first results by the end of the summer at the latest," says lead archaeologist Hristo Preshlenov.

His team is hoping to reach the archaeological layer of the temple floor where the residents and guests of the Roman colony of Deultum paid their respects to the imperial cult.

Smaller fragments of the same or other bronze statue(s) have also been found in the present archaeological excavations of the temple.

“There are more parts of it, and of other statues but our funding is limited. We will have to conserve and protect this site from treasure hunters. If we had more money, we would have continued the excavations of the Imperial Cult Temple in Deultum," Vaganlinski told Radio Burgas later in an interview.

He has reiterated grave concern over the rampant treasure hunting and looting of Bulgaria’s archaeological sites.

“No matter what kind of security we are going to get, it cannot sleep here on the spot, and our “colleagues" with yellow gleam in their eyes may arrive. In Bulgaria, there are between 30,000 and 40,000 active treasure hunters. A medium-level dealer [of archaeological artifacts] generates a EUR 20,000 profit per month," elaborates the archaeologist.

“For many years, some BGN 500,000 (app. EUR 250,000) [in government funding] have been allocated per year for regular archaeological excavations. There’s constant talk of tourism, archaeology, how important that is, etc., and yet nobody has explained why so [little] money is allocated, who decides on that, and how this happens… We’ve had a promise in principle by the Minister of Finance that about BGN 1.5 million (app. EUR 750,000) will be allocated for excavations [this year] but nothing happened," Vagalinski concludes.

During the 2015 digs, Vagalinski’s team unearthed in Deultum a well preserved and unusual fortress tower from the Late Roman / Early Byzantine period on its northern fortress wall, a very complex facility which is similar to fortress towers in some areas of North Africa which were part of the Eastern Roman Empire known today as Byzantium in the 5th-6th century AD.

The tower was built in the second half of the 5th century AD, and protected the city for about 100 years. It was destroyed at the end of the 6th century during the attacks of Slavs and Avars.

The restored bronze head of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus as exhibited in the Deultum - Debelt Archaeological Preserve. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The restored bronze head of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus as exhibited in the Deultum – Debelt Archaeological Preserve. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A fragment from the bronze head of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus before the sculpture's restoration. Photo: EuroChicago

A fragment from the bronze head of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus before the sculpture’s restoration. Photo: EuroChicago

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian settlement of Debelt (Develt) and the Ancient Roman city of Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium), which was also a medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress, are located near today’s town of Debelt, Sredets Municipality, Burgas District (17 km east of the city of Burgas), near the Black Sea coast of Southeast Bulgaria. The Roman city of Deultum itself was founded during the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD) on the northern bank of the Sredetska River, near the Mandra Lake (today the Mandra Water Reservoir) where it also had a port connecting it to the Black Sea. Deultum was a Roman colony, which according to Roman law signified a status equal to that of Rome itself. In today’s Bulgaria, there are only three Roman cities which enjoyed this status – Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) near Burgas, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria) near Archar, Ulpia Oescus near Gigen. Deultum was settled by Roman military veterans from the Augustus’ Eight Legion (Legio VIII Augusta). On the 30th anniversary since the founding of the Roman colony Deultum, then Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) minted a special emission of bronze coins. There are indications that at some point between the 130s and the 150s Deultum was seriously damaged by a barbarian invasion. The Roman city was further strengthened during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD); its limits were marked by inscriptions at two points – in today’s southern suburbs of Burgas, and at the ancient fortress in the town of Golyamo Bukovo.

Deultum thrived during the reign of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD), at the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century AD, when it had an area of about 250 decares (app. 62 acres), and a sophisticated urban infrastructure. Its residents had temples of ancient god of medicine Asclepius and goddess Cybele, and also worshiped the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, and Hercules (Heracles). In the second half of the 3rd century AD, Deultum was ransacked by the Goths; however, it was restored shortly after that. The city’s thermae (public baths) were re-built with a complex water supply and sewerage system, and a hypocaust (underfloor heating). It is possible that during a visit to Deultum in November 296 AD Roman Emperor Diocletian also visited the thermae. In the 4th century, the city was known again with its Thracian name, Develt, and it was reinforced because of its new strategic role of supplying and protecting the new capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople (as of 330 AD). In the 370s, there was a major battle near Develt between the Roman forces and the Goths who prevailed and burned down the city. It was restored once again but on a smaller area. In the 5th century, Develt was the center of a bishopric.

In the second half of the 6th century, the city was affected by the barbarian invasions of the Slavs and Avars. Debelt (Develt) was conquered from Byzantium for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) by the Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD who exiled the city’s population in the Bulgarian territories north of the Danube, and settled it with Bulgarians. Thus, during the Middle Ages, Debelt was a major strategic fortress in the frontier region between Bulgaria and Byzantium. Debelt is also the starting area of the Erkesiya, a huge earthen wall (rampart) with a moat built by the Ancient Bulgars in the 8th century, as early as the reign of Khan Tervel (700-721 AD), after in 705 AD the Byzantine Empire ceded to Bulgaria the Zagore Region, which covers much of today’s Southeast Bulgaria. The Erkesiya Wall spanned 142 km going all the way from the lakes around the city of Burgas in the east to the Sakar Mountain in the west. The Erkesiya Wall was made the official border between the First Bulgarian Empire and Byzantium in a peace treaty signed in 815 AD by the Bulgarian Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD) and the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813-820 AD), and, in addition to serving a defense purpose for Bulgaria, it became a major customs facility facilitating the trade relations between the two empires all the way to the 14th century. By the end of the 14th century AD, Debelt waned, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire, and the name of the city was no longer mentioned in historical sources after that period.

The Ancient Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian archaeological city of Debelt (Develt) / Deultum was first explored and described at the end of the 19th century by Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Jirecek and Czech-Bulgarian archaeologists Karel and Hermann Skorpil. It was further explored in the first half the 20th century but major archaeological excavations near Debelt started in the 1980s because of the construction of a large metallurgical factory there. The excavations were led by late archaeologist Stefan Damyanov from the National Museum of History in Sofia, and Petar Balabanov from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. Later, the excavations were led by Tsonya Drazheva from the Burgas Museum, and then by Lyudmil Vagalinski from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia. Debelt – Deultum was declared an archaeological monument in 1965, and in 1988, the Bulgarian authorities set up the Debelt – Deultum Archaeological Preserve which covers an area of about 3 square km, and features over 25 archaeological sites dating back to different time periods – from the prehistory to the Late Middle Ages. Those include a medieval fortress called Malko Gradishte (“Small Fortress") which existed between the 4th and the 7th century AD as an Early Byzantine fortification, and in the 12th-14th century AD, as a fortress in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD); and a 9th century church in an area called Kostadin Cheshma where the archaeologists found a total of 34 Christian funerals, and a total of 64 lead seals (most of them belonging to Byzantine dignitaries from the Iconoclastic Period (726-843 AD)) including three seals of the Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Michael (r. 852-889; 893 AD) with the images of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God (Virgin Mary). Since Knyaz Boris I was the ruler who made Christianity the official religion of Bulgaria, scholars have hypothesized that Debelt is where he might have been baptized by the Byzantine clergy.

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