Archaeologists Find Roman Pagan Temple, Votive Figurine in Ancient Missionis near Bulgaria’s Targovishte
A pagan temple from the Late Roman period has been discovered during the 2016 summer excavations of the Late Roman, Early Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian city of Missionis located near Targovishte in Northeast Bulgaria, which was known as Krum’s Fortress and Kosovo in the Middle Ages.
The Roman pagan temple in question dates back to the 2nd-3rd century AD, according to lead archaeologists Angel Konakliev from the Targovishte Regional Museum of History and Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, Targovishte Municipality has announced.
The archaeologists’ main argument that the building in question was in fact a religious temple is the discovery of a bronze votive figurine on a stick depicting a bird.
The temple building had a brick floor and a roof covered with decorated tiles. The ruins of the alleged Roman temple are 6.5 meters long, and 4.5 meters wide, and have been unearthed from underneath a building from the 13th-14th century.
They were actually first reached with in-depth probes during the 2015 excavations of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress / Kosovo. Back then, however, the researchers hypothesized they might have stumbled upon a public building mentioned by 12th century Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi.
The new conclusion about the function and dating of the particular building has been seen Konakliev and Ovcharov as evidence in support of their earlier supposition that the ancient city was settled earlier than previously thought, and that it first emerged in the plain where the temple was located up until the 4th-5th century AD.
However, in the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages, the barbarian invasions forced its population from the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period to relocate on a nearby hill where the medieval city was most located.
“This was a cult building – not from the Christian period but from the pagan period, i.e. a temple, which was 6.5 by 4.5 meters in size, and was probably built on top of a hill back then. In fact, this has confirmed our view that this was where Missionis was first established,” Konakliev has told BNT.
The dating of the alleged Roman temple to the 2nd-3rd century AD has been based on the discovery of coins, a lamp, and the bronze votive figurine bird.
“We call these “votive sticks”. These are, actually, statuettes. As one can see, this one consists of a 20 cm bronze needle, and a wonderful bird at its end, possibly a dove. Such items are found in temples only, not anywhere else,” Ovcharov is quoted as saying.
“We had believed that this was a large public building mentioned by Arab geographer Al-Idrisis but now we are convinced that this was a pagan temple,” he concludes.
The archaeological team has also been working on the excavations of a medieval Bulgarian quarter located on terraces in the eastern parts of the ancient and medieval city where nearly 20 buildings have been unearthed so far.
According to Ovcharov, the most interesting discovery there in recent years has been a collapsed fortress tower, with a skeleton and coins of Ottoman Turkish Sultan (technically bearing the title Emir at the time) Murad I (r. 1362-1389) found underneath its ruins.
Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was one of the Bulgarian cities which put up the greatest resistance against the invading Ottoman Turks in the late 14th century before they could reach Tarvnograd (Veliko Tarnovo), the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396).
Because of its large territory (about 700 decares – app. 173 acres) but not only, Missionis / Krum’s Fortress keeps yielding numerous and diverse finds such as ceramic vessels from North Africa, more specifically Tunisia and the region of Carthage. Over 300 wine cups have also been found.
Some of the other interesting recently found artifacts include bone combs from the Early Byzantine period which were used not so much for combing but as decorations in the hair of noble Byzantine women, as well as a silver coin with the image of Bulgarian Tsar Georgi I Terter (r. 1280-1292 AD) which is the only one of its kind ever found.
At the end of the 14th century, after a long and tough siege, the medieval Bulgarian city of Krum’s Fortress / Kosovo was destroyed by the invading Ottoman Turks.
The 2016 excavations of Missionis will be funded with BGN 30,000 (app. EUR 25,000) by Targovishte Municipality, and with another BGN 10,000 by private sponsors.
Also check out our stories about the 2015 archaeological excavations of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress / Kosovo near Bulgaria’s Targovishte:
The Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Missionis, also known as Krumovo Kale (Krum’s Fortress) and Kosovo, is located 7 km southwest of the northeastern Bulgarian city of Targovishte. The fortress has an area of 25 decares (app. 6 acres), while the medieval city itself covered an area of 150-200 decares (up to 50 acres). The eastern section of the fortress wall has a gate with two towers.
Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was built in the 6th century AD, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD) as part of Byzantium’s fortifications in today’s Northern Bulgaria designed to stop the barbarian invasions of the Slavs, Ancient Bulgars, and Goths.
The fortress was destroyed by the barbarians in the 6th century AD. During the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), in the 9th century AD an Ancient Bulgar settlement emerged on top of its ruins. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), the fortress wall was rebuilt of stones and mortar as part of a fortification system defending the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo).
A lot of information about the medieval city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress is found in the Tabula Rogeriana, the work of Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi, completed in the court of Norman King Roger II in Sicily in 1153 AD. In it, together with other medieval Bulgarian cities, Al-Idrisi mentions the mysterious city Missionis, a large thriving city at the foot of a mountain with busy markets, whose residents got rich through trade. Al-Idrisi’s work is the last written document to mention Missionis whose name may later have been changed to Kosovo.
In 1393, the Bulgarian city of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks after a fierce siege. The shallow Christian graves discovered there by the Bulgarian archaeologists testify to the slaughter committed by the Ottomans who burned down the city, and it never recovered.
Ottoman historian Mehmed Nesri (d. 1520) writes that during the campaign of Turkish vizier Ali Pasha in 1393, after the Ottomans had conquered the city of Shumen, and were advancing to the west against the Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad, they faced the fierce resistance of the strong fortress Kos Ova. Its brave lord is said to have told the Turkish messengers, “We will never renounce our master (Tsar Ivan Shishman) to obey the Turks!” Because of their resistance all of the surviving residents of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress / Kosovo were enslaved.
The exact location of Missionis / Krum’s Fortress was debated in the early 20th century Bulgarian archaeology even though Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil had estimated that it was located 7 km west of Targovishte. It was first discovered in 1962 when Prof. Dimitar Ovcharov started archaeological excavations on the hill known to the local population as “Krum’s Fortress”.
The digs yielded stunning results – strong fortress walls from the 5th-6th century preserved up to a height of 3-4 meters. The archaeologists unearthed the ruins of two large Christian churches as well as residential quarters. The archaeological excavations of Missionis were stopped in 1972, and were restored in 2004 by Targovishte archaeologist Angel Konakliev who discovered a second fortress wall deep inside the thick fortress nearby as well as more medieval residential quarters.
His major discovery has been a third Early Christian church, a basilica, which was 34 meters long, and 10.5 meters wide. In the middle of the basilica, the archaeologists found a floor imprint of the church’s main chandelier with dimensions 3×2 meters. Apparently, it fell down at the time of the destruction of the temple which is believed to have been a bishopric cathedral because of traces from the stone pedestal of the bishop’s throne.
The coins discovered inside the basilica belonged to Early Byzantine Emperors Anasthasius I (r. 491-518AD), Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), Justin II (565-574 AD), meaning that it was built in the 5th century AD. The building was destroyed in the horrific barbarian invasions of the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century. Missionis (Krum’s Fortress) was revived during the First Bulgarian Empire, and was an especially important medieval city during the Second Bulgarian Empire.