Bulgaria’s Montana Reopens Fully Renovated History Museum Exhibiting Ancient Thracian Treasure from Yakimovo
The fully renovated building of the Regional Museum of History in the northwestern Bulgarian city of Montana, the successor of Ancient Roman city and fortress Castra ad Montanesium, has been reopened with an exhibition of an Ancient Thracian treasure, the Yakimovo Treasure.
The earliest traces of civilized life on the territory of Bulgaria’s Montana date to the Chalcolithic Age (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), the 5th-4th millennium BC.
However, probably the most famous part of the city’s archaeological and historical heritage is its Ancient Roman period when it had a population of some 30,000 people, including Roman legionnaires from Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion) and Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion).
At the time of the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages, Montana was an important city called Kutlovitsa. After Bulgaria’s Liberation from the Ottoman Empire, during the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46), it was named Ferdinand, after Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand (r. 1887-1918), and in the Communist Period (1944/46-1989), the city was called Mihaylovgrad, after a local communist functionary. The Roman name “Montana” was restored at the city’s initiative in 1993.
Learn more about the Montana’s history in the Background Infonotes below!
The building of the Regional Museum of History in Montana had been under repair for four months under a project of the government program “Beautiful Bulgaria”, with a total of BGN 291,000 (app. EUR 150,000) in funding, two-third of which were provided by Montana Municipality, and the rest by the Bulgarian government.
In addition to the all rehabilitation of the building’s infrastructure and roof, the renovation has also revamped the Museum’s main exhibition hall.
The renovated building was opened on Friday, October 14, 2016, by Montana Mayor Zlatko Zhivkov and Museum Director Svetlana Stoilova.
The Montana Museum of History was established in 1973, and has a collection of over 50,000 items, including a large number of archaeological artifacts from all time periods, and a large lapidarium with Roman monuments from the ancient military camp and fortress Montanesium.
The opening of the renovated building has featured an exhibition of the Yakimovo Treasure – a set of a total eight Ancient Thracian (or possibly Thracian – Celtic) silver vessels and bracelets with gold coating, which was discovered in the town of Yakimovo, Yakimovo Municipality, Montana District, in Northwest Bulgaria, back in 1972.
A replica of the Ancient Thracian treasure from Yakimovo, which dates back to the 2nd-1st century BC, the Late Hellenistic period, is usually kept at the Montana Museum of History, whereas the original is part of the collection of the National Museum of History in Sofia.
The early history of today’s northwestern Bulgarian city of Montana is primarily associated with the Ancient Roman military camp and later city and fortress of Montanesium, initially known as Castra ad Montanesium (“castra” meaning “camp” in Latin) from the Roman Antiquity period (1st-4th century AD). However, the earliest traces of civilized life on the territory of Bulgaria’s Montana date to the Chalcolithic Age (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), from the 5th-4th millennium BC, and have been discovered in the lower archaeological layers on the site of the Montanesium Fortress.
During the 1st millennium BC the place was inhabited by the independent Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi, which was allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful Ancient Thracian state. From this period, the Montanesium Fortress features preserved sections of the pre-Roman, Ancient Thracian fortress wall, over 1 meter thick, which is located under the Roman fortress’s large fortress tower.
The Roman Empire conquered the region of Montana in today’s Northwest Bulgaria around 29 BC (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by Ancient Rome in 46 AD) setting up a military camp, Castra ad Montanesium, on top of the existing Ancient Thracian settlement. The archaeological sources about the history of the Roman city of Montanesium come largely from Roman epigraphic monuments. The Romans were interested in the region of Montana because of its ore deposits and the opportunities for mining gold, silver, lead, and iron, especially along the Ogosta River and the Zlatitsa River.
The region was one of the major gold mining centers in the Balkan Peninsula in the 1st-3rd century AD. The earliest known Roman military detachment to set up camp at Montanesium in the 1st century AD was Cohors Sugambrorum. The epigraphic monuments indicate the intensified presence of Roman servicemen from Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion) and Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion) from the first half of the 2nd century AD until the middle of the 3rd century AD; Numerus Civium Romanorum was stationed there in the first half of the 3rd century AD, and Cohors III Collecta – in the middle of the 3rd century AD.
The Roman military camp Castra ad Montanesium is mentioned in an inscription from 134 AD; as a result of its development as a settlement, in 160-161 AD, it received the status of a Roman city – municipium – with its own territory (Regio Montanesium) likely corresponding to today’s Bulgarian District of Montana located between the Danube River to the north, and the Balkan Mountains to the south.
It was part of the Roman province Moesia Superior where it was the second most important city after the arsenal city on the Danube, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria), whose ruins pillaged by modern-day treasure hunters can be found today near Bulgaria’s Archar. In 271 AD, Roman Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275 AD) transformed the province of Moesia Superior into the province of Dacia Aureliana with its capital at Serdica (today’s Sofia), after vacating Dacia Traiana beyond the Danube.
Around 283 AD, Dacia Aureliana was divided into two provinces, Dacia Mediterranea, with its capital at Serdica, and Dacia Ripensis (“Dacia from the banks of the Danube”) with its capital at Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria), and Montanesium as its second most important city.
The name of Montanesium is known from several epigraphic monuments from the 2nd-3rd century AD. Its etymology probably stems from the Latin words “mons” (mountain) and “montani” (mountaineers). Specific hypotheses about its origin range from the name of a Roman military detachment called Cohors Montanorum, which was stationed there in the second half of the 1st century AD (whose presence, however, is only indirectly implied in the sources), to the city’s location at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, and to a cult shrine in the pre-Roman settlement.
The Fortress of Montanesium also had a large water spring. It was the site of an ancient rock shrine which was an important cult center during the Roman Age when pilgrims worshipped there a number of Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman deities, including Diana and Apollo, who were the city’s Hellenistic Age patrons, as well as Jupiter, Dionysus, Roman god of woods and fields Silvanus, medicine god Asclepius, also known as Aesculapius, and his daughter Hygieia, Thracian supreme god Heros, also known as the Thracian Horseman, Hermes, Heracles (also known as Hercules), Mars, Persian deity Mithra (Mitra), and the spring nymphs. Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the Ancient Roman city of Montanesium have discovered numerous sculptures, votive tablets, and inscriptions left as gifts by a wide range of pilgrims from the military, civilians, aristocrats, and common folk.
Barbarian invasions by the Goths in the middle of the 3rd century AD disrupted the life of the Roman city of Montanesium leading to a reconstruction of its fortress. At the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century AD, around the time of the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD), Montanesium flourished together with the numerous Roman villas in its suburbs.
The Antiquity shrine and the Roman villas were destroyed at the end of the 4th century AD in a new wave of Gothic invasions. Between 440 and 490 AD today’s Northwest Bulgaria was overrun by the Huns and the Goths; Montanesium waned until the 6th century AD when it was ultimately destroyed by the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs (between 500 and 560 AD), like the rest of the Roman cities in today’s Northern Bulgaria.
The Slavs who settled there named the city Kutlovitsa which remained its name during the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire, in the 12th-14th century AD, Kutlovitsa was the center of a Christian eparchy.