Archaeologists Find Unknown Late Antiquity Quarter Showing Ancient Thracian City Kabyle Flourished in Late Roman Period

Late Antiquity construction materials from the newly discovered and newly excavated 4th century AD quarter in Kabyle near Bulgaria's Yambol. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Late Antiquity materials from the newly discovered and newly excavated 4th century AD quarter in Kabyle near Bulgaria’s Yambol. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A previously unknown Late Antiquity quarter of the large Ancient Thracian city of Kabyle showing that it flourished in the Late Roman Period, has been discovered by archaeologists in the archaeological preserve near Bulgaria’s Yambol.

The Ancient Thracian city Kabyle (Kabile), which was first established as a settlement at the end of the 2nd millennium BC, is located on the southeastern slope of a tall hill known as Zaychi Vrah (“Rabbit’s Mount”) at a curve of the Tundzha River, and had a rock acropolis shrine on the hill’s top.

Kabyle was a major Ancient Thracian city which also served as a residence of the early kings of the Odrysian Thracian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), and a crucial Roman military camp in the Late Antiquity period.

All of Ancient Thrace south of the Lower Danube, including what had been left of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), probably the most powerful kingdom of Ancient Thrace (which had been reduced to a client state of Rome by the early decades of the 1st century), was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD, with the Thracian aristocracy and population becoming well integrated in the Roman society.

The Thracian (Getian / Dacian) regions north of the Lower Danube were conquered by the Romans under Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) in 106 AD, and were lost in 271 AD, while the rest of Ancient Thrace, south of the Danube, remained part of the Roman Empire and later the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) up until the expansion of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) south of the Danube in 680-681 AD.)

The newly discovered Late Antiquity quarter in the Kabyle Archaeological Preserve near the city of Yambol in Southeast Bulgaria demonstrates that, having flourished during the height of the Thracian Odrysian Kingdom in the 5th-3rd century BC, and then waned, Kabyle rose to prominence once again in the last century of the Roman Empire and the early period of Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire).

The discovery has demonstrated that as of the 4th century AD, Kabyle was substantially larger and more important than previously known.

The excavations of the newly discovered Late Antiquity quarter of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Kabyle. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

The excavations of the newly discovered Late Antiquity quarter of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Kabyle. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

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The previously unknown residential quarter of Kabyle has been discovered with geophysical surveying, and has been partly excavated during the 2016 digs in its archaeological preserve, Stefan Bakardzhiev, Director of the Yambol Regional Museum of History, has told BNT.

“The first phase [of the research] was a geophysical survey of a large part of the territory of the archaeological site, which was carried out using modern-day methods, with magnetometers, resistometers, and a ground-pentrating radar (GPR),” says the archaeologist emphasizing that the research has produced “unexpectedly good results”.

“With these interdisciplinary methods, we have managed to establish the existence of an entire Late Antiquity quarter which was probably built after 298 AD when Kabyle regained its status as a city, after the reign of [Roman] Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305),” Bakadzhiev explains.

The archaeological team has found that the newly discovered quarter had a territory of about 26 decares (app. 6.4 acres), its own fortress walls, and large public buildings with dimensions of 30 meters by 40 meters.

The 2016 digs in Kabyle’s “new” Late Antiquity quarter are still in progress, with the archaeologists excavating a large stone building dating back to the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century, and having already exposed a 7-meter section of its wall.

“It seems to be turning out that at the time when it was once again proclaimed a city, Kabyle had a total territory of about 60 decares (app. 15 acres), which would make it one of the significant cities in this period,” Bakardzhiev elaborates.

He points out that Kabyle existed as an Ancient Thracian and Roman urban center for a period of some 1,000 years, and its archaeological layers go as deep as 5 meters beneath the modern-day surface.

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The Roman wooden keep built in the Kabyle Archaeological Preserve by Yambol Municipality as part of its restoration and development as a cultural tourism site. Photo: Yambol Muicipality

The Roman wooden keep built in the Kabyle Archaeological Preserve by Yambol Municipality as part of its restoration and development as a cultural tourism site. Photo: Yambol Muicipality

The partly restored ruins of ancient Kabyle. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The partly restored ruins of ancient Kabyle. Photo: TV grab from BNT

While its site has seen regular archaeological excavations for the past 44 years, i.e. since 1972, only about 15% of its total territory have been researched.

The 2016 digs have been funded with a total of BGN 28,000 (app. EUR 14,000), including BGN 20,000 (app. EUR 10,000) by Yambol Municipality (which has provided the same amount of funding for a second year in a row since starting to finance the archaeological research in 2015), and BGN 8,000 (app. EUR 4,000) granted by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

In June 2016, Yambol Municipality in Southeast Bulgaria held its annual Antiquity fair in the Kabyle Archaeological Preserve featuring reenactments of Thracian – Roman battles, among others.

Kabyle’s tourism infrastructure has been improved as part of an EU funded project worth BGN 5.5 million (app. EUR 2.8 million) entitled “Go Inside History”, as the archaeological research of one of the most impressive cities of the Odrysian Kingdom, is continuing.

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian and later Roman city of Kabyle are well preserved because the site has seen no construction after the Antiquity period, i.e. the city did not survive into the Middle Ages.

Artifacts and structures exposed during the latest excavations of Kabyle. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Artifacts and structures exposed during the latest excavations of Kabyle. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

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The Thracian and Roman structures that have been exposed and exhibited in situ include fortress walls and towers, public buildings, thermae (public baths), barracks, basilicas, with thousands of archaeological artifacts exhibited in the museum of the preserve. The museum itself was first established in 1986 but its collection and exhibitions were fully revamped in 2013.

The Kabyle Archaeological Preserve is located at the foot of a rocky peak known as Zaychi Vrah (Rabbit’s Mount) which used to be an Ancient Thracian shrine and observatory dedicated to goddess Cybele.

In their shrine on Rabbit’s Mount, which dates back to the 2nd millennium BC, the Thracians hewed platforms into the rock in order to secure a view in all directions so that the Ancient Thracian priests could observe from there the paths of the sun and the stars.

Kabyle was declared an archaeological site by the Bulgarian authorities in 1927; in 1969, it was granted the status of a monument of culture of national importance, and a national archaeological preserve, and in 1979, it was made part of a nature preserve.

In 2014, the Kabyle Archaeological Preserve was visited by a total of 11,600 tourists – which, while a small number, is an increase compared to previous years.

The best researched archaeological structure in Kabyle is its Early Christian Great Basilica which features replicas of its original floor mosaics.

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Late Antiquity construction materials from the newly discovered and newly excavated 4th century AD quarter in Kabyle near Bulgaria's Yambol. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Late Antiquity materials from the newly discovered and newly excavated 4th century AD quarter in Kabyle near Bulgaria’s Yambol, with the Zaychi Vrah rock shrine in the background. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Learn more about the history of the Ancient Thracian city of Kabyle near Bulgaria’s Yambol in the Background Infonotes below.

As part of its efforts to promote cultural tourism, in addition to Kabyle, Bulgaria’s Yambol has also restored with EU funding its 16th century Ottoman covered market, the so called bedestan.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian city of Kabyle is an Archaeological Preserve located 10 km away for the southeastern Bulgarian city of Yambol. The city of Kabyle was founded at the end of the 2nd millenium BC, and was one of the most important cities of Ancient Thrace. In fact, it is believed to have been one of the royal residences of the kings from the Odryssian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. In 341 BC, Kabyle was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon. The Ancient Thracian city is mentioned by 14 ancient authors, the first of whom describes its conquest by Philip II of Macedon.

After the collapse of Alexander the Great’s empire, in the 3rd century BC, Kabyle was ruled once again by the Ancient Thracians. It was conquered by the Roman Empire in 71 BC, and was later incorporated into the Roman province of Thracia (Thrace). It was an important regional center in the Late Antiquity as well. The city of Kabyle was modeled after the Ancient Greek cities at the time. It boasts a stone acropolis with a unique rock relief of the ancient goddess of Cybele, a protector of the city. In the 4th century AD, Kabyle was conquered by the Goths, and was later destroyed for good by the Avars.

Kabyle is located on the southeastern slope of a tall hill known as Zaychi Vrah (“Rabbit’s Mount”) at a curve of the Tundzha River, with a rock acropolis shrine on the hill’s top. It stood at the crossroads of several major ancient roads, and the fact there is no modern-day settlement built on top of it makes the Ancient Thracian city a fruitful place for archaeological research and cultural tourism.

Kabyle was declared an archaeological site by the Bulgarian authorities in 1927; in 1969, it was granted the status of a monument of culture of national importance, and a national archaeological preserve, and in 1979, it was made part of a nature preserve. The Kabyle Archaeological Reserve has a territory of 650 decares (160 acres). It features ancient structures such as the agora (a central square), Roman barracks, Roman thermae, a bishop’s basilica, among others. Kabyle is excavated every year by archaeological teams from Bulgaria and abroad.

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Bulgaria’s Yambol District, which has a territory of 3335 square kilometers, boasts about 4000 archaeology sites, averaging more than one archaeology site per square kilometer. Those include over 3000 burial mounds (tumuli) of which fewer than 2%, or about 60, have been excavated and researched; over 300 prehistoric settlements and settlement mounds; about 50 fortified towns from the Antiquity period (including the Late Iron Age, Ancient Thrace and Ancient Rome, and the Late Antiquity); and about 50 fortified towns from the Middle Ages (Bulgaria and Byzantium). In addition to the 60 excavated burial mounds, only about 20 of the rest of the archaeological sites have been excavated and studied. A total of 87 new archaeological sites, mostly burial mounds but also a dolmen, were discovered in Bulgaria’s Yambol District in 2014 alone.

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The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.

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The Odrysian Kingdom, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrysai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD)), was one of the two most powerful states of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.

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