Archaeologists Discover Unknown Fortress Walls, Byzantine Gold Coin in Rusocastro Fortress near Bulgaria’s Kameno
Two unknown fortress walls and three unknown fortress towers as well as a 14th century Byzantine gold coin have been discovered by archaeologists during the 2016 excavations of the major medieval fortress of Rusocastro in today’s Southeast Bulgaria.
The Rusocastro Fortress is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD. It was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.
It was also the last major battle of the seven-century-long Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars for domination of the Balkan Peninsula (lasting from the 7th until the 14th century), which ended when, weakened by their hostilities against one another, among other factors, Bulgaria and Byzantium were both conquered by the Ottoman Turkish invaders at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.
During the 1332 Battle of Rusocastro, the then still young Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) led personally his troops against the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD). As a result, the Second Bulgarian Empire forced Byzantium to rescind its claims to the rich medieval cities on the southwestern Black Sea coast which remained parts of Bulgaria for a few more decades.
The Rusocastro Fortress, whose ruins stand near the modern-day town of Rusocastro, Kameno Municipality, near Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, were excavated for a total of three months in the late summer and early fall of 2016 by a team of the Burgas Regional Museum of History led by its Director Milen Nikolov and Doroteya Gyurdzhiyska.
As early as August 2016, the archaeologists announced the discovery of a fully preserved 14th-century cobblestone road.
Since then, however, the team has discovered two unknown fortress walls which were part of the Rusocastro Fortifications in different time periods, Kameno Municipality has announced.
The first newly found fortress wall is from the end of the 12th – beginning of the 13th century, the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422), and was found between fortress towers flanking the main gate of the city.
It is 3.45 meters wide, and made of stone and mortar. A previously unknown fortress tower has also been discovered there.
The second newly found fortress wall dates back to the 6th century AD, the Early Byzantine period, and is made of large stone blocks. This is where two rectangular fortress towers from the same period have also been found.
Up until the discovery of the three fortress towers, the archaeologists had known of just one other tower in the Rusocastro fortifications.
In addition to the newly discovered structures, the archaeologists have also exposed a new 50-meter section of the main medieval outer wall of the Rusocastro Fortress.
The most impressive artifact found in the 2016 excavations there are a 14th century gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (r. 1328-1341), and a coin of Bulgarian Tsar Todor (Theodore) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1300-1322).
However, the rest of the new finds are also interesting: a copper applique with a lion image, arrow tips, a battle ax, gold-coated buttons, and more silver and bronze coins, many of them from the 6th-11th century. Two kilns for iron casting have also been found.
A total of 40 meters of the medieval cobblestone road at the Rusocastro Fortress have been exposed so far, with traces of the tracks of medieval oxcarts still visible in some spots.
The newly discovered archaeological structures in Rusocastro have been conserved after the end of the digs by the research team who is now working on a project for their restoration and exhibition in situ. The 2016 excavations were funded by Kameno Municipality and Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.
Learn more about the Rusocastro Fortress and the Battle of Rusocastro in the Background Infonotes below and our other articles:
The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas. Rusocastro was also known as “The Red Fortress” because of the red stones it was built of.
In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.
The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.
The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World”, where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.
The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.
The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.
Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.
Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield” of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.