Archaeologists Find Gold Coin of Early Byzantine Emperor Phocas in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress

The newly found gold coin (solidus) of Byzantine Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610 AD) from the Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

An early Byzantine gold coin from the beginning of the 7th century AD has been discovered by archaeologists excavating the major medieval fortress of Rusocastro in today’s Southeast Bulgaria.

The new find is from the 2017 summer digs at Rusocastro, after at the end of last year’s excavations, the researchers found there two unknown fortress walls, two unknown fortress towers, and a 14th century Byzantine gold coin.

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.

In it, Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD).

The newly discovered early Byzantine gold coin from the Rusocastro fortress dates back to the rule of Byzantine Emperor Phocas (602-610 AD), the Burgas Regional Museum of History has announced.

The Burgas Museum says the find is a “rare gold coin, a solidus”, and weighs 4.5 grams.

It reminds that Phocas was became Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire after leading a rebellion toppling Emperor Maurice (582-602 AD), who was killed together with his sons.

“Phocas ruled the Byzantine Empire in a particularly despotic way, which quickly sets a large part of society against him. In the army, he was a regular centurion, which further created anger over his rule,” the Museum says.

Eventually, a rebellion against Emperor Phocas erupted in Carthage in 608 AD. It was led by future Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641 AD), who personally beheaded Phocas.

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The newly found gold coin (solidus) of Byzantine Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610 AD) from the Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

“The first construction of fortress walls on the rocky hill at Rusocastro dates back to the 6th century. The discovery of the coin demonstrates that the fortress was actively used until the beginning of the 7th century,” the Burgas Museum points out.

It explains that Rusocastro was settled by Bulgars in the 9th century, at the time of the first Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD).

New fortress walls and towers were built there in the 13th century, probably during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241).

The Burgas Museum says the Rusocastro Fortress had a territory of 52 decares (app. 13 acres), making it the largest medieval fortress in today’s Southern Bulgaria, and comparable in size to the key medieval fortress in today’s Northern Bulgaria such as the citadels of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), Tsarevets and Trapesitsa, and the cities of Cherven and Kaliakra.

The walls of the Rusocastro Fortress have been preserved up to a height of 5 meters.

The fortress is being researched by a team of the Burgas Regional Museum of History led by its Director Milen Nikolov and Doroteya Gyurdzhiyska.

The 2017 excavations are focused on exposing the citadel of Rusocastro in order to allow for its conservation, restoration and exhibiting in situ after their completion.

The digs are co-funded by Kameno Municipality, Bulgaria’s Culture Ministry, and the National Museum of History in Sofia.

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The excavated ruins of the Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Rusocastro. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Learn more about the Rusocastro Fortress and the Battle of Rusocastro in the Background Infonotes below and our other articles:

Archaeologists Discover Unknown Fortress Walls, Byzantine Gold Coin in Rusocastro Fortress near Bulgaria’s Kameno

Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress Could Attract Hundreds of Thousands of Tourists Per Year, Bulgaria’s Tourism Minister Says

Archaeologists Find Main Gate, Fully Preserved 14th Century Cobblestone Road in Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria

Burgas Museum Disproves Reports of Discovery of ‘Giants’ Skeletons’ in Bulgaria’s Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

Bulgarian Archaeologists Come Across Late Antiquity Toilet at Burgos (Poros) Fortress, Bulgarian Royal Seal at Rusocastro Fortress

10th Century Lead Seal of Bulgarian Tsar Petar I Discovered by Locals in Field near Medieval Fortress Rusocastro

Background Infonotes:

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.

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