Roman Coin Hoard Found by Chance under Tree ‘Confirms’ Existence of Roman Town in Bulgaria’s Mezdra

This photo of the Roman coin hoard found in Bulgaria’s Mezdra was apparently taken immediately after its accidental discovery. Four-fifths of the pictured coins, however, have gone missing. Photo: Mezdra Municipality

A coin hoard of Ancient Roman silver coins, which has been discovered by accident in the roots of a large tree in the town of Mezdra in Northwest Bulgaria, according to archaeologists, confirms the previously hypothesized existence of a Roman settlement – outside the already well known fortress “Kaleto" which was also used by the Romans.

The treasure of Roman silver coins from the 1st-3rd century AD was discovered by accident during the uprooting of a 70-year-old wild plum tree in an abandoned yard in the town of Mezdra, Mezdra Municipality has announced.

The coin treasure was found in a ceramic jar underneath the roots of the tree which was compromised as the locals were using a pickax to extract them. It broke to pieces when one of them tried to remove it from beneath the roots.

However, the discovery of the Ancient Roman silver coin hoard, which occurred sometime in at the end of August 2017, was not reported immediately to the authorities.

A total of 183 coins were brought by some of the locals to the Vratsa Regional Museum of History some two weeks after the discovery, and Mezdra Municipality first announced the find in the middle of September. Four more coins were brought to the museum several days later.

The museum experts have been quick to state that in their view the broken pottery vessel had contained some 1,000 Roman coins at the time of its discovery, and Museum Director Georgi Ganetsovski has called upon the locals to return the missing some 800 coins.

Tsvetan Kotsev, the local man who tried to extract the ancient jar when it fragmented in his hands, told Nova TV that vessel weighed at least 4-5 kg.

A photo (see above) of the broken jar taken immediately after its extraction by the locals, and acquired by Mezdra Municipality, also seems to indicate that the ancient vessel contained a lot more coins.

The tree, a wild plum, in an abandoned yard in Bulgaria’s Mezdra which hid the Roman silver coin treasure in its roots. Photos: Mezdra Municipality

For the time being, it remains unknown how most of the Roman silver coins went missing, and Mezdra Mayor Genadi Sabkov has said that a more thorough investigation is under way.

However, now that archaeologists and numismatists from the Vratsa Regional Museum of History have examined the coins, they believe the hoard is evidence that a Roman town existed in today’s Mezdra outside the walls of the Kaleto Fortress.

The fortress, which has been partly restored in the Kaleto Archaeological Complex, is a 7,000-year-old fortified settlement with traces of civilized human life from all archaeological periods from the Chalcolithic to the Middle Ages.

The archaeologists have hypothesized, however, that another Roman settlement might have existed on the territory of Bulgaria’s Mezdra, and the accidental discovery of the treasure of silver coins is considered a crucial clue for that.

That is why the Vratsa Museum of History is now starting rescue excavations on the spot where the Roman coin hoard has been found, Museum Director Ganetsovski has announced.

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A total of 187 coins from the Roman hoard in Mezdra have been brought by locals to the Vratsa Regional Museum of History. Photos: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

Vratsa Museum Director Georgi Ganetsovski showing some of the coins from the Roman hoard found by accident in Bulgaria’s Mezdra. Photo: BTA

“The collective find of silver coins from Mezdra is of extreme historical and cultural value. The coins from Rome’s imperial period carry a great amount of information because of their rich iconography and rather detailed inscriptions," Ganetsovski has told BTA.

In his words, the silver coins were collected over a period of some 200 year – from the middle of the 1st century AD until the middle of the 3rd century AD.

The earliest of the coins that have made it to the Vratsa Museum denarii and antoniani from the reigns of Emperors Nero (r. 54 – 68 AD), Galba (68 – 69 AD), Vitellius (69 AD), and Vespasian (69-79 AD).

“The find includes 2nd century AD denarii of [usurper emperor] Clodius Albinus (193; 196 AD)," Ganetsovski says.

“[The end date of the coin collection] is marked by the last Emperor represented in it, Severus Alexander (r. 222 – 235 AD)," he adds.

“[We have] established a very interesting sequence in the imperial emissions of the amassed coins as well as many coins dedicated to the emperors’ wives," the Museum Director notes.

“There are coins minted on the territory of today’s Syria which speaks of a very serious commercial circulation. The condition of many of the coins shows that they were in circulation. However, another part of them are well preserved, and apparently were not used at all but were collected," he elaborates.

Archaeologist Plamen Ivanov, one of the finders of the Ancient Thracian Rogozen Treasure, the largest known treasure from Ancient Thrace, weighing a combined total of 20 kg, says he is really impressed with the fact that the coin hoard found in Mezdra was collected for 200 years.

In his words, this fact shows the importance of the unknown Roman settlement.

“The name of the settlement is still unknown but this probably was a well-developed commercial center inhabited by rich people," Ivanov says.

He adds it is possible that the settlement was used as a regional treasury by the Roman authorities.

A total of 187 coins from the 1st-3rd century AD have been studied by the museum experts. Photos: TV grabs from Nova TV

A coin of Roman Emperor Domitian.

Coins of Roman Emperors Hadrian, Galba, and Septimius Severus.

The museum team believes that the pottery jar containing the coins may have been hidden in a building from the hypothetical Roman settlement outside the walls of the Kaleto Fortress in Bulgaria’s Mezdra, and the rescue excavations in mid-November are going to search for architectural structures from it. The excavations are expected to be completed by the end of November.

A similar find, a pottery jar containing Roman silver coins from the 2nd-4th century AD, was discovered by archaeologists in the ruins of ancient Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia back in 2015.

Two years later, after further excavations, the archaeologists have concluded that the place where the jar was found might have been the mint of Late Roman Serdica.

Background Infonotes:

The Archaeological Complex “Kaleto" in the northwestern Bulgarian town of Mezdra is a 7,000-year-old fortified settlement with traces of civilized human life from all archaeological periods from the Chalcolithic to the Middle Ages. (“Kale" is a Turkish word meaning “fortress" left over from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria, whose proper names are sometimes unknown.)

The Kaleto Fortress is located in the southwestern corner of today’s Bulgarian town of Mezdra on a rocky hill on the left bank of the Iskar River. The earliest traces of civilized human life found there date back to the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), to the end of the 5th and the first half of the 4th millennium BC. The remains of two fortified settlements from this period have been discovered on the hill, both of which were destroyed by forest fires.

The Chalcolithic finds reveal that the settlement was inhabited by agriculturalists and craftsmen who specialized in the production and decoration of ceramics and jewelry. In 2008, Bulgarian archaeologists found there a shrine of the pagan deity Taurus modeled after the now extinct cattle species aurochs.

The prehistoric people believed that the Taurus supported the world on its horns. The finds there included two aurochs skulls and a stone sculpture of an aurochs head. This made the shrine unique in Europe. Only two similar Taurus deity shrines have been found – one in Egypt and another one in Asia Minor.

On the same spot where the Taurus shrine is located the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered a 2,500-year-old shrine of the Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi who were an autonomous Thracian tribe in today’s Northwest Bulgaria sometimes allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians, and lived independently until the 1st century AD when they were conquered by the Roman Empire (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Romans in 46 AD).

During the Roman and Late Antiquity period, the Kaleto Fortress near Bulgaria’s Mezdra was the site of a Roman fortification built in the middle of the 2nd century AD, a pagan cult center from the 3rd century AD, and a Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortified settlement during the 4th-6th century AD. The pagan cult center was also built on top of the prehistoric Taurus shrine and the shrine of the Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi, and the archaeological layers are distinctly visible even today.

From this period, the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered a lot of bronze coins of Roman Emperors Dometian (r. 81-96 AD), Claudius II Gothicus (r. 268-270 AD), and Marcus Aurelius Probus (r. 276-282 AD) as well as bronze fibulas, belt decorations, a silver leaf from a laurel wreath, and a bronze statuette of an eagle found under the fortress wall.

The eagle statuette is one of the earliest known depictions of its kind; it symbolized the supreme Roman god Jupiter (equivalent to Zeus in the Ancient Greek mythology) and was the emblem of the Roman Empire standing for power and might. Another impressive Roman artifact found in Mezdra’s Kaleto Fortress is a bronze key discovered amidst the ruins of a large public building.

The Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine fortification in Mezdra existed until the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 7th century when it was destroyed in a barbarian invasion of Avars and Slavs ushering into the fortress’s medieval period. The latest Antiquity coins found in Mezdra are from the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justine II (r. 565-578 AD). During the Migration Period of the Early Middle Ages, the fortress was destroyed and rebuilt several times after barbarian invasions.

The last “barbarian" people to arrive were the Slavs followed by the Ancient Bulgars at the end of the 7th century AD who set up an Ancient Bulgar fortress on top of the ancient ruins. The Bulgar fortress thrived during the period of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) and was known as Torbaritsa. The Torbaritsa Fotress was destroyed at the beginning of the 11th century by the Byzantines under Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer (r. 976-1025 AD) who eventually conquered all of the First Bulgarian Empire. The fortress was also used during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) but was demolished by the invading Ottoman Turks after their conquest of Bulgaria at the end of the 14th century.

The Archaeological Complex “Kaleto" in Bulgaria’s Mezdra was opened in 2013 after the partial restoration and conservation of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval fortification and settlement under a BGN 3.9 million (app. EUR 2 million) project of which BGN 3.1 million (EUR 1.6 million) was EU funding under Operational Program “Regional Development". The Kaleto Fortress is often referred to by the locals as “Mezdra’s Stone Treasure".

Also check out this promotional video of the Kaleto Archaeological Complex in Bulgaria’s Mezdra.

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