Archaeologists Find Roman Military Officers’ Residence (Tribunorium) in Ancient Thracian City Kabile near Bulgaria’s Yambol
Archaeologists have found and excavated in full a large Ancient Roman building known as tribunorium, i.e. the residence of the Roman military officers in the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Kabile located near the city of Yambol in Southeast Bulgaria.
The Roman tribunorium in Kabile was built sometime after 270 AD, and existed up until the second barbarian invasion of the Goths in 378 AD, Stefan Bakardzhiev, Director of the Yambol Regional Museum of History, has announced, as cited by the Museum press service and the Delnik daily.
The Ancient Thracian city Kabile, which was established 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, with a rock acropolis shrine on the hill’s top.
The ruins of the Ancient Thracian and later Roman city Kabile are well preserved because the site has seen no construction after the Antiquity period, i.e. the city did not survive until the Middle Ages.
Kabile covers a territory of about 280 decares (app. 70 acres); it has been excavated by the Bulgarian archaeologists for the past 45 years, and has not been fully researched yet in spite of these efforts.
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.
All of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube, including the most powerful Ancient Thracian state, the Odrysian Kingdom, which existed in the 5th century BC – 1st century AD, was conquered by the Roman Empire by 46 AD.
Subsequently, not unlike many other conquered peoples in the Roman provinces, the Thracians and their aristocracy became integrated into the institutions of the Roman Empire, including the military.
At the beginning of the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire turned Kabile, the glorious city of the Odrysians, into one of the largest military camps in the Roman province of Thrace (most of which corresponded to today’s Southern Bulgaria).
The newly and fully excavated 3rd-4th century AD residence of the Roman military officers commanding the garrison of Kabile was first discovered using georadar scanning in 2016.
In 2017, it has been excavated in full becoming the only ancient building in the Kabile Archaeological Preserve in the past almost 30 years to be fully researched.
The Roman tribunorium in Kabile had an area of over 1 decare – 1,100 square meters (app. 0.27 acres). It most probably had two floors, with the first floor built of stone, and the second – of brick and mortar. The building was 30 meters wide and 36 meters long.
“This building belongs to the Roman type of peristyle buildings, i.e. those were large buildings with an inner yard, and rooms organized around it,” says the Director of the Yambol Regional Museum of History, Stefan Bakardzhiev.
He points out that for the some 100 years in which it existed, the residence of the Roman military officers in the ancient city of Kabile underwent three reconstructions.
The archaeologists believe that the building in question is precisely Kabile’s tribunorium partly because of an inscription which was discovered in the same area some 30 years ago, but was translated in 2016 by epigraphist Assist. Prof. Nikolay Sharankov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.
The inscription from 270 AD mentions that the Roman military camp at Kabile was commanded by a man named Ulpius Aurelian. He is believed to have been one of the Roman military officers to have lived in the newly discovered building.
“We know that in 136 AD Kabile was one of the largest Roman military camps. The cohort which was stationed here – Cohors II Lucensium – was replaced in 192 AD by another cohort, Cohors I Atoitorum. Both of these cohorts were mixed, i.e. included both infantry and cavalry, and each had about 600 soldiers,” Bakardzhiev explains.
“As of 270 AD, we have found this inscription revealing that a third cohort was based here, and because of the title of its commander, princeps, we believe it was a millaria, i.e. a cohort with 1,000 soldiers,” he adds.
“[The inscription] reveals that the cohort made a proclamation in honor of Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275 AD) who deal with the Goths in our region [during the first Goth invasion], and this building most probably dates back to that time, including according to our coin finds. This was a restoration of the [Roman] military camp after Kabile suffered the Goth invasions in the 260s AD,” the archaeologist elaborates.
The researchers believed that the Roman tribunorium in the Ancient Thracian city of Kabile hosted at least 20 people – 12 Roman military officers commanding the respective military detachments, plus their servants and slaves.
What is particularly notable about the supposed residence of the Roman military officers in Kabile is that the buildings seems to have had not just running water and sewerage but also a laundry room.
“Guests would first enter the building, then then inner yard, and from there they would reach the so called triclinium (formal dining room). The portico before the triclinium was supported by a colonnade with two columns. We have found the base of one of them,” Bakardzhiev says.
In the western section of the building, more specifically, in its northwest corner, the archaeological team has discovered the latrine (toilet), the kitchen, and what appears to have been a laundry room, while the bedrooms were located in the northern section where the archaeologists have found more “everyday” artifacts. In contrast, more “luxury” artifacts have been found before the triclinium.
“The building was oriented so that it would be wonderfully lit by the sun. The northwestern part had sewerage, i.e. the baths, laundry room, kitchen had a sewer that led waste waters out of the building, to a main sewer underneath the southern street. At the same time, underneath the eastern street, we have found a water supply pipeline which also brought water to the building,” Bakardzhiev elaborates.
“We have so far identified three reconstructions of the building. We are yet to find out what caused them, i.e. if they are connected with any calamities,” he adds.
He notes that geophysical surveying has revealed that the street between the residence of the Roman military officers (tribunorium), and the soldiers’ barracks was 12 meters wide, with a pipeline running under it.
During the excavations of the Roman tribunorium in Bulgaria’s Kabile Archaeological Preserve, the archaeologists have found over 300 bronze and silver coins from the end of the 3rd and the 4th century AD.
They have also discovered 6,000 ceramic fragments, they have already restored partly over 20 ceramic vessels, and believe that some 50-60 vessels in total dating primarily from the final period of the building could be restored.
The History Museum and the local authorities in Bulgaria’s Yambol, which have funded the archaeological digs in the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Kabile with BGN 55,000 (app. EUR 27,500) in 2016 and 2017, are planning the conservation and partial restoration of the residence of the Roman military officers so that it can be exhibited in situ for tourists.
In 2015, the management of the Kabile Preserve built there an Ancient Roman wooden keep which has since been used for historical reenactments and reenactment games.
The Ancient Thracian city of Kabile is an archaeological preserve located 10 km away for the southeastern Bulgarian city of Yambol. The city of Kabile 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, Kabile 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, Kabile 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 Thrace. It was an important regional center in the Late Antiquity as well. The city of Kabile 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, Kabile was conquered by the Goths, and was later destroyed for good by the Avars.
Kabile 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. Kabile 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 Kabile 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. Kabile is excavated every year by archaeological teams from Bulgaria and abroad.
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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