Archaeologists Discover Large Roman Building under Tree Where Coin Hoard Was Found, Clues of Barbarian Invasion in Bulgaria’s Mezdra
The foundations of a large Ancient Roman building which may have been burned down during a barbarian invasion in the 4th century AD have been discovered in the town of Mezdra in Northwest Bulgaria after local archaeologists began rescue excavations at a spot where a hoard of Roman silver coins was recently found underneath a tree.
The treasure of Ancient Roman silver coins has been found by accident in the roots of a large tree in Bulgaria’s Mezdra, well outside the already well known fortress “Kaleto” which was also used by the Romans.
The fortress itself, 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 (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) to the Middle Ages.
The treasure of Roman silver coins from the 1st-3rd century AD was exposed by accident during the uprooting of a 70-year-old wild plum tree in an abandoned.
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.
Based on the size of the ceramic vessel, a photo taken by a local immediately after the discovery, and other clues, the archaeologists have since estimated that the hoard consisted of about 1,000 coins. However, only 187 coins have been turned in by some of the locals to the Vratsa Regional Museum of History.
The earliest of the coins that have made it to the Vratsa Museum denarii and antoniani from the reigns of Roman Emperors Nero (r. 54 – 68 AD), Galba (68 – 69 AD), Vitellius (69 AD), and Vespasian (69-79 AD). There are also 2nd century AD denarii of usurper Emperor Clodius Albinus (193; 196 AD), and coins minted on the territory of today’s Syria. The last Roman Emperors represented in the coin collection is Severus Alexander (r. 222 – 235 AD).
In mid-November, archaeologists from the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Vratsa began rescue excavations at the site where the Roman coin treasure has been found.
The digs have quickly led to the discovery of the foundations of a major Ancient Roman building which appears to have been set on fire, possibly a barbarian invasion in the second half of the 4th century AD.
The discovery of the building as well as the coin hoard are construed as further evidence that a Roman town existed in today’s Mezdra outside the walls of the Kaleto Fortress.
“Our rescue excavations are standard, our goal is to extract as much information as possible about the context in which the coin hoard from Ancient Rome’s imperial period was found,” Georgi Ganetsovski, Director of the Vratsa Regional Museum of History, has told BTA.
“We have reached stone masonry which is part of a large building which we assume dates back to the time when the coin find was buried,” he adds.
“We are yet to find out more details about the reasons for that. However, for the time being, we have detected traces of a large-scale fire which probably also led to this building’s destruction,” the archaeologist explains.
For the time being, the dating of newly discovered Roman building to the 4th century AD is based on pottery and coins found at its ruins, according to lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Nartsis Torbov.
“A careful look on both sides of the masonry, and of the masonry itself shows traces of fire. The temperature was very high, and the soil became red-brown in color as a result,” Torbov says.
“This indicates that the existence of this building was ended through arson,” he adds.
He has hypothesized that the entire settlement that the structure was part of may have been burned down during a barbarian invasion in the 4th century AD.
The archaeological team is yet to explore whether any prior structures from earlier historical periods can be found underneath the Late Roman building.
Another Roman coin hoard, 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.
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.
Please consider donating to help us maintain and grow it!
Any contribution, large or small, is appreciated!
Learn more about donating to support our work here.