Bulgarian, German Archaeologists Excavate Largest Lime Production Center in 4th Century AD Roman Empire near Danube River

A map of the Roman strongholds along the Lower Danube from a paper authored by German archaeologist Sven Conrad.

What is said to have been the largest base for the production of lime, the construction material made from limestone, in the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD is being excavated by a joint team of Bulgarian and German archaeologists near the town of Novgrad, Tsenovo Municipality, Ruse District, close to the Danube River, in Northeast Bulgaria.

A team of archaeologists from Bulgaria and Germany has started a joint three-year project for the research of the Ancient Roman sites near the town of Novgrad, Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, has announced during a presentation at Tsenovo Municipality, as cited by Darik Ruse.

Today’s town of Novgrad is known for the Late Roman, Early Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Novgrad, also known as Neocastro, which was built in the Late Antiquity. It is not far from the more famous Ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian fortress of Iatrus near the town of Krivina, also in Tsenovo Municipality.

Learn more about the Novgrad Fortress in the Background Infonotes below!

The three-year Bulgarian – German archaeological project in Novgrad has started with excavations in the second half of March 2018,

“During the first two years we are going to focus on field research, and the end of the project will be dedicated to scientific analysis,” he says.

He has pointed out that truly impressive Roman Era archaeological structures have been found in Bulgaria’s Tsenovo Municipality, including what is said to have been the largest lime production center in the 4th century AD Roman Empire, which is being excavated by the Bulgarian – German team.

The Bulgarian and German archaeologists are researching the area of the Tash Bair (“Stone Hill) near the town of Novgrad. The team is led jointly by Vagalinski and, on the German side, by archaeologist Sven Conrad.

The archaeological structures that are the object of the joint research project date back to the 4th – 6th century AD.

The Roman Era lime pits in the area are said to be very well preserved. According to the archaeologists, the output of the site was at least 200 metric tons of lime per month. A total of 10 kilns have also been unearthed.

“During our research, we have also managed to find a kiln for pottery making. It was built according to the Celtic model and for the time being is the first and only of its kind to have been discovered in Bulgaria,” Vagalinski is quoted as saying.

One especially intriguing artifact found during the digs is a Roman weight used for weighing grain. Fragments from pottery from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) have also been discovered.

The archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman, Late Antiquity structures near Bulgaria’s Novgrad are scheduled to be completed by April 7, 2018.

The next stage of the Bulgarian – German digs is set for the end of August and beginning of September 2018.

In his presentation at Tsenovo Municipality, Vagalinski has also discussed the discoveries that have already been made in the Roman fortress of Iatrus near the town of Krivina.

Archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski during his presentation of the Bulgarian – German archaeological project at Tsenovo Municipality, Ruse District, Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Darik Ruse

In previous years, he has also worked on the excavations of the Roman city of Iatrus, which was one of the camps where units from Rome’s Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion) was based.

Iatrus is one of the best researched Late Roman fortifications along the Limes Moesiae. It has been excavated by Bulgarian and German archaeologists since the late 1950s.

The site was first excavated in 1958-1962, and then again throughout the 1970s, by archaeologists from Bulgaria and the German Democratic Republic (i.e. the former East Germany). In 1992-2002, the excavations were conducted by the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, the Ruse Regional Museum of History, and the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut).


Relevant Books:

Ancient Rome: A Complete History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chronicling the Story of the Most Important and Influential Civilization the World Has Ever Known

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Top 12 Places to Visit in Bulgaria – Top 12 Bulgaria Travel Guide (Includes Sofia, Sunny Beach, Nessebar, Plovdiv, Belogradchik & More)

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

Bulgaria History, Early Settlement and Empire: Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations, Communism, Society and Environment, Economy, Government and Politics


Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity and medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress of Novgrad, or Neocastro, dates back to the very end of the Late Roman period and the Early Byzatine period.

It is located near today’s town of Novgrad, Tsenovo Municipality, Ruse District, in Northeast Bulgaria, on the Kalebair hill, on left bank of the Yantra River.

Because of its natural defenses provided by the hill and the river, the Novgrad / Neocastro Fortress was accessible only from the east which is where its main gate was. The fortress has a roughly triangular shape.

Its location is not far from the town of Krivina and the larger Ancient Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Iatrus.

Source say that in 1388, the Novgrad Fortress, then in the remnant of the Second Bulgarian Empire, was conquered by a 30,000-strong army of the invading Ottoman Turks led by Ali Pasha.

The fierce resistance of its defenders infuriated the invaders who slaughtered most of Novgrad’s residents, and tore down the fortress walls.

The few Bulgarians who survived the slaughter subsequently settled outside the former fortress naming the new town after it, Novgrad.


The ruins of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine fortress and early medieval Bulgar settlement Iatrus (which is also the ancient name of the Yantra River in Central North Bulgaria) are located near the town of Krivina, Tsenovo Municipality, Ruse District. It was an important Roman fort along the so called Limes Moesiae – the system of frontier fortifications of the Roman Empire along the Lower Danube designed to thwart barbarian invasions from the north in the Late Antiquity. Iatrus is also believed to be the name of a little known deity from the Ancient Thracian mythology.

The Roman fortress of Iatrus existed from the 4th century AD until the 6th century AD when it was destroyed in the barbarian invasions of the Avars, Slavs, and Ancient Bulgars. The Roman fort had a territory of about 30 decares (app. 7.5 acres), and was fortified with a stone wall with fortress towers. It became the site of an Ancient Bulgar settlement during the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) which existed from the 8th until the 11th century.

In the 2nd-3rd century AD, Iatrus was initially a Roman road station and unfortified settlement, as indicated by Roman road maps such as the 4th century Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia) which noted that it was located 9 Roman miles away from Novae (today’s Svishtov) and 16 Roman miles away from Trimamium (today’s town of Mechka).

In the first quarter of the 4th century, during the reign of Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), the Romans built a fortified military camp (castra) at Iatrus, on the right bank of the Yantra River, close to where it flows into the Danube, on a steep plateau with natural defenses.

The fortress wall of Iatrus was up to 3.5 meters wide, and up to 10 meters tall. The heptagonal fortress had 12 fortress towers, some of them U-shaped; two towers defended its only gate. Iatrus also had one huge rectangular tower which was 30.5 meters long, and 15.3 meters wide, and was the largest known Roman Era tower on the territory of today’s Bulgaria.

The Iatrus Fortress survived in its original form until the 370s, possibly until after the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD in which the Goths routed the forces of (Eastern) Roman Emperor Valens who was also killed in the battle.

Not unlike the other Roman military camps in today’s North Bulgaria, after the barbarian invasions in the late 4th century, Iatrus was transformed into a fortified civilian settlement. Its military buildings were abandoned after they had been destroyed in a fire. The settlement was probably inhabited by Gothic foederati subsisting on agriculture and crafts. Its residents still participated in the defense of the Lower Danube frontier of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). Iatrus was raided during the barbarian invasions of the Huns in the middle of the 5th century AD. It was rebuilt briefly during the reign of Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD) but was once again burned down by invaders, possibly Ancient Bulgars. The settlement was revived under Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD), and was ultimately destroyed by the Avars and Slavs at the end of the 6th century AD.

Several decades after the Roman and Byzantine fortress and settlement Iatrus had been completely abandoned, it was settled and fortified anew by the Ancient Bulgars; after the center of the First Bulgarian Empire was transferred south of the Danube ca. 680 AD, Iatrus became a major Bulgar settlement with a military garrison. In the 9th-10th century, the Bulgar settlement featured large residential buildings, possibly with two-floors. In one of the these buildings, the archaeologists have found 45 Byzantine gold coins, a discovery seen as indicating of the high economic status of the settlement.

The Ancient Bulgar settlement at Iatrus was destroyed in a huge fire ca. 970. It is believed that, not unlike a large number of other strongholds of the First Bulgarian Empire, it was burned down by Knyaz Svietoslav I Igorevich, ruler of Kievan Rus (r. 945-972 AD) who invaded the First Bulgarian Empire in 968-971 AD). Individual artifacts indicate that in 11th century the site was briefly settled by Pechenegs.

The site of the ruins of Iatrus was first identified by Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil, the father of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology. The site was first excavated in 1958-1962, and then again throughout the 1970s, by archaeologists from Bulgaria and the German Democratic Republic (i.e. the former East Germany). In 1992-2002, the excavations were conducted by the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, the Ruse Regional Museum of History, and the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut).

The Bulgarian and German archaeologists have discovered the eastern and only gate of the Iatrus Fortress, two Early Christian basilicas, a number of private and public buildings, Byzantine gold coins from the 10th century, and various artifacts.


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