Early Byzantium’s Haemimontus Province on Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea Coast Presented in New Book Based on 8 Years of Excavations

Cover of the book “Mare Ponticum. Coastal Fortresses and Harbor Zones in the Province of Haemimontus, 5th – 7th Century AD”. Photo: Bulgaria’s National Museum of History

A new book presents findings about the Haemimontus province of the Early Byzantine Empire in the Late Antiquity (5th – 7th century AD) based on 8 years of archaeological field research of fortresses and settlements on the southern Black Sea coast of today’s Bulgaria.

The book is entitled “Mare Ponticum. Coastal Fortresses and Harbor Zones in the Province of Haemimontus, 5th – 7th Century AD”, and is authored by Prof. Ivan Hristov from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History, who has led digs on the Black Sea coast from 2011 until 2017, the Museum has announced.

It has 432 pages and is a bilingual edition (Bulgarian and English) published by the Unicart publishing house.

Haeminontus was a provice in the Late Roman Empire and the Early Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) up until the 7th century AD in the geographic region of Eastern Thrace roughly corresponding to today’s Southeast Bulgaria (the Districts of Burgas, Sliven, and Yambol).

It included the Black Sea coast between the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina, Hemus) in the north and the Strandzha Mountain in the south, i.e. Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast.

It was subordinated to the Diocese of Thrace and the praetorian prefecture of the East, and had its capital in Adrianople (today’s Edirne in European Turkey known as Odrin in Bulgarian).

Archaeologist Ivan Hristov’s case study delves into the history of the Early Byzantine fortresses in Haeminontus in the Late Antiquity.

“The port areas are also included because these fortresses could hardly exist without their contact with the [Black] sea carried out by the Byzantine navy,” the National Museum of History in Sofia says.

The main part of the Mare Ponticum book features descriptions of all known Early Byzantine fortresses and harbor areas located between today’s town of Obzor (roughly located in the middle of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast) in the north and the towns of Limankoy and Igneada (on European Turkey’s Black Sea coast) in the south.

The Haemimontus province in the Diocese of Thrace in the early Byzantine Empire. Map: Wikipedia

The Byzantine fortresses and ports in question (considered in the period from the 5th until the 7th century AD) include, as follows (from north to south):

The Late Antiquity city near today’s Obzor (believed to have been called Templo Jovis – “Temple of Jupiter”, Heliopolis, Teopolis);

The Emine Cape Fortress;

The Ceremis Fortress near today’s resort of Sveti Vlas;

Messembia (today’s town of Nessebar);

Anchialos (today’s town of Pomorie);

The Skafida Fortress;

The city of Deultum (today the Deultum – Debelt Archaeological Preserve);

The Gorno Gradishte (“Upper Fortress”) Fortress near the town of Debelt;

The Poros (Burgos) Fortress on Cape Foros (believed to have given the name of today’s Bulgarian city of Burgas);

The St. Anastasia Island off the coast of Burgas;

The Cape Atiya (also known as Atiya Peninsula) Fortress;

The Akra (Acra) Fortress on Cape Akra, also known as Cape Akin, near today’s town of Chernomorets;

The Talaskara Fortress on Cape Chervenka, also known as the Chrisosotira (“Golden Savior, Golden Christ”) Peninsula;

Apollonia Pontica (Sozopolis), today’s town of Sozopol;

The structures on the St. Cyricus (St. Kirik) Island (also known as the Sts. Quriaqos and Julietta Island) which today is a peninsula in the town of Sozopol;

The settlement and monastery on the St. Thomas (Sveti Toma) Island off the coast of the town of Primorsko (also known as the Snake Island, not to be confused with the Ukrainian Snake Island in the Northern Black Sea);

The settlement at the spot where the Ropotamo River flows into the Black Sea believed to have been called Chersonesus (not to be confused with the ancient city of Chersonesus on the Crimean (Taurica) Peninsula or other geographic locations bearing the same name);

The Ranuli Fortress, also known as the Valchanovo Kale fortress, near the Lion’s Head Hill at the Beglik Tash plateau on the Black Sea coast;

The Maslen Nos (“Oily Cape”) Fortress;

The Urdoviza (Urdovisa) Fortress near today’s town of Kiten;

The Castro / Kastritsi / Vasiliko Fortress on Cape Castro in today’s town of Tsarevo;

The Agathopolis Fortress in today’s today of Ahtopol;

The Kastrich Fortress (Castro, Kastritsa) Fortress near the town of Rezovo (which is the southernmost town on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast);

The settlement and port of Tiniada / Stagnara / Staniera / Igneada in today’s Turkey.

Bulgaria’s National Museum of History emphasizes that the book “Mare Ponticum. Coastal Fortresses and Harbor Zones in the Province of Haemimontus, 5th – 7th Century AD” focuses only on the Late Antiquity and only on the coastal zone of the Early Byzantine province of Haemimontus.

The book also includes descriptions of the Early Christian temples which were built outside of the fortress walls of the above mentioned Late Antiquity cities, towns, and ports, most often at the known Black Sea islands.

“The description of the sites is the result of purposeful archaeological research of a team of the National Museum of History [carried out] between 2011 and 2017,” the Museum says.

It notes that book author Ivan Hristov focuses on the coastal zone of the Byzantine province Haemimontus “as a relatively narrow coastal stripped marked by fortresses and larger fortified urban centers located on peninsulas jutting out into the sea.”

This Black Sea coastal strip of Byzantium’s province of Haemimontus in the 5th – 7th century AD between the Balkan Mountains and the Strandzha Mountain is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide.

The zone was open to the east towards the Black Sea, and its coast was the place of major naval trade and economic development connected with it.

Hristov’s Mare Ponticum book also provides information on the borders of the Late Antiquity / Early Byzantine Haemimontus province, the classification of its fortresses and ports (or harbor zones), the iron anchors used during the said period, the type of Byzantine ships, the naval currents and naval routes, and the goods which were the subject of the sea trade in the respective Black Sea region  at the time.

Depending on the scope of the existing archaeological excavations, the case study also explores temples, residential buildings, and commercial buildings found in the above mentioned Byzantine fortress and ports.

“The present case study… is also a modest contribution to the research of the specific naval culture of the population in the coastal zone of the western Pontus (Black Sea) in the Late Antiquity. This culture is a manifestation of older traditions in coastal Thrace during the Antiquity,” the National Museum of History in Sofia says.

It adds that the book on the Late Antiquity fortresses and ports in the Early Byzantine province of Haemimontus could be deemed a sequel (or a prequel) to a book entitled “Cities and Fortresses on the Danube and the Black Sea [Coast]” published in 1981 by the Georgi Bakalov publishing house in Varna.

The book in question was the first and only volume to have been published of what was supposed to have been a book series entitled “Medieval Bulgarian Fortresses and Cities.”

Archaeologist Ivan Hristov’s book “Mare Ponticum. Coastal Fortresses and Harbor Zones in the Province of Haemimontus, 5th – 7th Century AD” is to be sold in bookstores across Bulgaria.

The National Museum of History in Sofia says its first copy was donated to the library of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

Also check out this discovery story from Bulgaria’s Varna about the Early Byzantine district of Quaestura Exercitus:

Fortress Tower of Ancient Odessos Found by Chance in Bulgaria’s Varna Affirms Data about Odd Early Byzantine District Quaestura Exercitus

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Bulgars: Webster’s Timeline History, 354 – 2007

A history of the first Bulgarian empire,

2: Byzantium, Pliska, and the Balkans (Millennium Studies)

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

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

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