303 AD Inscription Dedicated to Emperor Diocletian over Tetrarchy in Roman Empire Discovered by Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

This 303 AD inscription by the then Governor of the Roman province of Thracia (Thrace), Emilius Alexander, glorifies Roman Emperor Diocletian. It has been discovered built into a 12th century building in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv Time

An ancient inscription glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284 – 305 AD) after he introduced the so called Tetrarchy system of government in the Roman Empire has been discovered by archaeologists during rescue excavations in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.

The Ancient Roman inscription dedicated to Emperor Diocletian has been discovered in the same site near the St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch) Church in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv where the archaeological team has already found a very rare piece of lusterware pottery from medieval Egypt in a richly decorated medieval building.

Now that the team led by archaeologist Elena Bozhinova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology and Assoc. Prof. Kamen Stanev from the Cyril and Methodius Scientific Center at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia has gone in greater depth, they have found the ruins of two massive Antiquity buildings.

The inscription dedicated to Roman Emperor Diocletian dates back to the year 303 AD. It is in Latin and Ancient Greek.

It has survived on a marble block which was utilized for the construction of a medieval wall built in the 12th century, local news and culture site Plovdiv Time has reported.

The Diocletian inscription found in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, the successor of the ancient city of Philipopolis (Trimontium) was left by the then governor of the Roman province of Thracia (Thrace), Emilius Alexander.

Two inscriptions from the same governor of Roman Thrace, Emilius Alexander, have already been discovered in the past few years in the ruins of the second most important city in the then Roman province, Augusta Traiana, in today’s Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria.

Another inscription by the same governor of the Thracia province was discovered back in the 19th century in the southern Bulgarian town of Asenovgrad. However, the surviving piece of the inscription does not show the name of a Roman Emperor.

Emilius Alexander’s newly discovered inscription from Bulgaria’s Plovdiv has been read by Bulgaria’s best epigraphist, Assist. Prof. Nikolay Sharankov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski".

Sharankov has translated it, as follows,

“To our master, the most pious Gaius Valerius Diocletianus – a happy, invincible Augustus. Dedicated by the overly perfect Emilius Alexander, Governor of the Province of Thracia [Thrace], devoted to his divineness."


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Thracia Governor Emilius Alexander’s inscription dedicated to Roman Emperor Diocletian is associated by the researchers with the latter’s reform of the government of the Roman Empire through the introduction of the so called Tetrarchy system.

Under the Tetrarchy introduced by Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD) the Empire was governed by two Augusti (Senior Emperors) and two Caesars (Junior Emperors).

A map of the Roman Tetrarchs under the First Tetrarchy, the system set up by Emperor Diocletian under which the Roman Empire was ruled by two senior and two junior emperors. Map: Ssolbergj, Andrei nacu, Wikipedia

When the Tetrarchy was set up in 293 AD (the so called First Tetrarchy), Diocletian ruled the East of the Roman Empire as Augustus together with Galerius as Caesar, and Maximian ruled the West of the Roman Empire as Augustus together with Constantius Chlorus as Caesar.

Thus, Galerius (Galerius Valerius Maximianus) ruled in 293-305 AD as Caesar under Emperor Diocletian and in 305-311 AD as Augustus alongside Constantius, then Severus, then Constantine; and Constantius Chlorus (Flavius Valerius Constantius) ruled in 293-305 AD as Caesar under Maximian, and in 305-306 AD as Augustus alongside Galerius.

One of Thracia Governor Emilius Alexander’s inscriptions discovered in Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagura back in 2015, which is also dated to 303 AD, mentions two other tetrarchs, Roman Caesars Galerius Valerius Maximianus and Flavius Valerius Constantius (i.e. Galerius and Constantius Chlorus).

The inscription dedicated to Roman Emperor Diocletian has been found alongside two massive Roman buildings, a Roman street, and a number of structures from the MIddle Ages. Photos: Plovdiv Time

The marble block containing the inscription dedicated to Roman Emperor Diocletian has been reached at a depth of 4 meters.

It is believed to have been part of the pedestal of a large statue, likely connected with the Imperial Cult.

The government system introduced by Roman Emperor Diocletian with his ascent to the imperial throne is also known as the Dominate, the most “despotic" later period of the Roman Empire (as opposed to the earlier period known as the “Principate"). The Tetrarchy is synonymous with the Dominate up until 313 AD.

“The Thracia Province Governor’s job was to solidify the authority of his rulers. A century earlier the Empire had experienced a big crisis," Sharankov says, as quoted by the 24 Chasa daily.

Diocletian’s Dominate is credited by some with having put off the collapse of the Roman Empire by almost a century.

“[The already known inscriptions by Emilius Alexander], together with the newly discovered inscription in Plovdiv honor the Roman Emperors from the Tetrarchy Age, Sharankov adds.

In addition to the Ancient Roman inscription mentioning Diocletian the archaeological team led by Bozhinova and Stanev had dug up structures from two massive Antiquity buildings, and part of a street from the Antiquity city of Philipopolis, today’s Plovdiv, also known as Trimontium in the Roman Era, Plovdiv Time reports.

The two large Antiquity buildings were built using large stone blocks (quadrae). They are located symmetrically across from one another, respectively, on the northern and southern side of the excavated Antiquity street.

The street itself has been exposed underneath the level of a street from the Middle Ages, that is, the same street route was used some 9 centuries later.

The rescue excavations have been carried out on private property near the St. Marina Church in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photos: Plovdiv Time

“So far we have exposed about 5 meters from its width but we know from previous excavations in other plots in the area that they were 7 meters wide," lead archaeologist Elena Bozhinova is quoted as saying.

“The street pavement was made perfectly. It is very well preserved. On the northern side, there are traces from repairs. The clay pipes of the water pipeline probably had to be replaced, and the pavement was raised. Later the spot was repaired with smaller stones," she elaborates.

Part of the stone blocks from what seemingly were public buildings are decorated with floral motifs. The quadrae have been found all over the place because they were re-used for construction in the Middle Ages.

So far in the rescue digs near the St. Marina Church in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, the archaeologists have found over 200 coins from various time periods, and a number of other artifacts, including a bronze statuette depicting a horse.

Floral motifs decorate some of the quadrae from the Antiquity buildings found in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photos: Plovdiv Time

Prehistoric, Antiquity, and medieval finds keep springing up across Plovdiv as the city’s vast cultural heritage is still being researched.

The latest excavations of the Ancient Thracian and Ancient Roman Nebet Tepe Fortress in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv have revealed issues with earlier archaeological research casting doubt on whether Plovdiv indeed was the oldest city in Europe, while not denying the exquisite historical, archaeological, and cultural value of the site.

Because of previous excavations on the Nebet Tepe Hill in the 1970s, Plovdiv has claimed the title of “Europe’s oldest city" (and the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

Later, in the Antiquity period, the city was known as Philipopolis (named after King Philip II of Macedon), and Trimontium (following its conquest by the Roman Empire).

In the most recent archaeological excavations in Plovdiv, the archaeologists have found traces from the Goth invasion of the Roman Empire in 251 AD during rescue digs at the city’s Antiquity Odeon.

Even more recently, a Roman tomb from the western necropolis of Philipopolis has been unearthed by accident on the campus of Plovdiv Medical University.

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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

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Background Infonotes:

According to the pre-1980 excavations, the history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkishword for “hill"), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city" (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills").

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.

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