Unknown 4th Century Tower, Gold Coin of Byzantine Emperors Andronicus II, Andronicus III Found in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress

The newly found gold coin of Byzantine Emperors Andronicus II and Andronicus III from the Rusocastro Fortress is only partly preserved. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A previously unknown fortress tower from the 4th century AD as well as a Byzantine gold coin from the 14th century, the High Middle Ages, are the most recent discoveries in the large fortress Rusocastro in Southeast Bulgaria.

The start of the 2018 archaeological excavations in the Rusocastro Fortress, which was the largest in Southeast Bulgaria in the Middle Ages, was announced by the Burgas Regional Museum of History at the end of June but the actual digs began in mid-July.

The Rusocastro Fortress is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD. It was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

In it, Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD).

Thanks to bones discovered during the 2017 excavations in Rusocastro, the archaeologists found out that the aurochs, the wild cattle which is the ancestor of today’s domestic cows, survived in today’s Bulgaria well into the 13th-14th century when it was still hunted for meat. It was previously thought to have gone extinct in the 12th century at the latest.

“A previously unknown fortress tower from the 4th century AD has been exposed,” the Burgas Museum has announced.

Its announcement has been more extensive on another notable find in the 2018 Rusocastro digs: a gold coin of Byzantine Emperors Andronicus II Palaeologus (r. 1282 – 1328) and Andronicus III Palaeologus (r. 1328 – 1341).

Andronicus III Palaeologus was made co-emperor of the Byzantine Empire alongside his grandfather, Andronicus II, before 1313.

In 1321, Andronicus III rebelled against his grandfather, and eventually managed to oust him, and become the sole Byzantine Emperor in 1328.

One side of the 14th century Byzantine gold coin of Andronicus II and Andronicus III, which has just been discovered in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress, depicts the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) and the fortress walls and towers of Constantinople.

The other side of the gold coin shows Jesus Christ crowning the two Byzantine Emperors. Only half of the coin has been preserved. It is the first gold find at the Rusocastro Fortress for 2018.

The newly discovered Byzantine coin is the fourth gold coin and the third of the two Emperors, Andronicus II and Andronicus III, to have been discovered in the fortress in recent years.

It was found during digs at the western fortress wall of the Rusocastro Fortress, the Burgas Regional Museum of History reveals.

The 2018 excavations in Rusocastro are once again funded by both Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, and the local authorities from Kameno Municipality.

In November 2017, the Burgas Regional Museum of History announced the discovery of a huge water cistern plastered on the inside with pink waterproof mortar in the fortress, and in September 2017, it announced the discovery of the “monumental” staircase leading up to the castle of the Rusocastro Fortress.

In July 2017, the archaeological team excavating the major fortress discovered a rare 10th century ivory icon believed to have belonged to a Byzantine Emperor or a member of the Byzantine imperial family, and to have been made in Constantinople.

Before that, the Burgas Museum had just announced the discovery of a 7th century gold coin of Early Byzantine Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610 AD).

Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas. Rusocastro was also known as “The Red Fortress” because of the red stones it was built of.

In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.

The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.

The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World”, where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.

The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.

Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield” of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.

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