Roman Magistrate’s Statue from ca. 100 AD Found by Archaeologists in Ancient City Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria

The life-size statue of an Ancient Roman magistrate from around 100 AD has been discovered underneath the stairs of the Roman Forum of Heraclea Sintica, an ancient city in Bulgaria’s very southwest. Photo: Bulgarian Prime Minister’s Facebook Page / Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO & Journal

An Ancient Roman statue from the end of the 1rd – beginning of the 2nd century AD depicting a local Roman magistrate has been discovered by the archaeologists excavating the Ancient Greek, Thracian, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Petrich in today’s Southwest Bulgaria.

Heraclea Sintica is thought to have been founded ca. 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon in 305-297 BC, who also founded Thessaloniki, today in Greece. It is possible, however, that Heraclea Sintica was first settled even earlier.

The city was named “Heraclea" after the mythical Ancient Greek hero Heracles, more popularly known today as Hercules, and “Sintica" after the Thracian tribe of the Sintians who inhabited the valley of the Struma River at the time.

Since 2007, the ancient city has been excavated by a team led by Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, part of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, Director of the Petrich Museum of History.

The Ancient Roman magistrate’s statue has been discovered at a depth of 4 meters (appr. 12 feet) underneath the stairs of the Roman Forum of Heraclea Sintica.

The discovery of the statue has been announced by Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on his Facebook page, and by Archaeologia Bulgarica, an NGO promoting Bulgarian archaeology and cultural heritage chaired by Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, which is also associated with the Archaeologia Bulgarica academic journal.

The Roman statue is life-size or very slightly larger than life-size, and very well preserved. The only part of that is missing is the head.

The name of the Roman magistrate depicted in the statue is believed to be Tiberius Claudius Bachius based on two 1st century AD inscriptions discovered near the site where the ancient sculpture was found. Photo: Bulgarian Prime Minister’s Facebook Page / Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO & Journal

The archaeological team takes a photo with the newly discovered Roman magistrate’s statue in Heraclea Sintica. Lead archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski is second on the right, and epigraphist Nikolay Sharankov is first on the left. Photo: Bulgarian Prime Minister’s Facebook Page / Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO & Journal

Next to the left leg of statue – which depicts a male dressed in a toga – there is a sculpture of a box for papyrus scrolls, a clear indication that the man was a high-ranking magistrate.

For the time being it remains unclear why the head of the statue is missing, reports the Trud daily.

It might have been removed by disgruntled citizens of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica, or by the magistrate’s political opponents.

Save for the missing head, the newly discovered Roman magistrate’s statue from Southwest Bulgaria does not appear to have been vandalized. It seems to have been laid down carefully.

On the other hand, however, the builders of the Roman Forum stairs were likely aware that the magistrate’s statue remained underneath, and that people would be stepping upon the fallen magistrate, both literally and metaphorically.

The team of Prof. Vagalinski still hopes that the head of the Roman statue could be discovered since the area where the rest of sculpture has been found has not been fully researched.

For the time being, the Roman magistrate’s statue has been placed amidst the ruins of the civic basilica of Heraclea Sintica, a building which functioned as a central courthouse for the ancient city.

The archaeological team also has a hypothesis about the name of the Roman magistrate whose statue they have found.

According to Vagalinski, his name almost certainly was, Tiberius Claudius Bachius, a wealthy benefactor of the city of Heraclea Sintica.

Earlier during their excavations, the archaeologists found there an inscription mentioning this name, and just recently, not far from where the Roman statue was dug up, they have come across another inscription mentioning the last name, Bachius.

“He was a wealthy man, a benefactor of the city. He paid from his own pocked for the organizing of major city-wide competitions," lead archaeologist Vagalinski is quoted as saying.

“Such people were appreciated by both the regular Romans and the leadership of Rome. The statue is very well preserved, and it was made in a magnificent way even though it dates to the end of 1st – beginning of the 2nd century AD," he elaborates.

“We have also stumbled upon several interesting inscriptions which are yet to be talked about. After all these discoveries, I hope that [Bulgaria’s] government will allocate funding so that we can work for at least one more month [this season]. During his visit to the site, Prime Minister Borisov said that Heraclea Sintica was among the most interesting archaeological sites in Bulgaria which is why we would be able to rely on government support," Vagalinski adds.

He points out that the newly found Roman magistrate’s statue has had to be extracted using a crane from the nearby town of Sandanski.

With the help of the crane, the archaeologists managed to carefully dismantle the stairs of the Roman forum in order remove the statue.

The Ancient Roman magistrate’s statue from Heraclea Sintica had to be extracted with a crane from undearneath the stairs of the ancient city’s Roman Forum. Photos: Bulgarian Prime Minister’s Facebook Page / Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO & Journal

The pedestal and the legs were the first parts of the Roman magistrate’s statue discovered by the archaeologists in Heraclea Sintica, several days before the entire statue could be extracted. Photo: Archaeologia Bulgarica NGO & Journal

The archaeological team first unearthed the legs of the statue together with the pedestal. Before they were able to dismantle the Roman forum staircase to extract it, they dug a tunnel to check if its torso is there. At the time, however, they were unable to reach the head, and were thus unable to find out immediately if the head was still attached to the torso and intact.

The Archaeologia Bulgaria NGO has released a YouTube video showing the intial discovery of the Roman magistrate’s statue in Heraclea Sintica.

“Such a find is rather rare. And in addition to it, we’ve come across a preserved inscription that is a little earlier than it. I’ve been participating in archaeological excavations for 38 years, and that hadn’t happened to me before," Vagalinski says.

As the Roman magistrate’s statue has been placed in the ruins of the civic basilica of the ancient city since right after its extraction, this is reported to already be causing tourists to flock there to see it.

While it is still being researched and excavated, the Ancient Greek, Thracian, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica is rapidly gaining popularity as a cultural tourism destination.

Its location right off the main highway (Struma Highway) connecting Bulgaria and Greece, which is also a major intra EU route (European Transport Corridor No. 4), also helps by making it easily accessible.

During the 2017 excavations in Heraclea Sintica, the archaeologists found ancient shrines and evidence of the city’s Late Antiquity rivalry with the nearby Roman city of Parthicopolis (near today’s town of Sandanski), and a 4th century Roman gold necklace which is hypothesized to have been made in Rome itself.

Parthicopolis (today’s Sandanski) was founded nearby in the 2nd century AD, much later than Heraclea Sintica but emerged as a major center of Early Christianity in the Late Antiquity and early Middle Ages.

Herclea Sintica’s downtown square was surrounded by the city’s civic basilica (found in 2016) which is 22 meters long and 16 meters wide, and whose walls have been partly preserved up to a height of 5 meters, and by a long line of stores, which are still being excavated.

Background Infonotes:

Heraclea Sintica was an Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria. It was the center of the ancient region of Sintica along the Struma River, which was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Sintians.

The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was mentioned by Homer, Herodotos, and Thycudides in their works. It was founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon (r. 305-297 BC), who also founded Thessaloniki.

In the not so distant past, the location of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was a matter of contention between archaeologists from Bulgaria and Greece.

In 2002, Bulgarian archaeologists managed to identify the city for sure after they found a Latin inscription dated back to 308 AD, in which Roman Emperor Galerius (r. 293-305 AD as Caesar, 305-311 AD as Augustus) addressed the local urban citizens of Heraclea Sintica responding to a plea to restore their lost civil rights.

Heraclea Sintica had a civic basilica (found in 2016) which is 22 meters long and 16 meters wide, and parts of its walls have been preserved up to a height of 5 meters.

Its ruins are located right near the ruins of a similar public building which is some 700 years older (dating back to the 4th century BC, i.e. the early Hellenistic period), and was discovered in 2015.

In the Late Antiquity, the city of Heraclea Sintica gradualy waned and was replaced as a regional center by the nearby city of Parthicopolis founded by the Romans in the 2nd century AD (today’s town of Sandanski, previously known as Sveti Vrach).

In recent years, Heraclea Sintica has been excavated by Ass. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, Director of the Petrich Museum of History.

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