Bronze Horse Statuette Found in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress, Deemed Evidence of Roman Shrine

Bronze Horse Statuette Found in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress, Deemed Evidence of Roman Shrine

The Ancient Roman bronze horse figurine was discovered at the start of the 2019 archaeological excavations in the Rusocastro Fortress near Bulgaria’s Burgas. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A rather well-preserved, beautiful 3rd century AD bronze statuette depicting a horse has been discovered in the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria, the Rusocastro Fortress, and has immediately been interpreted as evidence that the place had a shrine in the time of the Roman Empire.

The newly discovered Roman horse statuette was cast in a mold, and exhibits a high degree of craftsmanship, says the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas, which runs the excavations of the Rusocastro Fortress and has announced the discovery.

The bronze Roman horse figurine is 5 centimeters long and 4.8 centimeters tall.

“Such finds usually date to the 2nd – 3rd century, the time of the Roman Empire, and were left as sacrificial gifts in shrines and temples," say Burgas History Museum Director Milen Nikolov.

“This find shows that right next to the Rusocastro Fortress there was a shrine from the Roman period. We had no such data but this discovery is indicative of that," the archaeologist elaborates.

The bronze horse statuette from the Rusocastro Fortress dates to the 2nd – 3rd century AD. Photo: Burgas Museum of History

The Roman bronze statuette depicts a horse striding forward, with its front right leg bent in its knee. The hind legs and the tale of the figurine have broken off.

“The mane, head, and body of the horse were shaped in a very sophisticated manner," the Burgas Museum says.

The horse statuette has been found during the excavations of a monumental building with stone masonry poles inside the castle of the Rusocastro Fortress.

The Rusocastro Fortress itself, with an area of 53 decares (app. 13 acres) is known to have been built on top of an Ancient Thracian shrine.

It is said to be the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria, and to possibly have been the only medieval city which had a castle along Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast.

The 2019 excavations in the Rusocastro Fortress have been funded by Kameno Municipality and Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture. The current digs began back in 2006.

Recent aerial photos show the progress of the excavations on the Rusocastro Fortress, a major medieval city with a castle in Southeast Bulgaria. Photos: Burgas Museum of History

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).

During the 2018 digs, the archaeological team researching the Rusocastro Fortress announced their conclusion that the city’s 6th century AD Early Byzantine fortress walls were almost completely demolished by the Second Bulgarian Empire of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218 – 1241) in the 13th century, and much mo re massive walls were built in their place.

Later it discovered there a “Game of Thrones"-style artifact, a mysterious 14th century item made of agate that seems to have been part of a throne reminscient of the Iron Throne from the “Game of Thrones" / Song of Ice and Fire.

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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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