The 16 Byzantine gold coins discovered in the ruins of ancient Marcianopolis, a very substantial Roman city in today’s Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Devnya Ancient and Modern Facebook Page
A Byzantine gold treasure from the 5th century BC, i.e. the early period of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), consisting of a hoard of gold coins of Emperor Theodosius II which were probably hidden when the major Roman city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople) was destroyed by Attila’s Huns, has been found by archaeologists in Devnya, Northeast Bulgaria.
The newly discovered gold coin hoard consists for the time being of 14 coins featuring the image Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408 – 450 AD), one featuring his wife Aelia Eudocia, and one featuring his first cousin, Emperor Valentian III, Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 425 until 455 AD, shortly before its collapse.
Among other things, Marcianopolis / Devnya is known for the discovery of one of the largest coin hoards ever found in the world back in 1929: the Devnya Coin Treasure consisting of over 100,000 silver Roman coins, denarii, minted in the 1st – 3rd century AD by a total of 44 Roman emperors and empresses, with a combined total weight of over 350 kilograms.
The total of 16 gold solidi, most of them minted by Theodosius II (r. 408 – 450 AD), the third longest ruling Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, popularly known today as Byzantium, have been discovered by archaeologists excavating the ruins of ancient Marcianopolis in Bulgaria’s Devnya.
The archaeological team led by Dr. Hristov Kuzov from the Museum of Archaeology in the Black Sea city of Varna at first found 10 of the 5th century Byzantine gold coins. Two more were found the following day, and three more gold solidi were discovered hours later, reports the “Devnya Ancient and Modern" Facebook page.
One of the newly discovered Early Byzantine gold coins was minted in the name of Emperor Theodosius II’s wife, Aelia Eudocia.
According to lead archaeologist Hristo Kuzov, the gold coins from the early decades of the Eastern Roman Empire were probably hidden during the invasion of Attila’s Huns in the middle of the 5th century AD.
In 447 AD, the Huns led by their legendary leader Attila clashed with the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire in the Battle of the Utus River – today known as the Vit River, a Danube tributary in Northwest Bulgaria. After that the Huns raided most of the Balkan Provinces of the Roman Empire.
Among other major Roman cities, they pillaged Marcianopolis, which remained deserted for about 100 years, until it was restored by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great in the 6th century AD.
The spot where the gold solidi of Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II have been discovered is located right next to the police department of the town of Devnya.
Originally, it had not been part of the plot of the 2019 summer archaeological excavations of ancient Marcianopolis but towards the end of the digs, Kuzov decided to do a small dig in a nearby spot picked practically randomly, just to sound it out.
The original excavation side is closer to the Museum of Ancient Roman Mosaics, and contains the ruins of a Roman insula, i.e. residential quarter among four streets.
“The digs in that section are towards their end, that is why we decided to expand our research side to the south, and we set aside two square meters [for excavations], a little bit by intuition," Kuzov has told “Devnya Ancient and Modern".
“On the fourth day [of digging there], we came across the first part of the coin hoard, which consisted of 10 gold coins, solidi of Emperor Theodosius II, and also ten bronze coins of the same emperor," the lead archaeologist elaborates.
“Emperor Theodosius II ruled [the Eastern Roman Empire] from 408 until 450 AD, and this coin hoard was most probably lost during the Hun invasion [of 447 AD] when the city of Marcianople was destroyed," he adds.
“This find was buried in the ruins of a Late Antiquity home which we are unearthing right now. That is why it had remained preserved underneath," the researcher reveals.
When asked to explain the worth the newly discovered Early Byzantine gold coins at the time when they were in circulation in the Eastern Roman Empire, Kuzov has resorted to their relative purchase value (before the discovery of the last four gold coins).
“An elite horse, a very good horse at the time cost 3 gold solidi, 3 to 5 solidi. So perhaps that would be equal to two Maybach cars today," the archaeologist has said jokingly.
Later he has had to respond to critics who on social media brought up the price of Byzantine gold coins in modern-day auction houses.
“We are talking about [the coins’] purchasing power from 1,500 years ago, not about their price in modern-day auction house," Kuzov elaborates.
“I was just comparing an elite horse to a luxury modern-day car, and this brand [Maybach] came to my mind during the interview. In the Antiquity, just as today, money’s purchasing power chances due to inflation and financial crises," he adds.
More than 40 Roman and Byzantine coins have been discovered during the 2019 excavations of ancient Marcianopolis in Bulgaria’s Devnya so far – the 16 gold solidi and a number of bronze coins. Bronze coins and household pottery were among the artifacts found in the digs near the Museum of Roman Mosaics in Devnya the previous season, in 2018.
The 2019 excavations of Marcianopolis have been carried out with a total of BGN 19,000 (EUR 9,500, USD 10,000) in funding from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.
The discovery of the Early Byzantine gold coins, however, has necessitated further digs, leading the Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology Igor Lazarenko to request BGN 20,000 more in funding from the Culture Ministry.
Meanwhile, the police in Devnya have taken additional measures to secure the perimeter where the Byzantine gold solidi have been found, a mandatory precaution given how widespread treasure hunting is all over Bulgaria, doing irreparable damage to thousands of archaeological monuments.
The discovery of the new Devnya Gold Treasure, the gold coin hoard of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, has reminded of the accidental discovery of gigantic hoard of silver Roman coins in Devnya back in 1929.
The silver treasure in question weighing over 350 kilograms might have been the city treasury of Marcianopolis. Unlike the new gold finds, however, it might have been hidden during an earlier barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire – that of the Goths in 250 – 251 AD, which left behind many traces, and killed not one but two Roman Emperors.
The fact that the newly found Early Byzantine gold hoard has been found in a Late Antiquity home from the 5th century AD makes it very likely that the owner of the treasure hid it in the building at the time when Attila and his Huns were attacking Marcianopolis.
“It is fully possible that a rich military officer, a craftsman, or just some kind of a rich aristocrat citizen might have been the owner of this considerable coin hoard," says Dr. Mihail Hristov from the Department of History of Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius".
“From a scientific point of view these coins are very interesting because they have been found in a very clear context, that is, they weren’t spilled all over the place, they are inside a single building which was probably destroyed during the Hun invasion," adds archaeologist Nikolay Rusev who also participates in the excavations of Marcianopolis in Bulgaria’s Devnya.
Learn more about the ancient city of Marcianopolis / Marcianople in Bulgaria’s Devnya in the Background Infonotes below!
Also check out this story about another Byzantine gold hoard treasure discovered in Bulgaria in recent years:
The ruins of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolisor Marcianople succeeded by the Bulgarian fortress Devina in the Middle Ages are located in today’s town of Devnya in Northeast Bulgaria, Varna District.
It was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement. The city was initially called Parthenopolis but was renamed by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) after his victory over the Dacians north of the Danube in 106 AD in honor of his sister Ulpia Marciana.
It was first mentioned in an inscription found in the Roman city of Lambaesis in the province of Numidia (in North Africa) by an inscription of a discharged Roman military veteran from Legio III Augusta (Augustus’ Third Legion) who was born in Marcianopolis.
The name of Marcianopolis was mentioned in the 4th century AD Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia), and in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, “The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus"), an Ancient Roman register of road stations. Altogether, it was mentioned or described a number of times in a wide range of ancient epigraphic and literary sources, the last being a work by Byzantine historian Theophylact Simocatta from 596 AD.
An important strategic centre, the city was part of the Roman province of Thrace until 187–193, and then of the province of Moesia inferior. Its fortress wall was probably erected after an invasion by the Costoboci in 170 AD. The city grew substantially during the period of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD). It was first besieged by the Goths in 248-249 AD, and then conquered in 250 AD by the Gothic chieftain Cniva.
It is believed that during this conquest a large coin treasure (possibly the city treasury) was hidden. It consists of about 100,000 silver denarii minted between 64 and 238 AD by a total of 44 Roman emperors and empresses, and weighing a combined total of 350 kg. The treasure was discovered by accident in 1929 in the outskirts of Bulgaria’s Devnya, on the territory of the former Roman city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople). Today, nearly 69,000 of these coins are kept in the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and more than 12,000 are kept in the Varna Museum of Archaeology. Thousands more are believed to have ended up in the hands of private collectors and treasure hunters.
In 267 AD, Marcianopolis (Marcianople) was targeted by another major barbarian invasion of the Goths and other tribes but was not conquered. Under Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD), Marcianople became the main city of the newly formed province of Moesia Secunda, one the six provinces in the Diocese of Thrace. It was continuously rebuilt growing in importance gradually eclipsing Odessus (Odessos), today’s Black Sea city of Varna.
In 332 AD, Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD) visited Marcianople during a campaign against the Goths and other barbarian tribes led by his son Constantine (later Co-Emperor Constantine II, r. 337-340).
In 368 AD, Roman Emperor Valens used it as a winter residence and a de facto temporary capital during his campaigns against the Goths in the First Gothic War of 367-369 AD. Later, in 376 AD, Valens allowed a group of Visigoths to settle as foederati in the provinces of Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor. They rebelled the following year, and defeated the Romans in a major battle near Marcianopolis. Valens himself perished fighting the Goths in the Battle of Adrianople of 378 AD.
In the 4th century AD, Marcianople was the center of a bishopric as testified by a bishop’s basilica discovered there in 1957.
Later, as in the Early Byzantine period, in 447 AD, Marcianople (Marcianopolis) was conquered and destroyed by Attila’s Huns after the Battle of the Utus (Vit) River. It was rebuilt in 471 AD, and settled with Ostrogothic foederati who remainded there until 488 AD.
In 587 AD, Marcianople (Marcianopolis) was briefly conquered by the Avars, and in 596 AD, it was used to rally the troops of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire for their campaign against the Avars and Slavs north of the Danube. The large Roman and Byzantine city was once against destroyed by the Avars and Slavs in 614-615 AD and was ultimately abandoned.
After the Slavs settled in today’s Bulgaria in the 7th century AD, they called the ruins of Marcianopolis Devina. The archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman amphitheater of Marcianople have also led to the discovery of a small Ancient Bulgar fortress whose wall is 3.4 meters wide. It was built with large limestone blocks extracted from the collapsed Antiquity buildings of the Roman / Byzantine city.
The Ancient Bulgar fortress at Devina / Marcianopolis was probably built during the reign of Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD), one of the most notable rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) known for his large-scale construction project. The preserved structures from this fortress include two pentagonal gate towers.
The Ancient Bulgar fortress was expanded in the 10th-11th century, and was ultimately destroyed and abandoned when the Ottoman Turks invaded the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) at the end of the 14th century. After that, the settlement which emerged as today’s Bulgarian town of Devnya was moved to the west.
The excavated ruins of Marcianopolis (Marcianople) feature remains from the Roman amphitheater, a Roman villa, and Roman / Byzantine mosaics some of which have been preserved and exhibited in situ in the Museum of Mosaics in the town of Devnya, a bishop’s basilica, and another basilica.
The ruins of ancient Marcianople were first identified in 1829 (during the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829) by Russian archaeologist Ivan Blaramberg. At the end of the 19th century, they were described by Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Jirecek.
The ancient amphitheater of the Roman and Byzantine city of Marcianopolis was partly excavated in 1958-1961 by archaeologist Goranka Toncheva from the Varna Museum of Archaeology.
Many of the structures, including a huge villa urbana were excavated during five archaeological seasons between 1976 and 1986 by archaeologists Alexander Minchev, Petko Georgiev, and Anastas Angelov.
The excavated ruins with their beautiful Late Roman and Early Byzantine wall and floor mosaics have been exhibited, some of them in situ, in the Museum of Roman Mosaics in the town of Devnya.