Traces of First Ancient Greek Colonists in 7th Century BC Found under Byzantine City at Bulgaria’s Chernomorets on Black Sea Coast

Traces of First Ancient Greek Colonists in 7th Century BC Found under Byzantine City at Bulgaria’s Chernomorets on Black Sea Coast

Cape Chervenka (in the front) on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast harbors the ruins of the Early Byzantine city of Chrisosotira / Talaskara, and, as it turns out, traces from the very first Ancient Greek colonists on the Western Black Sea coast. Photo: National Museum of History

Archaeological layers with remains from the earliest Ancient Greek colonists, or settlers, on today’s Bulgarian Black Sea coast dating back to the Archaic period in the 7th – 6th century BC have been surprisingly found by archaeologists excavating an Early Byzantine Empire city near Bulgaria’s Chernomorets.

The discoveries have been made by a team led by archaeologists Prof. Ivan Hristov and Dr. Margarita Popova from the National Museum of History in Sofia.

The archaeological team had set off on their sixth annual expedition to study the Byzantine city of Chrisosotira located on a small Black Sea peninsula near Chernomorets, and existing in the early days of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), from the 5th until the 7th century when it was destroyed by barbarian invasions.

The Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine fortress, Chrisosotira (“Golden Savior, Golden Christ"), also known as Talaskara, is located on Cape Chervenka, a small peninsula on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast near the resort town of Chernomorets, and 2 km northwest of the resort town of Sozopol.

Not unlike other small peninsulas in the region, Cape Chervenka has a narrow neck leading to a wider cape.

The fortress walls of Talaskara / Chrisosotira were built as part of the large-scale fortress construction at the time of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

In 2018, Hristov’s archaeological team found ample evidence that Chrisosotira / Talaskara on Cape Chervenka near Bulgaria’s Chernomorets was indeed burned down and destroyed by a barbarian invasion of Slavs and Avars in the 7th century AD.

During their 2019 digs in the Early Byzantine city of Chrisosotira / Talaskara, the researchers excavated four more residential buildings in its southern section. They have found Late Antiquity artifacts such as rare coins and pottery vessels.

It was beneath one of the Early Byzantine homes that the archaeologists unexpectedly came across an archaeological layer from the very beginning of the Ancient Greek colonization of the Western Black Sea coast, which is today in Bulgaria.

“The surprise for the [archaeological] team this year has been the newly discovered layer with material from the Archaic Era of Ancient Greece – the 7th – 6th century BC," the National Museum of History in Sofia says.

“Beneath the floor level of one the richest Byzantine houses there have been found dozens of fragments of painted ceramic vessels, which were the work of the first Ancient Greek settlers in this part of the Black Sea," it adds.

The Museum points out that the rare finds discovered in the Archaic Era layer in Chrysosotira near Bulgaria’s Chernomorets include also bronze “arrow coins” from the first settlers of the Ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica – today’s Black Sea town of Sozopol in Southeast Bulgaria – as well as a bronze Ancient Greek arrow from the 7th century BC.

“Bronze arrow coins are a type of pre-coin form [of exchange]. Before coin minting began, bronze arrows were used as the means of exchange in Apollonia and the vicinity," Bulgaria’s National Museum of History explains.

“The discovery of arrow coins on the [Chrysosotira] peninsula is a prerequisite to look for a temple of some of the Ancient Greek deities such as god Apollo – because the arrow coins were also left as sacrificial gifts at the altars of the gods," it elaborates.

In another recent case, 2,600-year-old arrow coins were discovered in the Black Sea town of Sozopol, ancient Apollonia Pontica, back in 2016.

The discovery of an Ancient Greek archaeological layer from the Archaic Period (7th – 6th century BC) has come as a surprise to the team excavating the Early Byzantine city near Bulgaria’s Chernomorets. Photos: National Museum of History

The Museum also cites experts in Antiquity ceramics as reminding that imported pottery from the eastern parts of Ancient Greece has also been discovered outside the urban core of Apollonia Pontica, today’s Sozopol, where it is found at its most diverse.

Similar Ancient Greek pottery finds have been discovered during underwater archaeology research south of the polis of Apollonia Pontica, in the mouth of the Ropotamo River, on Cape Urdoviza, today’s town of Kiten, and on Cape Atiya.

Eastern Ancient Greek pottery has also been discovered in the Gulf of Burgas in the Black Sea, during excavations in an area called Kostadin Cheshma, near the town of Debelt, Burgas District, in Southeast Bulgaria (which itself is the successor of the Ancient Roman city of Deultum and the medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine city of Debelt).

“There is almost no data about the distribution of Ionian pottery from the 7th – 6th century BC in the other Hellenic poleis along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. This circumstance has to do with both the condition of the exploration, and with the later dates of establishment of the other city-states," explains the National Museum of History in Sofia.

It notes that there are published papers about two Ionian pottery fragments discovered in ancient Mesembria, today’s town of Nessebar, Apollonia Pontica’s rival in the Antiquity.

Some Ionian pottery has also been discovered in Odessos, today’s Black Sea city of Varna, which, just like Apollonia Pontica, was also a colony of the Ancient Greek city state of Miletus in Asia Minor. Unlike Apollonia, however, Odessos is situated in the northern part of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.

“The distribution of imported Eastern Ancient Greek pottery in the archaeological sites in the interior of Ancient Thrace is extremely rare," Bulgaria’s National Museum of History points out.

“This type of Ancient Greek pottery is encountered mostly in areas located in close proximity to the Black Sea coast, or along the large rivers connecting Ancient Thrace with the region of Aegean Sea, such as Karnobat, Yambol, Stara Zagora, and Koprivlen," it adds,

“The discoveries of Prof. Ivan Hristov’s team are shedding new lightf on the most ancient history of a multi-layered archaeological site where remains from the Classical Era of Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic Era have also been discovered," the Museum concludes with respect to the 2019 excavations of the Early Byzantine city of Chrysosotira near Bulgaria’s Chernomorets.

The Museum points out that the latest traces of inhabitants on the Chrysosotira Peninsula date back to the 13th – 14th century when the area kept changing hands between the Second Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire.

The location of Cape Chervenka with the ruins of the Early Byzantine city of Chrysosotira / Talaskara in Southeast Bulgaria. Maps: Google Maps

Archaeologist Ivan Hristov specializes in the study of sites on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. He recently published a book entitled “Mare Ponticum. Coastal Fortresses and Harbor Zones in the Province of Haemimontus, 5th – 7th Century AD", which looks at the Haemimontus province of the Early Byzantine Empire in the Late Antiquity and early Middle Ages.

In August 2018, he discovered a sunken fortress from Ancient Thrace at Sveti Toma (St. Thomas) Island, off the coast of Primorsko.

North African amphorae (among other “exotic" artifacts) from the Early Byzantine period have been found before in Bulgaria’s coastal regions, including by Hristov’s team in the Talaskara / Chrisosotira Fortress back in 2015.

Last year, the National Museum of History in Sofia awarded the Bulgarian Navy for its permitting and assisting the exploration of numerous archaeological sites along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, such as Chrisosotira / Talaskara, which used to be or still are naval military bases.

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

Bulgars: Webster’s Timeline History, 354 – 2007

A history of the first Bulgarian empire,

2: Byzantium, Pliska, and the Balkans (Millennium Studies)

Bulgaria History, Early Settlement and Empire: Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations, Communism, Society and Environment, Economy, Government and Politics

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

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Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine fortress Talaskara on Cape Chervenka, also known as Chrisosotira (“Golden Savior, Golden Christ") is located on a small peninsula on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast near the resort town of Chernomorets, and 2 km northwest of the resort town of Sozopol.

Not unlike the peninsula of the Old Town of Nessebar, another Black Sea resort town, Cape Chervenka has a narrow neck leading to a wider cape with an area of 68 decares (app. 17 acres), which was surrounded with a robust fortress wall with large fortress towers every 30 meters.

The fortress wall of the Byzantine fortress Talaskara on Cape Chervenka (Chrisosotira) is from the 6th century, and was built as part of the large-scale fortress construction at the time of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

For a long time, Cape Chervenka was a military base of the Bulgarian Navy, and Bulgarian archaeologists gained access to it only in 2014 when a team led by archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Ivan Hristov, Deputy Director of the Bulgarian National Museum of History, conducted drilling excavations with a special permit from Bulgaria’s Defense Ministry.

A large fortress tower with dimensions 5 by 6 meters unearthed by Ivan Hristov’s team in 2014 is taken to indicate that the fortified Byzantine settlement located on Cape Chervenka was a rich city.

The last time the fortress on Chervenka was used was during the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829 when the navy of the Russian Empire used it to set up a base where it accepted tens of thousands of Bulgarian refugees fleeing Ottoman Turkish atrocities who were then transported by sea to the region of Bessarabia (in today’s Moldova and Ukraine), and the Taurica (Crimean) Peninsula, and settled there.

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