Newly Found 1st Century BC Roman Fort, Customs Push Back Founding Almus Fortress in Bulgaria’s Danube Town of Lom

Newly Found 1st Century BC Roman Fort, Customs Push Back Founding Almus Fortress in Bulgaria’s Danube Town of Lom

The first Ancient Roman fortification in Almus, today’s Lom on the Danube, was built in the middle of the 1st century AD, as per the latest discoveries. Photo: Lom Museum of History Facebook Page

An Early Roman fort from the 1st century AD has been discovered in the Ancient Roman city of Almus in today’s town of Lom on the Danube in Northwest Bulgaria, demonstrating that the first Roman fortifications on the site were built substantially earlier than previously known.

The main Almus Fortress is known to have been built in the 3rd – 4th century, during the reigns of Roman Emperors Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD) and Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD).

However, during the 2019 excavations of the Roman city of Almus in the early fall, the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered archaeological layers dating as early as the second half of the 1st century AD.

In them, they have found part of an Early Roman fortress wall, a street with a canal, a destroyed barracks that housed a contubernium, the smallest unit of soldiers in the Roman army, and a luxury building, which may have been used as customs, reports local news site MediaNews.

Inside the destroyed contubernium barracks, the archaeologists have discovered a gold phalera – an Ancient Roman decoration awarded as a medal to military officers.

The location of the Roman city of Almus, and today’s Lom, one of modern-day Bulgaria’s largest ports on the Danube River. Maps: Google Maps

Other finds from the barracks, which was burned down during barbarian invasions in later periods, include fragments from luxury pottery from the Italian Peninsula, Gaul, and the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, reveals Valeri Stoichkov, deputy head of the archaeological team and curator of the Lom Museum of History.

In the later archaeological layers, on top of those of the newly discovered Early Roman military camp, the archaeologists have unearthed the ruins of a building from the 2nd – 3rd century AD, which had plasters painted in what is known as Pompeian red.

The 2019 excavations of the Roman city of Almus have led to the discovery of a number of unknown structures, and the completion of the digs of some already known structures. Photos: Lom Museum of History Facebook Page

According to the archaeologists, the aristocratic color as well as the numerous fragments of red gloss ceramics demonstrate the high social status of the people who dwelled in the building, and who might have been senior officers of the Roman military.

They have hypothesized that at least during part of its existence the building, which also had a massive roof covered with tiles, might have been used as a customs office, or at least for commercial activities.

Evidence supporting their hypothesis includes the discovery of control weights known as egzagia (ekzagia).

The building in question was damaged badly during the barbarian invasion of the Goths in 250 – 251 AD, which left behind many traces, and killed not one but two Roman Emperors.

The archaeological team working on the ruins of the Roman city of Almus in the Kaleto (Kaletata) Quarter of Bulgaria’s Lom, on the right bank of the Danube River, has also completed the previously started excavations of a large Late Roman building, which is believed to have been used as a barracks in the 4th century AD and during the first half of the 5th century AD, up until it was destroyed in the barbarian invasion of the Huns led by Attila the Hun.

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, not very far away, to the east of Almus, today’s Lom. After that the Huns raided most of the Balkan Provinces of the Roman Empire.

The researchers remind that according to Jordanes, a 6th century AD Gothic historian who served as a bureaucrat of Byzantium (i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire), in 447 AD, the Huns led by Attila’s relatives Emnedzur and Ulcindur, conquered three major Roman cities along the Danube River in today’s Northwest Bulgaria: Almus (today’s Lom), Utus (near today’s Gulyantsi), and the huge city of Ulpia Oescus (near today’s Gigen), the city of Constantine’s Bridge on the Danube, the longest and largest human-built bridge in the entire Antiquity world.

(From left to right:) The locations of the Roman cities of Almus (Lom), Oescus (Gigen), and Utus (Gulyantsi) along the Danube in today’s Northwest Bulgaria, all three said to have been conquered by Hun leaders related to Attila during the barbarian invasion of 447 AD, according to a Gothic Byzantine historian. Maps: Google Maps

Inside the mortar flooring of the large Late Roman building, the archaeologists have found coins minted by Roman Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379 – 395 AD), the last emperor to rule over both the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (today known as Byzantium).

The 2019 archaeological excavations of the Roman city of Almus in Bulgaria’s Lom have been funded by both the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and Lom Municipality. They have been led by Assist. Prof. Juliy Emilov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski", with Vladislav Zhivkov of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Soifa and Valeri Stoichkov of the Lom Museum of History as deputies heads of the expedition.

The most intriguing artifacts discovered in the 2019 excavations of Almus will be showcased in the annual Bulgarian Archaeology 2019 exhibition in Sofia in February 2020.

The development of the Roman city of Almus was closely associated with that of the large Roman colony of Ratiaria to the west. Photos: Lom Museum of History Facebook Page

During the excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Almus the archaeologists discovered traces of metal smelting, the western gate of the ancient city, and evidence that the fortifications underwent reconstructions during the Late Ottoman period.

Learn more about the Ancient Roman city of Almus in today’s Danube town of Lom in Northwest Bulgaria in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian, Roman, Early Byzantine, medieval Bulgarian and Ottoman city of Almus (Artanes) are located in the Kaletata Quarter of today’s Bulgarian Danube town of Lom.

The Roman fort and road station of Almus was built at the location of an Ancient Thracian settlement around 29 AD, while the fortress itself was built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, when it was part of the district of the nearby Roman city and colony Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (today’s Archar) in the province of Moesia Superior.

Almus is believed to have been the ancient name of the Lom River. The Roman city of Almus is located on the Via Istrum, the Roman road going along the Danube, whose construction started during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (r. 19-37 AD).

Almus was also the starting point of a Roman road leading from the Danube to Serdica (today’s Sofia). It is believed that in Roman times the Danube port of Almus served both military and commercial vessels.

In the middle of the 5th century AD, Almus was captured and ransacked in the barbarian invasions of the Huns. It was later an important city in Early Byzantium, the medieval Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman period the settlement was protected with a rectangular rampart.

Almus 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 was mentioned in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, “The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus"), an Ancient Roman register of road stations.

Almus was marked on some Western European maps from the 16th-17th century. The name of Almus has been found in Latin inscriptions on epigraphic monuments explored by 19th and early 20th century archaeologists such as Bogdan Filov, Gavril Katsarov, Vaclav Dobruski, Felix Kanitz, and Konstantin Josef Jirecek.

The archaeological excavations of Almus have explored a 70-meter section from its western fortress wall, which is 2.2 meters wide, and was 200 meters long. The total area of the Almus Fortress is about 41 decares (app. 10 acres), and is shaped like a pentagon with round fortress towers at its angles.

The discovered archaeological artifacts are stored in the Lom Museum of History. The Almus Fortress has not been restored even though it harbors great potential as a cultural tourism site. The fortress walls are made from river stones, and the city had two water pipelines – one made of clay, and another one made of lead.

It is believed that Almus did not develop crafts because of its proximity to Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria. The necropolis of Almus contains masonry graves, and sarcophagi.

Almus was discovered for modern-day archaeology in 1864 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz. At the end of the 19th century it was explored by Dimitar Marinov and Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Josef Jirecek. In 1925, an archaeological society called Almus was founded in the town of Lom.

Almus was granted the status of a “monument of culture of national importance" by the Bulgarian government in 1971. It was excavated in 1986-1990 by a team of the Lom Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

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