Skeletons from Medieval Christian Necropolis Found on Top of Ruins of Ancient Marcianopolis in Bulgaria’s Devnya

Skeletons from Medieval Christian Necropolis Found on Top of Ruins of Ancient Marcianopolis in Bulgaria’s Devnya

Three skeletons from medieval Christian burials with no burial gifts whatsoever have been found in rescue excavations in Bulgaria’s Devnya on top of a Late Antiquity layer. Photo: Devnenski Vazhod

Three skeletons from what appears to be a medieval necropolis have been discovered during rescue archaeological excavations at the ruins of the major Roman city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople) in today’s town of Devnya in Northeast Bulgaria.

Built on top of an Ancient Thracian settlement, Marcianopolis (Marcianople) was a very large and important city in the Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the Late Antiquity.

It is known for the surviving of stunning Roman and Byzantine mosaics have been preserved in the Museum of Roman Mosaics (“Museum of Mosaics") in Bulgaria’s Devnya.

The latest archaeological discoveries from Marcianople in Devnya have resulted from rescue excavations carried out on a plot slated for construction by a private firm, local daily Devnenski Vazhod reports.

The archaeological team led by Assist. Prof. Hristo Kuzov from the Varna Museum of Archaeology drilled several spots prepared for the concrete foundations of a new storage facility.

The excavations have led to the discovery of a total of three skeletons, two of which are very well preserved.

The newly discovered burials contain no funeral inventories whatsoever but the bodies were placed with an east-west orientation, according to the Christian rites.

The discovery has led the archaeologists to conclude that the spot in question used to be a necropolis in the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the region was part of the First Bulgarian Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Second Bulgarian Empire, before its conquest by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

The lack of burial inventories leads to the assumptions that the burials are from the period after the 7th century AD, since during the pre-Christian period there would always be adornments or other items left in the graves for use in the afterlife, Kuzov explains.

Three skeletons from medieval Christian burials with no burial gifts whatsoever have been found in rescue excavations in Bulgaria’s Devnya on top of a Late Antiquity layer. Photo: Devnenski Vazhod

Three skeletons from medieval Christian burials with no burial gifts whatsoever have been found in rescue excavations in Bulgaria’s Devnya on top of a Late Antiquity layer. Photo: Devnenski Vazhod

While the sex of the buried persons is yet to be established for sure, the archaeologists believe that one of the skeletons belonged to a man. It is substantially larger, the skull has a massive jaw, and perfectly preserved teeth.

The second skeleton is smaller and seems to have belonged to a more slender person, likely a woman.

The third of the three newly discovered medieval skeletons is very compromised, with only parts of the skull and individual bones surviving. It was probably damaged during the construction of a water pipeline in recent decades.

In the layer beneath the seeming medieval necropolis with its Christian burials, the archaeologists have found the ruins of Late Antiquity structures from the Roman and Early Byzantine city of Macrinapolis (Marcianople).

“There are remains from the roof structures of buildings, coins from the 4th – 5th century AD, and pottery from the same period," Kuzov says.

“Before the limited scope of the digs, there is no opportunity to study larger parts from the Antiquity buildings. There are individual walls of bricks and mortar as well as stone and mud," he adds.

The newly discovered medieval human remains and the items from the Late Antiquity such as the copper or bronze coins are yet to be studied further by anthropologists, restorers, and museum staff.

The medieval skeletons and Late Antiquity ruins have been found in a spot slated for industrial construction in the town of Devnya in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Devnenski Vazhod

The medieval skeletons and Late Antiquity ruins have been found in a spot slated for industrial construction in the town of Devnya in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Devnenski Vazhod

“What we can say at the present stage is that we are on the territory of a medieval necropolis. In the northern part of the site, we’ve found the solid foundations of Antiquity buildings but they cannot be studied in detail because the area hasn’t been excavated in full," explains Ivan Sutev, Director of the Museum of Roman Mosaics in Devnya.

“The information we are receiving is useful because this area had not been excavated before. The area is close to the northern fortress wall of the Antiquity city. It now contains a small industrial base, which is why it has been inaccessible for research. Unfortunately, over the years, human activity has damaged the stratification of the of archaeological layers," Sutev elaborates.

The archaeological team included also archaeologists Assist. Prof. Mihail Hristov from Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius", and Miriyan Panteleev, a master’s student from the same university.

In 2019, the same team reaching the Ancient Roman city of Marcianopolis in today’s Devnya made headlines with the discovery of a hoard of gold early Byzantine coins from the 5th century AD.

Learn more about the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis, today’s Bulgarian town of Devnya, in the Background Infonotes below!

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Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis or 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.

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