Huge 6th Century AD Industrial Kiln for Construction Materials Found in Bulgaria’s Danube City Silistra, Linked to Byzantine Emperor Justinian I
A huge industrial kiln, or furnace, for the production of ceramic construction materials such as bricks and tiles, which dates back to the 6th century AD, more specifically to the reign of Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian I the Great, has been discovered during rescue excavations in the Danube city of Silistra in Northeast Bulgaria.
Today’s Silistra is a successor of the major Ancient Roman, Early Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian city of Durostorum – Dorostol – Drastar. Learn more about it in the Background Infonotes below!
The industrial kiln for the making of construction materials, however, has been discovered “extra muros”, i.e. outside the walls of the ancient and medial city of Durostorum – Drastar, during rescue excavations for clearing a plot for the construction of state-sponsored housing.
The industrial kiln from the period of the Early Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire has two floors.
The lower floor consists of two burning chambers shaped like tunnels, each of which is about 3.9 meters long and 1.3 meters tall, which were used to heat up the grate above.
The second floor was a large grate, which is where ceramic construction materials such as bricks would be placed to be baked. The grate itself was inside an upper chamber of the industrial kiln.
The grate, respectively the upper chamber of the Early Byzantine construction material furnace was 4.35 meters long and 3.50 meters wide, for a total area of more than 15 square meters. It could fit hundreds of bricks at a time, the Silistra Regional Museum of History has announced.
The industrial kiln from the ancient and medieval city of Durostorum – Drastar is dated to the first half of the 6th century AD, the time of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527 – 565 AD).
In addition to codifying Roman law, Emperor Justinian I is known for his wide-ranging construction of fortifications along the barbarian frontiers of the (Eastern) Roman Empire such as the Limes Moesiae, i.e. the Danube border, where Durostorum was located. Towards the end of his rule he briefly managed to “restore” the Roman Empire by reconquering much of the former Roman territories of what was the Western Roman Empire after the Empire’s division in 395 AD.
“It cannot be ruled out that this industrial production of bricks here was connected with the erecting of the citadel of the [fortress] of Durostorum – Dorostol (Drastar) on the bank of the Danube River – a large-scale construction operation realized precisely during the time of Emperor Justinian the Great,” the Silistra Museum of History says.
“At a first glance, this appears to be the largest [ancient] kiln to have ever been discovered in Bulgaria, and it is comparable to a kiln which has been exhibited under a fortress near the town of Byana, Varna District (near the Black Sea coast),” the Silistra Museum adds.
It points out that the characteristics of the newly discovered huge industrial Roman / Byzantine kiln, including its decoration, indicated that it was in use in the first half of the 6th century AD.
It is third kiln from its type to have been discovered in the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum (later Drastar/Dorostol) in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra. Two more kilns have been found in an outer settlement near a town called Ostrov (“Island”), in today’s Romania right across the nearby Bulgarian – Romanian border. However, none of the other four Early Byzantine kilns in question compares in size to the newly discovered one.
According to the archaeological team led by Prof. Georgi Atanasov from the Silistra Regional Museum of History, and including also archaeologist Kristiyan Mihaylov and Svetlana Gancheva, the construction materials made in the kiln were baked at a temperature of about 900 degrees Celsius, and could fit dozens of cubic meters of firewood at a time.
The industrial production facility in question “was built by exquisite architects”, is perfectly preserved, and “does not differ much from the modern-day methods for the production of bircks,” comments Atanasov, who is renowned expert in Roman and Byzantine archaeology, especially in the Lower Danube region.
The construction materials made in the kiln may also have been used for building of the temples in Durostorum from the Early Christian period.
The researchers note that the bricks made in the kiln were of great quality and were built into the fortress walls to reinforce them against bombardments with stone projectiles, which was a very expensive and labor intensive mode of construction.
“This isn’t the first kiln for construction ceramics that we have found in the Durostorum – Drastar Archaeological Preserve but it is the most impressive one. [In addition to its size] it is also impressive how well preserve it is. You can see the grate where the bricks were baked,” says lead archaeologist Georgi Atanasov.
He recalls that the two other similar but smaller kilns found on Bulgaria’s territory were discovered in 2015 during a water utility rehabilitation project, and back in the 1990s.
“The kiln has two levels, or floors. The lower level has the two burning chambers for the fire to heat up the grate. The upper level had a chamber above the grate. The grate itself had an area of 15 square meters, quite large,” says in turn archaeologist Kristiyan Mihaylov.
“The lower burning chambers were made of bricks with arc structures, and upper chamber was made of mudbricks. The discovery of well-preserved mudbrick structures is quite rare but this here has been baked from the high temperatures, and we’re finding it in a very good condition,” he explains.
A commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture is going to determine the fate of the newly discovered huge Early Byzantine industrial kiln in Silistra, which has been found on a plot slated for state-sponsored housing.
During previous construction in a nearby plot, several Roman Era tombs have been exposed.
In their current rescue excavations, right near the 6th century kiln, the archaeologists exposed granaries from the Ottoman period.
Lead archaeologist Georgi Atanasov thinks more archaeological structure could be discovered in the same plot.
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Ivan Dikov, the founder of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, is the author of the book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria, among other books.
Also check out the other recent archaeological excavations from the ancient city of Durostorum / the medieval city of Drastar in Bulgaria’s Danube city of Silistra:
The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Durostorum (Dorostorum) – known as Dorostol or Drastar (Drustur) during the periods of the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages – is the precursor of today’s Bulgarian city of Silistra.
It was originally founded as an Ancient Thracian settlement on the Lower Danube. In 29 AD, the Romans built there a fortress keeping the settlement’s Thracian name of Durostorum (or Dorostorum).
After his victories wars over the Dacians north of the Danube, Roman Emperor Trajan stationed the elite Claudius’ 11th Legion – Legio XI Claudia – at Durostorum, and the fortress remained its permanent seat until the demise of the Roman Empire.
In 169 AD, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD), Durostorum was made a Roman city, a municipium.
Between the 2nd and the 4th century AD, it was a major urban and military center of the Roman Province of Moesia Inferior (later divided into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor), and a major Roman stronghold against the barbarian invasions.
The earliest 12 Christian saints from the territory of today’s Bulgaria are Roman soldiers executed in Durostorum during the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian between 303 and 313 AD, including St. Dasius and St. Julius the Veteran. In 388 AD, today’s Silistra became the seat of a Christian bishopric.
Roman general Flavius Aetius (391-454 AD), who is known as “the last of the Romans” for his army’s victory over the Huns in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 AD, was born in Durostorum.
During the barbarian invasions of Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars the city was ransacked several times. It was rebuilt during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).
The Slavs settled in Durostorum around 590 AD, and named it Drastar (Drustur). The city became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) around 680 AD.
Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD) is known to have built there a large imperial palace known as the Danube Palace of Bulgarian Khans where later Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927 AD) resided in 896-897 AD.
In 895 AD (during the Bulgarian-Hungarian War of 894-896 AD), the Magyars (Hungarians), allies of Byzantium, besieged the Bulgarian army under the personal command of Tsar Simeon I the Great in the fortress of Drastar but were repulsed.
The next year the Magyars were decisively defeated by the Bulgarians in the extremely fierce Battle of Southern Buh (in today’s Ukraine) which eventually led their tribes to retreat to the west and settle in the region of Pannonia essentially founding today’s Hungary.
During the later years of the First Bulgarian Empire the region around today’s Silistra was known for its rock monasteries. In 927 AD, Drastar became the seat of the first internationally recognized Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Damyan.
In 969 AD, it was captured by Knyaz Sviatoslav I of Kiev, the ruler of Kievan Rus in 945-972 AD, but two years later it was conquered by Byzantium under Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976 AD) in the Battle of Dorostolon, and renamed Theodoropolis, after military saint Theodore Stratelates.
In 976 AD, Bulgaria’s Tsar Samuil (Samuel) (r. 977/997-1014 AD) regained the city until 1001 AD when it was again conquered by the Byzantine Empire.
Drastar was a metropolitan’s residence and a major fortress during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). In 1279 AD, under Tsar Ivailo (r. 1277-1280), Drastar withstood a three-month siege by the Mongols.
It was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD (ca. 1400 AD, according to some sources), and turned into a major Ottoman fortress. Subsequently, Silistra has remained a major urban center in the Lower Danube region.
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