3 Newly Found Gold Rings Reveal Antiquity, Middle Ages Life in Danube Region of Northeast Bulgaria

3 Newly Found Gold Rings Reveal Antiquity, Middle Ages Life in Danube Region of Northeast Bulgaria

Archaeologists have discovered a total of three gold rings from the Antiquity, High Middle Ages, and Late Middle Ages in diverse archaeological sites in the Danube region of Ruse in today’s Northeast Bulgaria.

The three newly discovered ancient gold rings, respectively, from the time of the Roman Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, have been showcased to the public for the first time in an exhibition entitled “Ring Keepers" at the Ruse Regional Museum of History.

Besides the gold rings, the “Ring Keepers" exhibition at the History Museum in the Danube city of Ruse also features a wide range of other finds discovered by the local archaeologists during excavations over the past two years.

The finds come from the prehistoric settlement mounds in Kosharna and Bazovets, the Ancient Thracian burial mounds in Brestovitsa, the Ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgaria fortress of Trimammium near the town of Mechka, the Ancient Roman city and fortress of Sexaginta Prista in Ruse; the large medieval Bulgarian city of Cherven; and the newly excavated Late Roman / Early Byzantnie and medieval Bulgarian fortress in Shirokovo.

The above-mentioned archaeological sites in question have been researched by the archaeologists from the Ruse Museum of History: Dimitar Chernakov, Varbin Varbanov, Nikola Rusev, Deyan Dragoev, Svetlana Velikova, Rumyana Yordanova, and Svetla Todorova.

The “Ring Keepers” exhibition in Bulgaria’s Ruse features exciting discoveries made by the local archaeologists during their excavations in a total of 18 archaeological sites in Bulgaria in the past two years. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

The “Ring Keepers” exhibition in Bulgaria’s Ruse features exciting discoveries made by the local archaeologists during their excavations in a total of 18 archaeological sites in Bulgaria in the past two years. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

The three newly discovered gold rings exhibited in the “Ring Keepers" exhibition have been showcased alongside other newly found artifacts such as jewels but also everyday household items.

The oldest of the three gold rings is from the period of the Roman Empire (1st – 4th century AD). Archaeologists discovered it in the Trimammium Fortress.

Trimammium was an Ancient Roman, medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress near today’s Danube town of Mechka, Ruse District. It was built as a Roman fort and later a road station in the 1st century AD, and was destroyed in barbarian invasions in the early 7th century. It was later resettled and used by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).

The Roman gold ring from Trimammium is decored with an engraved gem depicting a grazing horse.

“The combination [of the gold ring and the gem] reveals the sophistication of the age which could be found even on the fringes of the [Roman] Empire," the Ruse Museum of History says.

A gold ring with a gemma (engraved gem) depicting a grazing horse from the time of the Roman Empire (1st – 4th century AD) has been discovered in the ancient city of Trimammium near the Danube River in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

Archaeologists discovered the second of the three newly found gold rings from the “Ring Keepers" exhibition in the rich medieval Bulgarian city of Cherven. In the 13th and the 14th century, Cherven was one of the major urban, religious, and economic centers of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422 AD).

The gold ring in question was unearthed in the main hall of Cherven’s Church No. 16, inside a grave near the altar. The grave belonged to a wealthy woman who was 50-55 years of age at the time of death.

“A semi-precious stone is built into the skillfully crafted ring," the Ruse Museum of History says.

A gold ring with a semi-precious stone from the 13th-14th century has been discovered in a wealthy Bulgarian noblewoman’s altar grave in Church No. 16 in the city of Cherven. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

The third newly discovered gold ring was found in the ruins of the Roman city of Sexaginta Prista in Ruse. The ring, however, dates back to the period of the Ottoman Empire (15th – 19th century) when the city was known by its Turkish name Ruscuk.

“The ring has slab with an engraved inscription, reading, ‘Be Pure’, which hints that it was for religious use," the Ruse Museum of History says.

A gold Ottoman ring with an inscription in Ottoman Turkish with the Arabic script has been found in the ruins of the Roman city of Sexaginta Prista in Bulgaria’s Ruse. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

In addition to the three gold rings, the “Ring Keepers" exhibition also showcases wine Ancient Thracian, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Roman wine amphorae.

“Also displayed are wine amphorae with inscriptions by their owners. Their seals demonstrate that trade with wine from the Greek islands was popular in [today’s Bulgarian] lands long before the advent of the Romans," explains the Ruse Museum of History.

“The Ancient Thracians also produced wine. They made amphorae and stamped them with symbols, and would then sell their produce to the local wealthy," the Museum adds.

One similar particularly interesting discovery from the Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian city of Trimammium, which was made in 2017, and is not part of the current exhibition, is an olive oil amphora with an inscription dedicated to Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary from the Early Byzantine period.

The “Ring Keepers" exhibition of the museum in the Danube city of Ruse in Northeast Bulgaria also features digital 3D models of the newly excavated Ancient Roman fortress in Shirokovo and of Church No. 16 of the medieval Bulgarian city of Cherven. Both of those 3D models have been made by Telecommunications Department of Ruse University “Angel Kanchev".

The “Ring Keepers” exhibition in Bulgaria’s Ruse features exciting discoveries made by the local archaeologists during their excavations in a total of 18 archaeological sites in Bulgaria in the past two years. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

The “Ring Keepers” exhibition in Bulgaria’s Ruse features exciting discoveries made by the local archaeologists during their excavations in a total of 18 archaeological sites in Bulgaria in the past two years. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

Over the past couple of years, the archaeologists from the Ruse Regional Museum of History have excavated and researched a total of 18 archaeological sites in Northeast Bulgaria and other parts of the country.

Learn more about the ancient and medieval cities of Sexaginta Prista, Trimammium, and Cherven in the Background Infonotes below!

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Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman settlement and fortress of Sexaginta Prista (meaning “Port of the Sixty Ships") in today’s Bulgarian Danube city of Ruse was built on top of an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement.

Archaeological research has proven that the Sexanginta Prista Fortress was originally an Ancient Thracian settlement existing as early as the 3rd century BC. In fact, the hill where the settlement is located was a Thracian shrine for performing cult rituals which remain unknown to this day.

There the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered hundreds of Ancient Thracian ritual pits dating to the 1st century BC-1st century AD, of which about 50 have been studied. The archaeological discoveries from the Thracian ritual pits include pottery vessels, bronze artifacts, coins, bones; a unique richly decorated zoomorphic vessel depicted an eagle’s head as well as several fibulas.

Other archaeological findings include an Ancient Thracian jug from the 2nd-1st century AD containing organic matter from domestic animals, an ancient ceramic vessel from the Greek island of Rodos dated to the 3rd century BC, household vessels, and transportation vessels, which are taken to mean that the settlement had a well developed trade.

The first written account about the Fortress of Sexaginta Prista comes from “Geography", the 2nd century AD work of Greco-Egyptian ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy (ca. 90-168 AD). The city was also mentioned as Sexantapristis in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, “The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus").

The name of Sexaginta Prista has been compared to the name of a Roman port on the Italian Peninsula meaning “100 chambers" because one hypothesis about its name has it that in Roman times Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse in Bulgaria) had 60 dock spots for Roman ships.

Another hypothesis claiming to be based on all available historical sources has it that the name of the Sexaginta Prista Fortress stems from events at the end of the 1st century AD during Roman Emperor Domitian’s (r. 85-89 AD) wars with the Dacians, the powerful Thracian people living north of the Danube River. Back then, an entire Roman legion consisting of 6,000 men was ferried across the mouth of the Rusenski Lom River where it flows into the Danube. Exactly 60 Roman ships were used for this effort.

Subsequently, the fortress was called Sexaginta Prista to celebrate the ensuing victory over the Dacians. It is possible that until then the fortress in question was known by the Thracian name of the Rusenski Lom River.

Whatever the real origin of Sexaginta Prista’s name may be, the fact of the matter is that the name itself underscores the city’s importance for the Roman Navy because the “Port of the Sixty Ships" (today’s Bulgarian city of Ruse) is one of only two Roman frontier outposts on the Limes Moesiae, i.e. the Lower Danube frontier region, which have names connected with sailing. The other one is Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria whose name is derived from the Latin word “ratis" (raft) or from “ratiaria", a type of vessel.

Archaeological excavations conducted at Sexaginta Prista in 2005-2006 have demonstrated that the location of the original Roman military camp which existed between the 1st and the 3rd century AD remains unknown. There are hypotheses that it was built near the mouth of the Rusenski Lom River.

The Roman archaeological finds on the hill of the fortress date to the 2nd-3rd century AD. The discovered structures include building remains from the canabae, a temple of god Apollo with votive tables of Apollo and the supreme Thracian deity, the so called Thracian Horseman also known as Heros, pottery, coins, and a sacrificial altar dedicated to Apollo, among others.

The orientation and planning of the Apollo Temple reminds of a Christian temple. It is similar to pagan temples in the town of Ruchey, Southern Bulgaria; Benwel, England; and Porolisum in Dacia (today’s Romania). Its planning is construed as evidence that the early Christians modeled their churches on the Roman pagan temples.

Apollo’s temple in Sexaginta Prista existed until the end of the 3rd century AD, and after that, possibly in connection with the adoption of Christianity, it was demolished, and a principium (the main building of the command staff of the Roman camp (castra)) was built in its stead, most probably during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD).

This is also when the Late Antiquity fortress walls of Sexaginta Prista (unearthed in 1976-1978) were erected. The principium was in use until the early 380s when the city was damaged by the barbarian invasions of the Goths, and again until the beginning of the 5th century. Out of a total of 204 coins discovered in Sexaginta Prista during the latest archaeological excavations in 2005-2006, about 100 date to the 4th century AD.

Archaeological finds of coins and pottery indicate that the hill of Sexaginta Prista was inhabited during the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine period (5th-6th century AD), and during the First Bulgarian Empire in the 9th-11th century.

Not unlike the rest of the Roman fortresses on the Limes Moesiae, the Roman city of Sexaginta Prista was overran by barbarian invasions several times, the last one being the invasions of Avars and Slavs at the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 7th century AD, which put an end to the life of the city in the Early Byzantine period. In the 9th-10th century AD, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), the Bulgarian settlement Ruse was built on the site of the Roman ruins of Sexaginta Prista.

The discovery of a Christian grave and other human bones are taken to mean that in the 12th-14th century, i.e. during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1186-1396 AD), the hill was one of the necropolises of the medieval Bulgarian city of Ruse. The other archaeological finds on the hill of Sexaginta Prista are from the end of the Ottoman period, i.e. the 19th century.

The ruins of Sexaginta Prista are located in the northwestern part of today’s Bulgarian city of Ruse on a hill next to the Danube River. They were first designated by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz at the end of the 19th century based on the distances marked on Roman road maps.

The first major archaeological excavations of Sexaginta Prista were conducted at the end of the 19th century by the Czech-Bulgarian bothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are the founders of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology. Further rescue excavations were made in the first half of the 20th century during the construction of Ruse’s Military Club. Regular archaeological excavations were conducted in 1976-1978 and again in 2005-2006.

The excavations have revealed a 50-meter section of Sexaginta Prista’s northwestern wall, a fortress tower, six Roman buildings, and a temple of Apollo. The excavations in 2006 discovered the ruins of the Roman military headquarters which was used from the first quarter of the 4th century AD until the 410s AD (it was dated based on the discovered coins and pottery).

Since 2002, part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Sexaginta Prista have been exhibited in situ as a cultural tourism site.

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The Ancient Roman fortress and road station of Trimammium, which later was also an Early Byzantine and a medieval Bulgarian fortress, is located 2.8 km northeast of the town of Mechka, Ivanovo Municipality, Ruse District, in Northeast Bulgaria, on a cape on the right bank of the Danube River.

Trimammium has fortress walls from the Roman period and from he Early Byzantine period (namely, the 6th century AD), and was resettled and used by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).

Trimammium was mentioned by 2nd century AD Greco-Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemy as part of the Ancient Roman road running along the southern bank of the Lower Danube alongside other Roman fortresses and cities: Ulpia Oescus (today’s Gigen), Dimum (today’s Belene), Novae (today’s Svishtov), Iatrus (today’s Krivina), Trimammium (today’s Mechka), Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Dorustorum (Durustorum) (today’s Silistra).

The distance from Trimammium to Sexaginta Prista was 12 Roman miles, i.e. 18 kilometers.

Around 1900, Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil was the first to conclude that Trimammium was located near today’s Bulgarian town of Mechka.

The Ancient Roman fortress Trimammium has the shape of a rectangle which was about 200 meters wide, and 200 meters wide.

Parts of its northern fortress wall (made of stone blocks, crushed river stones, and mortar) have been exposed, standing at a height of up 1.5 meters.

The Trimammium fortress, which was built in the 1st century AD, was destroyed in the early 7th century AD during a barbarian invasion of the Slavs and Avars in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).

An Ancient Bulgar / medieval Bulgarian settlement called Mechka (“Bear") was set up at the spot of the Roman fortress.

There is a legend that the name of the Bulgarian settlement (surviving to this day as the town of Mechka) resulted from the fact that the banner of the original Roman fortress featured a bear, and the rectangular shape of the fortress itself resembled that of a stretched bear skin.

Part of the Ancient Roman road near Trimammium has also been preserved. A Roman milestone with two inscriptions has also been found nearby.

One of the inscriptions dates back to the rule of Roman Emperor Gordian III (r. 238 – 244 AD), and the other – to the time of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (306-337 AD).

A limestone tombstone from the necropolis of Trimammium dating to the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD was discovered in 1965. Its inscription in Latin reveals it is from the grave of Aurelius Mukianus, a soldier from Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion).

He died at the age of 20 while on active military service, training to become a mensor, i.e. a land-surveyor within his military detachment. His name indicates that he was a “Romanized" resident of the Roman provinces, and had spent no more than 1-2 years in the military before his death.

In 1932, Bulgarian geographer Vasil Marinov discovered a rock relief depicting a horseman chasing a doe. The rock relief was found in the area known as Stalpishte which is where the Roman fortress of Trimammium is located.

The relief reminds of the Thracian Horseman, also known as Heros, which is believed to have been the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians, and it also reminds of the Ancient Bulgar rock relief near the town of Madara, Shumen District, also in Northeast Bulgaria, known as the Madara Horseman.

The rock relief near Trimammium was destroyed when treasure hunters blew up the rock where it had been carved. Photos of the relief are kept in the Ruse Regional Museum of History.

The Ruse Museum started proper archaeological excavations of the Roman fortress and road station Trimammium near Mechka in January 2006 after one of some 100 pits dug up by treasure hunters exposed an altar, and a wall.

The archaeological digs led by archaeologists Varbin Varbanov and Deyan Dragoev from the Ruse Museum of History, and Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

At Trimammium, the archaeologists have found pottery fragments from the 3rd-4th and 9th-11th century (the latter being part of the period of the First Bulgarian Empire, 632/680 – 1018), column bases, coins from the 4th-5th century, bricks with seal marks, parts of a marble table.

In May 2006, the archaeologists found there an Ancient Roman inscription of six lines mentioning the construction of a public building or a temple, the name of legate of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior, and a cohort called Severiana, a name derived from the name of Roman Emperor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235 AD). The inscription is kept at the Ruse Regional Museum of History.

In 2008, in one out of a total of seven ritual pits in the fortress from the 3rd century AD, the archaeologists found a fully preserved 15-centimeter tall bronze statuette of goddess Venus which is now kept at the Ruse Museum, together with 39 antoniniani. Some 500 coins dating from the 2nd to the 13th century have been found.

A large administrative building from the 4th century AD and parts of earlier public buildings have also been discovered. Trimammium has fortress walls from the Roman and Early Byzantine period. A medieval church has also been found. It is located at the highest point of the fortress.

In Trimammium, the archaeologists have also discovered over 350 iron arrow tips from the 2nd century AD, of which 283 have been fully preserved, possibly the largest such collective find in Bulgaria. According to Varbanov, the building where the arrow tips were discovered might have been a military warehouse. It has not been fully researched yet.

Most of the artifacts found at Trimammium are from the 4th, 5th, and 6th century, but a fair number of them are from the Middle Ages, such as bone combs, ceramic lamps, belt appliques, and a medieval kiln.

At the end of 2017, a Byzantine amphora with a six-line inscription in Ancient Greek dedicated to Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary was discovered in the Trimammium Fortress.

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The medieval Bulgarian city of Cherven was one of the most important urban centers in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). It is located in today’s Ivanovo Municipality, 35 km south of the Danube city of Ruse, on a rock overlooking the picturesque canyon of the Cherni Lom River, within the Rusenski Lom Natural Park.

It experienced dynamic urban growth after Bulgaria’s liberation from the Byzantine Empire in 1185 AD, and rose to great importance during the 14th century.

A total of 80 medieval inscriptions about church donors have been there, more than in the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tarnovo, where a total of 60 such inscriptions have been found, a testimony to Cherven’s importance during the Middle Ages.

It was a center of Christianity as the seat of the Cherven Metropolitan and a center of craftsmanship. Cherven was conquered and ransacked by the Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD.

After the Ottoman Turkish conquest, it briefly preserved some administrative functions but waned and essentially disappeared as an urban center. Some of its survivors settled nearby into the newly founded village of Cherven.

Cherven was first excavated in 1910 by renowned Bulgarian historian and archaeologist Vasil Zlatarski. It has been regularly excavated since 1961. In the recent decades, it has been excavated by Stoyan Yordanov from the Ruse Regional Museum of History.

Archaeologists have discovered there a large feudal palace, fortified walls reaching up to 3 m in width, two well-preserved underground water supply passages, a total of 13 churches, administrative and residential buildings, workshops and streets.

A famous 12 m-high three-storey tower, known as the Cherven Tower, from the 14th century has also been fully preserved and was even used as a model for the reconstruction of Baldwin’s Tower in the Tsarevets Hill in Veliko Tarnovo in 1930.

Cherven’s site also features remains from an Ancient Thracian settlement, a 6th century early Byzantine fortress, and several settlements from the period of the First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD).

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