Large Silver Coin Hoard Hidden during 251 AD Goth Invasion of Roman Empire Discovered in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv
A coin hoard containing nearly 600 silver coins (denarii) from the 1st – 3rd century AD, most likely hidden during the first large-scale barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire, the invasion by the Goths in 250-251 AD, has been discovered by archaeologists alongside a partially preserved skeleton in a burned down building in ancient Philipopolis, today’s Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria.
The impressive treasure, a collection of silver coins (denarii), includes coins minted by all Emperors, Empresses-consorts, and some other royalties of the Roman Empire from Antonius Pius (r. 138 – 161 AD) until Philip I the Arab (r. 244 – 249 AD) and Philip II.
The hoard of Roman denarii (silver coins) from the Invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths in 250-251 AD when the Goths went as far south as Philipopolis (Plovdiv’s predecessor) and ransacked it has been showcased as one of the most intriguing finds from last year in the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition. The exhibition was opened in February 2021 at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
“[The Roman silver coin hoard] tells an interesting story about the fate of today’s Plovdiv and about a resident of the respective home who in a haste hid about 600 silver coins in a purse during an attack and burning of his home in the middle of 3rd century AD… The find in question can be connected with the historical data about the burning of the city by the Goths during that period,” explains archaeologist Kamen Boyadzhiev, author of the official catalog of the 2020 Bulgarian Archaeology Exhibition, as cited by the Bulgarian National Radio.
Archaeologists excavating the ruins of ancient Philipopolis in today’s Plovdiv have found wide-ranging evidence of the burning of the city by the Goths in 251 AD during the very first large-scale barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire, which also resulted in the first ever killing in battle of a Roman Emperor, or, rather, two Roman Emperors.
In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae.
They were initially halted by Emperor Trajan Decius at Nicopolis ad Istrum (near today’s Nikyup) but then went on to raid a number of Roman cities reaching as far south as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) which was ransacked.
Upon retreating north, from Thrace (Thracia) into Moesia, the Goths were met by the forces of Emperor Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus near the major Roman city of Abritus (near today’s Razgrad in Northeast Bulgaria).
In 2016, near the town of Dryanovets, Bulgarian archaeologists discovered the battlefield of the Battle of Abritus, one of the greatest battles in the Late Antiquity.
In the Battle of Abritus in July 251 AD, 1765 years ago, the Goths routed the Roman forces, and killed not one but two Roman Emperors: Roman Emperor Trajan Decius (r. 249-251 AD) and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus (r. 251 AD).
The Goths prevailed even though Roman Emperor Trajan Decius probably selected deliberately the location of the battlefield because of the flat terrain which gave the Roman legions an advantage.
The hoard of the hidden nearly 600 Roman silver coins has been found during rescue excavations in Plovdiv at 13 Leonardo Da Vinci Street by a team led by archaeologists Elena Bozhinova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology and Ivo Topalilov from the Institute of Balkan Studies and Center of Thracology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
The particular excavation site is located south of the Early Christian Bishop’s Basilica of ancient Philipopolis, on a plot with an area of 200 square meters.
During the rescue digs there, the archaeologists have found ruins of buildings from the Roman, Late Antiquity, and medieval period.
The earliest building on the site was built at the end of the 2nd century and beginning of the 3rd century AD. It was partially exposed by the researchers, including parts of the two-floor building proper, its inner year, and its auxiliary structures.
The inside of the rooms in the building was restructured numerous times in order to raise its floor and hearth levels, the archaeologists explain in the official exhibition catalog and poster for the site.
During the reconstructions, at least one of the building’s rooms was decorated with murals including a Pompeiian red background, and a palm tree on a white background inside a brown frame.
It was in one of the building’s rooms that the archaeologists have found chariot fragments: an iron axis, and a bronze bust of ancient deity Dionysus, which was used for the chariot’s decoration.
“The building perished as a result of a fire in the middle of the 3rd century AD during the capturing of the city by the Goths as demonstrated by the excavated layer containing mudbrick and roof destruction,” the archaeological team informs.
The Roman silver coin hoard itself – containing a total of 593 silver coins, 2 bronze coins, and a bronze bracelet and a bronze earring – have been found next to a skeleton in the yard of the building.
“In the northeastern corner of the building, among the roof tiles, [we] have unearthed a partially preserved skeleton of an adult individual in an unnatural body position. About 1.25 meters away from it [there were] 593 silver coins, 2 bronze coins, and a bronze bracelet and earring. These items had been placed in a lather bag. The coins were minted by the emperors from Anthonius Pius to Philip the Arab,” the archaeologists reveal.
After Philipopolis was burned down by the Goths in 251 AD, the site in question was redeveloped at the beginning of the 4th century AD with the construction of a large public building.
It had an aula (grand hall) decorated with floor mosaics and murals with multicolored geometric motifs. The building in question was also destroyed in a fire although its precise dating is yet to be determined through the further study of the recovered artifacts.
Remains from the Middle Ages at the excavated site have included the cellars of houses from the 11th – 13th century, and a small part from a massive building.
The hoard of the 595 Roman silver and bronze coins hidden during the 251 AD Goth invasion and found by the archaeologists in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv include coins minted by Roman Emperors and Empresses over a period of 101 years – from 145 until 246 AD.
More specifically, the coins were minted by Roman Emperors, Empresses (and other royalties) Antonius Pius (minted in 145 – 161 AD), Commodus (minted in 190 – 191 AD), Didia Clara (minted in 193 AD), Septimius Severus (minted in 193 – 195 AD), Julia Domna (minted in 196 – 211 and 211 – 217 AD), Caracalla (minted in 199 – 200 AD and in 212 AD), Plautilla, Geta (minted in 198 – 200, 200 – 202 AD and 211 AD), Macrinus (minted in 217 AD), Elagabalus (minted in 218 – 219 AD), Julia Soaemias (minted in 218 – 222 AD), Julia Maesa (minted in 218 – 222 AD), Severus Alexander (minted in 231 – 235 AD), Julia Mamaea, Maximinus Thrax (235 – 236 AD, Paulina, Maximus (minted in 235 – 236 AD), Gordian III (minted in 238 – 239 AD), Philip I the Arab (minted in 245 AD), Philip II (minted in 244 – 246 AD), and Otacilla Severa (minted in 246 – 248 AD).
Learn more about the ancient city of Philipopolis, today’s Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria, in the Background Infonotes below!
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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.
According to the pre-1980 excavations, the history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.
Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking). Recent excavations, however, have disputed that title.
The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.
During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.
In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.
In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).
Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.
Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.
In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.
Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.
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