Agathopolis – Ahtopol, Bulgaria


The ruins of the ancient city of Agathopolis, today’s Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Ahtopol in Tsarevo Municipality, Burgas District, are located on the Ahtopol Peninsula which is about 300 meters long and 150 meters wide, at the foot of the Strandzha Mountain.

The site’s civilized life goes back to the Neolithic. During the Iron Age, the area was populated by the Ancient Thracian tribe Thyni. The discovery of a votive tablet with an inscription and the image of Heros, also known as the Thracian Horseman, the supreme god in the Thracian mythology, attests to their presence.

The city itself was most probably founded in 430 BC by Ancient Greek colonists from Athens, potential as part of Pericles’ actions in the Black Sea during the Peloponnesian War. The Ancient Greek polis had its own mint and coins.

While it was part of the Roman Empire (1st-4th century AD), the city was called Peronticus. Later, as part of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, it suffered destruction in the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs in the 5th-7th century AD, it was rebuilt by Byzantine general Agathon. Some hypotheses say that he named the city after himself but others say that it was called Agathopolis much earlier, at least since 323 BC.

According to one legend, Agathopolis was first established as the home of Delphin, son of Poseidon, and Agatha, daughter of Zeus. Zeus was angered by their relationship so he dispatched an army against them but a burrowing owl woke them up and saved them. Thus, Delphin killed the enemies and founded a city called Agapi-polis (city of love) on the Black Sea coast.

In 131 AD, Ahtopol was mentioned as Auleuteichos in the Perlus of the Euxine Sea, a guidebook of the Black Sea towns, by Greco-Roman historian Arrian of Nicomedia, as being located 43.5 km away from Chersonesus (another Ancient Greek city on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast with the same name as the Ancient Greek colony on the Crimean (Taurica) Peninsula).

In the 6th century AD, a fortress wall was built to defend the city against the barbarian invasions, possibly during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD) or Emperor Justine I (r. 518-527 AD). Parts of this Late Antiquity Fortress wall are still preserved up to a height of 3-4 meters; the walls are thick between 1.5 and 2.8 meters.

Agathopolis was first conquered by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) under Khan Krum (r. 802-813 AD) in 812 AD. It was settled with Slavs under his successor, Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD). Subsequently, during the Middle Ages, the city changed hands between the Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire numerous times.

It was part of Bulgaria until 864 AD, and then again from 894 until 970 AD. Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi mentioned Agathopolis as a major city in 1150 AD. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), the region of Agathopolis was reconquered by the Bulgarians in the Uprising of Asen and Petar in 1185. It was part of Bulgaria until 1263, and was then reconquered in 1304, in the Battle of Skafida near Poros (Burgos, today’s Burgas).

The city changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several more times until the end of the 14th century. Before that, in 1366 AD, the Count of Savoy Amadeus IV (r. 1343-1383) conquered Ahtopol and the other cities on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast for five months. It was ultimately conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, together with the conquest of Constantinople and the other surviving Byzantine ports in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

During the period of Ottoman Yoke, i.e. when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Ahtopol remained an important port. Ahtopol was visited in 1663 by Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi, and was mentioned in his books of travels as “Ahtabolu”. It was liberated by Bulgaria in the Balkan War of 1912.

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