Marcianopolis / Marcianople – Devina – Devnya, Bulgaria

Ancient Roman city Marcianopolis Marcianopolis Devnya Bulgaria

A model showing the large Ancient Roman city of Marcianopolis / Marcianopol, today’s Devnya in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Devnya News

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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Archaeology in Bulgaria. and Beyond