30-Year-Old Roman Woman’s Grave Found in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv near Discovery Site of Tomb with Jesus Christ Murals

30-Year-Old Roman Woman’s Grave Found in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv near Discovery Site of Tomb with Jesus Christ Murals

The grave of the 30-year-old woman from the 3rd-4th century AD has been found on top of a Roman Era home ruins from an earlier period. Photo: archaeologist Maya Martinova via Plovdiv Time

Part of a Roman Era home from the 2nd – 4th century AD and the grave of an approximately 30-year-old woman have been discovered by accident in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, the successor of ancient Philipopolis, near a site where a now famous Early Christian tomb containing some of the world’s earliest murals of Jesus Christ was found back in 2012.

In the Antiquity period, Plovdiv was known as Philipopolis as it was named after King Philip II of Macedon. After Ancient Thrace’s conquest by the Romans in the 1st century AD, it was also called Trimontium because of the three hills on which the ancient city was located.

After the Roman conquest, the local Thracian population and its aristocracy became well-integrated in the society of the Roman Empire.

The ruins of the newly discovered Roman Era home have been exposed during digs by the local power utility EVN on the corner of the G.M.Dimitrov Street and Tsar Asen Street in Plovdiv.

The ensuing rescue excavations led by archaeologist Maya Martinova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology have unearthed part of a Roman Antiquity building with a clay water pipeline together with the grave of a woman who was seemingly aged around 30.

The entire excavated plot is tiny, just 5 square meters, yet, the finds are really interesting, according to Martinova, who is cited by local news and culture site Plovdiv Time.

Not least because the plot falls within that zone of Ancient Philipopolis where back in 2012 a stunning early 4th century Early Christian tomb with some of the world’s earliest murals of Jesus Christ was exposed by accident. The ensuing rescue digs and the entire excavation and conservation of the tomb was then also carried out by Martinova.

After some careful restoration work, the Early Christian Roman tomb, whose inside shows two of the miracles of Christ, the Resurrection of Lazarus and the Healing of the Paralyzed Man, was formally presented to the public for the first time as part of the collection of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology back in 2015.

Both the Miracles of Jesus Christ tomb and the newly found Roman Era home and female grave have been found in the periphery of the Southern Necropolis of ancient Philipopolis.

Both the Jesus Christ murals tomb and the new finds have been exposed during digs by local power utility EVN for the laying of a heating pipe of an adjacent home under renovation which itself a monument of culture.

The zone of ancient Philipopolis in question used to house residential quarters, i.e. city blocks, called insulas, Martinova explains.

In 172 AD, however, during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180 AD), a new fortress wall was built south of the Forum, i.e. main square of Philipopolis, in order to defend part of the ancient city located in the valley at the foot of its seven historical hills (known as “tepeta”).

Some of the insulas there, however, remained outside of the fortress wall, and were gradually turned into a cemeteries, or necropolises.

That is why graves and tombs from the 3rd – 4th century AD have been discovered in that site on top of ruins of Early Roman Era homes, the lead archaeologist explains.

The laying of a heating pipeline by today’s power utility in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv has led to the exposure of a Roman clay water pipeline, among other things. Photos: archaeologist Maya Martinova via Plovdiv Time

The grave of the 30-year-old female was covered with tiles, with the cover shaped in the form of a roof.

As part of the rescue excavations, the archaeological team has extracted the entire burial inventory from the grave of the 30-year-old Roman – or Thracian – woman.

The skeleton has been sent to a specialized laboratory for further analysis while the exposed structures from a Roman Era home have been covered up so as not to be damaged by rains.

The newly exposed archaeological remains are expecting a commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture for the regular procedure of determining their further fate.

Another recent archaeological discovery in Plovdiv has been the unearthing of an ancient settlement at the Lauta Hill that was adjacent to Philipopolis, and features archaeological material from various historical periods – from Ancient Thrace (Early Iron Age and Late Iron Age) to the Late Antiquity, and all the way to the time of the Ottoman Empire.

A map showing ancient Philipopolis in the Hellenistic period, i.e. after the 4th century BC. Map: Wikipedia

A map showing Trimontium, i.e. ancient Philipopolis during the Roman period. Map: Wikipedia

Because of previous excavations on the Nebet Tepe Hill in the 1970s, Plovdiv used to claim the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

However, the latest excavations of the Ancient Thracian and Roman Nebet Tepe Fortress have revealed issues with earlier archaeological research casting doubt on whether Plovdiv indeed was the oldest city in Europe, while not denying the exquisite historical, archaeological, and cultural value of the site.

Prehistoric, Antiquity, and medieval finds keep springing up across Plovdiv as the city’s vast cultural heritage is still being researched.

In just some of the 2018 archaeological excavations in Plovdiv, the archaeologists have discovered six luxury Antiquity quarters which had a brothel likened to Pompeii’s Lupanar, and a 1st century AD Roman triumphal arc;

They have found traces from the Goth invasion of the Roman Empire in 251 AD during rescue digs at the city’s Antiquity Odeon;

A Roman tomb from the western necropolis of Philipopolis has been unearthed by accident on the campus of Plovdiv Medical University;

Near the St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch) Church in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, an archaeological team has found an ancient inscription from 303 AD glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian (r. 284 – 305 AD) after he introduced the so called Tetrarchy system of government in the Roman Empire;

This is also the same site where the archaeological team has found a very rare piece of lusterware pottery from medieval Egypt in a richly decorated medieval building.


Relevant Books:

Ancient Rome: A Complete History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chronicling the Story of the Most Important and Influential Civilization the World Has Ever Known

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Top 12 Places to Visit in Bulgaria – Top 12 Bulgaria Travel Guide (Includes Sofia, Sunny Beach, Nessebar, Plovdiv, Belogradchik & More)

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

Bulgaria History, Early Settlement and Empire: Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations, Communism, Society and Environment, Economy, Government and Politics


Background Infonotes:

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).

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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