Silver Medieval Venetian Coins Discovered in Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria

Silver Medieval Venetian Coins Discovered in Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria

The 13th – 14th century Venetian coins discovered in Rusocastro are further evidence of the strong commercial ties that the Republic of Venice had with the Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A total of three silver coins minted in the medieval Republic of Venice, an Italian city-state that was a major power in the Mediterranean, have been discovered in very good condition by archaeologists excavating the fortress of Rusocastro in Southeast Bulgaria.

Earlier this week, the Regional Museum of History in the Black Sea city of Burgas which is conducting the digs, announced the discovery in Rusocastro of an Ancient Roman bronze horse statuette, which is seen as evidence that the site had a previously unknown shrine at the time of the Roman Empire.

The three newly found Venetian coins are groschen also called in Italian grossi (singular grosso) or matapani (singular matapan), the Burgas History Museum says.

One of the coins discovered in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress was minted during the reign of Venetian Doge Raniero Zeno (r. 1252 – 1268), and another during the reign of Venetian Doge Giovanni Soranzo (r. 1312 – 1328).

For the time being, the researchers haven’t been able to establish the time when the third coin was minted because of its lining.

The doges in the Republic of Venice were chief magistrates and city leaders elected for life.

Venice as well as the other major Italian city state that was a medieval Mediterranean naval power, Genoa, are known to have had extensive trade relations with the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).

The front of the newly discovered coins featured an image of Jesus Christ sitting on a throne, while the back depicts St. Mark (San Marco), the patron of Venice, and a Venetian doge holding together a long pole with a flag.

The three silver Venetian coins have been found in a previously unexplored monumental building in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The Venetian coins are yet to be undergo restoration and to be studied further. They have been discovered amid the ruins of a monumental medieval building unearthed for the first time this season, whose precise function remains unknown for the time being.

The Rusocastro Fortress itself, with an area of 53 decares (app. 13 acres) is known to have been built on top of an Ancient Thracian shrine.

It is said to be the largest medieval fortress in Southeast Bulgaria, and to possibly have been the only medieval city which had a castle along Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast.

The 2019 excavations in the Rusocastro Fortress have been funded by Kameno Municipality and Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture. The current digs began back in 2006.

The Rusocastro Fortress is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD. It was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

In it, Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD).

Recent aerial photos show the progress of the excavations on the Rusocastro Fortress, a major medieval city with a castle in Southeast Bulgaria. Photos: Burgas Museum of History

During the 2018 digs, the archaeological team researching the Rusocastro Fortress announced their conclusion that the city’s 6th century AD Early Byzantine fortress walls were almost completely demolished by the Second Bulgarian Empire of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218 – 1241) in the 13th century, and much mo re massive walls were built in their place.

Later it discovered there a “Game of Thrones”-style artifact, a mysterious 14th century item made of agate that seems to have been part of a throne reminscient of the Iron Throne from the “Game of Thrones” / Song of Ice and Fire.

Location of the Rusocastro Fortress near the Black Sea coast in Southeast Bulgaria. Map: Google Maps

Map showing the Rusocastro Fortress. Map: Wikimapia

Map showing the Rusocastro Fortress. Map: Wikipedia

Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas. Rusocastro was also known as “The Red Fortress” because of the red stones it was built of.

In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.

The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.

The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World”, where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.

The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.

Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield” of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.



Please consider donating to help us maintain and grow it!

Any contribution, large or small, is appreciated!

Learn more about donating to support our work here.


Download the ArchaeologyinBulgaria App for iPhone & iPad!

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest!