10th Century Cross with Jesus Christ Image, Peacock Ring Seal Found in Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven

10th Century Cross with Jesus Christ Image, Peacock Ring Seal Found in Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven

This 10th century bronze cross depicting Jesus Christ has been discovered in the latest digs in the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven. Photo: BTA

A cross with an image of Jesus Christ from the 10th century, the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) and a medieval ring seal from a peacock image are among the most interesting artifacts discovered during the 2019 archaeological excavations of the Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress of Tuida in the city of Sliven.

Tuida, now increasingly gaining popularity as a cultural tourism venue, was originaly an Ancient Thracian settlement which grew into a Late Roman, Early Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian fortress. The Roman fortress itself was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD.

Among other things, the Tuida Fortress in the city of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria is remarkable for having a well-preserved secret passage leading outside the stronghold to a nearby river, which was erected in the 6th century AD.

The 2019 archaeological excavations of the Tuida Fortress were conducted for a period of 20 days in the middle of the fall, and led to the discovery of a total of 103 archaeological artifacts, Nikolay Sirakov, Director of the Dr. Simeon Tabakov Regional Museum of History in Sliven has announced at a news conference.

The archaeological team of the Sliven Regional Museum of History has excavated a spot in the northern part of the Tuida Fortress, unearthing and researching part of a well-preserved home from the 9th – 10th century, a medieval water pipeline, and a total of nine medieval pits, which were part of the said home, Sirakov reveals, as cited by BTA.

The small 10th century cross with a depiction of Jesus Christ discovered in the latest digs in the Tuida Fortress in Sliven is made of bronze.

The 10th century bronze cross is one of the most intriguing archaeological artifacts found in relatively small-scale digs inside the Tuida Fortress in fall 2019. Photo: BTA

A total of 103 archaeological artifacts have been found in the 2019 excavations in Tuida in Bulgaria’s Sliven. Photo: Sliven Post

A slab which was the seal of a medieval ring featuring an image of a peacock is also related to Christianity since the peacock is also considered to be a Christian symbol.

The First Bulgarian Empire officially converted to Christianity as its state religion in 864 AD, having already existed for 200 years in the Lower Danube Valley with the pagan religion of the Ancient Bulgars.

Christianity itself, however, arrived to the territories of Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula much earlier, as early as the journeys of Paul the Apostle in the 1st century AD, subsequently gaining huge numbers of converts among the Ancient Thracians, and becoming dominant in the Balkan provinces of the Roman Empire by the 4th century BC, a tradition built upon by the Early Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).

In addition to the Christian artifacts, the Bulgarian archaeologists have also found a large of number of medieval coins and bone artifacts in the latest digs in the Tuida Fortress in Sliven.

The latter finds are seen as a demonstration that bone processing and crafting was among the medieval crafts that were well-developed in the Tuida Fortress.

In addition to the excavations in Tuida, whose partly restored ruins overlook the modern-day city of Sliven, in 2019, the archaeologists from the city’s Regional Museum of History participated in two other exploration projects.

One has been performing rescue archaeological excavations in the town of Zornitsa, Haskovo District, along the route of the natural gas pipeline connecting Bulgaria and Greece (the “Stara Zagora – Komotini” natural gas pipeline, also known as Interconnector Bulgaria – Greece (IBG)).

There the archaeologists found a number of artifacts from various time periods dating back as early as the prehistory, including loom weights, fishing tackles, a mold for ceramic lamps, iron arrow tips, and various types of bronze and silver coins.

The most notable artifact found in the digs near Zornitsa led by archaeologist Veselin Ignatov, however, is said to be the bronze umbo (shield boss) of a parade shield.

The newly discovered artifacts showcased cased by the Sliven Regional Museum of History date to all historical periods. Photos: Sliven Post

The third research project of the Sliven archaeologists and restorers in 2019 has been a survey to map out the archaeological sites in part of Sliven District in Southeast Bulgaria, namely, the areas of the towns of Kamenovo, Nauchene, Strupets, and Staro Selo.

During the survey in question, the archaeological team registered a total of 18 previously unregistered “cultural heritage sites”, and updated the existing information about another 33 sites.

“These [archaeological] sites include settlement mounds, fortress, necropolises,” says archaeologist Teodora Nedyalkova, as cited by Sliven Post.

Some of the artifacts discovered during the field exploration in question include part of a votive tablet, and a part of a stone battle scepter ax.

“Our three sites of exploration this season have led to the discovery of numerous artifacts proving once again that the Sliven region is dotted with prehistoric settlements,” Sliven History Museum Director Nikolay Sirakov points out.

“The aim of the [third] project is to create electronic files with information about the [archaeological] sites in all towns of Sliven District. Next year we  plan to apply once again for funding from the Ministry of Culture in order to survey other towns in our district,” he explains.

The ruins of the Tuida Fortress itself were partly restored by Sliven Municipality back in December 2014 to promote cultural tourism.

The restoration of the Tuida Fortress was part of a project for the restoration of three key medieval Bulgarian fortresses that were crucial for the defense of Bulgaria in the later years of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) – namely, Tuida in Sliven; the medieval Bulgarian fortress of Velbarzhd known in the Antiquity period as Pautalia, in today’s Western Bulgarian city of Kyustendil, and the Stipon Fortress in the Trajan’s Gate Pass near the southern Bulgarian town of Ihtiman (the Trayanovi Vrata Pass).

The partly restored ruins of the Tuida Fortress overlooking the city of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Tuida Fortress website

Location of Sliven and the Tuida Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Map: Google Maps

The project for the restoration of the fortresses Tuida, Velbazhd (Pautalia), and Stipon (also called the Fortress of Trajan’s Gate Pass) was financed with EU funding and by the local municipalities of Sliven, Kyustendil, and Ihtiman, respectively, and was dedicated to the remembrance of the 1,000th year since the death of Bulgarian Tsar Samuil (r. 971/997-1014 AD) who defended Bulgaria for more than 40 years against the Byzantine Empire led by Emperor Basil II Boulgaroktonos, i.e. “the Bulgar-slayer” (r. 976-1025 AD).

Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria died, allegedly of a heart attack, in 1014 AD, after the Byzantine Emperor Basil II captured some 14,000 Bulgarian soldiers in the Battle of Belasitsa (Battle of Kleidion / Clidium) and blinded them. However, Tsar Samuil defended Bulgaria successfully against Byzantium for several decades. In the Battle of the Trajan’s Gate Pass in 986 AD his forces annihilated the entire Byzantine army, with Emperor Basil II himself barely escaping death.

The three fortresses of Tuida, Velbazhd (Pautalia), and Stipon (Trajan’s Gate Pass), which were key in Bulgaria’s defense under Tsar Samuil, are just a tiny percentage of the some 6,000 fortresses that existed in medieval Bulgaria, and most of which were razed to the ground by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century, and after that, during the Early Ottoman period.

Learn more about the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

Тhe Tuida Fortress is a Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress located on the Hisarlaka Hill in the eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven.

It was first excavated in 1982 by archaeologists from the Sliven Regional Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The archaeologists have discovered there remains of a Late Iron Age Ancient Thracian settlement (6th-1st century BC) which in the Roman period turned into a market place; a 2nd-4th century Thracian settlement is cited in written sources as Tuida, Suida, or Tsoida. The name is believed to be of Thracian origin, though its precise ethymology is still unclear.

The Tuida Fortress was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD. It is known to have had a secret tunnel built in the 6th century AD leading to the Novoselska River located to the west, a tributary of the Tundzha River.

The Tuida Fortress avoided destruction during the invasion of the Goths in 378 AD but was destroyed in the invasions of the Huns in the 5th century AD. It was rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518 AD), preserving but also enhancing the original architecture of the fortress. The Tuida Fortress was ultimately destroyed around 598-599 AD, most probably during an invasion of Avars and Slavs.

The territory around today’s Bulgarian city of Sliven was made part of Bulgaria, i.e. of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), around 705 AD when Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel gained the Zagore Region south of the Balkan Mountains after he helped Byzantine Emperor Justinian II the Slit-nosed (Rhinotmetos or Rhinotmetus) (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) regain his throne in Constantinople. Thus, a Bulgarian settlement, whose name remains unknown, was built on the place of the Tuida Fortress. A lead seal of Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Mihail (r. 852-889 AD) has been found there.

The Bulgarians rebuilt the fortress walls and the aquaduct of Tuida, and erected new buildings inside the fortress that were covered with marble slabs produced by stone cutters in the then Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav”). Several bricks with an Ancient Bulgar sign (resembling “|Y|”) have been found there. Written sources indicated that Tuida was the seat of a bishop from the 4th century AD onwards.

After the original excavations of the Tuida Fortress first started in 1982, they were resumed in 2004. The archaeological finds there include, in addition to Knyaz Boris I’s lead seal, a number of iron tools, ceramic vessels, ornaments, coins, and bones from 14 species of wild and domesticated birds including Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), great bustard (Otis tarda), and common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).

The archaeological excavations have revealed the fortress walls of Tuida, fortress towers and gates, remains of buildings, two marble pedestals dedicated to gods Apollo and Zeus which contain the name of the fortress as Tuida or Suida (known in written sources as Tsoida), a 3rd century AD inscription describing the settlement as a market place, a cult complex used between the 4th and the 13th century consisting of a three-nave one-apse Early Christian basilica and a unique baptistery decorated with murals and mosaics.

The ruins of a larger basilica have been found outside the fortress walls (which encompassed an area of about 40 decares (app. 10 acres)) which is taken to mean that the settlement was not confined by the fortified area but spanned outside of it.


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