Byzantine Amphora with Christian Inscription Discovered in Roman Trimammium Fortress


The six-line inscription in Ancient Greek found on the fragment of a 6th century AD Byzantine amphora in the Trimammium Fortress in Northeast Bulgaria. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History


By Ivan Dikov / 01.09.2018


Part of an Early Byzantine amphora with a fully preserved inscription in Ancient Greek dedicated to Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary has been discovered during the latest excavations of the Ancient Roman, medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress of Trimammium near the Danube town of Mechka, Ruse District, in Northeast Bulgaria.

The Trimammum Fortress was built as a Roman fortification and later a road station in the 1st century AD. It was destroyed in barbarian invasions in the early 7th century but was later resettled and used by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).

The newly found amphora found by archaeologists Varbin Varbanov and Deyan Dragoev from the Ruse Regional Museum of History dates back to the 6th century AD, the Ruse Museum has announced.

It features a fully preserved six-line inscription in Ancient Greek mentioning Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary who is known as the Holy Mother of God in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The amphora itself was most likely made in some of the provinces of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, and may have been used for transporting olive oil for performing rituals in a local church in the Trimammium Fortress.

The ceramic vessel’s inscription in Ancient Greek has been translated by epigraphist Assist. Prof. Nikolay Sharankov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. It reads:

“Mary gives birth to Christ.

God’s mercy is a win.

To St. Mary.

To the Saviour God.

An amphora with sweet olive oil.”

The six-line inscription in Ancient Greek has been fully preserved. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

Since the amphora from the Danube fortress of Trimammium is fragmented, according to the expert, the inscription also probably included information about the quantity of the vessel’s olive oil contents, not unlike other amphorae from the same period discovered in the Roman Danube city of Novae near Bulgaria’s Svishtov, and other ancient cities such as Sucidava north of the Danube in today’s Romania, or Histria on the Black Sea coast, also in today’s Romania.

The other side of the amphora features the letters “E+Y”, which could be an abbreviation denoting a person’s name or olive oil, and the letters “TPI” which is probably an abbreviation of Trimammium’s name.

Back in 2015, a 1st century AD inscription discovered to have been “printed” by accident on a vessel in an Ancient Thracian burial mound near Tatarevo in Southern Bulgaria turned out to be a verse from the poem “Prayer to the Muses” by Ancient Greek poet and statesman Solon.

During the latest field exploration of the Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian fortress of Trimammium at the end of 2017, the archaeologists from the Ruse Regional Museum of History researched an area of about 50 square meters. The excavations lasted for two weeks, and were funded by the museum.

The back of the amphora features the letters “E+Y”, and the letters TPI, probably an abbreviation of Trimammium. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

“Within a short period of time, we’ve managed to achieve good results,” lead archaeologist Varbanov says.

In addition to the amphora, the team found three walls – from the Roman period, from the 6th century, and from the 10th-11th century, fragmented pottery from the 4th-6th century, as well as artifacts such as fibulas, coins, and household items made of iron and bronze.

“The most interesting discovery was the amphora fragment because of the fully preserved six-line inscription,” Varbanov adds.

“We have researched a very small part of the Trimammium Fortress – about one twentieth,” he has told BTA.

The Trimammium Fortress is located about 20 km southwest from Bulgaria’s Danube city of Ruse.

In earlier digs so far, back in 2008, in one out of a total of seven ritual pits in the fortress from the 3rd century AD, the archaeologists found a fully preserved 15-centimeter tall bronze statuette of goddess Venus which is now kept at the Ruse Museum, together with 39 antoniniani.

A large administrative building from the 4th century AD and parts of earlier public buildings have also been discovered. Trimammium has fortress walls from the Roman and Early Byzantine period. A medieval church has also been found. It is located at the highest point of the fortress. Some 500 coins dating from the 2nd to the 13th century have been found.

In Trimammium, the archaeologists have also discovered over 350 iron arrow tips from the 2nd century AD, of which 283 have been fully preserved, possibly the largest such collective find in Bulgaria.

According to Varbanov, the building where the arrow tips were discovered might have been a military warehouse. It has not been fully researched yet.

Most of the artifacts found at Trimammium are from the 4th, 5th, and 6th century, but a fair number of them are from the Middle Ages, such as bone combs, ceramic lamps, belt appliques, and a medieval kiln.

Finds from the Trimammium Fortress in Northeast Bulgaria on display at the Ruse Regional Museum of History. Photo: TV grabs from BNT2

  

Background Notes

The Ancient Roman fortress and road station of Trimammiumwhich later was also an Early Byzantine and a medieval Bulgarian fortress, is located 2.8 km northeast of the town of Mechka, Ivanovo Municipality, Ruse District, in Northeast Bulgaria, on a cape on the right bank of the Danube River.

Trimammium has fortress walls from the Roman period and from he Early Byzantine period (namely, the 6th century AD), and was resettled and used by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396/1422).

Trimammium was mentioned by 2nd century AD Greco-Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemy as part of the Ancient Roman road running along the southern bank of the Lower Danube alongside other Roman fortresses and cities: Ulpia Oescus (today’s Gigen), Dimum (today’s Belene), Novae (today’s Svishtov), Iatrus (today’s Krivina), Trimammium (today’s Mechka), Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Dorustorum (Durustorum) (today’s Silistra).

The distance from Trimammium to Sexaginta Prista was 12 Roman miles, i.e. 18 kilometers.

Around 1900, Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil was the first to conclude that Trimammium was located near today’s Bulgarian town of Mechka.

The Ancient Roman fortress Trimammium has the shape of a rectangle which was about 200 meters wide, and 200 meters wide.

Parts of its northern fortress wall (made of stone blocks, crushed river stones, and mortar) have been exposed, standing at a height of up 1.5 meters.

The Trimammium fortress, which was built in the 1st century AD, was destroyed in the early 7th century AD during a barbarian invasion of the Slavs and Avars in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).

An Ancient Bulgar / medieval Bulgarian settlement called Mechka (“Bear”) was set up at the spot of the Roman fortress.

There is a legend that the name of the Bulgarian settlement (surviving to this day as the town of Mechka) resulted from the fact that the banner of the original Roman fortress featured a bear, and the rectangular shape of the fortress itself resembled that of a stretched bear skin.

Part of the Ancient Roman road near Trimammium has also been preserved. A Roman milestone with two inscriptions has also been found nearby.

One of the inscriptions dates back to the rule of Roman Emperor Gordian III (r. 238 – 244 AD), and the other – to the time of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (306-337 AD).

A limestone tombstone from the necropolis of Trimammium dating to the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD was discovered in 1965. Its inscription in Latin reveals it is from the grave of Aurelius Mukianus, a soldier from Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion).

He died at the age of 20 while on active military service, training to become a mensor, i.e. a land-surveyor within his military detachment. His name indicates that he was a “Romanized” resident of the Roman provinces, and had spent no more than 1-2 years in the military before his death.

In 1932, Bulgarian geographer Vasil Marinov discovered a rock relief depicting a horseman chasing a doe. The rock relief was found in the area known as Stalpishte which is where the Roman fortress of Trimammium is located.

The relief reminds of the Thracian Horseman, also known as Heros, which is believed to have been the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians, and it also reminds of the Ancient Bulgar rock relief near the town of Madara, Shumen District, also in Northeast Bulgaria, known as the Madara Horseman.

The rock relief near Trimammium was destroyed when treasure hunters blew up the rock where it had been carved. Photos of the relief are kept in the Ruse Regional Museum of History.

The Ruse Museum started proper archaeological excavations of the Roman fortress and road station Trimammium near Mechka in January 2006 after one of some 100 pits dug up by treasure hunters exposed an altar, and a wall.

The archaeological digs led by archaeologists Varbin Varbanov and Deyan Dragoev from the Ruse Museum of History, and Assoc. Prof. Sergey Torbatov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

At Trimammium, the archaeologists have found pottery fragments from the 3rd-4th and 9th-11th century (the latter being part of the period of the First Bulgarian Empire, 632/680 – 1018), column bases, coins from the 4th-5th century, bricks with seal marks, parts of a marble table.

In May 2006, the archaeologists found there an Ancient Roman inscription of six lines mentioning the construction of a public building or a temple, the name of legate of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior, and a cohort called Severiana, a name derived from the name of Roman Emperor Severus Alexander (r. 222-235 AD). The inscription is kept at the Ruse Regional Museum of History.

In 2008, in one out of a total of seven ritual pits in the fortress from the 3rd century AD, the archaeologists found a fully preserved 15-centimeter tall bronze statuette of goddess Venus which is now kept at the Ruse Museum, together with 39 antoniniani. Some 500 coins dating from the 2nd to the 13th century have been found.

A large administrative building from the 4th century AD and parts of earlier public buildings have also been discovered. Trimammium has fortress walls from the Roman and Early Byzantine period. A medieval church has also been found. It is located at the highest point of the fortress.

In Trimammium, the archaeologists have also discovered over 350 iron arrow tips from the 2nd century AD, of which 283 have been fully preserved, possibly the largest such collective find in Bulgaria. According to Varbanov, the building where the arrow tips were discovered might have been a military warehouse. It has not been fully researched yet.

Most of the artifacts found at Trimammium are from the 4th, 5th, and 6th century, but a fair number of them are from the Middle Ages, such as bone combs, ceramic lamps, belt appliques, and a medieval kiln.

At the end of 2017, a Byzantine amphora with a six-line inscription in Ancient Greek dedicated to Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary was discovered in the Trimammium Fortress.


Originally published by Archaeology in Bulgaria with permission.

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