Abritus

Name: According to all researchers, the name of the fort is of Latin origin - from the verb abrumpo with meaning "tear, lacerate" and could be translated as "steep", a peculiar allusion for the steep eastern slope of the town.

Written sources:The name of Abritus is found relatively often in the descriptions of Antiquity and Early Medieval authors. The reason for this are the events from the middle of the 3rd century, tragic for the Empire, which took place in the vicinities of the fort, and lead to the death of the Emperor Trajan Decius himself in 251 AD. Thus, Dexippus wrote in his “Historical Chronicle” that the emperor and his son were killed in Abritus, at the so-called Forum Tembronius (...έν Άβρύτω τω λεγομένω Φόρω Θεμβωνίω). In the same spirit the events and the name are delivered by Eutropis, Lactantius and Sextus Aurelius Victor. When describing the struggle, lost by the Romans and the followed death of the emperor, Cassiodorus mentions that this happened in the Thracian settlement of Abrito (inAbrittoThraciaeloco). Inhiswork “Getica” Jordanes, whoworkedthreecenturiesaftertheseevents, istalkingabout “Abrito, atowninMoesia” (...adAbrittoMoesiaecivitatem). Theeventsof 251 ADaredescribedalsobyseveralByzantinechroniclersofthe 10thandthe 11thcentury, likeLandolfusSagaxandLeoGrammaticus.

Again as a town, the seat of a bishop’s cathedra, Abritus is mentioned in a message from 458 AD, sent to emperor Leo I to the Archbishop of Marcianople (the capital of the Province of Second Moesia, the present-day town of Devnya), where the name of Macianus, the bishop of the town of Abritus, is found (...MartianusepiscopuscivitatisAbriticae). In the form of Abriton (ό Αβρίτον) the name is found in the so-called “List of the Bishops”, composed in the 8th century, but reflecting earlier events. Again as a town center, one of the seven towns of the Province of Second Moesia, Abritus (erroneously written as Ebraitos - Έβραιττος) is recognized in “Synecdemus”of Hierocles, from the first half of the 6th century. As AbittusandAbritusthe name is found in the treatise of Procopius of Caesarea “On the Buildings” among the fortresses, restored by Emperor Justinian I.

The name of the fort is also found in several stone inscriptions, part of them revealed during archaeological excavations, reused as construction material in subsequent constructions. In the form of Abrito (Abrito) it is testified on a sacrificial altar with dedication to Heracles, dated in the years of reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161). On a miliar pillar from 245-247, the name is presented as TERR(itorium) ABRI(tanorum). On another fragment with inscription with unclear location, is visible the abbreviation of CIV(itas) ABR(itanorum). As Abritu(Άβριττου) the name is delivered in an epigram kept in the museum of Preslav and on another inscription from Aquileia in the present-day northern Italy, dated in the 3rd century, we learn about the “castle of the Abrits” – castell(o) Abritanor(um).

Location:Until the beginning of the regular archaeological excavations in Razgrad in the middle of the 20th century the ruins at the Hisarlaka locality are paralleled with the town of Dausdava (Δαούσδαυα) mentioned by the Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy. Abritus is initially localized at the village of Aboba, Shumen region, and later with the ruins at the renamed in Abrit village of Aptaat, Dobrich region. As early as following the discovery of the mentioned sacrificial altar and milliar pillar that contain the name of Abritus, did its localization become possible. The Late Antiquity town is located on a low hill, in the outskirts of the contemporary town of Razgrad. Immediately to the east of the fort there is a large concentration of massive architectural remains, concentrated on a significant area of over 80 ha in the Beli Lom river valley. The numismatic finds there testify for a vital commercial exchange from the 2nd to the end of the 4th century. On this site, the researchers engaged with the problem are also seeking for the mentioned in a number of inscriptions Eraly Roman fort of Abritus and it belonging civilian settlements – canabae and vicus.

History of the research:The first organized archaeological excavations in the Hisarlaka locality are conducted by the local teacher Ananie Yavashov in 1887, when he unearthed a large public building in the western part of the fort, interpreted by him as temple of Apollo. In 1893 he partially studied a Christian complex in the eastern part of the fortified territory and a pipeline in the southern.In 1928 he also studied the northwestern corner tower of the fort. Its first plan, marked by 24 towers, 3 gates and the revealed by Yavashov basilicas, is published in 1914 by K. Skorpil. In 1953-1976, directed by Teofil Ivanov and Stoyan Stoyanov were conducted regular excavations, due to which the problem with the localization of Abritus was finally resolved, the overall fortification system of the town was unearthed, premises in proximity to the northern wall of the town, a large horreum (grain storage) near the western gate, a large peristyle building. With bath next to it, constructed over four earlier buildings. It was finalized the initiated by A, Yavashov search for the Christian basilica. On the base of the results from the excavations, conducted by both directors, in 1980 was published a specifics volume, called “Abritus. A Roman fort and an Early Byzantine Townin Lower Moesia”. In the 1960s also began the excavations on the necropolises of Abritus. Georgi Ginev studied a burial mound in the northern necropolis, Lidiya Kvinto – significant section of the southern necropolis, and Alexander Parushev – individual graves of the southwestern necropolis.In 1990 the archaeological excavations were renewed, directed by Petko Georgiev and Galena Chobanova. Three premises of buildings were revealed, one of which being a workshop for bone items, trench surveys were conducted at the unfortified settlement, to the east of the fort, two mounds in the northern and eastern necropolis. Again in this period, directed by P. Georgiev, D. Dimitrov and G. Dzanev is studied the Early Medieval fortress, located in the northeastern section of Abritus. In the recent years the archaeological studies were renewed in relation to the implementation of a project for the socialization of the Roman town and its transformation into an attractive tourist product.

Reveled structures and finds:The earliest structures in the Hisarlaka locality refer to the Hellenistic period and belong to a large Thracian settlement with unknown name and dating from the 4th century BC to the 1st century AD. Structures of the Early Roman period are not revealed, which undoubtedly displays that the military camp and the civilian residences were located in the plain part on both sides of the Beli Lom river, to the east of the hill, where the Late Antiquity fort of Abritus is located. As result of the long years of studies, its fortification system is entirely examined, as well as part of the internal planning. Given the configuration of the terrain, the fort has the shape of an irregular square.Massive fortification walls with total length of 1400 m surround an area of 15 ha. In front of the southern and western fortification walls there is a moat, about 10 m deep and to 15 m wide. The fort has four gates, thirty-five towers and nine posterns. The towers have different shapes – fan-shaped in the four corners, two massive rectangular ones at the southern curtain, four with irregular square shape along the eastern wall, and the others are U-shaped. The foundations are deeply dug with thickness to 3.20 m. The plinth is of large, well-processed stones, and in height – of smaller blocks. In separate sections the fortification wall has varying width – from 2.10 m at the eastern wall to 2.85 at the southern. The gates are located in the middle of the fortification wall, except for the eastern one, which has been moved to the northeastern corner tower. The southern gate is jutted inside the fortified territory. All gates are flanked with U-shaped towers. The gates have two doors – external, falling (a cataract) and internal, two-leaved. The passage at all gates is single-sectioned, with width from 4.14 to 4.50 m. The closed space between the two doors, the so-called propugnaculum, has rectangular shape. Nine postern are revealed, arranged as a simple opening in the fortification walls, but always in proximity to the towers. Studies reveals that all towers were three-storey, with roof of massive wooden construction and tiles.

In the interior of the fort were revealed several large buildings, different in chronology, which refer to the different periods of its habitation. To the time of the fort’s construction refer four partially studied buildings in the eastern half of the fortification. These are massive buildings on both sides of the street with east-west direction and width of 5 m. The building located to the north of the street has rectangular plan and length of 31.50 m and width of 24.50 m. It consists seven premises around a large internal yard. A latrina (a toilet) is revealed inside the building, with bricked canal for leading the dirty waters. The second entirely studied building is revealed in the southern side of the street. It has dimensions of 32 x 18 m. It consists of five premises. The other two buildings are partially studied, but given their planning scheme these are dwellings without doubt. To this first construction period of the fort also refers one large horreum (grain storage), revealed 10 m to the south of the western gate. The building is oriented in north-south direction, it is parallel to the western fortification wall and stands 5 m from it. Its dimensions are impressive: 56 x 20 m. Its longer sides have 13 buttresses each, constructively related to the walls. In height, the building has mixed construction – alternating belts of stones and bricks. The roof was two-sloped, covered with tiles.The horreum has two wide entrances – one from the northern short side, and another from the east. To this initial period of existence of the fort there also one partially studied building underneath the foundations of the Early Christian complex, as well as several pipelines and canals. To the same period, but at a later stage, it should be referred one three-sectioned building, located in proximity to the horreum. It is built from diligently shaped stone blocks with plaster jointing. It is attached to the western fortification wall. It had two entrances from the south and probably from the north. Its plan and its location in immediate proximity to the western gate give us the reason to interpret it a barracks building.

To the second construction period of the fort are also referred several studied buildings. Thus, over the remains of the destroyed four buildings in the eastern part of the fortification there is a new one constructed, with solid building and impressive dimensions.It occupies the entire area of the earlier buildings and protrudes outside its outlines to the north and the south. It is partially studied. Sections of its northern and southern walls are revealed with length correspondingly 24 m and 32 m.The purpose of this building is unclear. In immediate proximity to it there is another unearthed building – the so-called building with the shops. It presents six premises in rectangular plan, located on one line along the east-west direction. Between them there is an entrance studied, and in front of them – a portico with colonnade in Ionian order. The portico is parallel to the street, it has length of 41 m and with of 4.65 m. It has 15 pillars at distance of 2.07 m from one another. It is covered with massive wooden construction and tiles. The shops present rectangular premises with length of 3.65 m and width from 4.85 to 5.30 m. They were closed with one-leaved door with width of 1.25 m. Two of them had additional entrance from the north as well. In the middle between the row of shops there was an entrance, which lead to another rectangular premises with dimensions of 3.65 x 4.85 m. To the second construction period of Abritus also refer two buildings to the south of the large peristyle building, one of them being a workshop for production of bone items, as well as a third building, located underneath the Early Medieval Christian complex.

To the third construction period of the fort refers the building of the most representative buildings, studied in Abritus. These are the so-called peristyle building and the building with hypocaust (floor heating).  

The peristyle building is located in the eastern part of the fortified territory, on the ruins of the earlier four buildings and the one with the shops. It is named this way because of the yard in its center, with colonnade on its four sides. The overall built-up area is almost 3000 sq. m. During its construction, the builders incorporated the earlier building with the shops and the portico in the general volume of the new building.It is built of relatively well-processed stone blocks, with joints coated with pink plaster. Functionally, the building consists of three sections: commercial-economic, residential and peristyle yard. The six shops with the portico belong to the first section, as well as the rectangular premise between them and additional six premises around a large open yard with size of 25 x 12.5 m. Its four sides are surrounded by a colonnade with width of 3.20 m. The total number of pillars is twenty-one – eight on each of the longer sides, two at the northern and three on the southern shorter sides. The north portico of the yard and a corridor separate the commercial-economic section from the residential. It consists of nine premises, located symmetrically around the central one, which ends with an apse to the north. Inside one of the premises was revealed a latrina, a pipeline and a canal for the dirty waters.

Immediately to the west of the peristyle building there is another one revealed, with length of almost 23 m, interpreted as a bath. Together with its extensions, it possesses ten premises. The entrance is from the west, and one of the premises has an apse on its eastern side. The two large southern premises have hypocaust, and inside another premises a latrina is facilitated, with canal for the dirty waters.Inside the premise with the apse is discovered a stone block with a cross, incised on it, additionally colored in red. The availability of this find provokes the researchers to presume that inside the premise was accommodated a church at a later stage of its functioning.

At 60 m to the east of the western gate is unearthed a three-nave Christian basilica with three-sectioned narthex. Its northern and southern sides are constructed of crushed stones with mortar joint, additionally coated with mortar coating, while the walls of the building’s naves are constructed of bricks. The floor is also bricked. In immediate proximity to the eastern fortification wall, at this moment only partially studied, there is a second basilica. Its dimensions and architecture allow at this stage for it to be interpreted as a bishop’s.

To this third construction period of the functioning of the Late Antiquity fort also refer the examined remains of several framed dwellings, attached to the northern, the southern and the eastern fortification walls. They are built of crushed stones with earth joint at the foundations and of adobe in height.

As result of the archaeological excavations, field observations and accidental finds, it is cleared that Abritus had four necropolises. Their investigation began as early as the end of the 19th century. We contain the largest quantity of information for the southern necropolis, where in the 1960s were studied 238 graves. Of them, 228 are body-laying, and the others are of cremation. The discovered material is diverse and dates the necropolis within the borders of the 2nd-6th century. Another 19 graves of this necropolis are studied in 2010. The northern necropolis was a mound one. A. Yavashov reports for fifteen mounds, nowadays obliterated. Only one of them has been studied. Studies were also conducted in the western mound necropolis. Several graves with poor inventory are revealed.

As result of the long years of archaeological excavations on the territory of the Antiquity town of Abritus, hundreds of finds are unearthed, large part of which are exhibited in the halls of the Razgrad Regional Museum of History. Among them, with their high scientific and exhibition value are distinguished the numerous epigraphic and votive material, architectural details, stone and bronze plastics, armament, adornment. Without parallel in the contemporary Bulgarian lands is a collective find of 27 bronze items – 16 plates-matrices, 1 statuette, 1 application and 9 chariot decorations, discovered to the north of Abritus. There are various opinions for the character of the find – sanctuary inventory, burial gift, inventory of a toreut’s workshop.On the plates-matrices there are images of Zeus and Hera, Cybele, Mars, Artemis, Sabazios, Heracles, and the so-called Razgrad goddess. The numismatic material, originating from Abritus, is also extremely numerous. In 1971 in the interior of the fort, next to the eastern fortification wall, was unearthed one of the largest in Europe hoards of golden coins. The treasure contains 835 solids or emperors and empresses of the 5th century, concealed during the reign of Emperor Zeno (476-491).Particular interest is also caused by a second golden coin treasure, discovered within the outlines of the Early Medieval Bulgarian fortress. It consists of 11 Byzantine solids, hidden by their possessor in the years of campaign of the Kievan prince Svetoslav against Danube Bulgaria.

Chronology:The results of the archaeological studies, combined with the data from the epigraphic material and information from the historical sources made possible the clarification of the stages of development of the Roman Abritus. During the excavations on the Late Roman town on the hill, known as Hisarlaka, the archaeologists discovered structures of a settlement from the Hellenistic period. One accidental find – a fragment of a dedication inscription, discovered secondarily used in the floor of the Christian basilica in the western part of the town, delivers important information for the significance of the Thracian settlement, which existed here in the years preceding the Roman conquest.The dedication is made during the reign of the Thracian king Rhoemetalces II (19-26) by the Strategos of Anchialus, Seletica and Ryusike. Interest is cause by the title of the Thracian king. At the time of the inscription, he was only “dynast of the Thracians”, and a later stage the text is corrected and his new title is indicated – king. We learn from Tacitus when and why did this happen. Describing the events in Thrace and the internal conflicts among the Thracian aristocracy, the Roman historian mentions that Rhoemetalces IIprovided assistance to the Romans in suppressing the riots that emerged among the Thracians, and because of this he received the title of “King of the Thracians”. Namely these events are reflected by the change in the ruler’s title at the described inscription. It is placed over a sacrificial altar, made to glorify Apollo. Another inscription, dedicated to Apollo, and placed by inhabitants of Abritus, as well as a fragment of his statue, discovered within the riverbed of Beli Lom, reveals that Abritus had a significant temple to this deity. It is very likely that its location was on the higher hill in the Hisarlaka locality, where during the 4th century the Late Roman fort was constructed.

Theemergenceof the Roman military camp of Abritus in proximity to the old Thracian center is referred to the last quarter – the end of the 1st century AD. Thanks to epigraphic, we are aware that Abritus is a fort of an auxiliary unit – a cohort. The first military unit, stationed here, is the II Lucens cohort. It stayed here until 136 AD, when it was relocated to Kabyle in the Province of Thrace.Therelocationofcohorthoweverdidnotleavethecampempty, itisreplacedbyanothercohort, whosenamehasnotreachedus, butwehavecertainepigraphicinformation for its presence. For the fact that Abritus has been a fort at least until the end of the 3rd century we learn from the before mentioned inscription from Aquileia. The presence of a significant military unit in the interior of the Province of Lower Moesia can be explained only with the importance of the old Thracian center and its role as a regional center. According to a number of researchers, the Thracian settlement in the Hisarlaka locality has been a center of the long-searched Strategy of Ryusike, known from the sources and epigraphic monuments.

We have more details information on the chronology of the Late Roman fortification. Its researchers consider it to be the castle of the military unit and topographic successor of the camp of the II Lucens cohort. In the line of this hypothesis, they are placing the construction of the fort within the chronological interval between the middle of the 3rd and the early 4th century. Based on the similarities between the fortification system with the one at Yatrus and Tropaeum Trajani in the neighboring Province of Scythia, it is more reasonable to place the construction of the fort in the first quarter of the 4th century. Recently, on the ground of numismatic finds on the site, a presumption is made that the fortification has been one of the strong points of Emperor Licinius I in his struggle against Constantine I and as such it has been finished prior to 324 AD.

Three large construction periods in the functioning of the Late Roman center are registered through archaeological means. The first one falls within the chronological borders from the first quarter of the 4th century to 378 AD. This period is testified with the construction of the fortification system of Abritus, the horreum at the western gate, the remains of four buildings in the eastern part of the fortified territory. Within the period it can be distinguished a second phase, which is to be put in the context of the program for strengthening of the bordering Danube provinces and with the measures, taken by emperors Julian and Valens in the second half of the 4th century. The end of the first construction period is related to destructions, caused during or soon after the unsuccessful for the Roman Second Gothic war (376-378 AD).

The second construction period in the functioning of the Late Roman Abritus falls within the chronological frames between the last quarter of the 4th - the end of the 5th century. On the field, this is testified by the repair works on the fortification wall, the restoration and the general rebuilding of the constructions inside the defended territory. At least two phases can be distinguished within this period, too. The end of the first is associated with the large Hunnic invasions during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II. Judging by the discovered two coin hoards, the registered destructions should be related to the Hunnic invasion of 447 AD. It appears that Abritus was restored quickly following these events. Furthermore, the sources mention it as a town and a bishop's seat (458 AD). The discovery of the large treasure of 835 golden solids, hidden by their owner at the end of the 5th century is an eloquent marker for the cataclysm that hit Abritus at the end of the reign of Emperor Zeno (476-491). These events also put the end of the second construction period. The last large construction activity in Abritus is referred to the end of the 5th - the early 6th century. It also coincides with the third large construction period in the existence of the Late Antiquity town. Here it is also possible to trace two phases within the period. The first one generally coincides with the reign of Emperor Anastasius I (491-518). Probably at that time the fortification system of Abritus gained the outlook, known to us today. The last archaeological studies reveal lack of synchronicity between the eastern and the other fortification walls. The first three have similar characteristics and truly can be examined as synchronous, while the construction of the eastern can be dated as early as the end of the 5th century. To the first phase of the period, along the new eastern fortification wall, a number of other monumental buildings are erected, leading to a significant change in the urban environment. The new town dominants are two revealed Christian temples. To the monumental buildings, constructed at that time, is also referred the large peristyle residence, which incorporates the earlier corpus with the shops, as well as the building with the hypocaust premises, interpreted as a bath.The intensive construction in Abritus from this period, the end of the 5th century - the early 6th century, is completely in unison with the attempts of the central authority to erase, as much as possible, the traces of the heavy defeats, caused by the long wars with the Goths and Huns. Similar situation is observed in other affected centers in Second Moesia and the neighboring provinces.

The inclusion of Abritus among the fortresses and towns, restored by Justinian I, has also been confirmed within the archaeological environment. Namely this construction program represents the second phase of the third construction period of the Late Roman town. The construction activity is manifested mainly in the blockage of three fortification gates, after which only the western one was in use. During this period largely distributed became the building of framed residences, made of adobe on plinth of stones, jointed with earth. Part of the survived monumental town complexes were inhabited, but not according to their initial purpose. The general decline reflected over them as well and is visible in superstructures and division of premises, mainly through adobe and other light materials, the construction of new household facilities inside, etc.Similar fate was shared by the horreum next to the western fortification wall and the barracks to the north of it, where production facilities were accommodated. Chronologically, the beginning of this second phase is placed in the years following the large Kutrigur invasion of 558/559 and its end coincides with the end of the existence of the Late Antiquity town, destroyed during some of the Avar-Slav invasions at the end of the 6th century.