Sexaginta Prista

Name:TheliteraltranslationofthenameSexagintaPristais “sixtyships” (Prististype). At the reached level of research it is considered that initially it was the name of a station of the Roman river fleet, which appeared in the middle of the 1st century AD at the mouth of the Rousse Lom river. It was the base of 60 ships of the Pristis type, which patrolled along the border with the barbarians. The name Sexaginta Prista was also used for the Early Roman camp, built in the time of Emperor Domitian, as well as by the studied Late Roman fortification on the Danube riverbank.

Written sources: Sexaginta Prista is mentioned initially in the Roman road map - itinerarium, composed by Claudius Ptolemy around the middle of the 2nd century, as Priste polis (Пρίστη πόλις). With the name Pristis and Sexanta pristis (Pristis, Sexantapristis) it is presented in other road maps – Tabula Peutingeriana and Itinerarium Antonini, which reflect the geographical reality in the time of emperors Augustus and Caracalla. There, along with the name of the fort, are also indicated the distances in Roman miles to the neighboring forts of Trimammium and Tegra. In the “List of Offices” (Notitia Dignitatum), written at the end of the 4th – the early 5th century, is noted a cavalry detachment and military units of the First Italic Legion, stationed in Sexaginta Prista (Sexagintaprista). FromthesameperiodisalsothetextofSocratestheScholasticregardingthemovingofBishopPolycarpusfromScantapriston (Σξαντάπρίστων) to Nicopolis ad Nestum. In his work “On the Buildings”, Procopius of Caesarea mentions Scentaprista (Σξεντάπρίστα) among the fortifications restored by Justinian I. Sexaginta Prista is mentioned as Pistos (Πίστος)by Theophilact Simocatta.

Location: On the base of the distances between the military forts along the Danube, marked in the Roman road maps, Felix Kanitz determined the location of Sexaginta Prista within the outlines of the contemporary town of Rousse. Until today, with certainty is determined the location of the Late Roman fort – on a natural hill in the central part of the town. It is located immediately next to the Danube riverbank, close to the mouth of the Rousse Lom river, within the yard of the Officers’ Club. There is no certain data for the location of the fleet base and the Early Roman camp. The latter was probably located around 1,5 km to the south of the Late Roman fortification, where during construction works are registered remains of a fortification wall.

History of the research:Evidenceaboutthefirst “research” on its territory isgivenby Karel Skorpil. They took place in 1878, when the Catholic abbot of Rousse excavated a “building with mosaics”.Sincethen, duringconstructionworksareregisterednumerousremainsofancientbuildings and graves. The first rescue excavations are conducted in 1976-1978 and were directed by the archaeologist Dimitar Stanchev. At that time are revealed sections of the northwestern fortification wall and tower, with the belonging buildings in the interior and an area of around 1000 sq. m.At the end of 2004, during excavations for the building of a hotel, are unearthed the remains of ancient buildings. During the conducted rescue excavations in 2005-2010 are studied entirely around 550 sq. m. and is unearthed the military headquarters of the Late Roman fort (the Principia), which overlaps an earlier Temple of Apollo and the Thracian Horseman. In 2012, in connection to the socialization of the remains, are studied furthermore 75 sq. m., revealing a section of a 6th-century building. 

Attheendof 2014 duringexcavationsforafenceoftheOfficers’ Club was revealed a fortification wall, which caused new rescue excavations. In 2015-2016 were studied another 400 sq. m. and were revealed sections of the southeastern fortification wall, a U-shaped tower and buildings from the 4th-6th century.    

Revealedstructures:Fromtheearliestlevelofhabitation (theThracian) until now are revealed two kilns, five stone and six clay grounds and 143 pits. One of the kilns is used to baking pottery, and the other – a hhousehold furnace for preparing food. The grounds were most likely used as fireplaces and have diameters from 0.90 to 1.50 m. The diameters of the pits are most often within 1.00-1.50 m, and their depth – 1.50-2.50 m, but there are also such with diameters over 5.00 m and depth of 4.00 m.They contain various inventory, predominant among which are the fragments of ceramic vessels, household items: whetstones, millstones, spindle whorls, loom weights, items of bone and metal. Along with them, the earth that fills the pits is mixed with ash, coals, pieces of bricked clay, stones and animal bones. Inside the pits are found the bones of two children at early age.

Over the Thracian level are located the remains of several buildings from the Early Roman period. One of them is a sanctuary, dedicated to the anonymous Thracian deity – the Thracian Horseman, and to Apollo. Only the eastern section of the building is preserved, where inside the apse are discovered votive plates to the Thracian Horseman and Apollo, as well as an altar to Apollo. On the inside, the temple has been coated with plaster, painted in white and red. In proximity are revealed the walls of two other buildings from the same period, along with 17 pits.Withinthefillingofthelatterarediscoveredfragmentsofpotteryandglass, fragmentsofvotiveplates, differentitemsofmetal (coins, etc.), animalbonesandothers.

Over the temple of the Thracian Horseman and Apollo, in the early 4th century is located the Principia, part of the constructed at that time Late Roman camp of Sexaginta Prista. It is a rectangular building (with northwest-southeast direction) with apse on one of the short sides, and dimensions of 29.50 m to 16.50 m.The building is three-section: to the northwest is located the apse with the “shrine of standards”, which has a preserved brick floor. The next premise is a representative hall, over which was discovered the fallen roof construction. The southeast premise is a peristyle yard, with colonnade. Along with the walls, there are also six pillar bases preserved. Later, when the building has no longer executed the functions of a military headquarters, the yard has been divided into three premises.

Intheearly 4thcenturywerealsoconstructedthefortificationwallsofSexagintaPrista, ofwhichabout 100 marerevealedsofar, onecornersquaretower, oneU-shapedtowerandsectionofthesoutheastgate, largelydemolishedbythecontemporarystreetof “Odrin”. In one of the sections the preserved superstructure of the wall reaches 7.00 m, and its thickness is within 2.70 to 3.00 m.

There are also six buildings from the 5th-6th century revealed, located next to the fortification walls. Within the context of the structures from the period there are few finds discovered, the largest number of which are coins. Outside the fortification walls there are also several pits studied, which belong to the first half of the 5th century.

Within the studied area are discovered several Christian graves. No inventory is found inside them. They belong to a necropolis, which has been located on the hill.

From the Late Ottoman period are studied the remains of three houses and around thirty septic pits. Along with them, a tunnel is registered, which has been observed and described by Karel Skorpil. Large quantity of pottery and pipes is found, fragmented metal and glass items, part of them being imported by the western parts of the continent.

Finds and chronology:

Thracian pit field.The finds from the Thracian level are mainly from the filling of the pits. Some of them are ground for their proper dating and interpretation. Such are for example the stamps on amphora handles, of which until the present moment are found 47 pieces, most of them being from Rhodes. There are also such from Sinope, Heraclea Pontica, Knidos, and nine are local imitations. Other important dating finds are the discovered coins and fibulae. Until now there are 25 coins discovered, the earliest of them being from the 5th century BC, and the latest – from Emperor Augustus. Local imitations are predominant, dated in the period from the middle of the 2nd century – the beginning of the 1st century BC. The unearthed fibulae are 18, divided in two chronological groups: dated in the 4th-3rd century BC and in the 1st century BC – 1st century AD. At this stage of research the period of functioning of the pit field is placed within the 2nd century BC – 1st century AD.

Temple of the Thracian Horseman and Apollo.Intheapseofthesanctuaryandinsidepitsinproximityisfoundonelimestonealtar, 4 intactmarblevotiveplates, 60 marblefragmentsofotherplatesanditems, silverring, bronzefibula, coins, fragmentsofpottery (amongthemimportedaswell – terra sigillata), lamp and other items. Over several of the plates there are dedication inscriptions preserved, written in Greek and in Latin by the veteran Mark Ulpius Victor, by the soldier of the XI Claudian Legion Gaius Valerius Crescens and by Julius Renatus.In 2015 was discovered a limestone altar with dedication inscriptions, fragment of large limestone votive plate with the Thracian horseman, as well as other architectural details from the period 2nd-3rd century. All of them are reused as spolia in subsequent constructions (in the construction of the southeast fortification wall). According to the discovered finds, the construction of the Sanctuary is placed during the reign of emperors Hadrian/Antoninus Pius and functioned until the middle of the 3rd century.

Within the area of the Late Roman fort are also found around ten earlier inscriptions, probably reused during its construction. One of them mentions the name of Sexaginta Prista, and the others – the military units stationed here – these are the Second Mattiacos cohort and the Second Flavian Breton cohort, with the first one also being testified by the stamped construction pottery on the site.

Late Roman and Early Byzantine fort of Sexaginta Prista.Its construction is referred to the first decades of the 4th century. Part of the buildings, among which is the Principia, functioned until the end of the same century. This is proven by a small coin hoard, within the context of the fallen roof construction of the "shrine of standards" of the Principia. It is possible that in the second half of the 5th century the fort to have been abandoned temporarily, and after that - to have been inhabited again until the end of the 6th century. This is testified by the discovered over 800 coins from the 4th-6th century period, among which there are none from the second half of the 5th century. The last emissions are of Justin II and Sophia. Among the other finds it is worth noting the small number of pottery and tile fragments with stamps of the I Italic Legion, RVMORID, as well as the not-testified until now NOVAS.

Medieval level.In only small section of the studied area is discovered a level with materials of the Middle Ages or earlier periods alone. Nine coins are found in total - anonymous folles dated in 976-1035. From the same period are also the other discovered Medieval finds and pottery. They probably originate from an unfortified settlement, whose remains are destroyed by structures from subsequent periods. There is a possibility for the inhabitants of the settlement to have been foederati of the Byzantine Empire (Pechenegs?).   

Necropolis.Since the graves, excavated in 1976-1978 have not been documented, and the grave excavated in 2005 is partially destroyed by the 19th-century tunnel, the necropolis cannot be dated accurately. Until the present day it is known that it is a Christian one and can be placed in the 16th-18th century period (with lack of finds). It is a certain evidence that in proximity to the necropolis there has been a Christian neighborhood.

Late Ottoman level.Probably at a later stage, the Christian population has been moved to the interior and at the end of the 18th-19th century the studied hill was inhabited by Muslim population. From this period are the remains of several buildings and over 20 septic pits. There is also a stone tunnel discovered, described by Karel Skorpil, part of the earthwork fortification Kirk Cami. Large number of finds are discovered, with the ones that are preserved in better condition being from the pits. Large amount of them are imported - from West and Central Europe, but also such from the Middle East. They are in favor of the known fact that at that time Rousse was a large port and commercial center.

The 19th-20th century level.During the Russian-Ottoman wars the town (and the hill in particular) has been an arena of military actions, which is proven by the numerous finds, related to wars. In 2005 was discovered an intact and blind shell from the Liberation war of 1877-1878.

In the beginning of the 20th century (1911) during the regulation of the riverbank zone, has been destroyed a section of the northwestern fortification wall. In the present day the hill where the Temple of Apollo is located, along with the Late Roman fort of Sexgainta Prista, is built-up, but not densely. Over the remains of the fort are constructed several residential houses, garages, the Officer's Club and the Summer Theater, which in course has demolished around 1/3 of the fort's area.