Bulgaria in Antiquity. An Archaeological Introduction

Ralph Hoddinott


Historical Outline





Sixth century b.c.


By 600 Apollonia Pontica was already established. Odessos followed about 585 or 570 and Dionysopolis later.


In 513 Darius’ Scythian expedition included the Persian conquest of Thrace, parts of which remained under Persian domination until the 460s.


Fifth century b.c.


By 493, possibly earlier, Mesambria was founded.


About 465 the Persian withdrawal was completed and was followed by the rise of the Thracian Odrysian state, under Teres, incorporating non-Odrysian tribes and based in south-east Thrace. Although said at its peak to have stretched from the Danube to the Aegean, it probably never subjected the Bessi, Getai, or tribes of the west. In 429, Teres’ son and successor Sitalkes’ invasion of Macedonia with a large army, of independent as well as subject tribes, failed through lack of unity and discipline. In 424, Sitalkes was killed fighting the Triballi. After the death of Seuthes, the Odrysian kingdom was split among three successors. Xenophon was in Thrace at the turn of the century.


Fourth century b.c.


In 376, the Triballi, probably pressed by the Celts, invaded southern Thrace, reaching Abdera.


In 352-51, Philip II of Macedonia subdued Thrace south of the Danube and in 341-40 annexed the territory. Certain Thracian centres, including Philippopolis, were settled with Macedonians and created cities.


In 336, Philip was succeeded by Alexander the Great, who quickly crushed Thracian revolts. During his Asian expedition, the Getai rose and routed a punitive force. An Odrysian rising, led by another Seuthes, was suppressed by Antipater.


In 323, Lysimachos became ruler of Thrace. His firm measures and installation of garrisons in the Black Sea cities aroused resentment among both Greeks and Thracians, and led to several revolts. His relations with Seuthes, initially hostile, are later obscure. About 320-10, the latter founded Seuthopolis.


Third century b.c.


At the beginning, Lysimachos was temporarily captured by the Getic king Dromichaites, but peaceful relations were established. Thereafter, until Lysimachos’ death in 281, his main preoccupations were with the Celts, the Paeonians, and his rival Seleukos.


In 279, his successor, Ptolemaios Keraunos, died fighting the Celts. From 278 to c. 218 a Celtic group formed a kingdom in Thrace, probably based in the southeast, which was finally overthrown by a Thracian revolt. The main beneficiary of this new situation was Philip V of Macedonia, who involved Thrace as a pawn in his intrigues against the rising power of Rome.







Second century b.c.


During the first half, the conflicting ambitions of Philip Y and Rome encouraged tribal aggression and disunity. In 183, Philip invaded Thrace and temporarily occupied Philippopolis. In 179, the Bastarnae raided down the Black Sea coastal strip and reached Macedonia. In 163, Rome conquered Macedonia and thus obtained a frontier with Thrace.


The second half of the century was studded by Thracian raids and Roman punitive expeditions.


First century b.c.


During the first half, aggression by the Maidi and Dentheletai, and general tribal unrest, led to increased Roman intervention, since Thrace occupied a strategically important position in the wars between Rome and Mithridates of Pontos. In 72, a major Roman expedition reached the Black Sea coast, subjugating the southern cities.


In 73-71, Spartakos, a Thracian slave-gladiator, led a revolt of 70,000 slaves in Italy.


C. 50 b.c., trans-Danubian Daco-Getic tribes, led by Burebista, invaded Thrace and reached Apollonia. A full-scale Daco-Roman confrontation was averted only by the contemporaneous assassinations of Julius Caesar and Burebista.


Augustus 27 b.c. - a.d. 14


In 27, Rome established vassal kingdoms south of the Danube, thus confining resistance to guerrilla warfare, mainly by the Bessi. But the tempo of raids and invasions from north of the Danube by Dacians, Sarmatians, and Bastarnae increased.


During 14-12, Roman detachments were established along the south bank of the Danube as far as the river Yantra.





First century a.d.


Tiberius 14-37 Caligula 37-41 Claudius 41-54 Nero 54-68 Galba 68-69 Vespasian 69-79 Domitian 81-96 Trajan 98-117


Mainly due to the Dacian and Bastarnae threat, the Roman province of Moesia was constituted by a.d. 6. Subjected to intensive Romanisation, it was essentially a military zone, occupying the south bank of the Danube east of Pannonia, the Dobroudja, and the Black Sea coast, with legionary headquarters at Oescus, Novae, and Durostorum. Only the established Greek cities retained their civic autonomy.


The interior remained under the rule of vassal kings until 46, when it was transformed into the province of Thracia, extending from the north slopes of the Stara Planina to the Aegean. Although detribalised, it retained Greek as its official language and its Thraco-Hellenistic culture. Romanisation was not attempted. Roads were built for military purposes, including the ‘Diagonal’ from Naissus across the Western uplands and the Thracian plain to the Bosphorus, the Danube road, and others running north-south. But the countryside





was neglected, being regarded only as a source of food and conscripts - and potential unrest.


Sarmatian and Dacian raids increased, especially during the latter half of the century. To meet the Dacian threat, Moesia was reorganised by Domitian into Moesia Inferior and Moesia Superior, the border being the Tsibritsa river.


Second century a.d.


Trajan 98-117 Hadrian 117-38 Antoninus Pius 138-61 Marcus Aurelius 161-80 Commodus 180-93 Septimius Severus 193-211


Rome was victorious in the First Dacian war (101-02), but Moesia Inferior was subsequently invaded by Dacians, Sarmatians, and Bastarnae. The Second Dacian war (105-06) and the Roman annexation of Dacia began a period of peace and prosperity for Moesia and Thracia, reflected in the expansion of existing cities and garrison towns and new strategic foundations by Trajan in Thracia, always on Hellenistic lines with immigration from Asia Minor encouraged. The rural economy was assisted by the development of emporia.


The Costoboki invasion of 170-71 resulted in the fortification of hitherto open cities and in a general strengthening of defences. Depopulation by plague may have led to much resettlement of territories by defeated invaders.


Third century a.d.


Septimius Severus 193-211 Caracalla 211-17 Elagabalus 218-22 Alexander Severus 222-35 Maximinus Thrax 235-38 Gordian III 238-44 Philip the Arab 244-49 Decius 249-51 Valerianus 253-60 Gallienus 253-68 Claudius II Gothicus 268-70 Aurelian 270-75 Probus 276-82 Diocletian 284-305


During the first half, both Moesias and Thracia reached their peak of prosperity under Rome, although in 238 Karps, Goths, and Sarmatians invaded the northeast. Under Septimius Severus, Moesia Inferior gained Nicopolis-ad-Istrum. The further promotion of emporia and increased local recruiting with opportunities for military promotion encouraged the growth of rural prosperity. A Thracian soldier, Maximinus Thrax, rose from the ranks to the imperial throne after the murder of Alexander Severus - to meet the same fate at the hands of his own troops.


Gothic invasions, already begun in the reigns of Gordian and Philip, reached a climax in 250-51, when Philippopolis was sacked and Decius defeated and killed near Abritus. Twenty years’ devastation of the countryside followed, only the fortified cities remaining secure, until in 269-70 the Goths were decisively vanquished by Claudius.


Aurelian’s planned withdrawal from Dacia between 271 and 275 was followed by the reinforcement of the Danube limes. Dacian Roman or Romanised refugees were resettled, mainly in two newly constituted provinces south of the Danube - Dacia Ripensis, administered from Ratiaria and having, approximately, the Iskur-Vit watershed as its boundary with Moesia Inferior (renamed Moesia Secunda), and Dacia Mediterranea, administered from Serdica and including the territory of Naissus. Another Gothic invasion in 278 was followed by the settlement in depopulated Moesia Secunda of Gothic, Sarmatian, and Saracen prisoners to promote agricultural production. By the end of the century the





Visigoths, firmly established north of the Danube and separated from the Ostrogoths in south Russia, had replaced the original Gothic group as the main trans-Danubian danger.


The beginnings of the division of the empire into East and West appeared with Diocletian’s administrative reorganisation, which separated the Prefecture of Illyricum (including the Dioceses of Ulyricum, Macedonia, and Dacia and their component provinces) from the Prefecture of the East. The latter included the Diocese of Thracia, composed of the provinces of Scythia, Moesia Secunda, and, south of the Stara Planina, Thracia, Rhodope, Haemimontus, and Europa. (To avoid confusion, henceforth the term ‘Thracia’ is used in this book to denote the diocese, not the new province.) The border between the two Prefectures lay along the Iskur-Vit watershed, the Succi-Ihtiman pass, and the Mesta valley.


Fourth century a.d.


Diocletian 284-305 Constantine 306-37 Constantine and Licinius 311-24 Constantine sole emperor 324-37 Constantins II 337-61 Julian 361-63 Valens 364-78 Theodosius I 379-95 Arcadius 395-408


Galerius, Caesar of Illyricum and Thracia from 293 to 311, and Constantine were engaged during the early part of the century in repelling Visigothic attacks (which continued intermittently during subsequent reigns) and with the refortification of the limes.


Christianity, after a final persecution, developed as a major factor of imperial policy. In 325, Constantine’s presence at the Council of Nicaea established a permanent link between Church and state, their administration jointly based on Diocletian’s reorganisation. The work of the Council included the condemnation of the Eastern monotheistic doctrine of Arianism.


Thracia increased in strategic importance when Constantine established Constantinople as his imperial capital in 330. His heirs again followed Diocletian’s reorganisation in dividing the empire, with Thracia in the Eastern and Illyricum in the Western half.


In 343, the Council of Serdica’s disastrous attempt to resolve the Arian controversy widened the religious gap between East and West.


In 376, Valens’ agreement to the settlement of Visigoths in Moesia Secunda was wrecked by the rapacity of local officials, leading to full-scale warfare. In 378, Valens was defeated and killed near Hadrianopolis. Rural Thracia again suffered devastation. In 382, peace was concluded and the Visigoths settled as foederati in Moesia Secunda.





In 380, the Edict of Thessalonica confirmed Christianity as the only legal religion in the empire. In 382, eastern Illyricum was ceded to the Eastern empire, joining the two Dacian provinces and Macedonia to the Diocese of Thracia.


Permanent division of the empire followed Theodosius’s death, Honorius taking the West and Arcadius the East.


In 400, the Visigoths left Moesia for Italy.





Fifth century a.d.


Arcadius 395-408 Theodosius II 408-50 Marcian 450-57 Leo I 457-74 Zeno 474-75 Basiliscus 475-76 Zeno (again) 476-91 Anastasius I 491-518


The first half was shadowed by the growing menace of the Huns, although their first invasion in 408, which captured Castra Martis, was repulsed. A quartercentury of relative peace bought by heavy annual tribute permitted refortification of the limes and a degree of economic recovery. Byzantine acceptance of new, humiliating terms in 435 failed to prevent major invasions between 441 and 451. For the first time many fortified centres fell to the enemy and heavy damage was inflicted on most major cities.


After Attila’s death in 453, the Ostrogoths succeeded the Huns as the main trans-Danubian power, invading Thracia from 463 onwards and pursuing internecine strife on Thracian and Macedonian soil. Zeno’s intrigues and grant to Theodoric the Amal of a realm based on Novae did not prevent an invasion in 486 which reached the walls of Constantinople. In 488, Theodoric and his Ostrogoths left for Italy, and towards the end of the century, a major programme of general refortification of the limes and the rest of Thracia began under Anastasius. At the turn of the century the future rulers of the land, the Bulgars, made their first unsuccessful raids.


Sixth century a.d.


Anastasius I 491-518 Justin I 518-27 Justinian 527-65 Justin II 565-78 Tiberius II Constantine 578-82 Maurice 582-602


The refortification programme, accompanied by a great expansion of church building, was continued under Justin I and Justinian. To help the land recover, Thracia’s normal responsibility to provide grain for cities and troops was remitted, but this did not prevent a serious revolt, motivated also by religious questions, of peasants and Gothic foederati, led by Vitalian in 513-18.


Bulgar raids decreased, but Slav pressure and infiltration in increasing numbers from early in the century gradually developed from a source of labour and recruitment into one of danger, forcing the civil population of Moesia to leave the lowlands for hill fortresses. By mid-century the Slav invasions had become more numerous and aggressive and had reached the Thracian plain. A Byzantine invitation to the Avars, now the major power north of the Danube, to attack the Slavs in 580 merely resulted in an Avaro-Slav coalition and the Avar capture and destruction of most northern cities, although at the end of the century many fortresses still remained in Byzantine hands.


Seventh century a.d.


Maurice 582-602 Phocas 602-10 Heraclius 610-41 Constans II 641-68 Constantine IV 668-85 Justinian II 625-95


During the anarchy of Phocas’ reign the Avars and Slavs overthrew most of the surviving fortresses and the Slavs completed the settlement of the countryside unopposed. All but the major coastal cities, such fortresses as Philippopolis and Serdica on the ‘Diagonal’, and possibly some in remote, impregnable situations elsewhere, succumbed during the next fifty years.





Heraclius, preoccupied with the Persian danger, could not concentrate his resources against the Avars, but a mighty Avaro-Slav attempt by land and sea to take Constantinople was decisively defeated in 626 and the Avar power finally broken.


The Slav occupation and settlement of the Balkans was such that the military reconquest of Thracia had ceased to be a practical proposition. Any possibility of peaceful absorption of the Slavs into the Byzantine empire was destroyed by the reappearance of the Bulgars in 681.


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