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Aerial view of excavations at the fortress in Ahtopol, Bulgaria.

Bulgarian City Named for Love has a Long History of Being Attacked and Bombarded

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Archaeologists have excavated an ancient fortress on a small peninsula in Bulgaria occupied since at least the Neolithic and have found the Roman-occupied town was destroyed by barbarian tribes in the 4th century AD and attacked by many other people through the ages.

After centuries of attack, bombardment and upheaval, the town of Ahtopol, once known as Agathopolis, is now a peaceful seaside resort village on the Black Sea. For a city that one legend says was named after love ( agape), its violent history is somewhat incongruous.

The city came under attack again and again by barbarians and various empires throughout history. It was overrun by barbarians in late antiquity, bombarded by the Genoese navy in 1352 and occupied by one empire after another over the years. Pirates burned the town many times, as recently as 1918. The city and its fortress have been rebuilt several times.

“This Late Roman settlement, which was burned down, shows what the fate of the Roman [city of] Ahtopol was at the time of the Great Exodus when Huns, Goths, Vandals , and other peoples started to devastate the Eastern Roman Empire after the middle of the 4 th century. It was no accident that after these events Ahtopol was fortified with a mighty fortress wall ," the blog Archaeology in Bulgaria states .

Part of the Agathopolis fortress wall, Ahtopol, Bulgaria.

Part of the Agathopolis fortress wall, Ahtopol, Bulgaria. ( Vortex Foundation )

One of the key finds of the archaeological excavations was a stone building and north gate from the late Roman era, the blog states, leaving evidence for archaeologists all along.

Other important discoveries include Genoese cannon balls and ancient and medieval artifacts, including clay lamps, glass vessels, luxury dishes and many coins. One beautiful gold coin that was uncovered comes from the time of Roman Emperor Justinian I. The Romans minted the coin to pay for the reconstruction of the fort in the Byzantine era, but it never circulated and still has what is called its production polish, archaeologists said.

The Roman gold coin found recently during excavations of Agathopolis was minted to pay for reconstruction of the fort after incursions by barbarians.

The Roman gold coin found recently during excavations of Agathopolis was minted to pay for reconstruction of the fort after incursions by barbarians. ( Tsarevo Municipality Facebook page )

The coin is evidence that the fort was reconstructed during the later 6th century AD. Previously, scholars had speculated it was built during the rule of Anastasius I Dicorus, who reigned from 491 to 518, the blog states. The fortress wall was 3 to 4 meters high (10 to 13 feet) and 1.8 to 2.5 meters thick (6 feet to 8 feet).

Many other coins from the reigns of Justinian I and Maurice (582-602) have been unearthed there. These coins have been associated with the fortress’ second construction phase in the third quarter of the sixth century.

The Vortex Foundation’s report on the work of volunteers at the site also mentions that the team unearthed a skeleton from a Christian funeral at the site.

Skeleton unearthed at the site. Ahtopol, Bulgaria.

Skeleton unearthed at the site. Ahtopol, Bulgaria. ( Vortex Foundation )

The last reconstructions of Ahtopol’s medieval fortifications were carried out from the middle of the 14 th century to beginning of the 15 th century, the archaeologists concluded, based on their recent excavations.

The town’s rich history includes its founding by Greeks in 430 BC. Before that, the ancient Thracian tribe of the Thyni settled the peninsula during the Iron Age. Archaeologists are pretty sure Thracians were there because in the past they found a votive tablet with an image of and inscription to Heros or the Thracian Horseman, the supreme deity of the Thracians.

View of a Thracian ruler’s residence found in the Tsarevo municipality in late 2015. Some coins uncovered at the residence.

View of a Thracian ruler’s residence found in the Tsarevo municipality in late 2015. Some coins uncovered at the residence. ( Tsarevo Municipality Facebook page )

Under the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th centuries AD the town was named Peronticus. During the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire in the 5th to 7th centuries barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs destroyed the town. Byzantine general Agathon rebuilt it, and some say he named the town for himself. Others say it was named Agathopolis since 323 BC.

t may look peaceful now, but the beach of the city of Ahtopol was the site of much violence and war down through the ages.

It may look peaceful now, but the beach of the city of Ahtopol was the site of much violence and war down through the ages. ( Nenko Lazarov/CC BY 2.5 )

“According to one legend, Agathopolis was first established as the home of Delphin, son of Poseidon, and Agatha, daughter of Zeus. Zeus was angered by their relationship so he dispatched an army against them, but a burrowing owl woke them up and saved them. Thus, Delphin killed the enemies and founded a city called Agapi-polis (city of love) on the Black Sea coast,” the blog states.

There was further conflict in the area as the city changed hands between the Byzantine Empire and Bulgarian Empire until the end of the 14 th century AD. The Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453 and it remained an important port under them, Archaeology in Bulgaria states. The city was liberated by Bulgaria in 1912 during the Balkan War.

Featured image: Aerial view of excavations at the fortress in Ahtopol, Bulgaria. Source: Tsarevo Municipality Facebook Page

By: Mark Miller

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