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Piece of ancient Roman warrior’s diploma. Source: Deultum Archaeological Preserve / Fair Use.

Roman Diploma Unearthed In Bulgaria Spells Out Warrior’s Freedom

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A tiny, rare and unique piece of a Roman military diploma has been unearthed in the ancient Roman city of Deultum near the village of Debelt in Bulgaria.

Deultum was built in the 1st century AD during the reign of Emperor Vespasian in what is now the southern Bulgarian town of Debelt in the Sredets Municipality. In Roman times Deultum was known as ‘Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium’. Along with Ratiaria near Archar and Ulpia Oescus near Gigen, Deultum was a Roman colony of such great importance that Roman law gave the city equal status to that of Rome itself and this was the only colony of free Roman citizens on the present Bulgarian territory.

The ancient city boasts a huge Roman bathhouse and 2nd century AD temples, an ancient Roman villa, and many lapidarium with inscriptions and parts of statues. Only last week, an article in Archaeology in Bulgaria announced that archaeologists studying the northern fortress wall discovered an “untypical and well preserved fortress tower” dating to the Late Roman / Early Byzantine period of the ancient Roman colony.

Part of the ancient Roman city of Deultum. (The Roman city Deultum / Facebook)

Part of the ancient Roman city of Deultum. (The Roman city Deultum / Facebook)

The fortress was built around the famous ‘Year of the Four Emperors’, 69 AD, that saw the succession of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. After the civil war this colony was reserved for military veterans from the Augustus’ VIII Legion (Legio VIII Augusta).

Fragmentary New Findings

Krassimira Kostova, the director of the archaeological reserve, described the new find as “unique” and added that it was “the first such discovery in close to 40 years of archaeological excavations”. An article in SofiaGlobe says the 1.6 inch (4 centimeter) square tiny fragment is part of “a bronze plaque, the kind issued to auxiliary soldiers who had served at least 25 years and were rewarded with full Roman civil rights”.

Kostova told reporters that graphologist Professor Nikolai Sharankov examined the fragment establishing “the diploma contained an excerpt from a decree of the Roman emperor Adrian, issued on July 17 122, which dismissed serving soldiers from auxiliary units in the Roman province of Lower Dacia”. It is thought that Roman emperors continued to settle veterans in the city to maintain Roman presence in Deultum.

Ruins of ancient city Deultum. (Pudelek / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ruins of ancient city Deultum. (Pudelek / CC BY-SA 3.0)

New Archaeological Facilities

Deultum was first declared an archaeological preserve in 1988 and after 30 years of being criticized for its substandard public services an expansive renovation of the archaeological preserve was carried out in 2014/2015 by the Sredets Municipality and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, with 1.55 million US dollars (1.4 million euros) of EU funding.

A 2015 Archaeology in Bulgaria article announced that the new preserve offers a workshop in the basic processing of ceramic fragments discovered during the archaeological excavation. What’s more, the new museum of Deultum features “a restoration hall, a virtual hall, a library and reading room, teaching facilities, and an exhibition room dedicated to the local biodiversity”.

The restoration project was entitled Deultum – Door to the Mysterious Strandzha Mountain and no article about this part of the world would be complete without at least dipping a toe into the mystery soaked mountain range.

Strandzha Mountains. (Bin im Garten / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Strandzha Mountains. (Bin im Garten / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The word Strandzha (Stranja) comes from an old Bulgarian word ‘stran’ or strange, and perhaps the most unusual of the hundreds of bizarre events recorded here in modern times revolves around a top-secret 1981 archaeological expedition led by the eccentric daughter of the communist dictator Todor Zhivkov with the Bulgarian military.

Egyptian Gods Shadow The Roman Colony

An Economist article tells us that Zhivkov was using “a coded map to search for the tomb of the Egyptian cat-headed goddess Bastet and the secret of life itself” and that her team eventually excavated inside “a hill of ancient quarries” called Golyamo Gradishte. Conspiracy theorists say almost everyone involved, from the soldiers to Zhivkova herself, died mysteriously and that the KGB were accused of having tried “to stop her unearthing occult knowledge” while others think the string of deaths were “unleashed by ancient forces”.

A Vagabond article says, “according to Stoyanova, the diggers found the place when they saw the image of a bearded man, probably Moses, and of a pharaoh appear on a rock with three stone circles carved on its surface and that “everyone present was both mesmerized and scared”. Another account by excavator Krastyu Mutafchiev claimed a number of “strange objects” were discovered at the peak which were sent for analysis, “never to be seen again”.

What really happened, if anything, on the mysterious mountain peak in 1981 remains unknown but many scholars maintain that the secret expedition had excavated nothing more than an ancient mine and most skeptics believe that the dig was no more than a state organized treasure hunt at a time the state “organized illegal export of antiquities to sell for hard currency”.

Top image: Piece of ancient Roman warrior’s diploma. Source: Deultum Archaeological Preserve / Fair Use.

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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