THE EVER ELUSIVE NAME

HERACLEA PONTICA?!? The issue of the name of the archaeological site at Cape St. Atanas during its various periods of existence remains one of the most problematic for archaeologists.

by Deyan Yanchev


On the one hand, reliable data on the region of the Bulgarian Middle Black Sea coast is too scarce. There are few preserved maps from Antiquity, more from the Middle Ages, but the site was then abandoned. On the other hand, research and archaeological studies have revealed that Cape St. Atanas had been inhabited for more than 1300 years – from the 6th century BC until 7th century AD.

According to Petar Balabanov, in the 5th century BC, several emporia (trade colonies) of Mesembria (present-day Nessebar) were founded on the Black Sea coast, one of which at Naulochos (present-day Obzor) and another at Cape Emine.

According to many authors, an antique market (emporium) named Heraklion was located at today’s Irakli area. In Greek Heraklion is pronounced sumilarly [iˈraklio]. It is supposed that the name derives from Heracles (the Roman Hercules). But to date, no archaeological evidence is found that there was any ancient emporium in the Irakli area.

Map from 18th century
A fragment of “Places of the World in Five Parts” (1781) by the Viennese cartographer Franz von Riley designates Heraklea / Irakli north of Cape Emine

In 2013, the remains of a large building at the south-eastern end of Cape St. Atanas were discovered, together with six marble statues, sculptural compositions and votive tablets, representing different scenes from the heroic exploits of the ancient Greek demigod Heracles . During the Roman imperial period, Heracles was widely worshiped by Greeks, Thracians, and Romans. The inscriptions on three of the compositions, as well as the artistic style, date back to the 2nd and 3rd century. Near this area of Cape St. Atanas several Roman bronze coins were also found dating from the first half of the 3rd century.

Marble statues
Sculptures of Heracles found on Cape St. Atanas

Certainly we can say that these findings are a testimony to the existence of a temple devoted to Heracles at Cape St. Atanas during the Roman imperial period [Yotov, 2014].

Whether the discovery has a direct relation to Heraklion at the foot of the eastern end of the Balkan Mountain or the lost emporium can be located somewhere near Obzor and Byala? Only future exploration of the archaeological site will give more clarity.

Picture3
Йотов, В., А. Минчев и др. 2014. Приноси към историята на Бяла (от древността до 1878 г.). Варна, Онгъл, 101-103, 152-153.

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