Based on findings and data from the archaeological research to date, it is known that Cape St. Atanas had mainly cult and sacred significance until the 2nd or early 3rd century of the New Age. By the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century, the cape had gradually acquired another destination for the local population – that of a “refugium” or a refuge during difficult and dangerous times.
by Deyan Yanchev
With the beginning of the archaeological research in 2009, we started to investigate, systemize and publish the archaeological monuments in the area of today’s municipality of Byala. In 2014 we also published the first archaeological map of the Bulgarian Middle Black Sea Coast, with an emphasis on the area of Byala.
The data showed that the territory of the entire municipality, not only of Cape St. Atanas, has been inhabited since the Antiquity (6th – 5th century BC). Several antique settlements are located within the modern town of Byala and others in the areas of the villages of Gospodinovo, Dyulino, Popovich and Goritsa. Below are some of the atrefacts found in the areas of these ancient settlements.
According to V. Yotov, there was a Thracian cult center in the early centuries of the Greek colonization of the Western Black Sea coast (6th-5th century BC) on Cape St. Atanas. The local population from the surrounding ancient settlements gathered together at the cape on various holiday occasions, feasts were organized, pagan rituals were performed, and gifts were given to the gods.
But what had caused the need for the construction of a fortified wall, protective facilities and conversion of Cape St. Atanas into a “refugium” during late antiquity?
One of the hypotheses is that the most likely reason for this is the beginning of the Migration Period, which actually began in the 1st century AD, but marked its peak after the Huns’ invasion of Europe in the 4th century. As a result of these persistent barbarian invasions, in the 3rd century began a process of turning the Danube into the natural border of the Roman Empire and restoring south of the river many of the old defense centers and creating new ones (Rizos, 2015).
According to E. Rizos (2015), the construction of military repositories or “horrea” is very characteristic of the reconstruction and creation of these strongholds. The “horrea” were built to store the annual “annona”. “Annona militaris” was a tax in kind (wine, meat, oil, bread), which served for additional payment to the Roman soldiers. The tax was introduced by Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211) and was widely distributed in the Roman Empire until the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great (280-337). The main function of the fortresses, as major suppliers of the Roman army, was in fact the preservation of the “annona”; both imported goods from the Mediterranean and supplies produced in the surrounding territories of the fortresses. Therefore most of these strongholds were located in fertile valleys, near river or sea ports, as well as on key Roman roads (Rizos, 2015). Most of these Roman fortresses did not last until the middle of the 5th century. The reasons for this are under serious debate.
But this is not the case with our fortress. During the archaeological season of 2014, we found south of the basilica the foundations of a Roman fortress wall (3rd century AD), as well as a furnace for household ceramics, with preserved Roman clay pots in it, from the same period.
These discoveries, as well as the characteristic of the place – situated in a fertile valley, above a seaport and on the main Roman road “Via Pontica”, give us grounds to believe that the fortress dates exactly from the 3rd century. Until the beginning of the 5th century, it grew and became a fortified settlement or a small port town. During barbarian invasions and natural cataclysms, the fortress served as a refuge (refugium) for the population of the neighboring settlements. Its production character has also been preserved and developed over the centuries, as well as the sacred significance of Cape St. Atanas – from a Thracian cult center in the 5th century BC to a Christian episcopate in 6th century AD.
Considering the fact that the fortress dates back to the 3rd century and no modern settlement is built on top of it, its future archaeological research can bring valuable information about the history, not only of the region, but also of the history of the period.
Йотов, В. Нос Свети Атанас – Култов център от преди 2500 години: Интервю // ОКИ /музей/ – гр. Бяла (museumbyala.com). 24.05.2017, [Електронна статия]
Rizos, E. Centres of the Late Roman Military Supply Network in the Balkans: a Survey of Horrea, 2015. [Online Resource]. 24.05.2017, [Available here]