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Roman Legions, Battle of Abritus

Roman Legions, Battle of Abritus


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Soon after Decius ascended to the throne in 249, barbarian tribes invaded the Roman provinces of Dacia, Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior. Two factors had contributed to growing unrest in the area north of Danube. First, Decius' predecessor Philip the Arab had refused to continue payments, initiated by Emperor Maximinus Thrax in 238, of annual subsidies to the aggressive tribes of the region. [3] Second and more important, there were continuous movements of new peoples since the time of Emperor Severus Alexander. [4] Decius may also have taken with him troops from the Danube frontier, in order to depose Philip in 249. The resultant military vacuum would inevitably attract invaders. [5]

The course of events is not clear. It seems that in 250 the Carpi invaded Dacia, eastern Moesia Superior and western Moesia Inferior. [6] At the same time, a tribal coalition under Cniva crossed the Roman frontier, probably advancing in two columns. Whether these were consisted only of Goths is rather unlikely so the name "Scythians" by which the Greek sources called them (a geographical definition) seems more appropriate. [7] It is quite possible that other people of Germanic and Sarmatian origin (like Bastarnae, Taifals and Hasdingian Vandals), perhaps Roman deserters as well, had joined the invaders. [8] However, the name of the king is indeed Gothic and probably genuine. [9]

The first column of Cniva's army, a detachment of about 20,000 or so likely led by the chieftains Argaith and Gunteric, besieged Marcianopolis, without success it seems. [10] Then they probably headed south to besiege Philippopolis (now Plovdiv in Bulgaria). Cniva's main column under the King himself crossed Danube at Oescus then headed eastwards to Novae, where he was repelled by the provincial governor (and future emperor) Trebonianus Gallus. [6] Then the invaders headed south to plunder Nicopolis ad Istrum where Decius defeated them but not decisively. [11] After these initial setbacks, the barbarians moved southwards through Haemus mountain and Decius pursued them (likely through the Shipka Pass) to save Philippopolis. [12] This time Decius' army was taken by surprise while resting at Beroe/Augusta Traiana. The Romans were heavily defeated in the ensuing battle. Decius was forced to withdraw his army to the north at Oescus, leaving Cniva ample time to ravage Moesia and finally capture Philippopolis in the summer of 251, in part with the help of its commander, a certain Titus Julius Priscus who had proclaimed himself Emperor. [13] It seems that Priscus, after receiving the news of the defeat at Beroe, thought that the Goths would spare him and the city. He was wrong and was probably killed when the city fell. [14] Then the Scythians began returning to their homeland, laden with booty and captives, among them many of senatorial rank. [12]

In the meantime, Decius had returned with his re-organized army, accompanied by his son Herennius Etruscus and the general Trebonianus Gallus, intending to defeat the invaders and recover the booty.


What did the battle order of a deployed Roman legion look like?

I am currently reading Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". In Volume 1, he describes - from a high level - the daily discipline and activites of a Roman legion, the recruitment etc. etc. Although as a former professional soldier I am already acquainted with Roman military history, I have never seen a film or animation that is more or less widely accepted viz. canonical, and depicting what a fully deployed, post-Marian reform Roman legion acies must have looked. The only thing I know is that, for sure, it must have been a formidable sight. Gibbon gives a rather abstract description of the battle order:

"Besides their arms, which the legionaries scarcely considered as an encumbrance, they were laden with their kitchen furniture, the instruments of fortification, and the provision of many days. Under this weight, which would oppress the delicacy of a modern soldier, they were trained by a regular step to advance, in about six hours, near twenty miles. On the appearance of an enemy, they threw aside their baggage, and by easy and rapid evolutions converted the column of march into an order of battle. The slingers and archers skirmished in the front the auxiliaries formed the first line, and were seconded or sustained by the strength of the legions the cavalry covered the flanks, and the military engines were placed in the rear."

(Gibbon, "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Vol. 1, Chapter 1 part III).

Hence, my question: any visual resources ? I am specifically after what an enemy commander would see, briefly before engaging a Roman legion on the battlefield. I mean: as seen through human eyes, on the battlefield, by someone facing a Roman legion, not a drawing or schematic.

PS I am not referring to the "small" legion of the Western Roman empire, but to the "classical" legion of 5000-6000 men


8. The Battle of Abritus in 251 AD saw two Roman Emperors killed

Map by “Dipa1965” via Wikimedia Commons.

Influxes of people into the Empire from the east were making Rome unstable. A Gothic-led coalition of tribes crossed the Roman frontier, pillaging through what is now Bulgaria. Roman forces sent to recover what they had taken and kick them out for good were routed.

Emperor Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus were killed and a humiliating peace settlement was enforced by the Goths, who would be back.


10 Bloodiest Roman Battles From History

The Roman Empire was one of the greatest Empires in history, and it took hundreds of epic roman battles to get there. Rome was so powerful it didn’t have many rivals who could stand up to them, but when they found someone who could the battles were not easily won. This list includes the 10 greatest Roman battles in history, including their greatest victories, and defeats. Rome had some of the greatest battle tactics of it’s time, and some of the brutal generals.

The Battle of the Trebia

This was one of the bloodiest Roman battles against the military genius Hannibal Barca. Hannibal came from a family strategists and knew exactly how to win a battle. His opponent Tiberius Sempronius Longus on the other hand was impetuous and short sighted. Tiberius underestimated his enemy and fell directly into his trap. Hannibal was waiting ready at the opposite side of the Trebia river. Through his spies Hannibal was aware of his opponents impetuous nature, and goaded him into marching across the frozen river. The Romans could barely fight because of the cold, and Hannibal’s brother had set an ambush to cut off their escape. The Roman’s lost up to 32,000 men, and Hannibal only lost 4,000, it was a complete and utter defeat for the Romans.

The Battle of Lake Trasimene

This was the largest ambush in military history. Again Roman forces suffered a terrible defeat against Hannibal. The Roman army marched along the edge of Lake Trasimene. The Roman vanguard was cleverly drawn away by a small skirmish force of Hannibal’s. Hannibal had lured the Roman army into the right spot and marched his hidden army towards the enemy. Hidden by trees and fog, the Romans never saw him coming. The Roman’s had no chance, and with no way to escape, many Romans ran into the Lake behind them and drowned to death. The Romans lost half it’s army, with 15,000 casualties. Hannibal lost a tiny portion of his army, only 2,500 men.

The Battle of Cannae

This Roman battle was the greatest Roman defeat in history. The Romans, sick of losing to Hannibal, mustered a giant army, 86,000 strong. They completely outnumbered Hannibal and yet still oat in what is considered one of the greatest tactical feats in military history. The Romans were confident they couldn’t lose, and decided to fight Hannibal at Cannae. The Romans massed their heavy infantry into a deeper formation than usual and Hannibal used the double-envelopment tactic. The Romans pushed forward and Hannibal lowly retreated his men from the middle, it have appeared Hannibal was losing but he was actually encircling the larger force. After his cavalry and reserve infantry attacked Rome from the back they were completely slaughtered.

The Battle of Ilipa

This was a much needed victory for the Romans. This was probably Scipio Africanus’s greatest victory. Scipio had always used the same formation and so when he took the Carthage forces by surprise they didn’t have much time to think and assumed he would still be using the same formation. The Carthaginian arranged their troops to combat the normal formation but were taken by surprise to see his formation had been reversed. The Carthaginians were completely outsmarted, they were fighting a losing battle, they hadn’t eaten which made it harder to fight, and were being trampled by their own elephants. Even though Rome started off with a minority of men, Rome lost 7,000 where as Carthage lost 48,500 troops.

The Battle of Utica

Scipio attacked the city of Utica and planned to make it into a base of operations. His first attack was repulsed and his next one failed completely. His opponents had the advantage in numbers, and Scipio was forced to retreat. Scipio then entered Peace negotiations with the city but it amounted to nothing. He then decided to place troops in an area that would make enemy army thing he was preparing fro another siege when in actuality he was preparing a surprise attack on the enemy camps. He burned down their camps, and secured victory. This Roman Battle was a decisive victory for Scipio.

The Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama was a crushing defeat for Hannibal and finally put an end to the 17 year war they had fought. Hannibal had a larger army but Scipio had discovered a way to the Carthaginian war elephants to his advantage. Hannibal sent his elephants forward to try ad break the enemy lines. Scipio ordered his cavalry to blow horns loudly to scare the elephants and cause them to panic. This worked and sent the elephants charging back the other way and completely destroyed the Carthaginian left wing. Scipio steadily routed the enemy army until they were completely defeated. This was the final Roman battle with Carthage. Carthage sued for peace, which they were given but under humiliating terms.

The Battle of Pydna

The battle of Pydna is the battle that put an end to the legacy of Alexander the Great. The antigonid King Perseus of Macedon was a descendent of Alexander the great. Rome was outnumbered, and had trouble going up against the enemy Phalanx. The romans used a planned retreat to force the enemy Phalanx on different ground. The enemy phalanx had to disrupt their formation on the ground, and were defeated. Perseus lost half his men and was taken as a prisoner of war.

The Siege of Alesia

The Roman battle of Alesia was a decisive victory for Julius Caesar. Caesar commanded an army of 60,000 and defeated an army of Gallic tribes that could have been as large as 330,000 men. The Gallic tribes were led by Vercingetorix commius of the Arverni. It was the last major battle between the Gauls and the Romans. This battle marked the end of Gallic independence in France and Belgium. The location isn’t known exactly, the best guess is Mont Auxois, in France, but this strangely doesn’t match Caesars description of the battle. Caesar was completely surrounded and it looked as he was about to be defeated. He then quickly ordered the bulk of his cavalry to attack the enemy relief cavalry, after succeeding in this Vercingetorix surrendered to Rome.

The Battle of Pharsalus

This Roman battle was an important victory for Caesar in his civil war against the Roman Republic. Caesar fought against Pompey the Great, who had a much larger force, and a dangerous advantage against Caesar. The battle went on for months, which Caesar’s position only getting worse. Pompey wanted the fight to go on for as long as possible knowing Caesar would eventually run out of food supplies and surrender. Pompey however caved into the pressure of senators who wanted him to go into battle, and was completely defeated by Caesar. Caesar routed the enemies cavalry with a hidden detachment throwing javelins. When his cavalry was destroyed Pompey was forced to surrender.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

At Teutoberg forest three Roman legions were attacked and defeated by an alliance of Germanic tribes utilising guerrilla warfare. This was one of the major battles during the history of the Roman-Germanic wars. The alliance was led by Publius Quinctilius Varus. Publius was a roman citizen and had Roman education. Due to his knowledge of Roman military tactics it was easier for him to trick them, and anticipate their responses. Of all the Roman battles this may have been their greatest defeat, and many historians describe it as one of the most decisive battles in history.


A Democracy of Rome

The Roman Republic, widely-known as among the first semi-democracies in the world, lasted for more than 450 years and was considered the basis for many forms of modern republican governments across the world. The Republic ended in 27 BC with the enthronement of Octavian as Augustus following bitter post-Ceasar civil wars. Following by the popular rule of Augustus were two infamous Emperors, Tiberius and Caligula. The later, known as the Mad Emperor of Rome, was assassinated and succeeded by his nephew and then-Consul Claudius in 41 AD. The assassination of Caligula was originally planned by the Senate to re-establish the Republic, but their underestimation of Claudius gave him the opportunity to succeed Caligula as Emperor of Rome instead of following the Senate's plan.

In this timeline, the Senate managed to keep Consul Claudius to follow their plan and successfully restored the Republic.

The first centuries of this Second Republic saw a period of increasing distribution of power to the mass, with the citizens of Rome's client states and allies finally given suffrage in 120 AD following the Second Social War. With the increasing membership, the Roman Assemblies became much more powerful and ultimately removed the Senate's power to vet candidates for public offices in 205 AD, effectively replacing the oligarchy with a representative democracy. However, this also kindled the rise of populism and demagogy of Roman politics. With a low literacy rate and the lack of education spending, the Roman citizens elected a new generation of incompetent officials that undermined the Republic's stability.

With the bitter defeat of Rome in the Battle of Abritus in 231 during the Roman-Gothic War, Rome lost the provinces of Dacia and Moesia to the Gothic and Scythian tribesmen. Consul Decius and three Roman legions were killed by the Gothics, prompting Gallus as the most senior Senator to assume the Dictatorship of the Republic. After his victory in 233, the Senate proclaimed him as the Emperor of the Romans, effectively ending the Second Republic and establishing the Second Empire. Despite this, the seed of democracy still propeled within Rome as evident by the continuation of local elections until the 14th century.


Roman-Goth Battle of Abritus (251 CE) Battlefield Identified Near Bulgaria’s Dryanovets

The battlefield of one of the greatest battles in the Late Antiquity, the 251 AD Battle of Abritus between the Roman Empire and the invading Goths, which is known for the deaths of two Roman Emperors, has been identified by Bulgarian archaeologists near the town of Dryanovets in Northeast Bulgaria.

In the Battle of Abritus in July 251 AD, 1765 years ago,Roman forces were routed during the barbarian invasion of the Goths, and Roman Emperor Trajan Decius (r. 249-251 AD) and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus (r. 251 AD) were killed.

Trajan Decius and Herennius Etruscus thus became the first Roman Emperors to perish in battle with the invading barbarians – as did later Roman Emperor Valens in the 378 AD Battle of Adrianople.

(Technically, the next Roman Emperor to perish in battle was Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Nicephorus I (r. 802-811) who was killed in the Battle of the Varbitsa Pass (Battle of Pliska) against the forces of Khan Krum of the First Bulgarian Empire. His son and successor on the throne Emperor Stauracius also died two months later of the wounds he sustained in the same battle.)

Abritus, whose ruins are located near the city of Razgrad in Northeast Bulgaria, first emerged as an Ancient Thracian settlement established no later than the 5th century BC. It saw its height as a Roman and later Byzantine city in the Late Antiquity.

The Abritus Archaeological Preserve was established by the Bulgarian government in 1984 on a territory of about 1,000 decares (app. 250 acres) including monuments from Ancient Thrace, Ancient Rome, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

In 2014, Razgrad Municipality carried out partial archaeological conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman city Abritus, a project worth BGN 6.2 million (app. EUR 3.17 million) most of which was EU funding. However, much of the vast area of Abritus remains unexplored.

The field near the town of Dryanovets in Northeast Bulgaria where the Battle of Abritus between Rome and the Goths took place 1765 years ago. Photo: TV grab from BNT

Yet, the Bulgarian archaeologists have managed to identify for sure the battlefield of the Battle of Abritus at a location near today’s town of Dryanovets, about 15 km northwest of Razgrad, and, respectively, Abritus, in the valley of the Beli Lom River, reports the Bulgarian National Television.

“[Based on] the available archaeological and numismatic finds, we have concluded that the last camp of Emperor Trajan Decius was located in this area, and the battle itself took place along the valley of the Beli Lom River, at the foot of a hill,” explains archaeologist Georgi Dzanev, a numismatist at the Razgrad Regional Museum of History, who is also the deputy head of the excavations of the city of Abritus.

Both the archaeologists and the local residents have discovered a large number of Roman Era arms such as parts of swords, shields, spears, armors, greaves, and even poles from military tents on the battlefield of the Battle of Abritus between the Goths and the Romans.

In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae. They were initially halted by Emperor Trajan Decius at Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Nikyup) but then went on to raid a number of Roman cities reaching as far south as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) which was ransacked.

Upon returning retreated north, from Thrace into Moesia, the Goths were met by the forces of Emperor Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus.

Dzanev says Roman Emperor Trajan Decius probably selected deliberately the location of the battlefield where he met the Goths because of the flat terrain which gave the Roman legions an advantage.

“Emperor Trajan Decius had been a provincial governor here, in Moesia Inferior. Having had information about the movement of the Goths, who were retreating from Thrace, perhaps he decided to face them here on purpose,” adds the archaeologist.

Yet, the Battle of Abritus eventually did not play out as planned by the Romans. In the course of the battle, Goth chieftain Cniva managed to lure the Romans to the nearby marshes.

“If we are to believe a later author, Ammianus Marcellinus, Emperor Trajan Decius perished in a swamp. There is an area here, near the town of Dryanovets which until recently was known as “büyük göl” (Turkish words left over from the Ottoman period meaning “a large lake” – editor’s note),” adds Dzanev.

Ancient Roman weaponry discovered on the site of the battlefield of the Battle of Abritus. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Even though the powerful Roman Empire persisted into the Late Antiquity, and was later succeeded by the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), it is sometimes pointed out that the Battle of Abritus with the deaths of not one but two Roman Emperors on the battlefield might have signaled the beginning of the end of the Empire’s might.

The city of Abritus was fortified more heavily long after the battle, with the construction at the beginning of the 4th century AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD). In the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period it had a total fortified area of 150 decares (app. 37 acres), four gates, and 35 fortress towers, and an unfortified civilian settlement located on a territory of another 150 decares outside the fortress walls.

Regardless of its robust defenses, however, the Late Antiquity Roman city of Abritus was conquered and ransacked several times by barbarian tribes, including by the Goths in 251 AD, and in 376-378 AD, the Huns of Attila in 447 AD, and the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD.

Aerial views of the partly restored ruins of ancient Abritus near Bulgaria’s Razgrad. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Abritus are located outside the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad. For a long time, in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the Bulgarian archaeologists and historians thought the Zaldapa Fortress located further to the northeast was the city of Abritus because of the name of the small town of Abrit located near Zaldapa. However, the ruins of Abritus were discovered some 100 km to the southwest, near the city of Razgrad, in 1953. The ruins of Abritus were identified after the discovery of an inscription fragment reading “Abr…”. In 1980, on its outskirts Bulgarian archaeologists found a limestone roadside pillar from the reign of Roman Emperor Philip the Arab (r. 244-249 AD) reading in Latin that it stood 1 Roman mile (1,492 meters) from Abritus. The name Abritus was also written on a limestone sacrificial altar dedicated to Hercules (Heracles) dated between 139 and 161 AD, which was found in 1954. The name Abritus is believed to stem from the Latin words “abrumpo” (terminate, interrupt) and abruptus (steepness, slope), and is taken to mean an “interrupted slope”.

Abritus (today’s Razgrad) was first an Ancient Thracian settlement established no later than the 5th century BC, and possibly even earlier, with archaeological excavations revealing Late Bronze Age Thracian homes, and Ancient Greek coins of Macedon King Philip II (r. 359-336 BC), and Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 AD), Thracian King Seuthes III of the Odrysian Kingdom (r. ca. 330-ca. 300 AD), and from the Ancient Greek colon of Odessos (today’s Varna) in the 3rd-2nd century BC. An inscription in Ancient Greek discovered in Abritus in 1953 from the 20s AD is dedicated to god Apollo. It dates to the reign of Thracian King Rhoemetalces II, who was a “Client Ruler” in association with his mother Antonia Tryphaena of the Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace under the Romans from 18 to 38 AD. Rhoemetacles is known to have crushed Thracian rebellions against the Romans who declared him “King of the Thracians”. Bulgarian archaeologists believe that the Thracian population of Abritus before the establishment of the Roman city consisted of Odrysians (Odrysae) and Gets (Getae), as well as possibly Celts.

The Ancient Roman city of Abritus was built in the 1st century AD on top of an Ancient Thracian settlement later Abritus became one of the most important Roman cities in the province of Moesia Inferior. It is believed that the Roman city started as a Roman military camp of Сohors II Lucensium around 78 AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), while some historians believe that the city was founded by Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD). The earliest testimony about the stationing of the Roman cohort Cohors II Lucensium on the territory of today’s Bulgaria is a Roman military diploma from January 7, 78 AD, found in the Roman city of Montanesium, today’s Montana in Northwest Bulgaria. It is also known that in 136 AD Cohors II Lucensium was stationed in Kabile, one of the Ancient Thracians capitals, located near today’s Bulgarian city of Yambol.

The civilian Roman settlement, the so called сanabae legionis, emerged at the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Towards the end of the 3rd century AD Abritus acquired many urban features, and in the 4th century AD it was mentioned as a civitas, a city. Abritus was one of the fortifications on one of the main north-south Roman roads going through Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Marcianopolis or Marcianople (today’s Devnya) – Mesembria (today’s Nessebar) – Deultum (today’s Debelt) – Adrianople (Odrin, today’s Edirne in Turkey). Two other east-west secondary Roman roads passed near it was well: Sexaginta Prista – Marcianopolis – Odessos (today’s Varna), and Nicopolis ad Istrum – Marcianopolis – Odessos. In the later Roman period, the population of Abritus consisted of Romans, Thracians, Greeks, and other settlers from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. It worshipped the Roman deities from the Capitoline Triad – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, as well as Hercules (Heracles), Hermes, Venus, Hygieia, Epona Regina (a Celtic deity protecting horses, donkeys, and mules), and the Thracian Horseman (Heros), among others. Christianity spread to Abritus in the 2nd century AD in the 4th century AD Abritus became the seat of a bishop subordinate to the archbishop of Marcianopolis.

Ancient sources mention Abritus in connection with the Battle of Abritus in 251 AD, in which the Roman forces were defeated in the barbarian invasion of the Goths, and Roman Emperor Trajan Decius (r. 249-251 AD) and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus (r. 251 AD) were killed. In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae. The Goths raided a number of Roman cities reaching as far south as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv). They were initially beaten by Emperor Trajan Decius at Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Gigen). However, in the Battle of Abritus the following year he perished with his son Herennius Etruscus in a swamp near the Beli Lom River. At the beginning of the 4th century AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), the Romans built a large fortress in Abritus. The city of Abritus had a fortified area of 150 decares (app. 37 acres), four gates, and 35 fortress towers (one of the gates and six of the fortress towers together with a section of the fortress wall remain beneath Razgrad’s pharmaceutical plant producing antibiotics, and cannot be excavated). An unfortified civilian settlement was located on a territory of another 150 decares outside the fortress walls meaning that the total built-up area of Abritus was about 300 decares (app. 75 acres).

Regardless of its robust defenses, however, the Late Antiquity Roman city of Abritus was conquered and ransacked several times by barbarian tribes, including by the Goths in 251 AD, and in 376-378 AD, the Huns of Attila in 447 AD, and the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD. In the Early Christian period, Abritus was the seat of a bishop, and the middle of the 6th century AD, it was rebuilt during the reign of Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). After it was destroyed by the barbarian invasion of the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD, however, at the end of the 6th century AD, the city of Abritus waned, and was abandoned. The year 586 AD is described as the year of the destruction of a number of Roman cities and strongholds along the Limes Moesiae, the Lower Danube frontier of the Empire, in today’s Bulgaria, including Abritus (today’s Razgrad), Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (today’s Archar), Bononia (today’s Vidin), Ulpia Oescus (today’s Gigen), Durustorum (today’s Silistra), Marcianopolis (today’s Devnya).

Abritus was resurrected during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) when at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century AD (in the 7th century, according to some sources) a Bulgarian fortress was built on top of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine fortifications. The Bulgarian fortress at Abritus was ransacked by Knyaz Svietoslav I Igorevich, ruler of Kievan Rus (r. 945-972 AD) who invaded the First Bulgarian Empire in 968-971 AD). The fortress existed until the 1030s-1040s (after the First Bulgarian Empire was defeated by Byzantium in 1018 AD) when it was destroyed by the invading Pecheneg tribes, and has never been populated again. A medieval Bulgarian settlement from the 13th-14th century AD located nearby was called Hrazgrad, today’s Razgrad. It was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388-1389 AD.

The archaeological excavations of the ruins of the Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian city later identified as Abritus began in 1887 by Prof. Anani Yavashov, a Bulgarian naturalist and archaeologist, native of Razgrad (and grandfather of world famous Bulgarian-American architect Christo Javacheff). Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil also explored the ruins at the beginning of the 20th century. The systematic archaeological excavations which identified the Roman ruins near Razgrad as the ancient city of Abritus began in 1953 by Prof. Teofil Ivanov, and continued until 1972. One of the most interesting archaeological finds from Abritus is the largest gold treasure from the Late Antiquity to have ever been found in Bulgaria – it contains 835 coins from the 5th century AD weighing a total of 4 kg, and dating to the reigns of a total of 10 Eastern Roman Emperors and 1 Western Roman Emperor.

The Abritus Archaeological Preserve was established by the Bulgarian government in 1984 on a territory of about 1,000 decares (app. 250 acres) including monuments from Ancient Thrace, Ancient Rome, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire. In 2011, Razgrad Municipality started a project for the archaeological conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman city Abritus worth BGN 6.2 million (app. EUR 3.17 million) most of which was EU funding. The project was supposed to be completed in 2013 but newly revealed archaeological structures necessitated new excavations, and the restoration was wrapped only in the fall of 2014, with final permits issued by the Bulgarian construction authority in May 2015.

Other historical monuments in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad, in addition to the Abritus Archaeological Preserve, include structures from the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. These are the mosque built in 1616 on top of an earlier mosque built by Ibrahim Pasha, a grand vizier of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD), and monuments from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (the 18th-19th century) such as the clock tower built in 1864 by Tryavna architect Todor Tonchev, and Bulgarian homes with Revival Period architecture in the Varosha Quarter.


Background

In 238, Emperor Maximinus Thrax began paying annual subsidies to the more aggressive barbarian tribes north of the Danube. It was nothing more than a temporary measure, and when Philip the Arab (Emperor from 244â€𤌙) ceased making payments, it contributed to a great deal of unrest. The issue was exacerbated by the increased movement of new tribes which had been prevalent since the reign of Alexander Severus.

At this time in Roman history, the role of emperor was a dangerous one. Maximinus Thrax and Gordian III were murdered while Philip the Arab was deposed by Decius. If an emperor angered the military, he was removed in favor of someone else in the age of the ‘Barracks Emperor.&rsquo

Decius had not been in power long when a Gothic chieftain by the name of Cniva led a coalition of tribes on an invasion in 250. He crossed the Danube at Novae with an estimated 70,000 troops which consisted of Goths, Basternae, Taifali, Vandals, and Carpi. It was an impressive feat for one man to unite all these peoples but they were together in their mission to pillage, plunder, and murder as much as they could. The invading force was probably divided into two columns.

Statue believed to be Herennius Etruscus &ndash Alchetron

The first, comprised of an estimated 20,000 men, unsuccessfully attempted besieged the city of Marcianopolis before trying to lay siege to Philippopolis. Meanwhile, Cniva led the second column as far as Novae in 251, but his army was repelled by General Trebonianus Gallus, the future emperor of Rome. Rather than trying to gain immediate revenge, Cniva wisely avoided another conflict with the talented Gallus and elected to besiege Nicopolis ad Istrum. As was the case with the other sieges, it was not successful.

Although Decius arrived and drove the enemy away from the city of Nicopolis, he crucially failed to press home his advantage, and Cniva and his army were able to retreat without sustaining significant damage. Decius&rsquo ineffectual command was to prove costly as the barbarian enemies led him to his doom.


Archaeologists to Seek Grave of First Roman Emperor to Die in Battle, Trajan Decius in 251 Battle of Abritus, near Bulgaria’s Razgrad

An international archaeological expedition is seeking EU funding in order to search for the grave of Trajan Decius, the first Emperor of the Roman Empire to die in battle, namely, the 251 AD Battle of Abritus near today’s city of Razgrad in Northeast Bulgaria.

Both Roman Emperor Trajan Decius (r. 249-251 AD) and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus (r. 251 AD) were killed in what was one of the greatest battles of the Late Antiquity when their forces tried to stop the barbarian invasion of the Goths near Abritus (today’s Razgrad), a major city and fortress in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior.

The precise site of the Battle of Abritus was identified only recently, in 2016, by Bulgarian archaeologists near today’s town of Dryanovets.

In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae. They were initially halted by Emperor Trajan Decius at Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Nikyup) but then went on to raid a number of Roman cities reaching as far south as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) which was ransacked.

Anecdotal traces from the Goths’ massive invasion of the Roman Empire were found in Philipopolis (Plovdiv) during rescue excavations in 2018.

Upon returning retreated north, from Thrace into Moesia, the Goths were met by the forces of Emperor Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus but completely defeated them.

The field near the town of Dryanovets in Northeast Bulgaria where the Battle of Abritus between Rome and the Goths took place 1768 years ago. The battleground was identified only in 2016. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The location of today’s town of Draynovets, Razgrad District, in Northeast Bulgaria, where the Battle of Abritus took place in 251 AD. Map: Google Maps

The proposed international archaeological expedition to seek the grave of Roman Emperor Trajan Decius near ancient Abritus would include archaeologists from Bulgaria and Austria.

The Bulgarian participants would be from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, and the Razgrad Regional Museum of History, the Razgrad Museum has revealed, as cited by local news site Kmeta.

The research project will apply for EU funding from the European Union’s new seven-year financial framework (for 2021 – 2027).

Experts from the Razgrad Museum are quoted as saying that the resting place of the first Roman Emperor to die in battle could be a tourist site of global interest. It remains to be seen whether the archaeological project in question would be approved for EU funding.

Abritus, whose ruins are located near the city of Razgrad in Northeast Bulgaria, first emerged as an Ancient Thracian settlement established no later than the 5th century BC. It saw its height as a Roman and later Byzantine city in the Late Antiquity.

The Abritus Archaeological Preserve was established by the Bulgarian government in 1984 on a territory of about 1,000 decares (app. 250 acres) including monuments from Ancient Thrace, Ancient Rome, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

In 2014, Razgrad Municipality carried out partial archaeological conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman city Abritus, a project worth BGN 6.2 million (app. EUR 3.17 million) most of which was EU funding. However, much of the vast area of Abritus remains unexplored.

The battleground of the Battle of Abritus from 251 AD, in which the Romans were routed by the invading Goths, is located about 15 kilometers northwest of today’s Razgrad and the Abrtus ruins, in the valley of the Beli Lom River.

Roman and Goth weaponry discovered during archaeological research on the site of the 251 AD Battle of Abritus. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Based on archaeological artifacts and coins found there, archaeologists from the Razgrad Regional Museum of History have concluded that was the location of the last camp of Roman Emperor Trajan Decius and his son and co-emperor Herennius Etruscus

Apart from the coins, the discovered artifacts from the site of the Battle of Abritus between the Goths and the Romans include a large number of Roman Era arms such as parts of swords, shields, spears, armors, greaves, and even poles from military tents.

According to archaeologist Georgi Dzanev, a numismatist at the Razgrad Museum of History, probably selected deliberately the location of the battlefield where he met the Goths because of the flat terrain which gave the Roman legions an advantage.

“Emperor Trajan Decius had been a provincial governor here, in Moesia Inferior. Having had information about the movement of the Goths, who were retreating from Thrace, perhaps he decided to face them here on purpose,” says the archaeologist.

However, during the battle, Goth chieftain Cniva managed to lure the Romans to the nearby marshes.

“If we are to believe a later author, Ammianus Marcellinus, Emperor Trajan Decius perished in a swamp. There is an area here, near the town of Dryanovets which until recently was known as “büyük göl” (Turkish words left over from the Ottoman period meaning “a large lake” – editor’s note),” adds Dzanev.

The Roman Empire persisted into the Late Antiquity, and was later succeeded by the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), but some historians argue that the Battle of Abritus with the deaths of not one but two Roman Emperors on the battlefield might have signaled the beginning of the end of the Empire’s might.

The city of Abritus was fortified more heavily long after the battle, with the construction at the beginning of the 4th century AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD). In the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period it had a total fortified area of 150 decares (app. 37 acres), four gates, and 35 fortress towers, and an unfortified civilian settlement located on a territory of another 150 decares outside the fortress walls.

An aerial view of some of the ruins of the fortress of Abritus. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The partly restored fortress wall of Abritus near Bulgaria’s Razgrad. Photo: Abritus Archaeological Preserve

Sketches depicting the city of Abritus with its numerous oval fortress towers. Photos: Arbtius Archaeological Preserve

Regardless of its robust defenses, however, the Late Antiquity Roman city of Abritus was conquered and ransacked several times by barbarian tribes, including by the Goths in 251 AD, and in 376-378 AD, the Huns of Attila in 447 AD, and the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD.

After the deaths of Trajan Decius and Herennius Etruscus in 251 AD at the hands of the Goths near Abritus, the next Roman Emperor to die in battle was Valens, who was also killed by the Goths by in the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD.

After Valens, the next Roman Emperor to perish in battle was already an Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I (r. 802-811) was killed in the Battle of the Varbitsa Pass (Battle of Pliska) in 811 AD by the forces of Khan Krum of the First Bulgarian Empire.

Not unlike the case with Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus 460 years earlier, Nicephorus I’s son and successor to the throne Emperor Stauracius also perish because of the same battle: he died two months later of the wounds he had sustained.

Learn more about the Ancient Roman city of Abritus in Bulgaria’s Razgrad in the Background Infonotes below!

Also check out our other stories about Abritus:

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Abritus are located outside the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad.

For a long time, in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, the Bulgarian archaeologists and historians thought the Zaldapa Fortress located further to the northeast was the city of Abritus because of the name of the small town of Abrit located near Zaldapa. However, the ruins of Abritus were discovered some 100 km to the southwest, near the city of Razgrad, in 1953.

The ruins of Abritus were identified after the discovery of an inscription fragment reading “Abr…”. In 1980, on its outskirts Bulgarian archaeologists found a limestone roadside pillar from the reign of Roman Emperor Philip the Arab (r. 244-249 AD) reading in Latin that it stood 1 Roman mile (1,492 meters) from Abritus. The name Abritus was also written on a limestone sacrificial altar dedicated to Hercules (Heracles) dated between 139 and 161 AD, which was found in 1954. The name Abritus is believed to stem from the Latin words “abrumpo” (terminate, interrupt) and abruptus (steepness, slope), and is taken to mean an “interrupted slope”.

Abritus (today’s Razgrad) was first an Ancient Thracian settlement established no later than the 5th century BC, and possibly even earlier, with archaeological excavations revealing Late Bronze Age Thracian homes, and Ancient Greek coins of Macedon King Philip II (r. 359-336 BC), and Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 AD), Thracian King Seuthes III of the Odrysian Kingdom (r. ca. 330-ca. 300 AD), and from the Ancient Greek colon of Odessos (today’s Varna) in the 3rd-2nd century BC. An inscription in Ancient Greek discovered in Abritus in 1953 from the 20s AD is dedicated to god Apollo. It dates to the reign of Thracian King Rhoemetalces II, who was a “Client Ruler” in association with his mother Antonia Tryphaena of the Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace under the Romans from 18 to 38 AD. Rhoemetacles is known to have crushed Thracian rebellions against the Romans who declared him “King of the Thracians”. Bulgarian archaeologists believe that the Thracian population of Abritus before the establishment of the Roman city consisted of Odrysians (Odrysae) and Gets (Getae), as well as possibly Celts.

The Ancient Roman city of Abritus was built in the 1st century AD on top of an Ancient Thracian settlement later Abritus became one of the most important Roman cities in the province of Moesia Inferior. It is believed that the Roman city started as a Roman military camp of Сohors II Lucensium around 78 AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), while some historians believe that the city was founded by Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD). The earliest testimony about the stationing of the Roman cohort Cohors II Lucensium on the territory of today’s Bulgaria is a Roman military diploma from January 7, 78 AD, found in the Roman city of Montanesium, today’s Montana in Northwest Bulgaria. It is also known that in 136 AD Cohors II Lucensium was stationed in Kabile, one of the Ancient Thracians capitals, located near today’s Bulgarian city of Yambol.

The civilian Roman settlement, the so called сanabae legionis, emerged at the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Towards the end of the 3rd century AD Abritus acquired many urban features, and in the 4th century AD it was mentioned as a civitas, a city. Abritus was one of the fortifications on one of the main north-south Roman roads going through Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Marcianopolis or Marcianople (today’s Devnya) – Mesembria (today’s Nessebar) – Deultum (today’s Debelt) – Adrianople (Odrin, today’s Edirne in Turkey). Two other east-west secondary Roman roads passed near it was well: Sexaginta Prista – Marcianopolis – Odessos (today’s Varna), and Nicopolis ad Istrum – Marcianopolis – Odessos. In the later Roman period, the population of Abritus consisted of Romans, Thracians, Greeks, and other settlers from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. It worshipped the Roman deities from the Capitoline Triad – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, as well as Hercules (Heracles), Hermes, Venus, Hygieia, Epona Regina (a Celtic deity protecting horses, donkeys, and mules), and the Thracian Horseman (Heros), among others. Christianity spread to Abritus in the 2nd century AD in the 4th century AD Abritus became the seat of a bishop subordinate to the archbishop of Marcianopolis.

Ancient sources mention Abritus in connection with the Battle of Abritus in 251 AD, in which the Roman forces were defeated in the barbarian invasion of the Goths, and Roman Emperor Trajan Decius (r. 249-251 AD) and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus (r. 251 AD) were killed.

In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae. The Goths raided a number of Roman cities reaching as far south as Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv). They were initially beaten by Emperor Trajan Decius at Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Gigen). However, in the Battle of Abritus the following year he perished with his son Herennius Etruscus in a swamp near the Beli Lom River.

At the beginning of the 4th century AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), the Romans built a large fortress in Abritus. The city of Abritus had a fortified area of 150 decares (app. 37 acres), four gates, and 35 fortress towers (one of the gates and six of the fortress towers together with a section of the fortress wall remain beneath Razgrad’s pharmaceutical plant producing antibiotics, and cannot be excavated). An unfortified civilian settlement was located on a territory of another 150 decares outside the fortress walls meaning that the total built-up area of Abritus was about 300 decares (app. 75 acres).

Regardless of its robust defenses, however, the Late Antiquity Roman city of Abritus was conquered and ransacked several times by barbarian tribes, including by the Goths in 251 AD, and in 376-378 AD, the Huns of Attila in 447 AD, and the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD. In the Early Christian period, Abritus was the seat of a bishop, and the middle of the 6th century AD, it was rebuilt during the reign of Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). After it was destroyed by the barbarian invasion of the Avars and Slavs in 586 AD, however, at the end of the 6th century AD, the city of Abritus waned, and was abandoned. The year 586 AD is described as the year of the destruction of a number of Roman cities and strongholds along the Limes Moesiae, the Lower Danube frontier of the Empire, in today’s Bulgaria, including Abritus (today’s Razgrad), Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (today’s Archar), Bononia (today’s Vidin), Ulpia Oescus (today’s Gigen), Durustorum (today’s Silistra), Marcianopolis (today’s Devnya).

Abritus was resurrected during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) when at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century AD (in the 7th century, according to some sources) a Bulgarian fortress was built on top of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine fortifications. The Bulgarian fortress at Abritus was ransacked by Knyaz Svietoslav I Igorevich, ruler of Kievan Rus (r. 945-972 AD) who invaded the First Bulgarian Empire in 968-971 AD). The fortress existed until the 1030s-1040s (after the First Bulgarian Empire was defeated by Byzantium in 1018 AD) when it was destroyed by the invading Pecheneg tribes, and has never been populated again. A medieval Bulgarian settlement from the 13th-14th century AD located nearby was called Hrazgrad, today’s Razgrad. It was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388-1389 AD.

The archaeological excavations of the ruins of the Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian city later identified as Abritus began in 1887 by Prof. Anani Yavashov, a Bulgarian naturalist and archaeologist, native of Razgrad (and grandfather of world famous Bulgarian-American architect Christo Javacheff). Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist Karel Skorpil also explored the ruins at the beginning of the 20th century. The systematic archaeological excavations which identified the Roman ruins near Razgrad as the ancient city of Abritus began in 1953 by Prof. Teofil Ivanov, and continued until 1972. One of the most interesting archaeological finds from Abritus is the largest gold treasure from the Late Antiquity to have ever been found in Bulgaria – it contains 835 coins from the 5th century AD weighing a total of 4 kg, and dating to the reigns of a total of 10 Eastern Roman Emperors and 1 Western Roman Emperor.

The Abritus Archaeological Preserve was established by the Bulgarian government in 1984 on a territory of about 1,000 decares (app. 250 acres) including monuments from Ancient Thrace, Ancient Rome, and the medieval Bulgarian Empire. In 2011, Razgrad Municipality started a project for the archaeological conservation and restoration of the Ancient Roman city Abritus worth BGN 6.2 million (app. EUR 3.17 million) most of which was EU funding. The project was supposed to be completed in 2013 but newly revealed archaeological structures necessitated new excavations, and the restoration was wrapped only in the fall of 2014, with final permits issued by the Bulgarian construction authority in May 2015.

Other historical monuments in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Razgrad, in addition to the Abritus Archaeological Preserve, include structures from the period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. These are the mosque built in 1616 on top of an earlier mosque built by Ibrahim Pasha, a grand vizier of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566 AD), and monuments from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (the 18th-19th century) such as the clock tower built in 1864 by Tryavna architect Todor Tonchev, and Bulgarian homes with Revival Period architecture in the Varosha Quarter.


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