Archaeology: Roman emperor Caracalla medallion among finds in Bulgaria’s Nova Varbovka

A medallion of Caracalla, Roman emperor from 198 to 217 CE, was among finds at the site of Roman graves discovered in late 2023 near the village of Nova Varbovka in Strazhitsa municipality in the Veliko Turnovo district.

The finds were shown this week by the Veliko Turnovo Regional History Museum.

The Caracalla medallion, made of bronze, was struck in the city of Pergamon in Asia Minor (modern day Türkiye ).

On one side is a scene from the emperor’s visit in 214 to  Pergamon, where he sought healing from the god of medicine Asclepius.

The museum said that the medallion has a high financial value, but given its size, was not used in everyday trade. The inscriptions are in ancient Greek.

The Roman graves were accidentally found in autumn by a tractor driver who, while ploughing a field near the village of Nova Varbovka, hit a limestone slab.

After a report was made to the mayor of the village, Todor Iliev, the police were notified, because it was initially believed to be a crime scene.

After it was established that the burials were from the Roman era, an emergency archaeological excavation was started.

Field operations were carried out in December by archaeologists Kalin Chakarov and Nedko Elenski and museum expert Michaela Tomanova.

The genders and ages of the buried were determined by Nadezhda Atanassova from the National Institute of Experimental Morphology, Pathology and Anthropology at the Bulgarian Academy of Science.

DNA analysis of the skeletons has not yet been carried out, but anthropological analysis suggested that it was a family necropolis.

The rich grave goods – jewellery, coins and vessels date to the first half of the third century.

They are from two masonry graves, in all probability a family burial. In the earlier one, a child one to two years old was laid, and in the more recent one, two adults at the same time, a woman aged about 45-49 and a man aged about 50-60.

The deceased are believed to be wealthy landowners whose estate was in the administrative territory ruled by the ancient city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

Gifts were found with the child – a pair of small gold earrings, children’s jewellery made of glass beads, a ceramic amphora for wine and two glass lacrimaria – exquisite vessels in which mourners initially collected their tears, and were later used for fragrant oils.

An amphora, which probably contained wine, part of the funeral ritual, was discovered in the necropolis.

In the grave of the man and woman were found exquisite gold women’s earrings, a gilt pendant with a bead and a silver-plated fibula of several types of metal.

The burial facilities themselves show that those buried were probably of high status. Bricks, stones and mortar, with mortar plaster on the inside, were used, which only the rich could afford, Chakarov said.

It can be assumed that the family were high-ranking residents of Nicopolis ad Istrum. They probably had a rustic villa in the area. Research of the Nicopolis ad Istrum site has shown that the rich landowners lived in their estates in the summer and returned to the city in the winter.

(Photos: Regional Historical Museum of Veliko Turnovo)

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