Dobruja

Dobruja is the northeasternmost part of the Balkans and represents a peninsula between the lower Danube river and the Black Sea – ancient Pontus Euxinus. Dobruja – Dobrogea spreads across an area of more than 15000 sq km between the Danube River and the Black Sea – ancient Pontus Euxinus, in the southeastern part of Romania, bordering with Bulgaria. In ancient times the Euxine Sea played an important role with many ships sailing its waters. The peoples around the Euxine Sea were the Balkans to the West, the Scythians to the north, Caucasus and Central Asia to the East, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia to the south, and Greece to the southwest. The oldest processed gold in the world, arguably left by Old Europeans, was found in Varna, and the Black Sea was supposedly sailed by the Argonauts.

Dobruja – Dobrogea physically block the direct eastward flow of the Danube River, causing the formation of the well known double bend by which the great river joins the Black Sea. Dobruja provides a natural land bridge from 4 to 5 km wide, between Bessarabia and the Balkans, by which it is possible to avoid the numerous flat and marshy valleys which furrow the Wallachian plain and made it in ancient times an unwelcome spot.

The name of Dobruja comes from Prince Dobrotitsa (or Dobrotici ), who ruled the realm in the 14th century. Dobruja went its own way from around 1325 to 1388 when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. It had capitals in Kavarna (Balchik) and Kaliakra with its maximum extent under Dobrotitsa (1347-1386). After 1388 and the death of its last ruler, Ivanko, Dobruja is taken from the Ottomans by the Prince of Wallachia, Mircea the Old (1386-1418), who ruled it with interruptions. Thus, in 1406 at the height of his power, Mircea was calling himself ruler over all the realms “up to the great sea and sole ruler of Durostorum” (Silistra). At the same time, in Bulgarian history, the Despotate of Dobruja is considered to be the third Bulgarian state, after the Principalities of Veliko Tarnovo and Vidin. All three were overrun by the Ottomans in a few years at the end of the 14th century and remained under their rule for 500 years. Dobruja was integrated into the province of Silistra. It is as the principal gateway to the Eastern Balkans from the teeming Scynthian plains and from Eastern Germany that there hills became of importance, for this is a door which any power desiring mastery of Southern Europe must bolt and bar. Here the invader makes his choice : shall he fare southwards to Turkey or Greece or westwards to Bulgaria or Serbia ? /Adamklissi, I. A. Richmond, Papers of the British School at Rome/.

After the Berlin Treaty of 1878 Dobruja was divided into Northern and Southern Dobruja, the northern part with an area of 15,536 sq. km is in Romania and the Southern part is in Bulgaria – 7 696 sq. km. The land border between the two Dobruja parts is in fact the state boundary between Bulgaria and Romania and begins from the eastern outskirts of Silistra, finishing at the Black Sea at the village of Zmeevo, Dobrich region.

Scythia Minor or Lesser Scythia (Greek: Μικρ? Σκυθ?α, Mikrá Skythia) was in ancient times the region surrounded by the Danube River at the north and west and the Black Sea at the east, roughly corresponding to today’s Dobruja, with a part in Romania, and a part in Bulgaria. Dobruja – Dobrogea, known since antiquity as Dacia Pontica, after the name of the sea that was bordering it – Pontus Euxinus, is a region situated in Southeastern Romania and covers four counties of which two – Constanţa and Tulcea – belong to the Romanian territory. The earliest description of the present Dobruja region is found in Herodotus archives, who identified Scythia as the region starting north of the Danube delta. In a 2nd-century BC inscription recording a decree of Histria honouring Agathocles, the region already was named Scythia, while the earliest usage of the name of “Scythia Minor” (Mikrá Skythia) in literature is found in the Strabo’s early 1st-century Geography. By the 7th century BC, several Greek colonies, interested in richness of raw materials – agricultural and human were built on its Black Sea shore. Mouth of the Danube is one of the largest sources of gold in ancient Europe. As early as the 7th century BC, the Getae who had access to the gold deposits of the mouth of the Danube traded with the Greek colonies on the western shores of the Black Sea, and later with the Macedonians to the southwest of them and the Scythians north of the Danube. The earliest written Greek reports state that the lands were inhabited by Thracians, re-identified in time as Getae and then Dacians, and Greeks were not “civilizers” but most of the time they adopted local customs. During later times, the area also witnessed Celtic and Scythian invasions. Dobruja was part of the kingdom of Dacia for a period, after which the region was conquered by the Roman Empire, becoming part of the province of Moesia Inferior. With Diocletian’s reforms, it was split from Moesia as a separate province of “Scythia”, being part of the Diocese of Thrace. After the partition of the Roman Empire in 395, the province was retained by the Byzantine Empire. It maintained the name Scythia Minor, until the region’s loss during the early 7th century to the migrating Slavs and Bulgars. After that, the classical name fell out of use. In the Dobruja area there are numerous fascinating settlements that bare witness to its rich and turbulent history -experts believe the key to the development of the town was salt, which at the time was as valuable as gold. in Bulgaria : Krounoi, Krouni, Dionysopolis – today Balchik; Larisa, Viccia, Lauiza, Lauitza – Byala; Tirizis, Trisa/Tirirsa, since 5th century Akra, Caliacra – Kaliakra; Polis Castellon, Kastritsi, Macrocastro – Euxinograd Kastritsi; Kranea, Ekrene – Kranevo; Naulochos, Kozyak, Kolocastro, Gyoseken – Obzor; Anchialos (Greek), Achelo (Slav), Tuthon, Tohun (Bulgarian) – Pomorie; Apollonia Pontica – Sozopol; Odessos, Odessopolis, Odessitopolis – Varna; Messambria, Melsambria, Menabria, Menebria, Messembria, Messemvria – Nessebar; Alu Agathopolis, Agathopol, Akhtopol, Gatopoli – Akhtopol; Bizone, Karvuna (?), Guarna, Gauarna, Gauarn?, Guavarna, Karnava – Kavarna. Dobruja sites in Romania : Tomis, Constantiana, Constanteia, Constanza, Kustenge – Constanta; Vicus Novus, Yeni-Sale, Enisala, Enişala, Heraclee or Heraclia – Enisala; Cerbatis, Callatis, Pangala – Mangalia.

The beginning of active monetary circulation in the Dobruja despotic domain (despotate) is associated with the imported and counter-marked Serbian stivers (grosha), more than ninety per cent of which were minted by King Stefan Dušan of Serbia (AD1331-1355). Serbian stivers (grosha) (gs. 1-4). The observations made so far show that more than 1100 Serbian stiver/grosha have been found across the despotate, whereby around 930 coins were uncovered as hoards and 75 single finds came from almost each center. The majority of the hoarded stivers are uncovered in the northern zone between Varna and Kaliakra, as well as around Nuffurru-Isakcha in the Delta, while the single finds most often come from the close vicinity of Varna, Drastar and Ovech. Most probably they started to circulate in the region around AD 1350, i.e. when Dobrotitsa settled to rule in Kaliakra; they remained in active exchange till around AD 1370. This is  probably the reason for their small amounts in the area of Drastar, Ovech and Varna. In addition, their  presence in the Delta suggests that, in the period  between AD 1362 and 1370, Dobrotitsa took only a temporary hold of the towns situated there.The possibility that Serbian stivers have reached Dobruja as a result of certain contacts between the ruler of Karvuna and Stefan Dušan should not be excluded. It is plausible that in AD 1346 Balik, in cooperation with Stefan Dušan, had sent his  brothers Todor and Dobrotitsa together with a 1000 army to help the Regency in Constantinople. This event is a terminus post quem for the circulation of the stivers around the 1370s. Georgi Atanasov : Coins, mints and monetary circulation in the Dobruja despotate in the second half of the fourteenth century AD. – І. The emergence and distribution of Serbian and Bosnian stivers (Summary)

Histria was founded by Greek colonists from Milet, in the 7th century BC. The settlement main economic activities were agriculture and trade, and it consisted of villages, farms, sanctuaries and all that come into the organized urban area, surrounded with precinct defence system on the territory of influence, in order to control the neighboring areas with natural resources. The propitious location which provided a safe mooring place, a productive rural territory, the vicinity of river Istros, as well as an easy to defend promontory, determined a quite rapid social, cultural, economic development of the settlement. Danube had a different course when Histra was settled as a Milesian colony on the western shore of Pontos Euxeinos (Black Sea). One of its ancient channels, that no longer exists today, was flowing much closer to ancient Histria. Histria’s ancient harbor could have been located at the city’s northern limit, where what used to be a large plane is now flooded. The first Histrian coins were issued in 475 BC. During the Early Roman period (1st-3rd centuries AD) Histria was a flourishing city-port, with an articulated street network and impressive buildings. The bath complex (generically called Thermae I) situated in the south-western part of the city, built in the 1st century AD, continued to function, with several restoration works and even with a different utility. The main gate of the city opens towards a large plaza (25×14.50 m). There visitors can see a civil basilica, built in the 3rd century AD, considered to have been one of the administrative buildings of the city, along with other two situated on the eastern side of the alley that relates the plaza to Thermae I. Towards east, a paleo-Christian basilica (5th-6th centuries AD) can be seen in the central part, which is the most important building of late Roman Histria. Entering the fort through the narrow gate, situated in the southern part of the western wall, one can also see the economical district, on the right side, as well as another basilica, at the end of the street. The official district of the city, situated south from the main gate, includes a rectangular basilica dated to the second half of the 3rd century AD (reconstructed in the 4th century AD), a commercial building (tabernae), where luxury products were sold (4th century AD), another plaza, surrounded by columns (4th century AD), etc. All these buildings, dated mostly to the 4th century AD, were overlapped by late constructions. Unfortunately not much can be said about these buildings because they were removed between 1921 and 1942. After establishment of new province of Scynthia Minor, the fortified territory of Histria decreased to almost one third of the early one. The bishopric basilica was built during the reign of emperor Justinian, in the center of the late fortress. In time, the sea level raised and flooded the plain situated north-west from Histria, covering some tumuli, as well as the roads that were heading towards the northern part of Scythia Minor. At the beginning of the 7th century AD Histria ceased to exist as an urban center. The latest dwellings of once powerful Histria are dated to the 11th and the 13th-14th centuries. Only three such dwellings have been found so far on the vast archaeological reservation which today spreads on 74 hectares.

What is so interesting about the Dobrugean area is that the people who inhabited it since the ancient times followed extremely different ways of life, from the sedentary to highly mobile, giving the region of Dobrogea a special kind of dynamism. Troesmis is the Roman municipium near the castra of the Legio V Macedonica at a strategic point on the right bank of the lower Danube ca. 15 km south of Măcin. Troesmis is mentioned by Ovid as a Thraco-Getic fortress of the pre-Roman period. After the conquest of Dacia, Trajan transferred the Legio V Macedonica from Oescus to Troesmis, where it remained until A.D. 163 (Ptol. Geog. 3.10.5; and many inscriptions). Near the castrum developed two settlements, canabae legionis V Macedonicae and the civil settlement, called Troesmis, which became a municipium during Marcus Aurelius’ reign. At the time of the Gothic invasions of the second half of the 3rd century, the town was destroyed and on the sites of the old municipium and castrum were built two cities, garrisoned by the Legio II Herculia and the milites Secundi Constantini. Procopius (De aed. 4.11.33) numbered Troesmis among the cities reconstructed by Justinian. The last literary mention of the Troesmis is by Constantine Porphirogenitos (De them. 47.17). Excavations at Troesmis have uncovered the walls of two cities. The eastern city (120 x 145 m) was defended by exterior semicircular towers and by a vallum and a ditch. In the interior were found three basilicas, one with one nave and two with three naves, dating from the time of Justinian. The remains of these have disappeared but the plan can still be made out. The western city, 500 m from the other, is trapezoidal (150 m on the long sides and 100 m and 80 m on the short) and was defended by exterior semicircular towers and a deep ditch. It was covered by buildings in the l0th-12th century.

The canyon of Suha Reka river spreads over 62 km through the water-less Dobrudja plateau. The natural hills along the meandering Suha river once were fortified strongholds and the numerous caves hosted one of the first ascetic Christian colonies in Europe. A lot of rare animal and plant species could be observed in the Suha Reka River canyon.

Kaliakra is one of the most beautiful historic capes in Europe. The whole area around is a reserve, which comprises typical pontic steppes, brick-colored coastal cliffs and adjacent sea aquatory and the only wetland in a deep canyon, called Bolata. The internationally well-known archaeological excavation site known as Provadia-Solnitsa, just south of the town of Provadia, is visible from Dobrina village. Provadia-Solnitsa is thought to be older than any other prehistoric town ever discovered in Europe. Objects of equal age, and much older, back to between 4,700 and 4,200 BC – more than a millennium before the start of Greece’s ancient civilization are constantly being found in Dobrina village as well. Experts believe the key to the development of the town was salt, which at the time was as valuable as gold. There are many well preserved legends about the Cape Kaliakra. Muslims believe that one of the caves contains the grave of Sari Saltuk, a mystical Seljuk-Turkish hero who came here to kill a seven-headed dragon and rescue two of the sultan’s daughters. As for Christians, there is a claim that the Kaliakra Cape marks the final resting place of Saint Nicholas, the savior of seafarers from shipwreck and the saint who guides fishermen towards their prey. From atop the rocky cape we see small fishing boats dotting the sea, but no seven-headed dragons are to be seen.

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