Ulpia Oescus Site

The Ulpia Oescus was important Roman settlement and military point along the Lower Danube in north Bulgaria, in the Pleven District, once part of the the Roman province of Moesia Inferior. The Ulpia Oescus was established as the administrative center (capital) for civitas Treballiae near the confluence of the rivers of Iskar and Danube, not far from an old Thracian village of Gradishteto – the locality from the Late Bronze and the Early Iron ages. Today, the Iskar River is 300 meters away from the Ulpia Oescus archaeological site, featuring its confluence with the Danube 5 km further, due to the marshy section that had caused the Danube River to change its direction in recent centuries, which also probably existed there in antiquity. The Ulpia Oescus is located near the small village of Gigen, where now is the delta of the Iskar river (once Oescus), 55 km northwest of Pleven.

The first buildings of the Ulpia Oescus were erected during the campaign of Emperor Trajan (106–109 AD), on the ruins of the former permanent camp of the Fifth Macedonian Legion (10 AD), which took part in the suppression of rebellion among the Thracians south of the Balkan Range, and military operations in connection with Nero’s Parthian wars, and later in the Jewish-Roman War in AD 66-67. The V Macedonian Legion took part in the Domitian’s Dacian Wars in AD 85-86, as well as in Trajan’s large-scale operations against the Dacians in AD 101-106. The Pyasutsite and Prez Livada localities to the east-northeast of Oescus also give indications of a necropolis with the earliest one dating from the 1st-2nd century from where originate the oldest epigraph monuments of veterans.

Outside the ruins of the Roman city walls of Ulpia Oescus, there are still visible remains of the defense wall of the legion’s camp, made of soil and stone (71–101 AD). Soon after the legio V Macedonica left its permanent camp in Oescus in AD 102, the city was granted the status of a colony founded by Trajan – such are Ratiaria (by the Danube village of Archar, Vidin district, NW Bulgaria) in Moesia Superior, Poetovio in Pannonia Superior, colonia Ulpia Traiana in Germania Inferior and Thamugadi in Numidia. Sending experienced soldiers of Italian origin from the Praetorian cohorts as centurions to different legions was a common practice during the rule of Trajan and after that. In 167 AD, Oescus upgraded to a colonial city and got a new name, Colonia Ulpia Oescensium (“Ulpia” after Trajan’s middle name, Ulpius). Its citizens were mostly retired legionnaires and the colony was named for reintegration of retired soldiers into civilian society. After 271 AD, the V Macedonica legion returned to this place and built a second fortified city system (Oescus II). Archaeological surveys in the eastern extension of Oescus II show that there were houses dating from the time of the Principate, some of which quite massive and decorated with mosaics that could be dated to the time of Septimius Severus. An aqueduct fed Oescus with fresh water from springs 20 kms away, and a stone wall protected it from invaders and from the Danube floods. There were 150 Roman colonial cities, but the Ulpia Oescus was special because it was granted all Roman rights. The Ulpia Oescus protected the Danube Limes road and was an important military road to the modern-day Plovdiv (Greek Philippopolis, Latin Trimontium) because it passed by the road station and, later, the mighty Storgosia fortress (in today’s Pleven).

Majestic ruins of the city, that covered 280,000 m², are awaiting discerning visitors of the Ulpia Oescus and indicate the wealth of the Antonine and Severan dynasties. Near the entrance area of the Ulpia Oescus, one can admire administrative buildings and a perfectly reconstructed Roman well in front of a big complex of public baths. Archaeological excavations started in Ulpia Oescus 1904–1905. Later campaigns in the Ulpia Oescus identified three public baths (thermae) and brought to daylight a perfectly preserved road from bath to the remarkable Temple of Fortuna. Along the road there used to be shops until the 6th century. The Temple of Fortuna, built in 190–191 AD, was dedicated to the protector of the city – the Goddess of Fortuna. Her statue is now exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Just across the road, the famous mosaic The Achaeans (3rd century AD) was discovered in 1948. It is now exhibited in the Regional Historical Museum in Pleven, with other artifacts from Oescus and Storgosia. The forum is dominated by the Temple of Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) and a basilica. On 5 July 328 AD, Emperor Constantine I personally opened and consecrated the Constantines’ Bridge, the biggest and most famous stone bridge on the Danube, which linked Oescus on the south bank with the castrum Sucidava on the north. Today, its ruins can be seen only on the northern bank of the Danube, in Celei, once Roman fortress Sucidava, in Romania. The bridge was in use only for a short period and then dismantled before the invasions of the Goths in 376–378 AD. In 411 AD, the Huns destroyed Oescus. Emperor Justinian I tried to re-establish Oescus as the stronghold of the Danube defense system, but all the efforts were stopped in late 585 and early 586 AD by the Avars. Another attempt at settling here was a Bulgarian village, built on the Roman ruins (10th–14th century), before Oescus finally vanished and became history. The comprehensive plan of excavation and reconstruction of the Ulpia Oescus site intend to fully restore the buildings of Oescus I which will provide visitors a complete impression of this ancient Roman commercial, cultural and military center.

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