Ratiaria – Ratsiaria

The ancient city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (Ratsiaria) is the most important Roman and Byzantine center of the lower Danube in today’s northwestern Bulgaria, in Vidin district, near the village of Archar. Ratiaria was an administrative center (capital) of the civitas Moesiae. Ratiaria was founded in the 1st century AD as a military camp around which a civil settlement grew up. Ratiaria must have been a very spectacular place – one of the largest Roman cities in the Balkans covering the area of ca 35 hectares, a major military encampment, the capital of a Roman province, and all of that situated on hills overlooking the spot of a Danube curve. During the 2nd – 3rd century Ratsiaria was a prospering town with Romanized population and autonomous government, organized according to the Roman model. The city has grown and became a lively harbor center and through which a big part of the transit commerce has been done. Ratsiaria grew as a craft center, as well as an agricultural one and later into the episcopal seat. Although Ratiaria is one the biggest and most representative ancient towns in Bulgaria it is unfortunately in extremely bad conditions. Remains of Ratiaria site are located in the locality of Kaleto on the northern outskirts of the Archar village, district of Vidin, near the Danube. Two major thoroughfares were running through Ratiaria in antiquity: Via Danubiana (Danube route) and the way to the Adriatic, which provide the fastest connection from Rome to the Danube frontier. As an important cultural and historical value Ratsiaria could be compared to cities like Serdica (modern Sofia), Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near the village of Nikyup, district of Veliko Tarnovo), Ulpia Oescus (Municipality of Gulyantsi, district of Pleven, to the mouth of the Iskar River), Viminacium and Singidunum sites – in present day Serbia.

The Roman itinerary road Lissus–Naissus–Ratiaria was, as is well-known, a transverse communication across the central Balkans connecting the Adriatic coast and the Danube Basin. Taking into account the maritime route between the Italic port of Brundisium and Lissus, it was the shortest link between the capital of the Empire and the Danubian limes. Namely, the Appian Way led from Rome to Brundisium, and thence ships sailed to the Balkan Peninsula, where an overland route from Lissus continued along the Drim valley and across the highlands of present-day Albania and Serbia (mostly Kosovo and Metohija) to the Niš Basin with the ancient city of Naissus at its centre. From Naissus, the road ran along the Timok river valley, took a northeast turn across Kadibogaz, a pass on Stara Planina (north-western part of the Balkan Mountain range), and ended at Ratiaria, a Roman colony (present-day Archar on the Danube River, Bulgaria). In the period of the Empire’s expansion and consolidation of the border on the Danube, the road was predominantly used for military purposes, for the transportation of troops and supplies to the Danubian limes. With the onset of mining activities in Upper Moesia, this important road began to be used for exporting ores and thus assumed economic, i.e. commercial, importance.

Archaeological excavations and research of Ratiaria started in 1958 under the leadership of Velizar Velkov and continued in 1991. The eastern gate of the city, parts of the eastern wall, impressive structures interpreted as the residence of the Governor of Dacia Ripensis Province have been revealed, explored, restored and preserved. Recent studies show that the city of Ratiaria – Ratsiaria was founded at the beginning of Ist century or earlier, as a military camp of IVth Flavian and VIIth Claudius Legions. According to Dio Cassius (Cass.Dio, LI 23, 2-27) in 29 BC Marcus Licinius Crassus came to the lands of Moesia, where he besieged and captured the strongest Moesian fortress, for which is supposed that is developed into the future Ratiaria. During the 2nd century Ratsiaria was mentioned by Claudius Ptolemy as “Ratsiaria Moesian” (Ptolem., III, 9, 3), in the 3rd century as Ratiaria – head of the XIII Double Twin Legion (Gemina), and in the 4th century the name Ratiaris was noted in the famous Tabula Peutingeriana, created after the pattern in second half of the 2nd century (Libya1958, 15, 22, 31). Ratsiaria becomes a starting point for military expansion in Dacia under the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). After the second Dacian war in 106 AD the emperor founded 5 colonies, one of which was Ratiaria. Colonies were cities with the highest degree of autonomy, each of them was built as a copy of Rome. The full name of the city – Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria was written on an inscription dated in 125 AD (CIL, III, 14 499). In the 2nd-3rd century Ratsiaria became the center of a large urban area and reached high economic boom and flowering of cultural. Undoubtedly, its port had important communicative significance. The Roman river military fleet base was located here. In the first half of the 5th century Ratiaria was still a major center with a large population, however in the 40ties of the 5th century it was sacked by the Huns. Under Anastasius I (491-518) restoration operations were carried out and the town received a new name Anastasiana Ratiaria. It seems the overrunning of the town in 586 by the Avars led to the end of its existence.

The name “Ratiaria” could be interpreted as derive from “ratis” – type of vessels. Observations on the riverbanks of the Danube and reporting the changes in its configuration allow the ancient port to be localized next to the locality of Kaleto, i.e. north of the city fortress (Brizzi, 1984, p. 81). A customs there was in Ratsiaria also (Portorium Illyricum) (Giorgetti, 1989, p. 66). Between 2nd-3rd centuries the town was defined as the commercial center (emporion) of the district. After 272, Ratsiaria became the main town of the Coastal Dacia province. The military and administrative governors of the province stayed at Ratsiaria. The remains of a monumental building of Ratiaria are interpreted as the residence of the governor of the Dacia Ripenis Province (Kuzmanov, 2000;Valeva, 2000). In 2010 in the surroundings of the town was found an inscription of Aurelius Priscus – dux Daciae Ripensis (governor of Coastal Dacia) (Luka, 2011a, p.533, Obr. 2). This is the second dux of the province of the three known until now, recorded in the inscription.

In the 4th century Ratsiaria was an episcopal center. The names of its bishops are known from written sources. One of them was Sylvester, who was involved in the famous Serdekiyski council in 343 AD, and another one was Palladius who was a famous theorist and defender of Arianism (Dinchev, 2002, p. 15). To 1991 a very small part of Ratsiaria was archaeologically axcavated. The most impressive monumental structures and facilities are not-yet explored. For example, an aerial photograph of the city shows that in Ratsiaria were the greatest bath structures (termi of imperial type) in the Balkans (Giorgetti, 1987, p. 43-44, tav. B). The amphitheater of the city was localized during the rescue excavations between 2009-2011. Findings of strigils suggest that the city has had a Stadium (Atanassova, 1991, p. 12). In 2011 was revealed and part of the main street (decumdnus maximus), whose position indicates that the area occupied by Ratsiaria was twice bigger than assumed until now. There is evidence that in Ratsiaria had operated a gold mine and there was a goldsmith school. Archaeologists have found more than 50 different types of gold and silver jewelry – more than any other archaeological site in Bulgaria (Velkov, 1965, p. 7; Velkov, 1980,p. 65). Gold treasure was discovered in 1986 (Giorgetti, 1988). The exhibition “Gold of Ratsiaria” provoked an extremely high public interest (Dimitrova and Milcheva, 1987). For the time between the 4th-5th century Ratsiaria is known as one of the largest manufacturers of weapons according to descriptions of travel notes. Here was one of the sixth imperial armory.

Brilliant culture of Ratsiaria is visible in the rich ornamented sarcophagi, statues, sculptures, various decorated gravestones as well as architectural fragments, and luxurious private houses with colorful mosaics. Recent findings (monumental architectural decorations) indicate that public architecture of Ratsiaria was more monumental and more abundant than those in Oescus, Nove and Durostorum (Luka, 2011b, p.271, Obr. 1). The sculptural monuments from Ratsiaria are very delicate, distinguished by high artistic quality and show well developed and advanced school (Atanassova-Georgieva and Mitova-Dzhonova, 1985, p. 147). Many of the bronze and stone statues coming from Ratsiaria, reproduced classic originals of Poliklet, Preksitel or Lizip. Adding significant number of preserved works, which was not testified elsewhere in Northern Bulgaria we understand how great was the importance of Ratsiaria as artistic center. /Georgiev Svetoslav ICOMOS Bulgaria and Luka Krassimira Bulgarian Archaeological Association – Ivan Venedikov/. In the course of archaeological excavations carried out between 2001 and 2009, two detached archaeological localities were studied just across the river Danube : a Roman necropolis in locality “La Ruptură” and a vast building with a length of 32 m and a colonnade in locality “Castravita”.

Critical condition of the archaeological site of Ratsiaria and challenges to its preservation came from the lack of any action since the last archaeological excavations in 1991. The archaeological site of Ratsiaria – Ratiara is an example of an inadequate government policy and lack of foresight on the need for development of the cultural site as a factor for economic prosperity. Ratsiaria became one of the main targets of treasure-hunter intervention and antiquities trafficking over the past 20 years instead to be excavated by archaeologists and seriously preserved by country, and it still remains the most damaged archaeological site in Europe. The history of the destruction by the treasure hunters of Ratsiaria is very simple, in fact, the destruction came about result of the 18 years of absence of any government approved archaeological or historical studies of Ratiaria. In August 2011 a non-profit association “Ratiaria” was founded in the village of Archar, whose main objective is to protect and promote the ancient city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria. Hopefully the new researches and the efforts of the new generation of archaeologists in Bulgaria will guarantee that “the case Ratiaria” will never happen again.