Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In search of the Forum at Serdica (modern Sofia)

As mentioned in an earlier blog (see: UlpiaSerdica, the Roman name for Sofia), today’s capital of Bulgaria is sitting right on top of old Serdica whose history goes back to 5000 BC. It seems that the Thracians were the first to settle in this valley where they built the first city which they named Serdica. During the fourth century BC it was conquered by Philip II during his expansion of Macedonia’s frontiers. Around 29 BC, the Romans took possession of the city and renamed it Ulpia Serdica. Emperor Trajan established his administrative centre here and started an extensive building project. Serdica is said to be the favourite residence of Constantine the Great, who qualified the city as “my Rome”. Unfortunately, the city was destroyed by the Huns in 447 AD, but was apparently rebuilt by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who protected it with sturdy fortress walls that are still visible today. It was in the 14th century that the city changed its name to Sofia, as a homage to the St Sofia Basilica.

Excavations seem to be carried out on a more or less steady pace, although spread randomly over different locations around Sofia. The most recent digs occured on the parking lot of the Sofia Hotel Balkan and under the square next to the Holy Sunday Church (St Nedelya), a favourite of the Bulgarians. This is where archaeologists hoped to uncovered the Roman agora of Serdica. Instead, they found a building from the 3rd century AD with exceptionally thick foundation walls of more than 1.5 meters thick. As this is three times the average wall-thickness, it leads to believe that it had to support extra weight, maybe two floor levels. The house stands along a stretch of the old Decumanus that is particularly wide at this point, measuring about six meters.

In a way it is disappointing that the Roman Forum has not been found, but on the other hand not all cities had one although there must have been some kind of a meeting space to centralize public and religious life. So far, of all the cities excavated in the Roman Province of Thracia, only Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv) had a Forum. Archaeologists are not giving up their quest at Serdica as the next possible location may be the underpass of the St Petka Church. Next year’s excavations may shed new light on this theory.

Meanwhile extensive restoration works have been carried out here as well as at previously uncovered sites and once they are completed, the remains will be covered with glass to allow the passer-by to have an intimate look at the city’s history. The different locations will be connected in order to create a large open-air museum.

Beside remains of buildings and streets, a hoard of silver coins was discovered at St Nedelya Square in September 2015, hidden in a ceramic pot. The 13 kg weighing treasure counts 2,976 Roman coins from the 1st and 2nd century AD and was the prized possession of a certain Silvius Calistus who carved his name on the pot. This is the largest collection ever found in Serdica and was gathered over a period of one hundred years as the earliest coins were minted under Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) and the last under Emperor Commodus (180-192 AD). So far, the coins were identified with the effigies of the Roman Emperors Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antonius Pius, but also of some Empresses or rather wives of Emperors like Vibia Sabina (wife of Hadrian), Faustina the Elder (wife of Antonius Pius), Faustina the Younger (wife of Marcus Aurelius), and Bruttia Crispina (wife of Commodus).

Archaeology in Bulgaria (click on the link) has published a number of photographs showing the excavations sites of Sofia as discovered in 2010 together with a picture of the same spots in 2015 after cleaning and restoration works were carried out.

[Picture were taken from Archaeology in Bulgaria]

2 comments:

  1. Awesome, excellent posts! You are a kindred spirit in re-discovering these ancient places (before they are gone!). I am very impressed by the breadth of some of these posts. Keep up the good work!

    Thank you,
    Dave

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Dave, for your words of appreciation. It's very encouraging to receive feedback on any of my posts.

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