Director of the Institute for Ecomuseum Research, Tulcea
The ruins near Murighiol village, in Tulcea County, have been known since the end of the previous century. Several chance discoveries, but especially the discussions regarding the ancient name of the fortress, have almost constantly kept alive the specialists' interest in this settlement. Systematic archeological diggings started in 1981, and established two magisterial sections that have allowed for the access to the stratigraphy of the site. Thus, it was established that there were inhabitants continuously from the 6th century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. Then, surface research highlighted three major periods of settlement in Halmyris: The Gaetic Period (4th-1st century B.C.) Archeological discoveries have identified the existence of a Gaetic settlement dating from the 6th-5th century B.C., in the North-Eastern part of the fortress plateau. Well-defined stratigraphically by two levels of settlement, it received a Grecian name, Halmyris, due to the intense commercial relations with the Greeks, a fact proven by the numerous Greek materials that were unearthed. In the 2nd-3rd century B.C. one can assume there was a dava here, whose elements of fortification were overlaid with those of the early Roman fortifications. The Early Roman Period (1st-3rd century A.D.) At the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. the first Roman fortification was built over the Gaetic settlement. An altar dedicated to Hercules by a vexillation of the Legions I Italica and XI Claudia, was interpreted as a proof of the building of the fortress by this detachment. Starting from this period the fortress became an important stop for the Danube fleet, Classis Flavia Moesica, a thing certified also by the name borne by the civil settlement around the fortifications – vicus classicorum (the village of the sailors), found in five inscriptions discovered at the northern gate. The Goth invasions from the middle of the 3rd century A.D. violently destroyed the early Roman fortifications. Reconstructions, with the new interior, the northern and western gates, the port, the street network and the main intramural edifices were in an advanced stage of construction in 290 A.D., when, Acta Sanctorum describes in detail Halmyris fortress. The description of the martyrs Epictetus and Astion is accompanied by the description of a few monuments that were confirmed archeologically as well: the port in which a ship anchors, the large market place in the center of the fortress and the military headquarters. There are five levels of settlement that correspond to this period, accurately dated with coins and typical ceramic forms. The Late Roman Period (4th-7th century A.D.) In the 4th century A.D. the fortress went through a particularly prosperous period, becoming one of the 15 most important towns of the Scythia Minor province, a fact proven by both the information transmitted by the ancient literary sources and by the archeological discoveries. Thus, in this period, the northern and western gates were reconstructed to be more powerful and efficient, the thermal installation was built, with three basins, around the northern gate, and the commander's house (praetorium) at the crossing of the two main streets in the center of the fortress. But the peak of the history of the fortress in the 4th century A.D. is the erection of the Episcopal basilica during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great. In 2001, a crypt was discovered under the altar of the basilica, with the earthly remains of the two martyrs, Epictetus and Astion, hidden and protected until the construction of the church, by the Christians from Halmyris. The building, with a dromos (corridor) in which one has to descend seven steps to the funerary room, still has, on the eastern wall, a painted fresco with the names of the first martyrs from Dobruja and numerous Christian symbols. We do not know if the Adrianople disaster from 378 was felt in Halmyris. Nevertheless, the fortress was rebuilt at the beginning of the 5th century, and at the end of this period it was in visible decay. Its restoration under the Byzantine emperor Justinian is reflected by the ancient sources and by the results of the archeological research that have pointed out not only the restoration of the ancient monuments, but also the construction of others, of an impressive quality, such as the north-eastern gate or the fountain in the central area. At the end of the 6th century and at the beginning of the 7th century A.D., the Halmyris fortress kept all its strategic, urban and economic attributes: the interior, the extramural defense system with ditches and vallums, the edifices, the street network, an earthen lamp workshop that sent its products at least in the surrounding area and a great quantity of ceramic types, imported to a large extent from the Oriental provinces of the Roman Empire. All these elements, to which we can also add a few monetary discoveries from the beginning of the 7th century A.D. go significantly beyond the dark year 602, considered until very recently the date of the definitive fall of the Danube limes (border). There were people living in Halmyris even after the defensive system of the fortress was out of use. Elements of masonry from the previous edifices are used and half-buried settlements and surface shacks are made, at a time that we can assume to be, chronologically, towards the half of the 7th century A.D. Thus, the date of the transformation of a fortress into a simple rural settlement, like the continuity of the Roman element up to the moment of the Romanian ethnogenesis, constitute research hypotheses for the future. Situated in an exceptional natural environment, the fortress can be visited in any season. There are many hotels and boarding houses that have been built in the area, and Murighiol village is one of the gates to the Danube Delta. Bibliography: Al. S. Stefan, The Late Roman Fortress of Murghiol. Aerophotographic Study. Peuce IX, p. 297 -310; M. Zahariade, Al. Suceveanu et al. in Dacia, N.S., XXX, 1986, p. 173-176, Dacia, N.S., XXXI, 1987, p. 87-96, 97-106; A. Opait, The Ceramic from the Settlement and Fortress of Independenta (Murghiol), Peuce, X, 1991, p. 133 -181; F. Topoleanu, Late Roman Ceramics with Stamped Motifs, Discovered at Halmyris, Peuce, XII, 1996, p.143 -168;
F. Topoleanu, The Roman and Roman-Byzantine Ceramics from Halmyris, Tulcea, 2000.
by Florin Topoleanu
Director of the Institute for Ecomuseum Research, Tulcea