Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
Sexaginta Prista

Varbin Varbanov, Curator at the “Archaeology” Department

The Antiquity fort of Sexaginta Prista is located in the central area of the contemporary town of Rousse, on a natural hill next to the mouth of the Rousse Lom river. Traditionally, the name of the fort is translated as “port of the sixty ships”, but actually the literally translation is “sixty ships”. The name is received in relation to an important event in the last decades of the 1st century AD. This is the landing of one Roman legion (around 6000 men) through the river Danube with sixty ships of the “pristis” type during the Dacian wars of Emperor Domitian. In honour of the victory over the Dacians, the Thracian or Latin name of the local civilian settlement and the military camp is changed to Sexaginta Prista.
The location of Sexaginta Prista is registered for the first time by Felix Kanitz on the basis of the distances between the forts along the right riverbank of the Danube, marked in the Roman itineraries. The first “excavations” were conducted in 1878 when the Catholic abbot in Rousse excavated “a building with mosaics”. During the construction of the Officer’s Club at the end of the 19th century ancient architecture and finds were revealed, but have not been documented. During the regulation of the coastline in 1911 were registered two buildings and a part of the northwestern wall of the fort has been destroyed.
            Later, during the construction of the Summer Theater in the 1960s ancient walls were discovered again, but archaeological research was not conducted. In 1976-1978 were conducted rescue archaeological excavations in a section, threatened by contemporary construction. Around 50 m of the northwestern fortification wall were revealed, the northwestern corner tower and the remains of four buildings, which are now exhibited and accessible for visiting.
            In the end of 2004 during excavation works for the construction of a hotel in the yard of the Military Club in Rousse were revealed stone walls and pottery from different periods. This led to conducting rescue archaeological excavations, which started in the beginning of January 2005 and continued up to 2009.

As a result of the research it has been determined that the earliest chronological level is represented by hundreds of Thracian ritual pits, dated 1st century BC – 1st century AD. In this period the hill is a sacred place, where the local inhabitants – the Getae, have conducted their rituals. Their settlement has been located in proximity, in the area of the Covered Market within the center of the contemporary town of Rousse, where a coin hoard of Thracian imitations was discovered.
Large quantity of fragmented pottery, bones, stones and flints were discovered inside the filler of the pits, and fewer fragments and items of iron, bronze and lead. Several intact vessels were found, and others were restored. Distinguishable among them are a cover, which end up with the head of an eagle and a large number of fragments of amphorae with stamps. They are evidencing for intensive import and international trade. The dating of the complex (1st century BC – 1st century AD) is on the basis of the discovered typical pottery of the period, 15 coins and several fibulae. The cult pit complex ceased its functions with the arrival of the Romans during the last third of the 1st century AD.
The pits, marked with numbers 3 and 30 significantly differ from the rest and were probably the central facility of the complex. Immediately over these two pits were revealed the remains of a building made of unprocessed stones with clay joint, with Northeast-Southwest direction, and an apse on its northeastern short wall. Within the apse of the building, inside several pits, were discovered four intact votive plates, 46 fragments of other votive plates and an altar of Apollo with dedication to the god. One of the votive plates – with an image of Apollo, also contains an inscription – dedication to the god, by a military man at Durostorum. The finds, discovered within the context of the building, are granting to us arguments for its interpretation as a Temple of Apollo. The temple was constructed during the second half of the 2nd century AD and functioned up to the beginning of the second quarter of the 3rd century AD. The reason for its abandonment was the invasions of the Goths and other tribes from beyond the Danube in during the 232-251 AD period. In this period on the hill next to the Danube were located only the Temple of Apollo and several buildings related to it. The early military camp of Sexaginta Prista during the 1st century AD has been located in the area of the present-day Leather-processing Factory next to the Rousse Lom river.
During the entire 3rd century AD the hill continued to be a sacred territory for the local inhabitants. At the very end of the century, over the destructions of the temple, but within its outlines were made several pits, containing fragments of votive plates, pottery, bones and coins.
During the reign of Emperor Diocletian over the structures of the 2nd-3rd century AD a fortification was erected. This is probably the praesidium of Sexaginta Prista, mentioned in an epigraphic monument from 298 AD.
In the beginning of the 4th century AD a large building was constructed partially stepping over the temple of Apollo. In 2006 it was determined that this is the Principia of Sexaginta Prista. The building has rectangular shape and is directed towards Northwest-Southeast with its long sides. At the northwestern short wall there is a constructive extension – an apse.
The building is constructed of unprocessed stones with plaster joint. In some places its height is preserved up to a meter. It has two partition walls, which are shaping three premises. Initially, the building had one official premise (the western one) and internal peristyle yard with colonnade and wooden roof. The second construction period marks the building of a southeastern wall (on a joint), which separates the yard into two parts. It has two symmetrical official entrances. Six stone bases for pillars were revealed inside the middle premise. 
About 150 coins from the period between the 4th and the 5th century (from Diocletian to Theodosius I) discovered within the context of the building, allow for a more precise determination of its chronology. It is constructed in the beginning of the 4th century, along with the fortification walls, and existed as such up to the end of the 4th century. After that (during the 5th century) part of the building has been reused as a dwelling facility.
The praesidium of Sexaginta Prista has been inhabited up to the end of the 6th-the beginning of the 7th century, when the Lower Danube border line of fortifications (the Limes) has been abandoned under the pressure of the tribes, arriving from the north.
During the Ottoman period, in the beginning of the 19th century, a house with an yard was built over the Principia. As a result, immediately over its remains, are found materials from the Ottoman period. Thus, all of the chronological levels after the middle of the 5th century are destroyed and we receive information for them only by the 5th-century diggings into earlier layers. Such one is an Early Byzantine pit from the 6th century inside the middle premise, which marks the abandonment of the building or its transformation.
According to the materials, discovered inside the subsequent embankment up to the contemporary level, after the 6th century there is a hiatus (interruption) in the life of the studied area. The discovered subsequent materials are from the 10th-11th century. There are no preserved residential buildings from this period, but at that time there has been an unfortified settlement located here. It has probably been inhabited by some northern tribe (Pechenegs), settled as border population. So far there are no fragments of pottery from the 12th-14th century period discovered on the hill. This fact supports the implemented conclusions for the localization of the Medieval fortress from the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom down, on the very riverbank of the Danube.
A grave was discovered within the studied area, partially destroyed by an Ottoman tunnel. It has no inventory, and the skeleton has been laid by the Christian ritual. During the 1976-1978 excavations several other graves have been revealed. It is possible that some of the Medieval necropoles (12th-14th century) of Rousse to have been located there.
            A house, 21 Ottoman pits and a tunnel with preserved vault arch, probably part of the structure of the Aziziye Mosque, are registered from the period of the 19th century. They are dated with coins and a stamp, pipes and parts of shells and cannon-balls. The pits contain large quantity of pottery, bones, glass and corroded iron fragments. During the excavations were also discovered British faience and porcelain – cups, dishes, snuff vessel, bottles for wine from Bordeaux and cognac.
The last construction period, visible on the site, refers to the middle of the 20th century, when leveling took place here for the needs of the existing military barracks.