Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
Roman and Early Byzantine Fort of Yatrus

Deyan Dragoev, Curator at the “Archaeology” Department

            The name of Yatrus is mentioned for the first time in the Roman itineraries from the 3rd century AD. There Yatrus is marked as a road station, located on the main military road that connects Singidunum (present-day Belgrade) with the delta of the Danube. In “Tabula Peutingeriana” Yatrus is placed at a distance of 9 Roman miles away from Novae (present-day Svishtov) and 16 miles away from Trimammium (near the village of Mechka). Karel Skorpil was the first to identify the ruins at the village of Krivina with the Roman Yatrus. The localization is affirmed by the long lasting Bulgarian-German archaeological excavations. Thanks to them, Yatrus is nowadays the most well studied Late Roman military camp in the territory of Bulgaria. It has been determined that there has also been an earlier predecessor of the Late Roman fort. The settlement has functioned together with the road station during the 2nd-3rd century AD and has probably played a role in the border defense of the Empire.

In 270-275 under the pressure of the barbarian tribes, invading from the north and northeast, the Romans were forced to leave the Province of Dacia, located to the north of the Danube. Thus, the lower stream of the river turned into Imperial border again. For the needs of its effective security, the Roman Emperors organized a large-scale construction of fortresses. It is especially intensive during the first quarter of the 4th century – during the reign of Emperor Constantine I (306-337). At that time on the right riverbank of Yantra, close to its mouth, was constructed a military camp – a castle, named after the name of the river from the Antiquity – Yatrus.

The fort of Yatrus is located on small hill that rises over the swampy mouth of the river Yantra. The site is naturally defensible with steep slopes from the north and northeast. The fort follows the outlines of the hill, which determines its irregular shape. The width of the fortification wall in the separate sections is 3.00-3.50 m, and the presumed height is 10 m. On the exterior side of the wall were located 10 highly protruding massive U-shaped towers. Two of them are guarding the only gate of the fort. Core of the fortification system of Yatrus is a large rectangular tower, which according to its imposing size (30.50 x 15.30 m) is without analogue among the monuments of the Roman military construction within the present-day Bulgarian lands.

The latest archaeological excavations show that in its initial type the camp continued to exist up to the 70’s of the 4th century. After the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, where the Roman Emperor Valens himself was killed, began a accelerated process of decay of the Late Roman model of military organization, during which the existing military camps were gradually transformed into fortified civilian settlements. This process is very well visible at the fort of Yatrus. After a devastating fire the buildings with purely military functions were abandoned. Smaller in size buildings, implemented with poorer construction techniques, appeared on their sites, whose inhabitants – probably Gothic foederati, were a population engaged in agriculture. These complexes had residential, warehouse and working premises, where various tools and craftsmen equipment is discovered. Separate finds, like armoury and imported amphorae are showing the presence of centralized shipping. Yatrus continued to be a unit from the imperial border system, and its inhabitants executed military tasks as well in times of hostile invasions. As early as the devastating Hunnic raids from the second quarter of the 5th century did the process of its transformation from a military camp to a civilian settlement brought to an end.

The Hunnic invasions of the 5th century had their impact over the historical development of the Roman Empire. Vast areas along the Danube Limes were devastated and depopulated. As early as the time of Emperor Anastasius (491-518 AD) did the lands along the Lower Danube receive a relative peace. The Roman authorities started the restoration of the old fortresses. Yatrus was sparsely built, inhabited by a population with very poor lifestyle. This settlement also became the victim of a conflagration – in the period after 518 AD, when the probable invaders, according to Marcelinus Comes were the Bulgars. The last construction period of Yatrus refers to the reign of Emperor Justinian I (527-565). The settlement shared the fate of the rest of the fortified points along the Lower Danube Limes and died under the attacks of Avars and Slavs in the end of the 6th century. Yatrus is mentioned for the last time by Theophylact Simocatta in relation to events from 600 AD, and after that disappeared from the pages of history.

Several decades after the abandonment of the Roman-Byzantine Yatrus a small settlement emerged over its ruins, inhabited by farmers. After the transition of the Bulgarian state-political center to the south of the Danube, the strategic location of this settlement – at the mouth of the river Yantra, was evaluated and a garrison was stationed here. In the 9th-10th century also appeared large residential buildings, probably two-storey ones. A hoard of 45 golden Byzantine coins (solidi) was discovered inside such a building, which reveals the growing economic possibilities of this Old Bulgarian settlement.
The end of this settlement came in the 70’s of the 10th century after a conflagration. In similarity to the other Old Bulgarian settlements along the Danube, the settlement at the mouth of the river Yantra was conquered and burnt during the invasion of the Prince of Kiev Svetoslav in the Bulgarian lands and the subsequent Byzantine invasion. Single finds show that in the 11th century over the ruins of the Old Bulgarian settlement a Pecheneg one emerged.