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The Roman tomb in Silistra

The Roman tomb in Silistra

the town of Silistra, northeastern Bulgaria.

RELIGIONS Catholic, Orthodox, Paganism


The Roman tomb in Silistra is one of the most famous in Bulgaria antique monument which dates back to IV century when the town was a Roman fortress named Durostorum. It is a unicameral vaulted stone building with an entrance on the East and dimensions 3.3m x 2.60m x 2.30m. The tomb is famous with its rich frescoes decoration (geometrical, animal and human figures, hunting scenes, family couple and their servants), made probably by an artist from Egypt or Syria. The tomb was discovered in 1942 and nowadays is exhibited in a special protective building.
The archaeological monument was discovered by chance in 1942 on the southern outskirts of Silistra, where the ancient necropolis of Durostorum was situated - one of the most significant Roman cities of the Lower Danube in II - VI c. The first written record of this settlement is the order of the Roman Emperor Trajan of 106 for the relocation of the XI Claudius Legion from Pannonia to Durostorum. Legion is a striking force against enemies coming from the North of the Danube. From 106 to VI century here, this most important military unit of the Roman Empire of the Lower Danube was permanently and uninterrupted. So Durostorum turns out to be a basic fortitude against the barbarian invasions and above all against the raids of the Goths. Durostorum became a self-governing city of muni- nipium in 169 AD and during the 4th century it was experiencing stormy prosperity. Testimonies for this are the impressive city baths, pagan temples and altars, private homes and suburban villas found at Silistra. Water pipes, large public buildings are built, the squares are decorated with marble statues and bas-reliefs. The Roman tomb is part of this architectural heritage.
Archaeological excavations in the area reveal that Silistra is the center of the ancient necropolis of the great Roman city. At the heart of this necropolis were the buried magistrates who were the most prominent citizens of Durostorum at that time. Evidence is the fact that in the 1960s, just a hundred yards west of the tomb, one of the most spectacular burials of a Roman general in the Bulgarian lands was revealed - with golden jewels, a staff rod, a magnificent chariot and swords covered with precious stones. In the 1970s, a martyrarium (mausoleum) of three of Durostorum's twelve early Christian martyrs was discovered south of the tomb. Durostorum's married citizen was a member of the Senate in Constantinople and is believed to originate in the eastern provinces of the Empire (Syria, Egypt). The reason for this hypothesis is the fact that the animals and plants depicted in the frescoes are not typical of the Bulgarian lands, but for Africa and the Nile Delta (with palms, pomegranates, leopards and peacocks). This suggests that either the master or the artist - and most likely both - come from those rich provinces of the Roman Empire - Front Asia and North Africa. The frescoes also suggest that a patriot was a pagan, living on the border between two epochs - between setting paganism and emerging Christianity. Perhaps the owner left the city at the Gothic invasion at the end of the 4th century, which is why the tomb was never used for its intended purpose.
The tomb was built to the second quarter of the 4th c. an inconvenient dwelling of a Roman patrician pagan of Durostorum. This is evident from his patrician garments as well as from the painted Patrician diploma - the code - bestowed to him by the Emperor (Constantine the Great or his heirs) at the beginning of the 4th century. Most probably around the middle of the 4th century, like other provincial aristocrats, he is honored with a high title (patrician, master, senator, consul). Evidence of this is also found in his clothing, which completely matches that of the patriots, senators and the highest magistrates of the early Byzantine era. The belt and the red cloak suggest that he belonged to the higher military aristocracy. The tomb is made of bricks and has an entrance from the east. Inside, a white plinth is located a frieze of 11 rectangular fields, included in a brick-red frame. The rich mural decoration suggests that this is the tomb of a notable Roman. The central rectangular canvas is occupied by the figure of the lord in full stature, and next to him is his noble wife. The rest are depicted by their nine servants, who carry elements of the Master's patrician suit. On the eastern lionnet (a wall field bounded by an arch) are depicted pairs of pigeons, and on the west - peacocks, who drink the living water of eternal life from a large vase of a campus. The scene is a symbol of immortality. Especially impressive is one of the maids who hold the most important element of the masters' suit - a red gold plaid with a golden fibula. The servant himself has long blond hair and the scientists suggest that it is a goth. The Goths began to infiltrate this area from the time of Constantine the Great to arrive later to their invasion.
The students should visit the tomb to learn more about the Byzantine era in the Bulgarian lands.


  • JPG

    Durostorum, 4thc AD painted tomb in Silistra, Bulgaria, formerly the Roman settlement of Durostorum The tomb is located in the town of Silistra, in the region of the ancient necropolis. It has one chamber, built rectangularly, a semi-cylindrical vault and its entrance is from the East. The walls are made of stone and the vault - of bricks. Its measurements are: 3.30/2.60m/2.30 m. The walls on the inside are entirely covered with murals in the al fresco technique with details in impera al seco. Over a low plinth there runs the basic frieze of 11 panels with human figures on them, whereas over them there are painted trimmer joists at the base of the vault, and compositions are painted in the lunettes and on the vault. The husband and wife buried here are painted on the central panel. A procession of servants with garments and gifts in their hands is depicted on both sides of the couple. In addition, the decoration features peacocks, candle-sticks and birds Hunting scenes, birds, animals and vegetal motifs are painted on the vault. The style shows ancient elements, but it also reflects traits of art in the 4th century to which the tomb is dated. The Silistra Tomb is a rare, wholly preserved monument of late ancient painting. It shows the characteristics of the provincial style It is a unique example of art and life of that particular period in the Thracian lands.



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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.