Varna in ancient times


According to the notes of the Greek geographer Strabo, the antic Greeks knew the road to Pontos Euxinos and were attracted by the supposed treasures in the land of the Thracians. During the Greek colonization that started in 7th century B.C., those from Ionia and Millet were the most active participants. Many new towns were established for a short period of time - Tomis, Dionisopolis, Odessos, Apollonia, Messambria... The name Odessos was first mentioned by Strabo, and the poet Skimno wrote that the city was founded from the Milletian Greeks in 572 B.C. - at the time when Astiag ruled in Midis. As one of the major colonies along the coast, it was based in the old part of Varna. The city quickly grew into a trade center due to its location, and in political aspect into a typical polis.


The information we have about the first days of the new colony is scarce. The main resource is the notes of the ancient historians, describing the military successes of the rulers. In 511 B.C. on its way to the Scythia the navy of the Persian King Darius sailed near Odessos. In 341 B.C. Phillip II Macedonian succeeded to disunite the Thracian tribes and conquer the huge country of Odryses, together with the seacoast, his purpose is Moesia. Only Odessos fought for its independence. The number of unsuccessful attempts to conquer the city led to negotiations and eventually peace. The good relations with Macedonian authorities continued during the rule of Alexander the Great, but after his death in 323 B.C. the empire was separated between the Macedonian troop leaders. Lysimachus' politics of restricting the autonomy of the Pontic cities brought the dislike of the polis. Callatis and Odessos revolted, later supported by the Thracian ruler Sevt III. In 313 B.C. Lysimachus put an end to these events, attacking Odessos. It was not until after his death in 281 B.C. when Odessos got back its autonomy. The following era was famous with constructing new buildings and temples, reestablishing trade connections, forming relations with new Pontic Union (Odessos, Tomis, Callatis, Messambria and Apollonia). This was just a protection measure against neighbour tribes and possible danger from Rome.


For long years Rome had been trying to conquer the areas south of the Danube River. In 29 B.C. a "reason" was found and the leader of Macedonia Marcus Licinius Crassus conquered an enormous part of Moesia and Skytia Minor. A year later Odessos was also under Roman authority. In the beginning it was attached to the province of Macedonia, and later, in 15 B.C. it is included in the borders of the new province of Moesia. The Roman politics towards Odessos was one of privileges, sole administrative responsibility and trade freedom. In the next quiet years from 2nd till mid 3rd century the city improved its infrastructure and constructed more solid fortress walls. Another advantage was the larger area between them, providing space for architects' fantasies. A gymnasium, theatre, many temples of Apollo, Darzalas and other gods, were built. New roads leading to the city were constructed, and the aqueduct brought water to the majestic Odessos thermae. Another proof of the wealth was cutting of coins bearing the name of Odessos. But a danger threatens the patriciuses. The new religion, Christianity, became more popular amongst the poor citizens. The promised equity and heaven bliss brought more supporters. This trend increased the concerns of the Roman rulers. In the first years the Christians' prosecutions had been cruel, but their faith was stronger and in 325 A.C. the Christianity was acclaimed an official religion.


The decision for establishing the new capital of Moesia at the springs of Devnya, close to Odessos, took away the advantages of the city status. Marcianopolis, being on a crossroad and of strategic importance, grew as an administrative, military and trade centre. Not long after the Goths' and Huns' attacks in the end of 4th century Marcianopolis lost its leading position. The agreement between Emperor Theodosius II and the Huns' leader Attila, signed in 447 in Odessos, succeeded to send away the conquerors and the region won a new chance. Odessos, less damaged, rose as the major spot of power in the empire.


By the time of these events Odessos was already in the boundaries of Byzantium. The dividing of the Roman Empire in 395 followed years-long fighting. The city kept its importance and in 536 Emperor Justinian announced it as an administrative center of quaestura. It included the lands of Scythia, Moesia Inferior, The Cycladean islands, Caria and Cyprus. The wealth of the region attracted many Slavs, as well as Avars, who in a short period of time, after the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople in 626, destroyed the surrounding fortresses and Odessos. For many years the blossoming city was burnt down and turned into ruins. With the time the Slavs realized the advantages of the area and started settling along the lake coasts. They named the towns, rivers and regions. One of the assumptions regarding the modern name of Varna is that it originated from the Slavs. The damages were enormous and the city met khan Asparukh and his troops in ruins.

Special thanks to Milena Minkova for the translation of this page.




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