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
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
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
Special thanks to Milena Minkova for the translation of this page.
Should any navigation problems arise, click titles from this location.