Limes Research: Troesmis

Roman Military Camp – Municipium – Late Antique and Byzantine Fortification


Projekt Leader: C. AlexandrescuC. Gugl

Project Staff: B. Kainrath (Geomagnetik, Befundauswertung), A. Waldner (Auswertung der Surveyfunde)

Since 2011 the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture is part of a cooperation project with the Archaeological Institute of the Rumanian Academy of Sciences, which deals with the transformation processes of settlements in antiquity on the Lower Danube. With the application of innovative archaeological documentation and evaluation methods (digital documentation of findings, photogrammetry, geophysical prospection and geoinformation technology), the exposed border town of Troesmis shall be examined in order to serve as an example for the transformation of the settlement and living environments from the 2nd to the 6th/7th centuries AD.

Lying to the northwest of the Dobrudscha, Troesmis (Iglita) occupied  a strategic key position on the Roman Danube limes. The Roman-Byzantine settlement was situated on the steep right bank of the Danube, about 15 km to the south of the modern city Măcin and 4 km to the north of the village Turcoaia (jud. Tulcea). The wide-spread area of the ruins, which today is dominated by two visible remains of the fortifications, extends from the Danube to the east, up to the foothills of the Măcin-mountains. 

Due to the historic sources, we know that in the mid-Imperial period, probably from Trajanic times to the Marcomannic Wars, the legio V Macedonica was stationed in Troesmis. An older, Geto-Odrysian settlement had already been mentioned by Ovid in the Epistulae ex Ponto (IV, 9, 78–79), however, from an archaeological viewpoint only scarce evidence for the pre-Roman or early-Imperial Troesmis exists.

Troesmis (satellite view): eastern (E) and western (W) fortification, in between the settlement from the Imperial period (© TerraServer)
Troesmis 2011-2015: (© 2015 ÖAW)

In the last years of Mark Aurel’s reign, Troesmis was awarded the status of a municipium. The dimension of the settlement from mid-Imperial times on the surrounding fields, on which numerous stray finds (construction stones, tiles, pottery) have come to the surface, has not been documented yet. According to recent estimates, the area of the settlement encompassed about 50 ha. Aerial views respectively the relief of the terrain show several streets, at least one subterranean water conduit (“Trajan’s wall”) and several tumulus-like structures arranged in groups, presumably graves, in the immediate surroundings of the settlement. 

Due to building typology and fortification technique, the erection of the so-called eastern fortification (cf. fig: E) can be dated to late-antiquity. It was already widely uncovered in the second half of the 19th century, whereby the course of the fortification with several towers and the main gate as well as larger parts of the interior structures were documented. From the western fortification (cf. fig: W), lying about 700 m away, basically only parts of the surrounding walls are known. Numerous inscriptions from the 2nd and 3rd centuries were used as spoils in both fortifications; they give important insights to the administrative and settlement structures of mid-Imperial Troesmis.

The western fortification should have been in use only in Byzantine times. Next to settlement activities of the 10th to 13th centuries, which are documented by small finds, ceramics and coins, numerous, probably medieval inhumation burials were uncovered during rescue excavations on the plateau between the two fortifications in 1977. These observations, which can be seen in context with the re-erection of the Byzantine border defenses on the Lower Danube, correspond with the latest mention of Troesmis in the written sources through Emperor Constantin VII. (Porphyrogennetos) (De Them. 47,17).

(© 2015 Gugl/ÖAW)