Almus

Ruins of Roman city of Almus
A tombstone inscription in Latin revealing the "sad" life story of a Roman military veteran who served a total of 44 years in the Roman military, an untypically long period, has been discovered during the excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Almus, today the town of Lom on the Danube River in Northwest Bulgaria.

Almus was one of the many substantial Roman settlements on the southern bank of the Danube River. While the main Almus Fortress was in the 3rd - 4th century, during the reigns of Roman Emperors Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD) and Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD), an early Roman fortress wall going back to the second half of the 1st century was discovered in 2019.

Almus
© 24 Chasa daily
The newly discovered tombstone of a Roman military veteran in Almus, today’s Lom on the Danube River, is the earliest known Roman inscription from today’s Northwest Bulgaria, an important region of the Roman Empire in the Late Antiquity.
The Roman Empire completed the conquest of all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube River in 46 AD.

Almus was an important Roman and later Early Byzantine stronghold on the Danube; the name "Lom" itself comes from the Bulgarian medieval period when it was also an important fortress in the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

The tombstone monument inscription of the Roman military veteran who served a total of 44 years found in the 2020 archaeological excavations of Almus is a valuable testimony to the early Roman presence in today's Bulgaria, lead archaeologist Valeri Stoichkov from the Lom Museum of History has told the 24 Chasa daily.

Interestingly, the inscription was left behind by the Roman military veteran's freed former slave.

The tombstone itself is made of high-quality marble, and dates back to the second half of the 1st century AD.

The surviving part of the marble tombstone has five lines from the funeral inscription in Latin.

It is the earliest Roman inscription to have ever been found in today's Northwest Bulgaria, a region which harbored a lot of vast and crucial Roman cities such as Ratiaria (today's Archar), Bononia (today's Vidin), Castra ad Montanesium (today's Montana), Ulpia Oescus (today's Gigen), among others.

The newly found Ancient Roman epigraphic monument from the excavations of Almus in Bulgaria's Lom has been read by epigraphist Assist. Prof. Nikolay Sharankov from Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski".

Stoichkov has described the information revealed by the 1st century AD marble tombstone inscription as telling "a sad story".

The prominent Roman man, the military veteran honored by the tombstone, served a total of 44 years in the Roman military - whereas the normal term of military service in the Roman Empire was 25 years.

The Roman military veteran in question was buried by his slave since he did not create a family and did not have any other heirs.

The Roman military veteran thus most probably left all of his belongings to his freed slave. In gratitude for his freedom and the inheritance, the slave erected the tombstone as a monument to his former master, the lead archaeologist explains.

According to the first line of the Latin inscription, which is partially preserved, the deceased Roman military veteran occupied the position of imaginifer - the person who carried the imago, the image of the emperor.

The position of the imaginifer was introduced in the Roman military during the region of the first Roman Emperor, Octavian Augustus (r. 27 BC - 14 AD), as part of the establishment of the Imperial Cult.

The post of the imaginifer in the Roman legions was usually occupied by distinguished servicemen deemed deserving of the high honor, resembling the status of flag-bearers in later historical periods, Stoichkov says.

The second line from the Latin inscription discovered during the 2020 archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Almus in Bulgaria's Lom contains a mention of the position of "Decurion", who meaning was two-fold - that of a Roman cavalry officer and that of a member of a city or town council in the Roman Empire.

Stoichkov notes that the cavalry meaning of the title in the said case would be logical with respect to the Ancient Roman city of Almus because during the 2019 excavations his team discovered a military barracks deemed to have belong to a cavalry squad, which also dates back to the 1st century AD.

It is also possible, however, that the Roman military veteran honored by the newly found tombstone may have been a Decurion in the administrative meaning of the term.

In that sense, a Decurion would be an influential political figure on the local level, who would be involved in matters such as public procurement, religious rituals, public entertainment, law enforcement, or the overseeing of tax collection.

The administrative position of the Decurion also existed with respect to settlements which may not have been granted a city status yet, which seems to have been the case with Almus at the time.

The fifth line of the Latin tombstone inscription contains the name of the person who erected it to honor the Roman military veteran - Amarantus.

The name is of Greek origin and is roughly translated as "Undying". The researchers point out that such a name was usually given to slaves during that period. As a rule, the honoring of the deceased at the time was done by their surviving spouses and children.

"Probably the noble Roman citizen who served a total of 44 years on battlefields and military camps did not manage to create a family, and left all of his belongings to his freed slave. In a show of gratitude, the freed man them erected a funeral tombstone with a dedication [to his former master] which has reached us today, 20 centuries later," Stoichkov says.

Almus
© Google Maps
The location of Almus, today Lom, on the Danube River in Northwest Bulgaria.
The lead archaeologist says that the tombstone dedicated to the Roman military veteran of 44 years, which has been found during the excavations of ancient Almus in the Danube city of Lom, is going to be proposed for inclusion in the annual exhibition of the most interesting newly discovered archaeological artifacts from around Bulgaria, which is organized by the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology every year.

During other excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Almus in recent years, the archaeologists discovered traces of metal smelting, the western gate of the ancient city, and evidence that the fortifications underwent reconstructions during the Late Ottoman period.

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian, Roman, Early Byzantine, medieval Bulgarian and Ottoman city of Almus (Artanes) are located in the Kaletata Quarter of today's Bulgarian Danube town of Lom.

The Roman fort and road station of Almus was built at the location of an Ancient Thracian settlement around 29 AD, while the fortress itself was built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, when it was part of the district of the nearby Roman city and colony Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria (today's Archar) in the province of Moesia Superior.

Almus is believed to have been the ancient name of the Lom River. The Roman city of Almus is located on the Via Istrum, the Roman road going along the Danube, whose construction started during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (r. 19-37 AD).

Almus was also the starting point of a Roman road leading from the Danube to Serdica (today's Sofia). It is believed that in Roman times the Danube port of Almus served both military and commercial vessels.

In the middle of the 5th century AD, Almus was captured and ransacked in the barbarian invasions of the Huns. It was later an important city in Early Byzantium, the medieval Bulgarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman period the settlement was protected with a rectangular rampart.

Almus was mentioned in the 4th century AD Tabula Peutingeriana (the Peutinger Map showing cursus publicus, the road network in the Roman Empire, covering Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia), and was mentioned in the so called Antonine Itinerary (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, "The Itinerary of Emperor Antoninus"), an Ancient Roman register of road stations.

Almus was marked on some Western European maps from the 16th-17th century. The name of Almus has been found in Latin inscriptions on epigraphic monuments explored by 19th and early 20th century archaeologists such as Bogdan Filov, Gavril Katsarov, Vaclav Dobruski, Felix Kanitz, and Konstantin Josef Jirecek.

The archaeological excavations of Almus have explored a 70-meter section from its western fortress wall, which is 2.2 meters wide, and was 200 meters long. The total area of the Almus Fortress is about 41 decares (app. 10 acres), and is shaped like a pentagon with round fortress towers at its angles.

The discovered archaeological artifacts are stored in the Lom Museum of History. The Almus Fortress has not been restored even though it harbors great potential as a cultural tourism site. The fortress walls are made from river stones, and the city had two water pipelines - one made of clay, and another one made of lead.

It is believed that Almus did not develop crafts because of its proximity to Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria. The necropolis of Almus contains masonry graves, and sarcophagi.

Almus was discovered for modern-day archaeology in 1864 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz. At the end of the 19th century it was explored by Dimitar Marinov and Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Josef Jirecek. In 1925, an archaeological society called Almus was founded in the town of Lom.

Almus was granted the status of a "monument of culture of national importance" by the Bulgarian government in 1971. It was excavated in 1986-1990 by a team of the Lom Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
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Ivan Dikov, the founder of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, is the author ofthe book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria, among other books.