Study of a Tower on the Late Roman Fortress Wall of Odessos

January 16, 2018

At 13 Voden Street, rescue archaeological excavations were carried out in the cellar of a modern building on the premises of the Odessos Archaeological Reserve. The purpose of the study was to investigate further the route of one of the already known fortified walls of the Ancient Odessos.

During the archaeological excavations, we managed to partially clear the western half of the front of a U-shaped tower. The other parts remained outside the boundaries of the survey area, i.e. leaving the area of the modern building and going under the contemporary city square and street. The outer face of the tower is formed by large and very precisely processed stone blocks, laid in horizontal rows. On the facing side, there were preserved almost four rows, and on the west side – three rows. The stone blocks on the outer face are medium and large in size, with a smooth or slightly rustic surface. Some of them (with the shaped of parallelepiped) are arranged in the "binder-läufer" system and others (with the shape of tiles) – as for tile lining. On their upper surface there are handmade cavities in the shape of a swallow tail and an iron clamp, used for a fastener. The inner face of the tower is made of much smaller and more roughly carved stones. The space between the two faces is filled with emplecton.

In the 6th century, a cultural layer was accumulated around and over the ruins of the tower. The terrain was inhabited during the Ottoman era also. From that time, we uncovered the remains of a wall and some household ceramics. The wall is located directly northwest of the tower. Its direction is slightly divergent to the northwest – southeast.

The ceramics dominates amongst the archaeological materials from the excavations. It can be divided into two groups – from the Late Antiquity and Late Middle Ages (the Ottoman period). Despite the limited perimeter of the studies, the modest volume of ceramic finds, the total lack of kitchen pottery amongst them and the very modest amount of tableware from the Late Antiquity, the found ceramics deserves attention. On one side, this is an indirect indication that the perimeter was probably not intensively used for residential purposes. On the other hand, the significant number of amphorae, especially those of Eastern Mediterranean origin, is fully in accordance with the historical data on Quaestura exercitus and the role of Odessos as the capital of the administrative structure and the main distribution center for the arriving cargo by sea, especially from the Eastern Mediterranean. For the same reason, the African amphora from this period is lacking.

The latest ceramic materials are dated from the first decade of the 7th century and correspond to the data on the abandonment of the city at that time. Till the Late Middle Ages, we are lacking new structures, ceramics or other finds. During the Late Middle Ages is the next phase of intensive habitation, from where the second large group of ceramics discovered during the studies originates. It is much more homogeneous and comprises mainly kitchen and tableware – part of the ceramic complex of a residential building from the 17th century.

Four decades ago, another quadrilateral and large-sized tower (phrourion), built with absolutely identical construction techniques, was discovered along the track of the fortified wall in question. Inside, two massive quadrangular pillars were built. The wall’s forehead points almost to the northwest, suggesting that there is a crinkle between the two towers. Most likely a horseshoe tower was built on that spot of the crinkle. At the height of 2.75 m from the floor, there are preserved recesses on which the beams of the upper floor’s wooden floor were placed. Judging by the height of the room, the number of the floors of the tower were at least four, and if it was higher than the wall – five.

The architectural concept of the revealed two towers on the commented northern fortress wall of Odessos is identical with sectors of the fortification system of Late Roman fortified settlement, military, administrative and city centers on the Lower Danube limes and in the provinces of Scythia and Moesia Secunda.

The fully extended outwards from the fortress wall U-shaped towers (in combination with horseshoe and/or fan-shaped corners and clips) and the large-sized quadrilateral towers (phrourion) are part of a very specific Late-Roman fortification system. The recent studies of this type of fortification system offer a more accurate date for the fortification – after the year 324/the beginning of the second quarter of 4th century.


Head of studies
Dr. Christo Kouzov