THE LATE ANTIQUE ODESSOS
As a result of the incessant incursions of Goths, Sarmathians, Karpians and other tribes coming from the north towards the middle of 3rd c. the town fell into a tangible decay. Inevitably the newly settled insecurity of life in the interior Thracian lands affected unfavorably the economy of the harbor town. These processes of commercial and economical decline went on as far as the beginning of 4th c.
In 330 Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the ancient Byzantium. Soon the town received the name of its benefactor and became Constantinople. It was an event of profound impact on the towns of the West Pont, which became a major factor for the life in the new capital.
The town flourished anew in 5th and 6th c. and regained its position as one of the leading economic centres of the West Black Seacoast. With a decree from the 18th of May 536 I imperor Ustinian appointed Odessos as the centre of a peculiar administrative alliance uniting the provinces of Moesia Inferior and Scythia along with the Cyclad islands, the island Of (Cyprus in the Aegean Sea and Karia in Asia Minor. No matter how limited the period of its existence was, this alliance consolidated the grown significance of the Black Seacoast and contributed to the revived welfare of Odessos.
Just now towards the end of 4th c. began the new period of the town's prosperity. Its
territory expanded and was protected with a new fortress wall. The town became well laid out and urbanized, provided with all current utilities and new broad streets covered with paving stones. The harbour, which probably underwent repairs around the middle of 4th c, reestablished its busy export-import activities and performed a major part in the food supplies of the new capital. Simultaneously, for a period of five years (513-518) Odessos became the centre of a resistance and separation movement known as the riot of Vitalianus.
The dissemination of the new religion of Christianity brought along new cultural tendencies and transformed Odessos into a centre of a new cultural life. Although rather scarce some archaeological evidence give reasons to believe that Christianity infiltrated the town in quite an early age as a result of which it was converted into an episcopal centre. We are familiar with the names of some bishops from 5th and 6th c. such as Ditas (around 458), John (about 518), Martin (538) and probably Danail whose years of bishopric office are not established.
The adoption of the new religion was accompanied by the construction of a number of temples, five of which were built within the bounds of the town and four more in its vicinity. The most remarkable among these specific early Christian basilicas was situated on location of the present "Khan Krum" street. It used to be 40 m long and 16 m wide episcopal church with a nave and two aisles whose existence can be divided into two periods: the first one when the floor of the church was furnished with a multi-coloured mosaics belongs to the very end of the 4th and the beginning of 5th c, and the second period of further alterations from the middle of 5th c.
The wealth and economical resources of the Odessitans from this period are displayed by numerous objects such as golden reliquaries, rings and other jewellery. Especially impressive among these finds is the golden treasure found outside the fortified walls of the town (on location of the present "Knyaz Boris I" blvd.) containing a golden torque and some golden ingots. This could be explained with the vigorous growth of the craft industry side by side with the increased significance of agriculture and vine-growing. Along with these new developments trade retained its character as one of the basic peculiarities of the town's business activities. The period is marked by the intensive import of marble details from Constantinople and the Mediterranean Islands, glassware from Syria, luxury ceramics from Asia Minor and Northern Africa, etc. The prosperity of the town attracted lots of immigrants from different regions of the Middle and Far East coming to settle in the well-to-do town.
Odessos maintained its position of an advanced economic and cultural centre till the very end of late antiquity. However, the incessant incursions of northern tribes such as Goths, Hunns, Avars, Slavs, proto-Bulgarians and the brunt of constant wars that the Empire was involved in afflicted all spheres of the Odessitans' urban life. As a final outcome these wars led to the devastation both of the interior and vicinity of the town and it came in touch with the events taking place after the establishment of the Bulgarian State with considerably diminished economic resources. To all appearances Odessos ceased to exist during the rule of Emperor Iraclius (610-641), most probably towards the end of the first quarter of 6th c, i. e. the period to which the last antique finds from the territory of the town were assigned. That life in the Black Sea polis came to a halt is evidenced by the lack of archaeological materials from the later centuries of the imperial age.
From the first quarter of 6th c. the history of the old town remains veiled and obscure. After a long period of silence, as later as the beginning of 9th c, the name of Odessos appears in the annals of the Byzantine chroniclers Teofan the Confessor and patriarch Nikiphoros. In their description of the Byzantium war with the proto-Bulagrian troops of Asparuch they make reference to the fact that after defeating the army of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Pogonatos (668-685), as a result of which the Bugarian state was officially acknowledged in 681, "the Bulgarians came to the so-called Varna, near Odessos and the local lands..." This is the first appearance of the name of Varna in a historical record making clear that "Varna" refers to a site near the antique town of Odessos. The name is explained with the proto-Bulgarian "varn", which by means of metathesis passed into the later language as "vran" in the meaning of "black", identified mostly with the present-day Provadiiska river lowing into the Varna lakes.
The so far conducted observations indicate that at that time the old Black Sea colony had already ceased to exist. What cataclysms brought about this sudden disruption of life in the
flourishing town remains unknown. In return for that life continued to bloom in the immedi ate vicinity of the antique town on location of which were unearthed plenty of dwellings ami necropolises of the newly settled Slavs and proto-Bulgarians. By means of terrain research and archaeological excavations, carried in the Varna region, were uncovered more than one hundred settlements and burial sites of the Slavonic and proto-Bulgarian population.
Apparently the strategic significance of the region was well appraised by the Bulgarian rulers from the very beginning of their state's existence. During these initial stages after the establishment of the First Bulgarian Kingdom was constructed a huge 3,5 m long sand embankment boxing off the lowlands between the old town and the Galaten Heights, built for the purpose of obstructing the Byzantine attacks from the sea. Nowadays the embankment known as "Asparuch's Rampart" is partially preserved to the south of the modern "sea-lake" canal in the park of Asparuchovo living quarters.
Up to now the territory of the old Odessos colony has given no clues for traces of life that could be attributed to the period of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. Not far from the antique town, on the south slope of the nearby Franga plateau in the Karaach teke site (above present-day "Vuzrazhdane" living quarters), there used to exist a monastery occupying an area of 10 dc, whose initiation has to be attributeed to the very end of 9th c. Here, on location of the monastery, was found a lead seal of the Bulgarian prince Boris-Michail, presenting a fine testimony for the active role of the region in the spiritual life of the First Bulgarian Kingdom.
Urban life on location of the antique Odessos was revived in the 1 Oth c. when the conquered by Byzantium Bulgarian lands were integrated into its territory. It's not earlier than this conquest that the regenerated from the ruins of the old Odessos town accepted the name of Varna,The harbour, which regained its significance as a commercial and economic centre, became one of the basic strongholds of Byzantium in its voyages and warfare activities to the north of the Danube. The busy trade relations of the new town with the capital of Constantinople are evidenced by the plentitude of imported from Byzantium glazed ceramic dining dishes and amphorae along with a variety of other objects and vessels.
In 1190, during the rule of Tsar Assen I, and over a short period of time the town became a constituent part of the Bulgarian State. Conquered again by the Byzantians, on the 24th of March 120lit was re-captured by Tsar Kaloyan after a three-days-long siege. In the course of two centuries Varna performed a leading part in the overseas trade relations of mediaeval Bulgaria. The great upsurge observed from the last decades of 13th c. on was related to the period of brisk Black Sea commercial activities with the republics of Venice and Genoa. The powerful impetus given to the development of trade by Tsar Ivan Alexander was most brilliantly manifested in Varna and the town thrived into the major commercial harbour of the Bulgarian State. Its significance as a principal harbour centre was further reinforced by the fact that it had a Venetian consulate headed by Marco Leonardo in 1352.
Via the Varna harbour were exported mainly agricultural commodities like wheat, wax, fur and leather and were imported manufactured goods such as woven materials and textiles, paper and luxury ceramics. Mediaeval Varna was not only a commercial town but also a busy handicraft center for a variety of artisans' activities. This economical advance of the town was connected to the wealth of the vast fertile area between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains whose importance increased to an even greater degree when in 1370 the town was integrated into the principality of Dobrotitsa and his successor Ivanko.
The great business upsurge of the town became most clearly displayed by the change in its architectural ambience. The mediaeval town, considerably smaller than the antique one, was surrounded by a fortress wall built at the time of the Byzantine domination. Due to repeated amendments the wall existed till 1830, while its central part - the citadel (or stronghold), that occupied the location of the present-day Admiralty, was destroyed as late as 1908. The route of the fortress used to pass between the present "Preslav", "San Stefano" and "8th November" streets, as well as "Primorski" boulevard.
The facades of the few churches in the town were richly decorated with in-laid fragments of lustrously painted dishes succeeded by brick and white limestone belts lavishly ornamented with clay circlets and rosettes and overlaid in green glaze. In the whole 14th c. Varna was a bishopric center and a bishop' s residence, and when the lands of the Dobrouj a principality were pronounced a patriarchal diocese, it was supervised by the Varna metropolitan bishop.