Coordinates: 43°42′N 24°29′E / 43.700°N 24.483°E / 43.700; 24.483

Colonia Ulpia Oescensium

Section of legionary fortress wall, Oescus
Known also as Oescus
Founded during the reign of Trajan
Founded 102
Abandoned 586
Place in the Roman world
Province Mesia superiore
Limes Danube
Stationed military units
Legio V Macedonica da Augusto a Traiano
Town Gigen
County Gulyantsi Municipality
State Pleven District
Country Bulgaria
Local map
A caryatid from Ulpia Oescus at the Pleven history museum

Oescus, or Palatiolon [1] Palatiolum,[2] (Bulgarian: Улпия Ескус, pronounced [ul.ˈpi.a ˈɛs.kus]) was an ancient town along the Danube river, in Moesia, northwest of the modern Bulgarian city of Pleven, near the village of Gigen. It is a Daco-Moesian toponym. Ptolemy calls it a Triballian town, but it later became Roman. For a short time, it was linked by a bridge with the ancient city of Sucidava (modern-day Corabia - Romania).[3] The city seems to have at one point reached a size of 280,000 m²[4] and a population of 100,000.[5]

Ancient sources

Ptolemy's Geographia

The Greco-Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy (ca. 90-168 AD) described Ulpia Oescus as a city of the Triballi, an independent Ancient Thracian tribe which inhabited today’s Northwest Bulgaria.[5]


The name of the Roman town comes from the river Oescus (today Iskar). It probably meant "water" in the local Thracian dialect.


Roman times

Under Roman rule, Oescus was important as a Roman settlement and military post, as it protected the Danube Limes road to Philippopolis (Trimontiumto, the modern-day Plovdiv).[4] The city was connected to the rest of the Roman empire by three roads:

  1. Via Egnatia-Danube: Heraclea Lyncestis – Ceramiae – StobiAstibos – Tranupara – Pautalia – Aelea – Serdica – Oescus. [6]
  1. Philippopolis – Oescus: Philippopolis ‐ Viamata (Voynyagovo‐„Gorni Stenici") – Sub Radice (Hristo Danovo) – Montemno (Beklemeto‐„Karcovija Buk") – Ad Radices (Beli Osăm/Kamen Most) – Sostra (Lomec) – Melta (Loveč) – Doriones – Storgosia (Pleven) – Ad Putea (Riben) – Oescus[6]
  1. The Danube road: Singidunum (Belgrade) – Viminacium (Costolac) – RatiariaOescusNovae (Steklen by Svistov) – Durostorum (Silistra) – mouth of the Danube River.[7]

The Roman empire's Fifth Macedonian Legion maintained its permanent military encampment at this site from 10 - 101 CE. There are still visible remains of the camp's defensive wall, and areas to the east-northeast (Pyasutsite and Prez Livada) show signs of the presence of a necropolis from this period, containing epigraphic monuments of veterans.[4]

In 102 CE, Trajan granted the site the status of a colony founded by him.[4] The actual founding occurred in 106 CE by veterans of the Fifth Macedonian Legion and the Italian First Legion,[7] and the earliest remains of Roman buildings have been dated to this period (106–109 CE).[4] In 167 CE, Oescus was upgraded to the status of a colonial city, and received the unique additional privilege of being granted all Roman rights. At this point, the site received a new name, Colonia Ulpia Oescensium ("Ulpia" after Trajan's middle name, Ulpius). Its citizens were mostly retired legionnaires.[4]

In 190–191 CE, the city dedicated a pagan temple to the goddess Fortuna, who was designated as protector of the city. There also existed a temple of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva).[4]

The city's economy included manufacturing of jewelry, bronze statuettes bronze brooches and other metal objects and vessels, glass, ceramics (terra sigillata, red slip pottery and other), metal and bone articles. It was also home to one of the largest sculpture workshops in the region.[7]

After 271 CE, the Fifth Macedonian Legion returned, and built a second fortified city system (Oescus II). An aqueduct was built to deliver fresh water from springs 20 kilometers away, and a stone wall was constructed to protect the site from invaders and from the Danube floods.[4]

On 5 July 328 CE, Emperor Constantine I personally opened and consecrated the Constantines's Bridge,[4] the biggest and most famous stone bridge on the Danube. The crossing linked Oescus with Sucidava to the north and, measuring 2.5 km long (1.3 km over the river) by 5.7 meters wide, was the largest river bridge in ancient times.[5] However, the span was only used for about 27 years; it was destroyed during a barbarian invasion in 355 CE.[5]

In 411 CE, the Huns destroyed Oescus, and in 444 CE an attempt was made to resettle it as a Hun settlement, named Hunion. Emperor Justinian I rebuilt the city's fortress wall, in an attempt to re-establish Oescus as the stronghold of the Danube defense system, but all the efforts were stopped in late 585 and early 586 CE by the invasion of the Avars.[5]

Middle Ages

A Bulgarian village existed on the site during the 10th–14th centuries.


Oescus is one of the biggest and most continuously studied ancient cities of the Lower Danube.[7] Archaeological excavations began at the site in 1904, carried out by Vaclav Dobruski. The fortified city has the shape of an irregular pentagon, with an initial area of 18 hectares; after 271 CE it was extended easterly with a 10 hectare addition.[7] There exists a plan to fully excavate and reconstruct the site, with the goal of providing a complete impression of an ancient Roman commercial, cultural and military center.[4]

In 1948, the mosaic known popularly as "The Achaeans" (3rd century AD) was discovered. It is currently on display, along with many other of the site's artifacts,[7] at the Pleven Regional Historical Museum.[4] Other artifacts from the site, such as a statue of the goddess Fortuna, are on view at the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia.[4][7]

Archaeological surveys of the eastern extension of Oescus II indicate houses from the Principate period, some of which were quite massive and were decorated with mosaics that could be dated to the time of Septimius Severus.[4]

The ruins indicate the wealth of the Antonine and Severan dynasties.[4] There are a main gate, administrative buildings, a civil basilica, three public baths (thermae), wells, a perfectly preserved road, pagan temples, a necropolis, defensive walls, workshops, and a forum. There also exist ruins of Constantines's Bridge, but they can be seen only from the northern bank of the Danube.[4]


See also


Oescus Island in Antarctica is named after Oescus.


  1. Olga Karagiorgou egg.mnir.ro/pdf/Karagiorgou_Container.PDF
  2. Procopius of Cesarea, De aedificiis: IV, 5, 6; FHDR: II, 463.
  3. "Constantine's Bridge at Celei". International Database Of Structures. Structurae. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 "Ulpia Oescus Site". panacomp.net. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Dikov, Ivan (7 June 2015). "Ancient Thracian and Roman City Ulpia Oescus in Bulgaria's Gigen Deserves Greater Publicity, Archaeologist Says". archaeologyinbulgaria.com. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  6. 1 2 Băjenaru. "Fortificații Minore În Spațiul Balcano‐Dunărean De La Diocletian La Iustinian" (pdf) (in Romanian). Bucharest: Universitatea din București. Archived 5 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Kabakchieva, Gergana. "Cities in the Provinces Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior". rgzm.de. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Archaeological research institute. Retrieved 8 October 2015.



Further reading

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