Fortresses and public baths, tombs and temples. You'll find interesting Roman sites on the Bulgarian Black Sea, but a clarification is necessary: After their foundation the cities on the sea's western coast were Greek. Their founders had come to the wild Thracian shores to get rich from trade and to ease their gasping metropolises from the burden of feeding rising populations. The trend began in the 8th Century BC. Hundreds of Greeks all over the Mediterranean and the neighbouring seas arrived, inspiring Aristotle to compare the Greeks and their colonies to frogs at rest around a pond.
The Greeks colonised the western Black Sea in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, with newcomers arriving mainly from the Greek cities of Miletus, in Asia Minor, and Megara, in Attica. Like elsewhere, the colonists brought to their new homes their lifestyles, habits and ways of governance, their gods, traditions, language and architecture. And in time they grew independent, developing their own coinage, economy, and foreign and local policies.
Late-Roman fort at Yaylata
These old Greek settlements are still alive today, on the Bulgarian Black Sea shore, but after centuries of political changes and wars, the actual Greeks in them are now a tiny fraction of what they used to be. Starting in the north, the most significant ancient Greek colonies and settlements are Bizone (today Kavarna), Dionysopolis (today Balchik), Odessos (today Varna), Mesambria (today Nesebar), Anchialos (today Pomorie), Apollonia Pontica (today Sozopol), Agathopolis (today Ahtopol). Other sites recently opened to tourists include the late Antiquity fortress with a basilica and public baths on a picturesque cape near Byala; the ancient Greek trade centre Naulochos and the Roman road station Templum Iovis in Obzor; and the interesting fortress of Urdoviza in Kiten, used by the late Romans and now mostly underwater.
Kavarna is the descendant of ancient Bizone
The Greek colonies on the western Black Sea coast attracted the attention of the Romans as early as the 1st Century BC, when these cities sided with the then
biggest enemy of the expanding Rome – Mitridates VI, the king of Pontus. In 72 BC General Marcus Lucullus invaded Thrace and made his way to the Black Sea cities. The Greek colonies were subdued, but the Roman did not secure a decisive victory. Rome spent the following decades scheming and fighting for control of the Balkans and the Black Sea coast. The Roman grip over the coastline was strengthened during the military campaign in 29-28 BC of General Marcus Licinius Crassus. Finally, the colonies saw that resistance was pointless, and quietly acquiesced to being incorporated into the empire around the mid-1st Century AD.
A shrine of Cybele was discovered in Balchik
Ravaged by wars and with bad image problems in Rome, the once prosperous colonies needed time to recover. But as good governance and regular taxes were more important for the emperors than past misdemeanours, by the end of the 1st Century AD the Black Sea cities had returned to their former glory. They were even allowed a degree of autonomy, and Greek remained their official language.
The Roman baths at Varna are the largest preserved in Bulgaria
The Romans heavily invested in infrastructure. They rebuilt the so-called West Pontic Road, which connected the seaside cities – from Histria, Tomis and Callatis in modern-day Romania, through Bizone, Dionysopolis, Odessos, Templum Iovis, Mesambria, Anchialos and Apollonia in today's Bulgaria – to Byzantion (now Istanbul), on the Bosphorus.
After 324 the Black Sea cities benefited from the shift of the imperial capital to Byzantium, renamed to Constantinople, and unlike some cities in the mainland, entered the Middle Ages at the end of the 6th Century without suffering spells of depopulation. Moreover, even during the tumultuous 6th Century, when cities in the mainland were struggling for survival, Messembria and Apollonia experienced a period of prosperity.
The Romans fortified Cape Kaliakra
As a result, what we see today as Roman-era heritage along the Black Sea coast is what has survived the centuries of continuous inhabitation and rebuilding.
The work of the elements is another factor which has influenced heavily the Roman archaeological sites on the Black Sea coast. The sea level has changed so dramatically since Antiquity that at some places like Kavarna, Varna and Kiten parts of the ancient sites are now underwater. The opposite is true for localities around modern-day Burgas, on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast: What used to be seaside settlements is today deep inland.
The supposed holy relics of St John the Baptist were discovered in a reliquary in a late-Antiquity basilica off Bulgaria's coast, near Sozopol
The late-Antiquity Old Bishopric used to be the cathedral of Nesebar
The ancient Roman tomb at Pomorie remains an enigma
Ahtopol is one of the Black Sea Greek colonies that continued to thrive under the Romans