In 341 BC, Demosthenes, the renowned Athenian orator who trained his skill by taking against the sea waves with his mouth filled with pebbles, gave a particularly enraged speech against the Macedonian King Philip II. "For no man is so simple as to believe that though Philip covets these wretched objects in Thrace – for what else can one call Drongilus and Cabyle and Mastira and the other places that he is now occupying and equipping? – and though he endures toil and winter storms and deadly peril for the privilege of taking them, yet he does not covet the Athenian harbours and dockyards and war-galleys and silver mines and the like sources of wealth, but will allow you to retain them, while he winters in that purgatory for the sake of the rye and millet of the Thracian store-pits." This lengthy sentence from On the Chersonese* is proof not only of the wise policy of the king, who, by conquering Thrace, made it possible for his son Alexander to be later called "the Great." It also provides evidence of the existence of the three Thracian cities.
Despite Demosthenes's contemptuous attitude, Drongilus, Cabyle and Mastira can't have been so wretched if they had attracted Philip's attention. Of the three, Cabyle is the most impressive for the modern visitor. The first man to link the "object" from On the Chersonese with the ruins at the feet of the height of Zaychi Vrah, or Rabbit's Peak, near Yambol, was the Czech scholar Konstantin Jireček in 1888.
Cabyle was one of the centres of economic and royal power in pre-Roman Bulgaria. It minted its own coins and was the seat of a local royal family. In 72 BC it was conquered by the army of M. Terrentius Varro Lucullus during his campaign against the Greek cities on the Black Sea coast. In 44-46 AD Cabyle was already part of the empire.
Interestingly, there is scant data about what life looked like in Cabyle for almost a century after the Romans took control. It probably went into steep decline as a result of the devastation it suffered from General Lucullus, just like what happened to the once prospering cities on the Black Sea coast, like Apollonia.
In 136 Cabyle revived as an auxiliary military camp. The names of two of its resident units are known: cohors II Lucensium and cohors I Athoitorum. Between the 3rd and the mid-5th centuries Cabyle had grown into a city. It suffered significant destruction by the Barbarians on several occasions but it managed to survive and to reinforce and enlarge its fortifications. The final hours of the Roman city came at the hands of the Avars at the end of the 6th Century.
Today Cabyle is a 60 ha archaeological reserve which covers the remains of the Hellenistic and Roman settlement; Zaychi Vrah, with its supposed rock shrine of Cybele; and the city's necropolises. The strong wall up Zaychi Vrah was built after the invasion of Philip II. The Roman remains include the so-called castellum on the Hisarlaka height, with its own protection walls; a building identified as military barracks; baths; and a basilica. Outside the camp is another, smaller, public bath, and at the feet of Zaychi Vrah is a large horreum, or public granary. Cabyle became the centre of a bishopric in the 4th Century. The remains of a 5th-Century bishop's basilica which boasted a mosaic floor have been discovered.
Cabyle has its own museum, which offers additional information about life in the city, including the latest finds from its rich necropolises uncovered during the construction of the Trakiya Motorway. Near the entrance there is a reconstruction of an ancient wooden tower. It is nowadays used as a stage in historical reenactments.
*Translated to English by J. H.Vince, M. A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London,William Heinemann Ltd. 1930