Ulpia Oescus

The imposing and impressive ruins of the Roman town Ulpia Oescus are located near the village of Gigen in northern Bulgaria, at the confluence of the Iskar river and the Danube. The town was established in AD 106 in the province of Moesia Inferior and was granted the status of a colony by Emperor Trajan in honour of his victory over the Dacians. Ulpia Oescus was built on the former camp of the Fifth Macedonian legion which was positioned here with a canabae (civilian settlement) in late-Augustan times.

Coordinates: 43°42’28.6″N 24°28’00.2″E

In the 1st century AD, Oescus was an important military post that protected the Danube Limes road to Trimontium (modern-day Plovdiv). It was at this time that the Romans began to build a strong defensive system of fortresses on its northern border to protect them from attacks of barbarian tribes. Oescus thus became a main military point and the camp of two Roman legions, the Legio IV Scythica and the Legio V Macedonica which maintained its permanent military encampment at this site until 101 AD.

L(egio) V M(acedonica) Oes(ci)

The early military camp of the 1st century is now localized precisely under the ruins of the colony built over the subsequent century. The epigraphic monuments of veterans of the necropolis of Oescus also provide information about the early military camp, the canabae and the presumed vicus. In AD 96, the later emperor Hadrian served the fifth Macedonian legion as tribunus militum in Oescus.

The earliest inscription from Oescus in memory of Resius Chronius, liberated slave of centurion Resius Albanus from legio V Macedonica, dated to 9 AD.
Pleven Regional Historical Museum.

After his victory over the Dacian tribes, Trajan turned the military camp into a town centre and directly elevated it to a colonia, the highest rank of provincial government. The name of the colony – Colonia Ulpia Oescensium – is mentioned for the first time in an inscription from the time of Hadrian.

Ulpia Oescus flourished in the 2nd-3rd century AD as a major city in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior during the times of the Antonines (r. AD 117-192) and the Severans (r. AD 193-235) dynasties. The town had a typical Roman urban planning with a rectangular shape and streets oriented east-west and north-south and covered an area of about 28 hectares. The streets were covered with stone slabs under which laid a water supply system and sewage channels. About one-third of the city was occupied by public buildings and the rest by workshops and houses. At its peak, Ulpia Oescus had a population of about 100,000.

Plan of Ulpia Oescus: 1- 3. Temples of the Capitolian Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva), 4. Civic basilica, 5. Temple of Fortuna, 6. Building for the walking during the winter, 7. Building with the mosaic “Acheioi”, 8. Late Roman Bath, 9. Extra muros building.

The town flourished again at the beginning of the 4th century AD during the reign of Constantine the Great when the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to Constantinople and a stone bridge was erected over the Danube (officially inaugurated on 5 July AD 328 in the presence of the emperor) between Sucidava (present-day Romania) and Oescus. The town was partly destroyed in the 5th century AD by the Huns, and rebuilt under Justinian in an attempt to re-establish Oescus as the stronghold of the Danube defence system. However, all the efforts were stopped in late AD 585 and early 586 by the invasion of the Avars.

The archaeological excavations have revealed the city’s forum, the temples of the Roman deities from the Capitoline Triad –Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva- (built in AD 125 during the reign of Hadrian), a large basilica (built in AD 135), thermae, and other public buildings. In 1948, the mosaic known as “The Achaeans” was discovered. It is currently on display, along with many other of the site’s artefacts, at the Pleven Regional Historical Museum. Other artefacts from the site, such as a statue of the goddess Fortuna, are on view at the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Most of the inscriptions and monuments belong to the 2d century AD and give evidence of people coming from Asia Minor and from the province of Gaul, the establishment of the city, and numerous religious cults including Mithras.


View of the public baths built during the last quarter of the 3rd century AD when the V Macedonica returned to Oescus following Aurelianus’ retreat from Dacia. The baths occupied an area of 700 sq.m, were built in opus mixum (mixed masonry), and had 8 separate rooms.
The remains of stores with 7 rectangular rooms arranged side by side with entrances from the south. The stores were built at the end of the 2nd century AD. In one of them, fine glazed pottery was sold coming from big ceramic centres in Lower Moesia.
The street between the public baths and the stores.
The street between the public baths and the stores.
The Building with the “Achaeans” Mosaic. This was the praetorium of the Roman colony. In one of the rooms was found a coloured floor mosaic depicting a scene of the play The Achaeans by Menander.
The mosaic “The Achaeans of Menander” depicting a scene of Menander’s The Achaeans with the inscription MENANDROU ACHAIOI. It is dated to the time of the Septimius Severus. The play was unknown prior to the mosaic’s discovery in 1948. Pleven Regional Historical Museum.
Overview of the Decumanus Maximus and the Temple of Fortuna.
The Decumanus Maximus.
The ruins of the Temple of Fortuna. The temple area, which adjoined the southeast corner of the forum complex, consisted of a portico facing the south, a peristyle courtyard and the temple itself, occupying an area of ​​50 x 29 m.
The ruined Temple of Fortuna, one of the emblematic buildings of Ulpia Oescus. It was erected in 190-192 AD, with funding provided by Commodus. The temple area was destroyed by fire at the time of the Goth invasion in 376/78 AD.

Architrave from the Temple of Fortuna with garlands, medusa heads and bucrania.
Scattered architectural elements from the Temple of Fortuna.
Scattered architectural elements from the Temple of Fortuna.
View of the forum which was made out of limestone in the Corinthian style. It occupied an area of ​​96 x 58 m and was surrounded by porticoes to the east, south and west. At the north end of the forum stood the three temples of the Capitoline Triad as well as the basilica civilis.

Pediment with Latin inscription from the eastern portico of the Forum.
The northern end of the forum complex was flanked by a three-aisled civic basilica of impressive dimensions (100 х 24 m). The basilica was the last building to be erected in the forum during the reign of Hadrian.

Scattered architectural elements from the civil basilica.
A caryatid, one of the sculpted female figures that served as architectural elements and supported the pillars of the basilica. The use of relief caryatids in a public building is so far without parallel in the Roman cities of Thrace and Moesia.
Fragment of fresco from the civic basilica.
Pleven Regional Historical Museum.
One of the medallions with portrait busts that decorated the basilica and placed beneath the caryatids.
Scattered architectural elements from the civil basilica.
Scattered architectural elements from the civil basilica.

Scattered architectural elements from the Temple of Minerva.
Scattered architectural elements from the Temple of Jupiter.
Scattered architectural elements from the Temple of Juno.
The extra muros building dated to the middle of 3rd century AD and covering an area of ​​52 x 64 m.
U – shaped tower dating to the 4-5th century AD.


4 thoughts on “Ulpia Oescus

  1. Incredible pictures and really emphasizesorry the importance the location played on the Eastern edge of the Empire. Thanks for a great vicarious visit!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating. I had never heard of these particular ruins, but Bulgaria is truly an embarrassment of riches when it comes to archeology. Thanks for sharing both the photos and the detailed information.


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