Situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, about halfway between the mouth of the Danube and the present-day city of Constanţa, the ancient city of Histria (or Istros) has a long history dating back almost three thousand years and is Romania’s oldest urban settlement. The ancient Greeks arrived on the west shore of Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea) around the 7th century BC and founded their first colony in order to facilitate trade with the native Getae. Over the centuries, Histria became a key commercial port, lasting until the beginning of the 7th century AD and the invasion of the Avars. Its ruins were discovered and excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Coordinates: 44° 32′ 51″ N, 28° 46′ 29″ E
Histria was established in the middle of the 7th century BC by Greek colonists from Miletus. According to Eusebius of Caesarea, a possible founding date could be 657 BC, during the time of the 33rd Olympic Games, or during the last decades of the same century according to Scymnus of Chios. Little is known from written sources about the settlement’s first two hundred years. Most information comes from archaeological excavation that uncovered the so-called “sacred area” in the northeastern part of the city where the foundations of three temples were discovered, one of them was dedicated to Zeus Polieus (built in the 6th century BC and rebuilt in the first half of the 5th century BC), another to Aphrodite (Hellenistic period) while the third and oldest one was dedicated to the main deity Apollo Iastros. Architectural fragments of a small Doric temple dedicated to Theos Megas (3d century BC) were also discovered.
In the course of its long history, Histria experienced periods of prosperity interrupted by crises that more than once imperilled its existence. Destroyed by the Scythians at the end of the 6th century BC, Histria was rebuilt but was again sacked at the end of the 4th century BC when a rebellion of Pontic towns took place. Other destructions of the city occurred during the 3rd and 2nd century BC due to regional conflicts involving other Greek colonies.
In the 1st century BC, Histria saw the arrival of the Roman armies, under the command of M. Terentius Varro Lucullus who conquered the Greek colonies on the west coast of the Black Sea that had been bases of Mithridates VI. Then the Dacian King Burebista occupied the site for a short period until his death. Under Roman rule, Histria enjoyed a period of relative prosperity when public, civil and religious buildings were built as well as baths, a macellum and a Mithraeum. Histria was then included in the imperial province of Moesia and, from Diocletian’s reign, in the new province of Scythia. Numerous bas-reliefs, honorary altars, dedications and inscriptions dedicated to the Emperors are signs of the city’s loyalty to Rome.
Histria was heavily destroyed by the invading Goths about the middle of the 3d century AD. It never fully recovered, but it was prosperous through the Byzantine times until the 7th century AD. Excavations have revealed the latest circuit walls, erected after the Goths had laid waste to the city. To this last period of its existence belong most of the monuments excavated inside the late circuit wall.
Histria’s ruins, some up to 7.5 metres tall, demonstrate the importance of the city. Archaeologists have discovered three layers of archaic Greek period (630–500 BC), six layers of classical Greek period (500–350 BC), four Hellenistic layers (350–20 BC) and four Roman layers (30–250 AD). The rich collections of votive, funerary and decorative reliefs, Greek and Roman ceramics, architectural elements, are on display in the local Museum.