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.

Hellenistic marble frieze with representations of Greek deities, Apollo, Hephaistos, Poseidon, Eros, Aphrodite, Athena, Zeus, Hermes and Hera. Museum of Histria.

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.

Dedicated to emperor Antoninus Pius by the governor of Moesia Inferior Titus Pomponius Proculus Vitrasius Pollio, 157-159 AD. Museum of Histria.

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.


The Precincts Walls, the last limit of the city built shortly after the great destruction by the Goths in the 3rd century AD. Five main building phases have been identified, dated to between the middle 3rd century and the late 6th century AD.
In its final layout the city wall had six gates, of which the most important was the so-called ‘Big Gate’ flanked by two large bastions and two towers. The precinct, built in opus quadratum, had two earthen walls and ditches as adjacent elements of fortification.
The Big Gate located in the middle of the west side of the precinct wall. It had four towers, two along the wall and two inside built during he Contantinian restoration.
The interior of the Big Gate with the paved street leading to the Large Square of the late Roman settlement.
The Main Square located immediately behind the Big Gate. It was paved with stone slabs and was bordered by public edifices and private buildings.
The buildings behind the main gate.
The civilian rectangular basilica built and restored in the 3rd century AD. Two rows of columns separate the inner space.
The trade district of the settlement with tabernae and a square paved with stone slabs.
The Roman baths (thermae), built in the 1st century AD and enlarged in the 2nd century AD.
The Roman Baths were built next to the old Hellenistic precincts. In the foreground are remains of Hellenistic foundations The frigidarium stands in the background.
The door between the tepidarium and the caldarium.
The palestra of the Roman baths.
The foundations and architectural remains of the Episcopal Basilica which consisted of an atrium with portico, a nartex with limestone slabs and a naos. It was built in the first half of the 6th century AD on the location of a smaller basilica of the 4th century AD.
The residential district located in the eastern side of the town and dating from the late Roman period.
The Domus 2 of the residential district. The rooms of the houses were placed around in inner court (atrium) with porticoes.
The residential district.
The residential district.
Inscriptions and architectural elements from Histria.
The central hall of the Museum of Histria where architectural elements of the Greek temple of Theos Megas are exhibited.
View of the upper floor of the museum dedicated to the Greek period of the city’s history.
Bilingual inscription dedicated to emperor Hadrian, 117-128 AD. Museum of Histria.


Civitas Tropaensium

Civitas Tropaensium, situated in Moesia Inferior in modern Constanţa County, was a Roman castrum settled by Roman veterans of the Dacian Wars. It received the status of a municipium around 200 AD and became the largest Roman city of the province, covering an area of about 10 hectares. It was located at an important crossroad, almost halfway on the road that connected Durostorum (Silistra, Bulgaria) with Tomis (Constanța, Romania) on the western shore of the Black Sea, and on the road that led from Marcianopolis (Devnya, Bulgaria) to Noviodunum on the Danube. A milestone (CIL 03, 14464), dated to between 128 and 138 AD and discovered south of the site, indicates that Hadrian ordered the repair of the imperial road passing through the settlement.

In 116 AD, the inhabitants, under the name of Traianenses Tropaeenses, dedicated a statue to the emperor Trajan (CIL 03, 12470).
© Constanta – Muzeul National de Istorie si Arheologie, Foto: Ortolf Harl, 2012
Courtesy of Ubi Erat Lupa http://lupa.at

The site was identified by excavations at the end of the 19th century. Four city gates, the main street (via principalis), countryside villas (villae rusticae) and the remains of six basilicas have been uncovered. The life of the site in the 2nd and 3rd century is known particularly through inscriptions reused as building material for the 4th-6th century fortress. The site became a municipium shortly before 170 AD during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

In the course of the 3d century AD, the fortress was repaired under Septimius Severus, Severus Alexander and Gordian, but later the site gradually lost its importance and was destroyed by the Goths. It was rebuilt during the rule of Constantine the Great with improved defensive walls. Civitas Tropaensium survived as an important religious centre and a bishopric until the Avars sacked the settlement in 587 AD. The city was no longer mentioned for seven hundred years.

The visible ruins belong to the 4th-6th centuries. The defensive walls were provided with horseshoe-shaped defensive towers (a single one was rectangular). Three gates were unearthed: two on the east and west sides and a smaller one on the south side. The via principalis (ca. 300 m long), lined on both sides with porticoes, linked the east and west gates. A large basilica forensis dated to the 4th century stood in the centre of the fortress, south of the main street. On both sides of the same street, excavations have brought to light the ruins of four Christian basilicas, three of them with crypts, and one with an elegant baptistery. A cemetery basilica stood on the hill north of the fortress.

Nearby stands the Tropaeum Traiani (‘Trajan’s Trophy’), a triumphal monument near Civitas Tropaensium built in 109 AD to commemorate Trajan’s victory over the Dacians in 102 AD, in the Battle of Tapae. Before Trajan’s construction, an altar stood there, on the wall of which were inscribed the names of the 3,000 legionaries and auxiliaries who had died “fighting for the Republic”. The Tropaeum Traiani contained fifty-four separate metopes with sculpted scenes of the Roman campaigns. Most of these metopes are now in the site Museum in Adamclisi.

Coordinates: 44°05’31.7″N 27°56’39.3″E


The eastern entrance to the settlement.
The eastern gate with horseshoe-shaped defensive tower.
The via principalis, lined on both sides with porticoes, linked the east and west gates. Under its pavement lay one of the aqueducts and a drain.
The large basilica forensis. It stood in the centre of the fortress, south of the main street.
The large basilica forensis.

Remains of buildings located on the northern side of the via principalis.
Remains of buildings on the northern side of the via principalis with the reconstructed Tropaeum Traiani in the distance.
View towards the western gate.
The western gate with U-shaped defending towers.
The defensive walls.

The 1977 reconstruction of the Tropaeum Traiani.
Original metopes from the Tropaeum Traiani.