24. The Limes Moesiae-Scythiae

24. The Limes Moesiae-Scythiae, dynamic landscapes and places

Session Chairs: Jonathan Quiery & Matthew Previto
Affiliation: Durham University, United Kingdom
Affiliation of co-organiser: Stanford University, United States of America

Session Abstract: The development of the Roman Limes Moesiae/Scythiae between the first and seventh centuries CE wrought profound alterations to the landscape of the lower Danube. The construction of urban and rural settlements, military installations, infrastructure, and other monumental architecture transformed the experience of place by ancient peoples. Moreover, politico-military, religious, and social frameworks engaged with both the geographic and human-made features of this frontier during the seven centuries of Romano-Byzantine occupation and were ultimately remade in turn. As a result, the Moesian/Scythian limes was a dynamic region throughout antiquity as numerous peoples and religions converged here. The recent historical and archaeological research undertaken in the region has demonstrated the vibrant nature of this frontier, as other scholars have revealed elsewhere along borders such as Hadrian’s Wall and the Limes Germanicus.

The proposed session calls for papers to examine a broad range of topics that consider the place-making effects and experience along the Limes Moesiae/Scythiae and seeks to create a proactive discussion among frontier specialists from varied academic backgrounds. The session welcomes new insights and perspectives from both methodological approaches and theoretical paradigms that provide a keener insight into the lives of ancient peoples on the lower Danube frontier.


  • How did the Limes Moesiae/Scythiae become embedded within the pre-existing Iron Age social structures and infrastructures? How were the pre-Roman systems altered as a result?
  • How did the shifting politico-military nature in Late Antiquity affect the lives of ancient peoples along the Limes Moesiae/Scythiae?
  • How did religious changes impact the experience of place along the Limes Moesiae/Scythiae between the first and seventh centuries CE (pre-Roman–Roman, pagan-Christian)?
Time Presenter (s) Presentation


13.30 Introduction
13.50 Dominic Moreau The Limes Moesiae/Scythiae According to the Historical Sources
14.10 Alexandru Ratiu The Beginnings: Chronology Issues of the Lower Danube Frontier. Case study: Capidava Roman Fort
14.30 Ivo Topalilov Some Notes on the archaeology of Roman and Late antique Ratiaria


15.20 Zdravko Dimitrov Archaeological excavations in the Roman imperial baths of Ratiaria
15.40 Gergana Kabakchieva  Early Roman defense’s system in the east part of the military fort Dimum (Belene, Bulgaria)
16.00 Martin Lemke From imperial guardians to local patriots: the defenders of Novae (Moesia inferior) in Late Antiquity and their relationship to state, church and neighborhood
16.20 Adjournment

The Limes Moesiae/Scythiae According to the Historical Sources
Dominic Moreau, Université de Lille / HALMA-UMR 8164 Research Centre

Relying on ancient textual sources, but not always, contemporary research on Roman borders established a series of conventional names for the “limites” of the Roman Empire (Limes Arabicus, Limes Britannicus, Limes Germanicus, etc.), in order to distinguish them from a regional point of view. Some of these names only appear in Late Antique texts, sometimes only once, but we do not hesitate to use them as if they were attested since the Principate. It is as if a great border strategy had been thought out by the central authorities from the beginning of the Empire, a strategy based on the nature of the provincial ground to be defended. As part of the work carried out within the framework of the DANUBIUS project (University of Lille / HALMA-UMR 8164 Research Centre, France), this paper proposes to examine the designations Limes Moesiae and Limes Scythiae, and to define what the textual sources exactly tell us about them.

The Beginnings: Chronology Issues of the Lower Danube Frontier. Case study: Capidava Roman Fort
Alexandru Ratiu, National Museum of Romanian History, Bucharest, Romania, Ioan Carol Opris, University in Bucharest – Faculty of History, Romania

Recent excavations at Capidava Roman Fort have uncovered new and exciting evidence dating from the first century AD. This discovery raised a series of new questions about the earliest phases of the fort and also for the entire Lower Danube limes since the founding of the province of Lower Moesia. Precious little is known about the early phases of the frontier forts at the Lower Danube, since most of them were in use for almost six centuries, therefore having a complex stratigraphy. We aim to present these new discoveries and link them with all the known data from other sites to have a wider picture of the 1st century Roman Frontier at the Lower Danube.

Some Notes on the archaeology of Roman and Late antique Ratiaria
Ivo Topalilov, Institute of Balkan Studies and Center of Thracology “Prof. Alexander Fol” – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Although being seriously infected by the intense treasure-hunting works for over a decade, Ratiaria still preserves some information on the Roman colony and Late antique capital. In fact, the results of the archaeological excavations that were carried out for the last 9 years allow some of the thesis advanced in the literature to receive further clarification, and others to be called into question and some new observations to be made in term of urbanization. Therefore, in this presentation some new archaeological data will be presented and discussed in term of chronology, architecture, as well as urban topography of the pre-colonial, colonial and Late antique Ratiaria.

Archaeological excavations in the Roman imperial baths of Ratiaria
Zdravko Dimitrov, National Institute oF Archaeology and Museum – Sofia, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

In 2020, for the first time, regular archaeological excavations began in the large Roman baths of Ratiaria. This is a complex that was registered in 1976 according to an aerial photograph taken by the Bulgarian-Italian expedition. To date, however, this huge architectural complex of the Roman colony and provincial capital of the Lower Danube has not been studied archaeologically. In the last two years we have achieved new field results, which revealed part of the yard of the baths, as well as separate rooms – frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium. The chronology of the complex covers the period not only of the Principate, but also of Late antiquity. In the 5th / 6th c. AD, after the destructive Hun invasions, these huge baths were turned into a residential area and the archeological remains in them are not insignificant. The architectural decoration and the constructions of the bathrooms are impressive. They were decorated in a Corinthian order. The individual rooms are huge in size, and the intermediate walls are 2 m wide. Huge areas of the water supply and channel system of the complex were discovered. So far, these are the largest in area and scale of the architectural remains of thermal baths in the Bulgarian lands. Their research will continue next years, but it is important to announce our initial results to the scientific community, which deals with the problems of the Frontier of the Roman Empire.

Early-roman defence’s system in the east part of the military fort Dimum (Belene, Bulgaria)
Gergana Kabakchieva, Silva Sabkova, National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

The Roman castellum Dimum is located at 14 km west from Novae, the camp of Legio I Italica, near the nowadays town of Svishtov (Nord Bulgaria). It is part of the Lower Danube Limes. Its initial construction dates back to late Augustan age. During the early imperial period the fort had two construction phases – earth-and-timber and stone-revetted and existed as such until the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117 – 138). In recent years, the archaeological research has been focused on the study of the fortification system and installations at the eastern side of the fort. Half of the eastern curtain-wall, the south-eastern corner tower, the eastern gate with the towers have been excavated. The facilities are from the stone-revetted construction period of Dimum. The eastern gate impresses with its plan, size and the monumentality of its construction. It has a double passage and a massive stone pillar in-between. The towers are partially protruding in front of the wall. The remains of the eastern gate of Dimum and its towers are the only ones of this type studied in a castellum on the right bank of the Lower Danube in the Bulgarian section. They are built at the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd century AD. The remains of the eastern gate of Dimum have been documented through photogrammetry at each stage of excavation. The three-dimensional model of the preserved remains is used as basis for a digital reconstruction of the installation. It is intended to enhance the understanding of the structure and construction and help presenting this important discovery.

From imperial guardians to local patriots: the defenders of Novae (Moesia inferior) in Late Antiquity and their relationship to state, church and neighborhood
Martin Lemke, University of Warsaw

After the difficulties of the third century, the region around Novae experienced a “golden age” in the mid 4th century, but after the battle of Adrianople in 378 new challenges emerged. In the early 5th century, Rome had regained control in the Lower Danube provinces, although the price for this included foederati settling all over the Balkan south of the Danube. In these demanding times a visible shift in the consciousness of the local garrison occurred, which may have been a symptom of a general trend in Late Antiquity, stretched out over centuries, but one that has some striking examples in the archaeological and historical sources concerning Novae, a fort garrisoned by the same trusty legio I Italica since the first century. By the mid 3rd century, the legion had made its name as protector of the larger region, as evidenced for instance by an inscription dedicated by the thankful city of Dionysopolis. But with the legionary fortress becoming a civil town with a garrison (both as a consequence of military reforms as well as a natural progression), other changes took place, to which a number of factors contributed: Christianity (the town became not merely the seat of a bishop, but it had been home for a martyr in the times of Galerius, St. Lupus of Novae), the revival of the Greek language and also the developing consciousness of a community, which resulted from a connection to the land far stronger than it had been for the eponymous Italic legionaries. Thus Novae had clearly developed a distinct identity. It had the backstory of being a sturdy rock in the waves and committed defenders who would refuse to leave their home behind when asked to join a campaign against the Slavs in the late 6th century.