The Capidava Fortress

Dobrogea’s history was mainly determined by its geographic position. The main ways of access into the region are through the Black Sea or the Danube. Although the Romans had reached the Danube as early as 14 AD, it was only during the reign of Emperor Domitian when Dobrogea  was included in the strategic plans of the Empire, Scythia Minor becoming thus the basis of the expeditions across the Danube against the Dacians. Trajan is the one who manages the sustainable organization of the area by building castles s on the right bank of the Danube at the crossing points. One such example is the Capidava citadel. With rare exceptions, this system ensured the peace of the province for more than a century.

The Capidava fortress is located on the right bank of the Danube, halfway between Harsova (Carsium) and Cernavoda (Axiopolis). It was built with the help of the Vth Macedonia and the XIth Claudia legions at the beginning of the 2nd century, being thus part of the system of fortifications created by Trajan on the Danube. The name of the fortress comes from the Getic language and it is translated by “the settlement at the turn of the road”, thus attesting, together with the archaeological evidence, a pre-Roman dwelling in this important strategic place,but also shows  the existence of contacts between the Gets from Dobrogea and those from Campia Romana. The place-name, which has been kept until today, is attested by both ancient and later Byzantine sources, as well as by three inscriptions: the tombstone of C. Iulius Qadratus from the second century, discovered at Ulmetum; a votive altar dedicated to the Thracian deity “Hero” by Aurelius Valens, also discovered at Ulmetum and dating from the end of the third century, the third one being a fragmentary funeral inscription, recently discovered in Capidava and belonging to Aurelius (…) the military leader of the unit cantoned in the fortification here.

The place chosen for the construction of the fortification is a very important one from a strategic point of view.The fortress is placed on a rocky massif surrounded by water from 3 sides and a natural ditch ,which determined the later installation of the military resort and the development of a civil center next to it.

The fortification for the auxiliary unit at Capidava (castellum) was probably erected around the two Daco-Roman wars, and it had most likely an offensive character. Outside the fortress is a cemetery, with cremation graves and  a flat necropolis, which is more modest. Capidava, like the other fortresses on the border, had to face the numerous attacks from barbarian hordes. Thus, the first Roman fortress was destroyed by the Goths, and was completely rebuilt by the end of the third century, with a purely defensive character. The ruins of the fortress we see today have a quadrilateral plan, with 105x127m sides, thick walls over 2m and 5-6m high, with seven towers, over 10m high (three rectangular towers, two in a quarter circle and two intermediate, in the form of a horseshoe – the shape of the letter U). The fortress had a gate wide of about 2.5m, located on the South-Eastern side, which connected with the rest of the territory a strategic gate on the South-Western side of the tower to the Danube and a port arranged in terraces towards the river.

The fortress suffered repeated damage, until the fifth century ,when it was restored in two rows, as a result of the numerous attacks that followed during the decades. During the second restoration are built walls, architraves, statues representing different deities, and reliefs of worship. This suggests, on one hand, a high level of urban planning but, on the other hand, given that the pieces came from the adjacent civil settlement or from the necropolis, they prove the urgency with which the repairs were made. In the sixth century, after the devastating attack of the Huns upon the city, it is likely that there were  insufficient funds for another reconstruction. In this situation, a small quadrilateral fort (60x60m) was built in the southern part of the fortress. Following the Avaro-Slavic attacks, the fortress was completely destroyed and left in the 7th century.

In the 9th century, the borders of the Byzantine Empire were re-shaped, and Capidava, through its position, found itself in the middle of the new defensive system. Therefore, over the ruins of the Roman fortification, a peasant fortress (peasant-border guards) rises, which lasts until the middle of the eleventh century, also having successive renovations. The camp was surrounded by a stone wall with earth, following the route of the Roman-Byzantine enclosure, doubled by a defense pit.

Because it was a military camp, multiple units and cohorts were stationed here.The first cohort to station in this place was cohors I Ubiorum, which was a German auxiliary unit who occupied the fort since the time when it was first built until 143. After them, the camp was occupied by cohors I Germanorum, another unit of Germans, stationed during the second and probably third century AD. Later, in the Roman-Byzantine era (4th-7th centuries), a vexillatio Capidavensis (a detachment of Legion II Herculia), cuneus equitum Solensium and cuneus equitum scutariorum (cavalry units) are attested.

The archaeological researches were initiated in 1924 by Grigore Florescu, Vasile Parvan’s assistant, who conducted the research from Capidava until the year of his death, 1960. The archaeological excavations were interrupted until 1965, when they were resumed by Radu Florescu and have continued without interruption until now.

A ceramic vessel discovered at Capidava contains an inscription considered to be the first epigraphic attestation of the Roman language. The story of the vessel is told in detail by archaeologists. Dr. Eugen Silviu Teodor is the one that managed to re-create the story. At the end of summer 1967, a peasant from Topalu (commune on whose territory is the ancient fortress Capidava), wandered the Danube riverbank together with another villager. Near the Roman fortress of Capidava, under the sunken bank, they found an almost complete jug, of which only the towels and a large part of the neck were missing. After this discovery, the peasants took the jug and went to Constanta, to the Archeology Museum, where they told the people there about  how they found the vessel, which they afterwards handed it over to the specialists. During the studying of the new discovery , archaeologists found out that it had some unusual writings embedded in it. Immediately below the broken neck were four vertical panels, like metopes, on which groups of signs appear, with Greek letters. The four quarters bore the usual inscriptions for that period, but also one that attracted the attention of archaeologists. The 10th century potter wrote its name there: PETRE.

The visiting tour includes the enclosure wall, the intermediate towers in the form of a horseshoe,and  the fortress gate guarded by the tower. Next on the course are the public baths which were built outside the walls of the first fort, to serve the auxiliary unit stationed here.Also, several rooms have been identified having hypocaust, cold water pools and a water drainage channel.

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