From July 2004
Project Leader(s): Professor Ian Haynes, Doru Bogdan, Dr Florian Topolenu
Sponsors: The British Academy, Newcastle University
Partners: EcoMuseum, Tulcea, Romania
The ancient site identified with the name ‘Salsovia’ lies west of the modern village of Mahmudia on the southern bank of the St Gheorghe arm of the Danube in Tulcea County, Romania. The site lies within a rich archaeological landscape. To its east is the Roman centre of Halmyris (Murighiol) itself the focus of extensive excavations (Suceveanu, Zahariade, Topoleanu & Poenaru Bordea 2003). Members of the Salsovia Project have examined the citadel and settlement of Salsovia through a range of methods in order to address key questions about the site’s history and character.
Salsovia is clearly referred to in four key ancient sources; the tabula Peutingeriana (VIII, 4), the Ravenna Cosmography (IV, 5), The Antonine Itinerary (226-7) and the Notitia Dignitatum (Or. XXIX, 26). References to distances between Salsovia and other sites fit best the identification of this site. Furthermore epigraphic evidence supports the association. An altar, dedicated on the 18 November, AD 322 to the Sun god (ISM V 290b = IGLR 271b) at Castra Salsoviensia, was discovered at near the site in the nineteenth century (Pavan 1906).
There can be no doubt that in the Roman period the site was a military station of some importance. The Notitia Dignatutum explicitly refers to it as home of milites quinti Constantiani. Furthermore, as we have seen the altar text refers directly to a vexillation at the site. Two other sources may give some indication as to the identity of other garrisons. On the other face of the altar the stone is carved as a funerary monument and refers to a centurion of Legio I Iovia. We also know that a diploma, issued to a veteran of a cohors Gallorum (most probably cohors IV Gallorum a regiment known to have formed part of the army of Lower Moesia) in AD 97 was discovered here, a fact that has prompted speculation that the same unit once formed the local garrison (Aricescu 1977, ISM V 291).
Project fieldwork has revealed that the Late Roman citadel was comprehensively destroyed by fire and that there was no further settlement activity at the site thereafter. C14 dates taken from samples of charred oak roof beams returned a range of 1606 +/- 28 BP.
While literary sources and standing remains vividly attest to the site’s importance during the Roman period, however, it is clear that the citadel site was already settled prior long before its incorporated into the Empire. The Project’s excavations have, for example, recovered traces of a Getic house. C14 samples from animal bone associated with this structure return a range of 2243+/-31 BP. While most of the sherds recovered from these early contexts were in the local Iron Age ‘Getic’ tradition, a scatter of imported Greek pottery dating from the late fifth/early fourth century BC was also recovered. The presence of such fragments may be connected to site’s relative proximity to the early Greek colony identified as Argamum, some 38 kms distant, but its location overlooking an important channel of the Danube was no doubt also highly significant.
Professor Ian Haynes