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Ancient city Tomis

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Foundations of Roman houses in Constanta
Foundations of Roman houses in Constanta

The town of Constanta, situated on the Black Sea coast, having 300 thousand population, is the main port and tourist resort of Romania. The city has an interesting history, dating back to Greek settlement. In antiquity, it was called Tomis.

Establishing settlement

The city was founded by Greek settlers in the 6th century BCE and was given the name Tomis, possibly in honour of Queen Tomyris. The founding of the city is also associated with the legend of the Argonauts who were to found a settlement here before they sailed across the Black Sea in search of the golden fleece. The city was founded in a convenient place from the point of view of security – on a peninsula that cuts into the sea and is surrounded on three sides by water. In both Greek and Roman times, it was an important port on the Black Sea. Until 29 BCE the entire region south of the Danube, and the city with it, was conquered by the Romans and from that time until the 8th century CE its fate was inseparable from the history of the Roman Empire, and later Byzantium as part of the province Moesia Inferior.


In 8 CE the Roman poet Ovid was sentenced by Augustus to exile to the fringes of the empire at that time – to the city of Tomis. To this day, the reasons for such a decision have not been clarified with certainty, as the imperial edict did not specify the reasons for issuing it, however, historians speculate that the reason for the exile of the poet was the scandalous nature of his works, which did not gain approval in the manner known for its conservative attitude towards moral issues. Augustus. Interestingly, the edict did not contain provisions on the loss of liberty or confiscation of property, but only provided for house arrest in the form of a ban on leaving the place of residence. Ovid tried several times to revoke or at least soften the edict in both Augustus and Tiberius, but with negative results. Today, the main square of Constanta is called Ovid Square, and in its central point, just in front of the impressive 19th-century Town Hall, a monument was erected in honour of the poet, which, according to urban legend, was to be erected above the poet’s burial place.

19th century Town Hall with the statue of Ovid.

Mosaic in Constanta

Mosaic in Constanta.

The most famous Roman monument preserved in the city is the famous mosaic of Constanta, discovered in the 1960s. The mosaic probably dates back to the 4th century CE. It covers an area of ​​approx. 850 m2 and is located in the ruins of a former secular basilica, located between the centre of the ancient city and the port. The basilica was built for commercial purposes – it housed shops and craft workshops. The upper terrace of the basilica, overlooking the sea, had a mosaic floor surrounded on three sides by polychrome marble walls. The mosaic consists of two separate parts: the surrounding frame and the space that embraces itself, and the floral and geometric mosaic. The mosaic is made of stones of various colours: white, red, black, green, yellow – it gives the impression of a bright carpet, decorated with geometric and floral motifs. In the complex below the basilica, ruins of ancient Roman-era houses have also been discovered. There are also exposed fragments of the walls of ancient Tomis in the city. marvellous Roman exhibits, including a collection of vases, coins and craft tools, are housed in the Archaeological Museum, in the former Town Hall building.

Fall of Tomis and birth of Constanta

In 395, Tomis finally became part of the Eastern Roman Empire, and in VI and VII it began to decline due to attacks from the northern peoples. In the winter of 597/598, the city was probably destroyed by the Avars. The further decline of the city deepened after the Byzantines withdrew and the city was occupied by the Bulgarians. Throughout the 9th century, there is no mention of a settlement at the site of the former Tomis in the sources. In 950, Byzantine sources first mention the settlement of Constanta on the site of the former city of Tomis, named after the sister of Emperor Constantine the Great, Flavia Julia Constanta (293 – approx. 330). The city bears the name of this until today.

Fragments of a 4th century Roman mosaic.
Author: Piotr Baran (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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