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Celtic Settlements in Bulgaria – (1) Northern Bulgaria

Mac Congail




One of the most remarkable contradictions in modern historical research over the last 50 years has been the identification by international and Bulgarian linguists of a large number of Celtic settlements in a region where local ‘Thracologists’ continue to claim that there was never any Celtic presence. As a result of this phenomenon topographic evidence of Celtic settlement in this region, as is the case with the overwhelming archaeological and numismatic evidence, has hitherto been largely ignored.   










In the northwestern part of today’s Bulgaria extensive numismatic and archaeological evidence testifies to a Celtic cultural presence from the end of the 4th c. BC into the Roman period (see Archaeology and Numismatics sections). In this area a number of Celtic settlements from this period have been located:

In the Aquae area of Moesia Superior – around  the confluence of the Timok and Danube rivers in northwestern Bulgaria – two Celtic settlements have been identified by academics – Braiola / Βραίολα  (Beševliev 1970:25; Duridanov 1997:134; Probably todays Bregovo), and Setlotes / Σετλοτες (Detschew 1957:434 – ‘sicher keltisch’; Duridanov 1997:134; Delamarre 2003: 272-273), the latter possibly at the Kula site where recent excavations have uncovered Celtic material dating from the 1st c. B.C. – 1st c. A.D under the late Roman fortification Castra Martis. (See ‘New Material (1)’ article – archaeology section). Slightly further along the Danube lay the Celtic settlements of Bononia / Βονωνία (modern Vidin)(Holder I, 1904, 481ff; Der Kleine Pauly I, 928; Kazarow, 1919:62; Hubert II, 43; Duridanov, 1980 (2); 1997, 134; Falileyev 2009:281), Ratiaria (modern Archar, Vidin region) (Tomaschek, II, 2, 69; Holder II, 1075; Kazarov, 1919, 62; Hubert II, 43; contra Detschew 1957) and Remetodia (modern Orsojo – between Ratiaria and Almus – Lom district, Montana region) (Tomaschek, II, 2. 1894:69; Detschew 1957:391; Duridanov 1997:134; Falileyev A., Graham R. 2006,  Falileyev 2009: 282).

In the Kazetzos area (Dacia Mediterranea), which lies to the north of Sofia (Serdica) in the hills between Vratza and Berkovitza, lay three Celtic settlements – Ardeia (Falileyev 2009: 281), Arkounes (Άρχοϋνες) (Detschew 1957:25; Beševliev 1970:22; Duridanov 1997:134-135; Falileyev 2009: 281; 2010:123-124) and Duriis (Δουρίες) (Beševliev 1968:418 and 1970:22; Duridanov 1997:135; Falileyev 2009: 281). Slightly to the north of these lay the settlements of Tautiomosis (today’s Krivodol, Vratza region) (BIAB 19 (Serta Kazar. 2) 1955, 201 – Detschew 1957: 540; from Celtic  – teuto- / touto- = people, tribe, land (Gaulish – toutā. OIr – túath, Welsh and Breton –tud, thus Welsh Tudyr from Celtic nominative Touto-Riχs and Tudur from the Celtic genitive Touto-rīgos; cf. also in Bulgaria the Celtic settlement of Tiutamenus Vicus (Plovdiv region) – Mac Congail 2004); the second element as in the Celtic P.N.’s Mossus, Mossius etc. (Holder AC 2, 644-645); and Vorovum Minor (Kravoder, Krivodol district, Vratza region) (BAT021 F6  – Vorovum Minor =  Kravoder, Bulgaria; Velkov 1970; Falileyev 2009: 282).







The next settlement marked in the Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia after the aforementioned Remetodia on the  Danube in northwestern Bulgaria is Cumodina (Liber IV 7 190.4) (today’s Stanev – located 9 m. east of Almus (Lom). Settlement names containing the Celtic element –din(a) (Proto-Celtic *dino-, OI duín, MW din [in toponyms] MB din gl. Arx (OB) Cf. also Proto Germanic *tino – a loan word from Celtic; first element = PC *kom – ‘with’ (UELPC) are to be found primarily in today’s n.e. Bulgaria/s.e. Romania –  cf.  Άδινα / Adīna (Proc. aed. 132.19) (between Palmatis and Tilicium) (On Tilicum see below; The Adina site mentioned by Prokopius as a φρούριον in the E region of the province of Moesia Secunda, is located 2.8 km N–NE of the village Balik, on a 40-50 m high rock peninsula), Вασσίδινα / Bassidina (Proc. aed. 148.38) immediately to the south of Callatis, Вελεδίνα / Beledīna (Proc. aed. 148.39) to the east of Abritus (see below), Вισδίνα / Bisdīna (Proc. aed. 148.28) (in the vicinity of Marcianopolis – today’s Devnya, Varna region), Γηδινά / Gēdina (Acta SS. July 4 376 (18 July) (in the immediate vicinity of the (Celtic) settlement of Durostorum (Silestra) (see below), Παλαδεινηνος / Paladīna (IGB II, 832/833) (Staroseletz, Provadia district, Varna region), and Zinesdina (RMD IV, 311, diploma, AD 225) near Nicopolis ad Istrum  (vico Zinesdina Maiore).

In the latter area (Nicopolis ad Istrum) the settlement of Βαςτέρναι is recorded (Proc. aed. 307.28) while in Haemus (Stara Planina/Balkan) where the settlement Δίνγιον was located (Proc. 305,37; Tomaschek II, 2, 72– Maenchen-Helfen 1973:256; Beševliev, 1970, 141. Tomaschek, II,2, p. 58) we find another settlement called Βαςτέρναι (Nic. Chon. P. 518, 2). In Dardania, where the settlement of Δίνιον was located (Tomaschek op cit; Neroznak 1974: 46-47), the presence of the Bastarnae is again attested to (Livy 40,58). One should also note the recent publication of an inscription from Silestra (Durostorum) which testifies to two Celtic settlements in the vicinity – Arnuntum and Gavidina, the latter again a Bastarnae settlement (Boyanov 2010;  Ivanov R., Roman Cities in Bulgaria (2012 – In print).

According to Strabo (VII, 3, 17) the Bastarnae consisted of 4 distinct tribes – the Atmoni, Sidoni, Roxalani and Peucini. The latter he places on the Danube (VII, 3,15) as does Plutarch (‘the Gauls on the Danube who are called Bastarnae’ – Plut. Aem. 9,6) while Livy places them in today’s northeastern Bulgaria as early as the 2nd c. BC (Livy op cit). In the Balchik district (Dobruja region) of n.e. Bulgaria one finds the settlement of Peucae (IGBulg V, 5011 (terr. Dionysopolis), again obviously a settlement of the (Bastarnae) Peucini tribe. Archaeological and numismatic material from this area again confirms a Celtic/Bastarnae presence (see relevant sections).

One should, however, note the resettlement of 100,000 Bastarnae in Moesia by Probus (276 – 82) (Probus, History Agusta, Vol. III, 18), and the possibility therefore exists that the aforementioned settlement of Cumodina, and other Bastarnae settlements in Bulgaria, date not from the late Iron Age, but from the Roman period.







In north-central Bulgaria the Celtic settlement of Icacidunum has been identified at the confluence of the Danube and Iskar (Oescus) river, near the present day village of Gigen (Guleantsi district, Pleven region) (Beševliev 1952:#92; Duridanov 1997:136; Falileyev 2009: 282). Between Oescus and Novae lay the Celtic settlement of Διαχόν (Tomaschek II, 2, 71; Detschew’s view that Διαχόν was another name for Dimum is less than convincing) which, based on the archaeological and numismatic data from this area, was probably located around the area of modern Somovit at the mouth of the Vid river.

Between the Osem and Vid rivers, in the modern Lovech region, lay the Celtic settlement of Doriones (Tab. Peut. VIII,1/2)BATL022B5 – Slatina, Lovech region; from the same root as the aforementioned Duriis and the first element in Durostorum (see below). Celtic settlement in this area is confirmed by archaeological and numismatic material from the nearby villages of Dojrentzi, Smochan, Bachovitza, Kurpachevo, the town of Lovech, etc.

  Particularly interesting in this area are settlement names constructed from the Celtic elements abo- ‘river’ (O/Mir ab, aub, derive. Abann; MB auon gl. Flumen, OW Abon, W Afon DGVB: 50-51; GPC 43; LEIA A-4-5; PECA: 11; Falileyev DCCPN 2007;  also present in n. Bulgaria, for example, as the first element in the other 2 Celtic settlements bearing the name ‘Ablana’ = River Plain; see also the first element in Abritus and Appiaria) and  lān(i)o  ‘plain’ (DCCPN) which is also present as the second element in the placename Mediolanum – today’s Pirgovo on the Danube in n. Bulgaria (see Mediolanа/Pirgovo below). Such is the case with Jablanitza – in the plain between the Malak Iskar and Cheren Vit rivers (Lovech region), and Ablanitza  (Lovech district, Lovech region) which is located on the plain by the Dripla, a tributary of the Osam river. (on the Slavic suffix –itza/-итцаin Bulgarian river names see Georgiev 1977:247)

 Celtic presence in both these areas is confirmed by numismatic and archaeological data, in the case of the former by material discovered at the nearby villages of Toros (La Têne material dating from the II- I c. BC – Domaradski 1984), and Glojene (Celtic coins of the Philip II type, again dating to the II – I c. BC – see numismatics section 1), and the latter by Celtic material from Staro Selo (See Thasos – numismatic section), and a massive hoard of Celtic Philip III type drachmas and other Celtic material from Lometz, slightly to the south of Ablanitza (Ablana), which itself is situated slightly to the south of the aforementioned Celtic settlement of Doriones.

The Jantra river was an important trade artery between the Danube and Celtic settlements in the Thracian interior during the 3rd – 1st c. BC as finds of Celtic coinage from the 3rd – 1st c. BC at sites such as Belyanovo and Byala (Russe region) Polski Trumbesh, Radanovo, Kruscheto, the Hill at Rachovetz west of Gorna Oryachoviza, Hotnitza, Samovodene, Laskovetz, the Hill of Zaravetz beside Tarnovo, and Veliko Tarnovo itself, all of the latter in the Veliko Tarnovo region along the course of the Jantra river, clearly indicate. At the confluence of the Jantra and the Danube the recent discovery of Celtic material dating from the 1st c. BC/1st c. AD at Krivina and the aforementioned Celtic coinage from Belyanovo again indicate a Celtic settlement in this area. This was located at today’s Gorno Ablanovo (Bulgarian Gorno = Upper  + Ablana) – again a topographic compound of Celtic abo- ‘river’ +  lān(i)o  ‘plain’. Gorno Ablanovo is indeed situated on a plain to the south and west of the Danube and Jantra rivers respectively.

Between Ablana (Gorno Ablanovo) and the archaeologically attested to Celtic settlement on the Hill of Zaravetz near Veliko Tarnovo were two settlements which are particularly significant from a geo-political perspective. On the Jantra river in the vicinity of the later Roman settlement of Nicopolis ad Istrum two settlements are recorded – vico Zinesdina Maiore (terr. Nicopolis ad Istrum – RMD IV, 311, diploma, AD 225) and Βαςτέρναι (in the area of Nicopolis (Proc. 307:28) both of which appear to have been Bastarnae settlements. (On the latter see also Tomaschek, II,2: 58; Detschew 1957: 46; Beševliev, 1970:141; Maenchen-Helfen 1973:256; Mac Congail 2008: 59)







To the east of the aforementioned settlement of Ablana (Gorno Ablanovo) on the Danube, extensive Celtic archaeological and numismatic material dating from the 3rd – 1st c. BC testify to an intensive and lasting Celtic presence in this area. Hoards of Celtic coins from Ostritza, Mechka, Russe, Pirgovo, Nikolovo, and Slivo Pole on this short stretch of the Danube clearly indicate that this was an important centre of trade for the Celto-Bastarnae (Zaravetz) culture which inhabited the area of northeastern Bulgaria in the late Iron Age. Particularly interesting are two large hoards of Celtic coins (Philip II and Philip III models) and associated ceramic found at the village of Pirgovo in 1910 and 1978. Modern Pirgovo is on the location where the Celtic settlement of Mediolana was situated (Not. Dign., XL, 21 (Mediolana); Falileyev 2009: 282).   



 Slightly further along the Danube were located the settlements of Tigra / Tegris (Holder AC 2, 1842) (today’s Marten, Russe region) (IA, 122,4; Not. Dign. 40.9.15 – Castelum Tegra – cuneus equitum secundarum armigerorum; Proc. Aed. 4.7.6/131.22; Rav. An. Cosm. IV,7) Tab. Peut. (Tegris); IA, 222, 4 (Tigra); Not. Dign., 40. 9.15 (Castelum Tegra – cuneus equitum secundarum armigerorum); Procop., De aedef. IV. 7.6 /131.22/ (Τιγρᾶς); Rav.An. Cosm., IV, 7 (Tigris) – from Proto-Celtic -*Tego- < PIE *teg-os – ‘cover, roof’ (OIr. tech – a house, a dwelling’) and Proto-Celtic * rīg – King. (OIr Ri, OB ri, OW rig; GPC: 3065; LEIA R-25, PECA 92; McCone K. ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ in Celtic and Indo-European, in Éiru 49 (1998), 1-12;  Falileyev 2007 DCCPN), and Appiaria (Ptol., Geog., III, 10, 5 (Ἀπιαρήνσιοι); Tab. Peut. (Appiaris); It.Ant., 222,5 (Appiaria); Not. Dign. XL, 16 (Milites nauclarii, Appiaria); Hier. Syn., 636,7 (Ἀππιάρια); Procop., Aed., IV, 11, 147, 1 ( Ἀππίαρα); Theoph. Sim., II,15 (Ἀππιάρειν). In Roman sources Appiaria is placed XIV and IX Roman miles from Tigra (respectively TP and IA) and XIII Roman miles from Transmarisca. From the aforementioned Celtic abo- = ‘river, and are- ‘near, by’ (OIr air, W er, B ar; DGVB 70; LEIA A-37; See Falileyev DCCPN).

As the Bulgarian linguist Duridanov has pointed out – in the land of the Getae, ‘findet man eine ganze Reihe von Ortsnamen keltischen Ursprungs, die von einer dauernden keltischen Anwesenheit Zeugnis ablegen” (Duridanov 1997:136). Further along the Danube towards modern Silestra (Durostorum) were the settlements of Transmarisca (Proc. Aed. IV, 3, 7/9) (Holder, 1904, I, 431; Beŝevliev, 1966: 422; Duridanov 1980(2):6), Altina (Proc. aed. 4,7,9, see Detschew 1957:14, the element -tina identical with –dina in Beledina, Gavidina etc.) Candidiana (modern Malak Preslavets (Glavnitza district, Silestra region) (Latin construction from the Celtic Cando- white. Duridanov 1980(2):6; 1997, 136) and Dinogetia (modern Garvan – Sitovo district, Silestra region) (Tomaschek II,2:72; DeLamarre ZCP 54, 2004: 262). Transmarisca (modern Tutrakan) and Candidiana appear to have been of Celtic origin while Altina and Dinogetia, both with the element –dina, should be attributed to the Bastarnae.

This pattern of mixed Celtic and Bastarnae settlement is also to be observed in the interior between the Jantra river and the Black Sea. In the Razgrad area, where large amounts of La Têne material and Celtic coinage have been found, lay the settlement of Abritus (Abritu) to the east of present day Razgrad. The remains of the Roman town of Abritus are located in the Hisarlaka district of modern Razgrad, near the Beli Lom river. Despite the fact that it has hitherto been assumed that the settlement was initially of Roman origin, archaeological evidence shows intense Celtic settlement in this area in the pre-Roman period. The Bulgarian linguist Georgiev suggested that the name of the settlement came from the Latin participle abruptus, from the verb abrumpo – = ‘tear, break up’ (Георгиев, В. 1977: 36) which from a logical perspective appears quite an unlikely name for a settlement. It is infinitely more likely, particularly in light of the archaeological evidence and the geographical situation of Abritus on the Beli Lom river, that the name comes from the aforementioned Celtic – abo-  (Also recorded in Thrace as the first element of the Celtic settlements bearing the name ‘Ablana’ = river plain – see above) = river, and –ritu- = Ford (MIr -rith, OB rit, ret, OC rid (also in LNN), OW rit (LNN), MW ryt, W rhyd. ADA: 123-124; CPNE: 197-198; DGVB: 297; GPC: 3126; LEIA:R-34; PECA: 91; Falaliev DCCPN 2007)

It would therefore appear clear from the available facts that the original settlement at Abritus developed initially around a river ford on the Beli Lom river, as the Celtic name suggests.

  To the north of Abritu (between Razgrad and Tutrakan) was Όβουλος, an area settled by the Celtic Όβουλίνσιοι tribe (Ptol. 3,10,4 (Holder I, 431; Tomaschek II, 2, 56;  Detschew: 1957, 334/335; Duridanov 1980 II: 6), probably a sub-tribe of the Celtic Coralli tribe who are recorded in this area (Domaradski 1984; Duridanov 1997; Mac Congail 2008), while further to the southeast, on the Kamchia river, Celtic settlement has recently been confirmed by extensive archaeological evidence from the Kalnovo and Arkovna sites (See Archaeology section). The opinion of the Russian linguist Faliliyev, that Arkovna comes from a ‘Slavic model’ (Falileyev 2010) contradicts all the available numismatic and archaeological facts, and illustrates the danger of reconstructing settlements on purely linguistic ‘models’ without taking into account the numismatic and archaeological evidence on the ground.

  It is now generally accepted, due to the overwhelming Celtic numismatic and archaeological evidence, that the Hill at Arkovna was the centre (or at least one of the main centers) of the of the so-called ‘Tyle’ kingdom in eastern Bulgaria during the 3rd c. BC. (latest: Mac Congail 2008; Lazarov 2010; Manov 2010) However, the search for the elusive Celtic ‘capital’ of ‘Tyle/ Tylis’ mentioned by Polybius (IV.46 – Τύλις) continues unabated among academics. Over the last century ‘Tyle’ has been located by experts in the Dobruja region, Balkan mountains, on the Danube, on the Black Sea etc. (Detailed discussion and relevant literature in Mac Congail 2008:60-63(attached pdf.) Most recently this elusive ‘city’ has been located by the Bulgarian ‘Thracologist’ Stoyanov, based apparently on the ‘lack of evidence’ from the eastern Rhodope mountains, ‘to the east of the left bank of the lower reaches of the Hebros river’(Stoyanov 2010:118) – once more a location which contradicts all the archaeological and numismatic evidence of Celtic settlement in this area pertaining to the 3rd c. BC.

  In fact a number of settlements in Thrace are derived from the Celtic element reflected in the Welsh tyle – slope, Irish tullach – ‘hillock’  (Mac Mathúna 1988: 36, 38-43; see also Faliliyev 2010; Mac Congail op cit; cf. ), one of which is the fortified settlement Τιλικίων  (Procop., Aed. 4. 7.14 /132.22/ (φρούριον δὲ τὸ Τιλικίων) on a rocky outcrop near today’s Dryanovets (Dobrichka district, Dobrich region) which was located slightly to the southwest of the aforementioned (Bastarnae) settlement of Adina at Balik (See Bastarnae section). Both settlements are on the Suka river along the course of which extensive La Têne material has been discovered (See archaeology section).

Particularly illustrative of the population which inhabited the region of today’s northeastern Bulgaria in the late Iron Age is evidence from around Durostorum – today’s Silestra. Durostorum itself was a Celtic settlement (Dottin 1906:334; Tomaschek II, 2:73; Kazarov 1919:62; Hubert II, 43; Beševliev 1970:26; Duridanov 1997:139; Mac Congail 2008:38; Boyanov 2010; Ivanov R. Roman Cities in Bulgaria 2012 (In print) which has been confirmed lately by the discovery of an inscription from Silestra which mentions two other settlements of Celtic origin – Gavidina and Arnumtum, in the vicinity of Durostorum (Boyanov op cit). The local coinage circulating in this area in the 3rd – 1st c. BC consisted of both Celtic and Bastarnae issues (See Numismatic section 8), again indicating the mixed Celto-Bastarnae nature of the population. The available archaeological, numismatic and linguistic data thus confirms the testimony of Strabo (VII, 3,2) who tells us that in the pre-Roman period this region was inhabited by a mixed Thraco-Celtic/Bastarnae population, with the Bastarnae element becoming stronger as one moves north-eastwards into Scythia Minor.





Celtic (and Bastarnae) settlements in northern Bulgaria (Provisional)

(Click to Enlarge)








(Modern) Literature Cited


Beševliev V.  Keltische Ortsnamen in der Kastellverzeichnissen bei Prokop // Actes du Premier congres international des etudes balkaniques et sud-est europeennes. T. VI. Sofia, 1968. S. 415423.

Beševliev V. Zur Deutung der Kastellnamen in Prokops Werk „De aedificiis”. Amsterdam 1970.

Detschew D. Die thrakischen Sprachreste. Wien 1976.

Delamarre X. Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris 2003.

Duridanov I. (1980) Les Rapports Linguistiques Entre Les Thraces Et Les Celtes. In: NOI TRACII VII, # 68, 69, 1980.  Mai (1) Juni (2)

Duridanov I.  (1997) Keltische Sprachspuren in Thrakien und Mosien. ZCP 1997. B. 49/50. S. 130142.

Falileyev A., Graham R. (2006). Remetodia. Acta Onomastica, 47 (1), pp. 173 – 177

Фалилеев А. , KЕЛЬТСКИЕ ЛИНГВИСТИЧЕСКИЕ ОСТАТКИ ЮГО-ВОСТОЧНОЙ EВРОПЫ. In:  Acta Linguistica Petropolitana – Transactions of the Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Science.  Vol. V, part 1. Ed. N. N. Kazansky. St. Petersburg. 2009. P. 275 – 299

Falileyev  A. (in collaboration with A. E. Gohil and N. Ward). Dictionary of Continental Celtic Place-Names. Aberystwyth 2010. (DCCPN)

Falileyev A. Ancient Place-Names of the Eastern Balkans: Defining Celtic Areas. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. BC) Sofia 2010. P. 121- 129.

Георгиев В. (1977)  Траките и Технят Език. София.

Holder A.. Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz. B. 13. Leipzig 1896-1910.

Lazarov L. The Celtic Tylite State in the Time of Cavaros. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. BC) Sofia 2010. P. 97-113.

Mac Congail B. Observations on Inscriptions from the Plovdiv/Pazarjik regions containing the element τιουτα-. In: Annual of the Archaeological Museum, Plovdiv. Volume IX/2. 2004. P.171-178)

Mac Congail B. (2008) Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Celtic Expansion in south-eastern Europe and Asia-Minor. 4th – 3rd c. BC. Plovdiv (attached Pdf.)

Mac Mathύna L. (1988) Old Irish heights and word-field potential. Studia Hibernica 24, 29-50

Maenchen-Helfen O. (1973)The World of the Huns: Studies in their History and Culture, 1973. University of California Press.

Manov M. (2010) In Search of Tyle (Tylis). Problems of Localization. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. BC) Sofia 2010. P. 89 – 96.

Stoyanov T. (2010) The Mal-Tepe Tomb at Mezek and the Problem of the Celtic Kingdom in South-Eastern Thrace. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. BC) Sofia 2010. P. 115 – 119.

Tomaschek W. (1894) Die alten Thraker. Teil II.2 // Sitzungsberichte der Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-Hist. Klasse. Band 131. Wien 1894. S. 1103.






P.C. – Proto-Celtic

OI  – Old Irish

Mir  – Middle Irish

OW – Old Welsh

MW – Middle Welsh

C – Cornish

MB  – Middle Breton

B- Breton


BAT = Reference to the map and square in the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, ed. Richard J. A. Talbert (Princeton 2000, e.g. 26 A3 = Map 26 square A3)

DCCPN – Dictionary of Continental Celtic Place-Names, 2007

GPC – Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Caerdydd, 1950-2002

LEIA – Lexique étymologique de l’irlandais ancient. Paris and Dublin, 1959 –

UELPC – An Etymological Lexicon of Proto-Celtic. University of Leiden