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    Polish researchers: Legion X Fretensis stationed in Fort Apsaros in Colchis

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    Polish scientists have discovered that Legion X Fretensis, known for its brutal suppression of Jewish uprisings, was stationed in the Roman fort of Apsaros in Colchis on the shores of the Black Sea in the early 2nd century AD. Until now, researchers were unaware of their presence in such a distant region.


    This finding was made possible through the analysis of hundreds of bronze coins found during excavations. Archaeologist and numismatist Dr. Piotr Jaworski from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw identified additional stamps on some of the coins, known as countermarks. “These countermarks were used to ‘prolong the life’ of the coins when the original stamps became almost invisible after several decades of use. In this case, the countermarks belonged to Legion X Fretensis,” said Dr. Jaworski.

    While most of the coins originated from Antioch in Syria and Judea, archaeologists also came across a rebellious coin from the fourth year of the Jewish War. It may have ended up in the hands of the Romans after the capture of Masada, along with the entire Jewish treasury. They then marked it with their own countermarks. This example perfectly illustrates the Roman principle of “pecunia non olet,” which means “money does not stink.” The battles for Masada were extremely bloody, and its defenders ultimately committed mass suicide,” explained Dr. Jaworski.

    How did these coins end up by the Black Sea? According to the researcher, the legionnaires likely brought them during the war against the Parthians in the time of Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. “Until now, we had sources mentioning the presence of this legion in the camp at Satala (present-day Sadak in Turkey), where Trajan arrived with his troops from Antioch,” said Dr. Jaworski. Satala is located approximately 250 kilometers southwest of Apsaros in a straight line.

    By analyzing the coins, evidence was found of the furthest northeastern presence of this legion. “The only moment, considering the war’s history, when the troops of this legion could be in Apsaros, was in the winter of 114 AD. At that time, Trajan briefly returned to Syria but left the units in Armenia and the southern Caucasus to wait out the winter. In 115 AD, the further offensive towards Mesopotamia began,” described Dr. Jaworski.

    The expert highlighted that the Parthian War occurred during a “critical time” in the existence of the Roman Empire. He explained that the war was well-prepared, resulting in the temporary acquisition of two new provinces, Armenia and Mesopotamia, albeit briefly. Never before had the empire been as large territorially.

    “Along with the legions, there were also camp followers, including merchants, craftsmen, and herds,” described Dr. Jaworski.

    Colchis did not mint its own coins, so the legionnaires used their own coins for purchasing wine, bread, and other supplies. Among the hundreds of coins found by archaeologists in Apsaros, many were lost or dropped.

    “Their number should not surprise us. These were small denominations used for daily transactions to buy food or services. With one coin of this type, you could enter the baths,” added Dr. Jaworski. It was the equivalent of the Roman semis.

    During that time, the fort must have been bustling with activity as several cohorts, ranging from several hundred to several thousand soldiers, were likely stationed there, according to Dr. Jaworski.

    Fort Apsaros existed for about 200 years until the mid-3rd century AD, during the invasions of the Borani into Colchis. Its reactivation took place 300 years later under Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD when he was fighting the Sasanians. The present-day walls visible at the archaeological site most likely date from that period.

    These findings were made as part of research led by Dr. Radosław Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski from the Center for Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw. On the Georgian side, Professor Shota Mamuladze from the Cultural Heritage Agency of Adjara is involved. Apsaros is now located near the holiday resort of Batumi in western Georgia. Half a century ago, Filipinki sang about this city. The research project has already yielded significant discoveries, including a mosaic floor in the ruins of a commander’s house. It is a unique find in Georgia. Gonio is now one of the major tourist attractions near Batumi.

    Apsaros (as the fortress was known among the ancient inhabitants) was established about 2,000 years ago on the border of the Roman province of Cappadocia. Due to its strategic location, the fort played an important role in the defense system of the eastern borders of the Roman Empire. Today, it is picturesque ruins, with the fortifications being exceptionally well-preserved. The interior mostly consists of empty spaces, with the outlines of former buildings visible in some areas. The fortress was situated along the only convenient road from Colchis (western Georgia) to the Roman provinces in Asia Minor.

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