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Cultural Heritage of the Thracians

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College of Tourism – Varna

Cultural Heritage of the Thracians

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Written by: Tsvetan

2010

Bulgarian treasures

Once upon a time the Thracians inhabited Bulgarian lands. Millennia after, their ancient and mysterious culture revealed its true magnificence. In the last few decades a number of significant collections of Thracian treasures have been discovered in present-day Bulgaria, providing much of our present knowledge of ancient Thrace.

Golden mask of a Thracian king

Bulgaria’s ancient Thracian heritage was thrust into the spotlight in 2004 with a number of key archaeological discoveries in the so-called Valley of the Thracian Kings. A team of Bulgarian archaeologists, led by Professor Georgi Kitov, discovered a 2400-year old golden mask in the tomb of an ancient Thracian king on August 19. The mask bears the image of a human face and is made of 500 grams of solid gold. The discovery was made near the town of Shipka, in the heart of the Stara Planina Mountain. Dozens of Thracian mounds are spread throughout this region, which archaeologists have called ‘the Bulgarian valley of the kings,’ a reference to the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, which is home to the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. “The unique mask looks even better than the famous image of King Agamemnon, the Greek anti-hero described by Homer in the Iliad,” Kitov said after making the discovery. “This is the first Thracian mask of solid gold ever found,” he said. Previously, archaeologists had only found masks covered with golden foil. It is suggested that the mask could belong to King Seuthes III, the Thracian king who in the fifth century BCE ruled the territory that now is in today’s Bulgaria. Later however, he and his team changed their view, and said the mask is most probably of King Teres I, father of the famous Thracian ruler Sitalkes, who expanded the Thracian kingdom into a huge empire, uniting for the first time all Thrace south of the river Danube.

Panagyurishte Treasure

The golden treasure from Panagyurishte was found in 1949 two kilometers to the south of Panagyurishte. It is dated back to the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd century BC . The treasure consists of an extremely beautiful set with rich decorations and ornaments. It was used in feasts or in libations and rituals related to the Thracian mythology. It consists of 9 vessels made of pure gold, weighing over 6 kg (13.2 lb). Four of the rhyta are shaped as animals’ heads or torsos – ram, goat, and two of them have fallow deer heads. The upper part of the rhyta is decorated with scenes and heroes from the Greek mythology. On one of the rhyta are depicted god Dionysus with Ariadne (a Cretan princess) on the feast on the occasion of their wedding. Three of the vessels are jugs with Amazon heads. Their handles are formed as mythological creatures with animal figures and human heads. A skilfully made shallow bowl, called phiale, is also found. There are four concentric circles on it, with 24 relief ornaments in each circle, which become smaller from the rim to the centre of the phiale. The biggest and the next two circles are arranged with Negro heads, and the last, most internal, circle consists of a row of acorns. Between the rows of elements the phiale is decorated with floral ornaments. Most interesting regarding its form and decoration is the big amphora. Its handles are formed as fighting centaurs, and the two openings for pouring the wine, located at the bottom end of the vessel, represent Negro heads. Between the Negro heads is the figure of the child Heracles, fighting the snake. The amphora is richly decorated with realistic scenes from the Greek mythology.

Rogozen treasure

It was found by Ivan Dimitrov, a tractor-driver, who was digging in his yard in the village of Rogozen, 43 kilometers to the north of Vratsa. consisted of 42 jugs, 22 phialai and a cup, which were handed to the employees of the museum in the town of Vratsa. The excavations on the place confirmed to the archaeologists that the treasure was buried under extreme circumstances and probably was divided in several parts. Soon after that a second pit is found, containing 100 silver vessels buried at 40 cm depth. This part consists of 86 phialai, 12 jugs and 2 cups. Thus the overall number of the items increased to 165 silver vessels – 54 jugs, 3 cups and 108 phialai. It is supposed that these objects belonged to a local noble family and were gathered for many years — from the 5th century BC to the 40s of the 4th century BC. On some of the vessels are engraved different inscriptions, which gave us the names of various Thracian rulers and gold- and silversmiths who made the vessels. The decoration of found objects represents many scenes from the Thracian and Greek mythology, proof of the strong relationship and cultural exchanges between ancient Greeks and the Thracian tribes.

Vulchitrun Treasure

The Vulchitrun treasure was found on December 28, 1924 in the village of Vulchitrun near the town of Pleven. The brothers Todor and Nikola Tsvetanovi came uppon it while digging theyr wineyard. They managed to sell some whole item or pieces of them to goldsmiths in Pleven before Ivan Zlatarev, the National Museum of Historykeeper took care of the rest. This is the largest gold treasure in the history of Bulgarian archeology. The 13 items have a total weight of 12.5 kilograms and are made of solid gold with natural silver, copper and iron alloys. The treasure is date back to 16th - 17th century BC or the late Bronze Era. Archeologists suppose that the vessels were used for ceremonial purposes by Thracian kings and priests

Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis

In 1974 while digging a trench in the region of the Varna Lake, 4 kilometers to the west of the town centre, some golden and silver items with a strange shape and decorations came to the surface. The experts were sure that the finds represent burial objects, gifts to those, buried in the chalcolithic necropolis dating back to the 5th millennium about 4200-4000 BC. These findings became famous all over the world with the name Varna Necropolis Treasure, and the civilization to whom it belonged – Varna Culture. 7500 sq. m. are examined so far – 294 tombs and over 3000 beautiful and exquisite gold items, weighing about 6,5 kg (14 lb) were found. In the necropolis (necro-polis «city of the dead») the archaeologists found three different types of burial and ways of laying the mortal remains: • on their back with the body stretched • curled up in a ball with legs and arms tucked in, resembling the position of the embryo in mother’s womb • symbolic burials — there were no bodies in the tombs, only burial gifts were found. (practice for paying honour to the deceased who had fallen dead far away, in battle, while travelling or for other reasons preventing the burial of the mortal remains) Rich burial items are found by each one of the three kinds of burial. The items were intended to accompany the buried people after death. These were clay vessels, sea shells, numerous decorative objects made of precious and base metals, as well as bone human figures representing idols. In their hands were put instruments like knives, axes, chisels made of stone, copper or flint. The richest in gold items are the empty tombs of the symbolic burials. There were also vessels and instruments. Symbolic human faces made of clay surrounded by rich decoration were found in some of the tombs. In only one of the excavated tombs (Nr 43 regarding its unearthing) were found 990 gold items weighing over 1,5 kg (3.3 lb). The burial in tomb 43 was made over 4000 years BC. The unearthed remains belong to a male, about 45 years old, who was athletic and relatively tall of stature (170 cm), having in mind the normal height at that time. He had massive gold bracelets on each hand, as well as strings of sea shells and gold beads. A splendid adornment resembling a wide collar decorated his neck and chest. It consisted of gold plates and jewels. These were also sewn on to his clothes and hat. In the tomb there were also many instruments made of copper and flint, and clay vessels.

Borovo Treasure

At the end of December 1974 another treasure, dated from the first half of the fourth century BC, came to light at Borovo. It consists of luxurious five-vessel drinking set. Three of them are rhytons ending in the protomes of a horse, a bull, and a sphinx. The fourth is a large two-handled bowl in the center of which a deer attacked by a griffin is depicted in relief. The fifth is a richly ornamented silver jugglet, with two bands in relief depicting scenes connected with the cult of Dionysus. On the upper frieze the god is tearing animals to pieces, and chasing satyrs or being chased by them. We can see Dionysus with Ariadne, standing out in a poetic dream. On the lower part the god marries Ariadne, who unbinds her belt The treasure bears an inscription in Greek letters with the name of the Thracian King Kotys I who reigned the Odryssaean Kingdom from 383 to 359 BC and that of the craftsman Etbeos.

Loukovit Treasure

The treasure of Loukovit must have been buried in the period of the Macedonian rule in Thrace, perhaps during the reign of Alexander the Great, when he was crossing the lands of the Tribally. It was dated to the second half of the fourth century BC. The treasure consists of three small pitchers, nine phials and a large number of silver appliqués, decorated with animal motifs and figures of horsemen. On two of them a lion with gilded mane attacks a stag whose legs are folded under the body. The artifacts are the work of different craftsmen which shows that it was brought together gradually and also proves the rich artistic life in the northern Thracian lands in the fourth century BC.

Vratsa Treasure from Mogilanska Mound

The treasure of Vratsa from the Mogilanska mound comprised three tombs which were yielded , during 1965-66 excavations in the heart of the city. Two were plundered back in antiquity, and the third contained a funeral of a man and a woman, one of the richest to be discovered in Thrace. There are several striking artifacts among the multitude of gold and silver objects intended to serve the deceased in the next life. A silver cone-shaped pitcher suggests that the dead were initiated into the Dionysian cult, since the cone was a symbol of Dionysus. The gold laurel wreath and earrings show remarkable sophistication and craftsmanship. The gold pitcher is interesting with its handle fashioned like a Herculean knot which is right over the plume-ornamented bodies of the two chariots drawn by four horses each. Since the chariot is always a symbol of the sun god, many scholars believe that the chariot driver is Apollo - the principle god of the Tribally. Here a unique knee-piece with a female head figure was found. Knee-pieces were part of ancient warriors' protective armor and were intended to protect legs. A perfectly symmetrical, framed by an intricate coiffure and crowned with a gilded ivy wreath human face covers the kneecap. There are bird-shaped earrings, with two serpents outlining the face in the background. In the lower part, their bodies blend into those of roaring lions, whose heads lock right under the chin. Another two serpents on the knee-piece have promotes that blend into griffin lions.

Letnitsa Treasure

Letnitsa treasure dates back to 400 - 350 BC. It was found in a bronze vessel and like many treasures was an accidental discovery. It consists of a bit, a headstall and small pierced silver plaques, part of harness. Each appliqués has a ring on its back, through which the strap fastening is passed.
What is new about this treasure are the twenty-four square or rectangular scenes of mythology or of everyday life. For the first time in these appliqués a human figure is used for a horse trappings adornment. According to the depicted subject the appliqués may be divided into two groups: appliqués representing a fight between animals and others with mythological scenes.

The Kosmatka Tomb, Kazanlak

One of the most impressive monuments of the Thracian civilization in the Valley of the Thracian Kings, is the Heroon (a Temple-Tomb of a Hero of Royal status) of Sueth III. It was discovered on September 4th 2004, by the famous Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov (1943-2008). The temple was buried under the 20 m high (ap. 66 ft) “Golyamata Kosmatka” mound. It represents a remarkable Thracian Heroon built accordingly to the Thracian Orphic cult traditions of the end of V C. /beginning of the IV C. BCE. Serving also as a symbolic tomb of Seuth III, it contained an enormous treasure, exhibited now in the Kazanlak Museum and Art Gallery “Iskra”. More than 70 silver, gold and bronze objects, which were used as ritual offering to the Gods, were discovered during the excavations. The Temple was used between the end of the V C. BCE and the beginning of the III C BCE, when a symbolic burial ceremony of Seuth III took place, the famous founder of the Thracian city of Seuthopolis, located only 10 km (7.5 miles) away. AKeystone and ceiling architecturefter the symbolic burial ceremony, the Temple was closed and the entrance sealed and buried. The Thracian Heroon (Temple Tomb) Goliamata Kosmatka is comprised by a 13 m (app. 42 ft) dromus (hallway), an antechamber and a burial chamber. A 26 m (app. 89 ft) procession road leads to the temple’s main entrance. From the monumental entrance, the dromus leads to a small circular antechamber with vaulted ceiling. Both the dromus and the antechamber are built with large cut stones, linked together in places by bronze braces or just shaped to perfectly fit the architectural design. Head of Apollo, door decoration There were frescoes on the walls of the dromus and the antechamber, which were damaged by fire in the Antiquity, and, unfortunately, lost forever. Two marble doors, leading to the main chamber, are ornate and painted with red and ochre. The heads of Helios/Apollo and Medusa or Dionysus are sculpted with magnificent artistry on the doors. The theory of the second head being of Dionysus belongs to Prof. Valeria Fol and it makes sense for a Thracian Heroon: Helios is the symbol of the heaven/sun world and Dionysus – the mediator between the afterward and the underworld. The main burial chamber is a sarcophagus type, with a large offerings/burial bed, an offerings table and a round cupola ceiling with a central keystone. The offerings/burial bed is made out of one single piece of stone weighting 60 m tones. It was also decorated with red paintings, remains of which can be seen even now. The ritual bed was covered with gold and red fabric, fragments of which were discovered during the excavations. 70 objects, from which several ornaments and jewelry weighting a total of 1 kg ( 2 pounds) of solid gold, as well as bronze, silver artifacts and semi-precious stones, were found in the Temple’s Burial Chamber and its surroundings.Just in front of the Temple, 7 m(25 ft) from the main entrance, was made one of the most spectacular discoveries, helping the scientists to identify the Temple as symbolic burial site of Seuth III: a huge bronze head, with eyes made out of semi-precious stones, probably belonging to a 6 feet tall statue. The detail and great artistic value of the bronze head made believe the specialists that this was the statue of Seuth III and the head was separated on purpose, following the Thracian Orphic burial traditions. In the dromus was discovered a sacrificial burial of a horse – a tradition seen in other Thracian Tombs. The majority of the treasures were found in the main sarcophagus burial chamber. Objects of the armament of the King, horse trappings, and a lot of gold and silver objects, were buried there and meant to show the Seuth III important status as King-Priest of the Temple. The clothes found in the burial chamber were made of leather, decorated with gold. A head of an lion and gold leaf ornaments are embellishing the fine apparel of the King. Three clay amphorae containing wine were discovered in the chamber, proving once again the Dionysian/Orphic connection.

The big Arsenalka Tomb, Kazanlak

The Kazanluk Tomb in south Bulgaria is famous for its beautiful wall paintings of the early 3rd century BC, one of the most unique masterpieces of Early Hellenistic pictorial art. Despite the small surface containing the decorative friezes, the unknown artist has created an exceptional work of art. This tomb was built during the reign of king Seuthes III, either for him personally or for close relatives among the nobility.

Sveshtari Tomb

It is situated 2,5 km south-west of Sveshtari (a village 42 km north-east of Razgrad). Uncovered during excavations of a sepulchral mound. Dating back, in approximation, to the first half of the 3rd century BC. The central camera of the vault is rich in decoration - it is designed as a facade of a temple with the image of a horseman, being bestowed with a golden wreath by a goddess, and a religious procession; on three of the walls - a high relief with 10 stone statues of clad women figures. The funeral rites, the building technique, the architectural design and the decoration, distinguished for Hellenistic models, provide evidence that a Thracian ruler has been buried there.

Helvetia tomb, Shipka

On July 29, 1996 a Thracian tomb of the 4th century BC was uncovered near the town of Shipka, in the south foothills of the Balkan Range. Large regular stones were used to build the tomb, situated five meters underground. The metal part of a Roman soldier's shoe found at the site indicates that the tomb may have been plundered as early as in Roman times. The Shipka Tombs are seven in total on an area of Central Bulgaria considered to have been the Valley of the Thracian Kings.

Starossel Tomb

Teams of Bulgarian archeologists have made phenomenal discoveries in the summer of year 2000. One of the major discoveries was the grave of what is believed to be a Thracian ruler. The site, at the village of Starossel near Plovdiv in southern Bulgaria, has been dated from the forth or fifth century BC. The two-chamber grave is approached by monumental stairs and a corridor. It is surrounded by a wall made out of some 4 000 stone blocks and was hidden under a 20-meter high mound of earth. Within, archeologists found a magnificent trove of relics, including a large gold funerary wreath, other gold jewelry, bronze shields, helmets and swords, and two sets of silver decorations for horses. The grave and its surroundings are also thought to have been an important religious site for Thracians.

Sources

• http://www.ancient-bulgaria.com • http://ancient-treasure.info • http://www.culturalrealms.com/

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