Bulgarian Archaeologists Install Security Cameras to Guard Ancient City Heraclea Sintica from Treasure Hunters

The Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Bulgaria's Petrich. Photo by Petrich Museum of History

The Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Bulgaria’s Petrich. Photo by Petrich Museum of History

Archaeologists from the Museum of History in the town of Petrich, Southwest Bulgaria, have initiated the installation of survellance cameras in the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica.

The ruins of Heraclea Sintica, which is located near the southwestern Bulgarian town of Petrich, have been targetted by treasure hunters in recent years.

This has prompted Sotir Ivanov, director of the Petrich Museum of History, and his team to find funding for the installation of CCTV cameras in Heraclea Sintica.

Heraclea Sintica is situated near Rupite, which is famous as the hometown of Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga (Vangeliya Gushterova) (1911-1996).

The installation of security cameras comes as more and more tourists who are visiting Vanga’s home in Rupite are also visiting the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city named after the Thracian tribe of the Sintians.

Heraclea Sintica does have security guards during the day but is not guarded at night; the CCTV cameras are supposed to help fill this gap, reports the Bulgarian daily Standart.

We have installed video cameras in the area so that we can take footage of anyone who enters the ancient city. We are doing everything possible to rescue Heraclea Sintica from the treasure hunters who are sabotaging our [i.e. the archaeologists’] activity," the head of the Petrich Museum of History, Sotir Ivanov, is quoted as saying.

In the 25 years since the collapse of the communist regime, Bulgaria, which is considered the third richest country in Europe in terms of archaeological heritage (after Italy and Greece), has been plagued by a treasure hunting “pandemic" and the authorities have been either unable, or unwilling to take efficient measures to tackle it.

Background Infonotes:

Heraclea Sintica is an Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria. It was the center of the ancient region of Sintica along the Struma River, which was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Sintians. The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was mentioned by Homer, Herodotos, and Thycudides in their works. It was founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon (r. 305-297 BC), who also founded Thessaloniki. In the not so distant past, the location of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was a matter of contention between archaeologists from Bulgaria and Greece. In 2002, Bulgarian archaeologists managed to identify the city for sure after they found a Latin inscription dated back to 308 AD, in which Roman Emperor Galerius (r. 293-305 AD as Caesar, 305-311 AD as Augustus) addressed the local urban citizens of Heraclea Sintica responding to a plea to restore their lost civil rights. In the late Antiquity, the city of Heraclea Sintica gradualy waned and was replaced by nearby Sveti Vrach (today’s town of Sandanski) as a regional center. In recent years, Heraclea Sintica has been excavated by Ass. Prof. Dr. Lyudmil Vagalinski, director of Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, director of the Petrich Museum of History.

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the fall of communism in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved vary range from 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are low-level impoverished diggers.