Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Ancient Pithoi, Medieval Byzantine Seals at Upper Voden Fortress

View of excavations near the Upper Voden Fortress. Photo by dcnews.bg

View of excavations near the Upper Voden Fortress. Photo by dcnews.bg

Several ancient pithoi (large clay vessels for food and drinks) as well as medieval lead seals belonging to Byzantine dignitaries have been discovered by Bulgarian archaeologists in the excavations of the Upper Voden Fortress, also known as Voden or Votina, near the southern town of Asenovgrad.

While the Upper Voden Fortress itself rose to prominence in the High Middle Ages, the artifacts found there by the team of archaeologist Rositsa Moreva also include items from the Charcolithic or Cooper Age (also known as Eneolithic Age) and the Antiquity, Ivan Dukov, director of the Asenovgrad Museum of History, has told the Bulgarian National Radio.

The most impressive finds from different time periods discovered over the past year at the Upper Voden Fortress are to be presented to the public next week but Dukov has revealed some of them in advance. In the same interview, he has also revealed some of the finds discovered at the nearby Asen’s Fortress.

“It is very important that this year we found several lead seals that shed light on the residents of the fortress and their correspondence," Dukov says, adding that one of the seals belonged to Gregory Kurkua who was the Byzantine Duke of Plovdiv in the 11th century, after the Byzantine Empire defeated the First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) in 1018 AD, and conquered most of the Bulgarian lands.

In his words, the Byzantine Duke of Plovdiv Gregory Kurkua probably had correspondence with Gregory Pakourianos (Gregorius Pacurianus), a powerful 11th century Byzantine politician of Georgian origin who is known as the founder of the Monastery of the Mother of God Petritzonitissa in Bachkovo, one of the most revered monasteries in today’s Bulgaria also located near the town of Asenovgrad.

“[The Byzantine Duke of Plovdiv] was probably exchange letters with Gregory Pakourianos, and probably lived and died at roughly the same time as him," Dukov notes, adding that the archaeologists have found two other Byzantine seals – one anonymous, and another one that belonged to a man called Constantine Xenothynos.

“These seals are interesting from the point of view of sigillography. This diplomatic correspondence is important to us because it can enrich our historical knowledge of this period," says the director of the Asenovgrad Museum of History.

He has also announced that the archaeologists excavating the medieval Upper Voden Fortress have discovered several ancient pithoi (pithos is the Ancient Greek word for a large clay vessel for storing grain, wine, and other food) as well as a tandir, a medieval oven based on these vessels.

Tandir is a specific type of oven which resembles a pithos but has more vertical walls. Fire is lit inside the tandir, and foods are baked in there. This technique is still used today in some parts of Asia. Some parts of the Rhodope Mountains [in Bulgaria] also use this method for roasting meat," Dukov explains.

Back in November 2014, the archaeologists excavating the Upper Voden Fortress announced the discovery of a rare 4th century BC coin minted by Alexander the Great.

Update: During the official public presenation of the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval artifacts found at the Upper Voden Fortress and at Asen’s Fortress made in Asenovgrad on Monday, March 23, 2015, the Bulgarian archaeologists announced they had discovered that the earliest human settlement in the area of the two fortress dated back to the 7th-6th millenium BC, about 1500 years earlier than previously thought.

Background Infonotes:

The Upper Voden Fortress, also known as Voden or Votina, located near today’s southern Bulgarian town of Asenovgrad is connected mostly with the role of Byzantine politician of Georgian origin Gregory Pakourianos (Gregorius Pacurianus), the founder of the nearby Monastery of the Mother of God Petritzonitissa in Bachkovo, which he established in 1083 AD. The Upper Voden Fortress was first excavated in the 1960s by Dimitar Tsonchev, and since 1976 – by renowned Bulgarian archaeologist Rositsa Moreva, who is also in charge of the current excavations. Evidence indicates that the Upper Voden Fortress (located on a strategically important mount with an altitude of 516 meters, overlooking the Thracian plain) was first built in the 9th-10th century but on the foundations of a previously existing Early Byzantine fortress. In modern-day Bulgaria, not unlike all other archaeological sites, it has been damaged by treasure hunters but also by locals wishing to mine stones from it for house construction.

Gregory Pakourianos (Gregorius Pacurianus) was an 11th-century Byzantine politician of Georgian origin who is said to have been the second most powerful man in the Byzantine Empire after the Emperor himself. Gregory Pakourianos is known as the founder of the Monastery of the Mother of God Petritzonitissa in Bachkovo, one of the most revered monasteries in today’s Bulgaria also located near the town of Asenovgrad. It was established by him in 1083 AD. Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appointed him “megas domestikos of All the West” meaning he was the supreme commander of Byzantine forces in Europe. He died in 1086 AD fighting the Pechenegs at the Battle of Beliatoba (today’s Bulgarian town of Belyatovo).