Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian Treasures Fly Off to Paris for Long Anticipated Archaeology Exhibit in Louvre Museum

The Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, the most impressive Ancient Thracian treasure to date. Photo by Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

The Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, the most impressive Ancient Thracian treasure to date. Photo by Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology

Bulgaria’s most impressive treasures from the civilization of Ancient Thrace have been transported to Paris, France, where they will be displayed in the Louvre Museum in a long anticipated archaeology exhibit entitled “Ancient Thrace. The Odrysian Kingdom".

A total of 1628 artifacts from several of Bulgaria’s top Thracian treasures assembled from 17 Bulgarian museums of history and archaeology have been taken by plane from Sofia to Paris for the Louvre exhibition which will last between April 15 and July 20, 2015.

The Odrysian Kingdom, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.

The treasures to be displayed in the Louvre include the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, the Rogozen Treasure (gold and silver), the Borovo Silver Treasure, the Letnitsa Treasure (silver and bronze), the Mogilanska Mound Treasure (also known as the Vratsa Gold Treasure), the Zlatinitsa Mound Treasure (gold and silver), and the bronze head of Seuthes III, king of the Odrysian Thracian Kingdom between ca. 331 BC to ca. 300 BC.

The treasures of Ancient Thrace have been insured for a total of EUR 165 million for the duration of the exhibition in the Louvre where they will be seen by about 4 million people, according to estimates by French experts.

The lifelike bronze head of Ancient Thracian Odryssian King Seuthes III was discovered in 2004 in his tomb near his capital Seuthopolis, near Bulgaria's Kazanlak. Photo by kazanlak.com

The lifelike bronze head of Ancient Thracian Odryssian King Seuthes III was discovered in 2004 in his tomb near his capital Seuthopolis, near Bulgaria’s Kazanlak. Photo by kazanlak.com

The bronze head of Odrysian King Seuthes III alone has been insured for EUR 13 million while the most precious threasure in the exhibit, the Panaguyrishte Gold Treasure, has been insured for EUR 50 million.

The Thracians’ treasures distributed into a total of 56 fireproof and waterproof containers were loaded at 4 am EET on Monday, March 24, 2015, at Bulgaria’s National Museum of History onto armored trucks of the Bulgarian National Bank, and were taken to Sofia International Airport under highest security measures.

“The containers are made of an alloy withstanding a temperature of 1900 degrees Celsius. This is the maximum temperature that can be reached if a plane crashes and explodes so the artifacts will survive in any circumstances!", states Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History, as cited by Nova TV.

The containers in question were produced for the Bulgarian National Museum of History in 1979 in West Germany for a total of DEM 190,000.

The fireproof and waterproof contains used for transporting Bulgaria's Thracian treasures to Paris. Photo: TV grab form Nova TV

The fireproof and waterproof contains used for transporting Bulgaria’s Thracian treasures to Paris. Photo: TV grab form Nova TV

The security convoy transporting the Thracian gold is reported to have changed its route several times as a precaution before reaching Sofia International Airport where the authorities had even prepared a spare chartered plane in case something goes wrong with the first one.

The plane that took them to the capital of France made a scheduled refueling stop in Switzerland, the Bulgarian National Television reported.

The Ancient Thracian treasures and artifacts to be shown in the Louvre have been selected by four Bulgarian and French curators.

The Louvre exhibition of Ancient Thrace will be unique because it will feature for the very first time Bulgaria’s latest gold treasure find – more than 180 gold items discovered in October 2014 by Prof. Diana Gergova at the Sboryanovo Archaeological Complex near the Northeastern Bulgarian town of Sveshtari (which is famous for its Thracian tomb) belonging to the Thracian tribes of Getae (also known as Gets) who were also part of the Odrysian Empire for a certain period of time.

The “Ancient Thrace" exhibition in Paris, however, will not be limited to showcasing the impressive treasures but will also seek to present the lifestyle of the Thracians as well as their relations with other neighboring civilizations such as Ancient Greece and Persia; that is why it will also feature a myriad of other artifacts such as bronze coins and pottery.

One such item is a hydria, an ancient ceramic vessel used for carrying water or wine, found in the 1920s by Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov (also known for being the country’s controversial Prime Minister in 1940-1943). The hydria in question has been stored in the soil it was original found in, and is now to be showcased for the first time.

According to one of the curators of the exhibit, Prof. Totko Stoyanov, for the first time an international exhibition of Bulgaria’s Thracian heritage will not focus explicitly on Thracian gold but will show the life and customs of individual Thracian tribes as well as their interaction with other communities, such as the Ancient Greek colonies along Bulgaria’s coast.

Thus, the Louvre exhibition will seek to present Thracian tombs in their entirety featuring not only the precious gold finds but also all the other items that give an impression of how the Thracians viewed the afterlife.

Some of the urban centers of Ancient Thrace such as Seuthopolis, one of the capitals of the Odrysian Kingdom, will also be presented which has never been done in the past. Seuthopolis was a large commercial center where Ancient Greek tradesmen and craftsmen lived side by side with the Thracians which stimulated the economy of Thrace, Prof. Stoyanov explains.

The Louvre exhibition will also present the capital of the Getae, Sboryanovo, with the royal tomb and the nearby Large Mound where the treasure found recently by Prof. Diana Gergova comes from, as well as the Triballi, another Thracian tribe, with the Dabovan Mound where representatives of their aristocracy were buried.

The most important treasure from Ancient Thrace that will not be included in the Louvre exhibit is the golden mask of Teres I, the founder of the Odrysian Kingdom (r. 460-445 BC), which was discovered in 2004 by the team of renowned Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov.

According to Prof. Stoyanov, Teres I’s much celebrated golden mask does not fit the Paris exhibit’s concept of presenting the overall lifestyle of the Thracian tribes because it was not discovered in a tomb with other artifacts but came from an isolated grave.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.

The Odrysian Kingdom is a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.

The Getae or Gets were Thracian tribes inhabiting the regions on both sides of the Lower Danube in today’s Northern Bulgaria and Southern Romania.

The Triballi were a Thracian tribe inhabiting the region of modern-day Western Bulgaria and Southern Serbia.

Teres I (r. ca. 475 – ca. 445 BC) was the first king of the Odrysian Kingdom uniting about 40 Thracian tribes. He was succeeded consecutively by his sons, Sparatocos (r. ca. 445-ca. 431 BC) and Sitalces (r. ca. 431 – ca. 424 BC).

Seuthes III was a king of the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace from ca. 331 BC to ca. 300 BC, at first tributary to Alexander the Great of Macedon. In 2004, as part an expedition dubbed TEMP, late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov discovered Seuthes III’s tomb on the Golyama Kosmatka Mound near his capital Seuthopolis (close to today’s towns of Kazanlak and Shipka), part of the Valley of Thracian Kings. The impressive finds included the famous lifelike bronze head of Seuthes III, his golden laurel wreath, golden kylix (ancient drinking cup), among others. Some of these finds (except for the ruler’s bronze head) are to be shown in the upcoming exhibit of Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian treasures in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, “Ancient Thrace. The Odrysian Kingdom", between April 15 and July 20, 2015.

The Panagyurishte Treasure, also known as the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, was found in 1949 by three brothers – Pavel, Petko and Michail Deikovi, who worked together at the region of Merul tile factory near the town of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria. It consists of a phial, an amphora and seven rhyta with total weight of 6.164 kg of 23-karat gold. All of the objects are richly and skilfully decorated with scenes from Thracian mythology, customs and life. It is dated to the 4th-3rd centuries BC, and is thought to have been used as a royal ceremonial set by the Thracian king Seuthes III.

The Rogozen Treasure was discovered by chance in 1985 by a tractor driver digging a well in his garden in the Bulgarian village of Rogozen. It consists of 165 receptacles, including 108 phiales, 55 jugs and 3 goblets. The objects are silver with golden gilt on some of them with total weight of more than 20 kg. The treasure is an invaluable source of information for the life of the Thracians due to the variety of motifs in the richly decorated objects. It is dated back to the 5th-4th centuries B.O.T.

The Borovo Treasure, also known as the Borovo Silver Treasure, consists of five silver-gilt decorated vessels found in 1974 while ploughing a field in Borovo, Northeastern Bulgaria. The set has a bowl, a rhyta jug, and three rhyta, the largest of them with a figure of a sphynx and an inscription reading: “[Belongs to] Cotys from [the town of] Beos.", as well as the name of the craftsman, Etbeos, leading to speculations that the treasure may have been a gift to a local Getic ruler from Odrysian King Cotys I (r. 382-359 BC).

The Letnitsa Treasure is dated back to the 4th century BC. It was found by accident in 1963 during a dig near the town of Letnitsa in Central Bulgaria in a bronze vessel. It consists of a large number of small decorated silver items as well as a Thracian warrior’s decorated horse ammunition found nearby.

The Mogilanska Mound Treasure, also known as the Vratsa Gold Treasure, was found during excavations of a mound (which turned out to hold three tombs) in the downtown of Northwestern Bulgarian city of Vratsa in 1965-1966. The treasure found with the skeletons of people and horses, and chariots, consists of a golden crown of laurels, 47 gold appliqués, 2 golden earrings, 4 silver phialai, a silver jug, a rhyton-shaped amphora, and 50 clay figures. The Mogilanska Mound is believed to be a royal tomb connected with the dynasty of the Tribali tribe.

The Zlatinitsa Mound Treasure consists of a golden wreath with appliqués, a seal ring, a greave, and two silver rhyta. It was found in 2005 near the town of Zlatinitsa in Southeastern Bulgaria by the team of archaeologist Daniela Agre in the tomb of a Thracian ruler dated back to the middle of 4th century BC.

The Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari is located near the town of Sveshtari, Northeastern Bulgaria. It is a Getic tomb with unique caryatids and murals dating back to the 3rd century BC, and was found in 1982. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Sboryanovo Archaeological Complex is an archaeological preserve located near the town of Sveshtari including over 140 archaeological and cultural monuments – from prehistoric and Thracian necropolises to medieval and modern-day Christian and Muslim shrines. It includes the Sveshtari Tomb and the ruins of the Ancient Thracian city of Helis, capital of the Getae. In October 2014, Bulgarian archaeologist Diana Gergova discovered a rich necropolis of a Getic ruler (including more than 180 gold items) during excavations at the Sboryanovo Archaeological Complex.