Ancient Thrace Was ‘Land of Gold and Silver’, French Newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ Writes on Bulgaria’s Louvre Exhibit
One of the leading French newspapers, Le Figaro, has dedicated a new feature story to the Bulgarian archaeological exhibition on Ancient Thrace, which will be on display in the Louvre in Paris until July 20th, 2015.
Le Figaro‘s new article about the Louvre’s Bulgarian exhibition “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” (also translated as “The Saga of the Thracian Kings”; in French: L’Épopée des rois thraces. Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie) is entitled “Thrace – Land of Gold and Silver” (in French: “Thrace: un royaume d’or et d’argent”).
It introduces Ancient Thrace to the French readers by building upon the few but notable Ancient Thracian figures that are widely known internationally and even permeating the entire Western culture as in the case of Thracian poet and musician Orpheus “who charms the animals to the sounds of his lyre, saved the Argonauts of the bewitching siren song, and tried to save Eurydice from the Underworld”.
The feature story begins with a quote from Ancient Greek poet Homer’s Iliad describing the participation of the Ancient Thracians led by their young King Rhesus in the Trojan War on the side of the Trojans:
“There are the Thracians,… and they have Rhesus son of Eioneus for their king. His horses are the finest and strongest that I have ever seen, they are whiter than snow and fleeter than any wind that blows. His chariot is bedight with silver and gold, and he has brought his marvellous golden armour, of the rarest workmanship – too splendid for any mortal man to carry, and meet only for the gods.” (Homer, The Iliad, Book X, Translated by Samuel Butler)
Le Figaro also dedicated a feature story to Bulgaria’s Ancient Thrace exhibit at the time of its opening in the Louvre Museum in Paris, in mid April 2015.
The newspaper now points out that the legends about the Thracians and their glory have turned out to be true thanks to the archaeological discoveries made in Bulgaria after World War II, reports the Bulgarian state news agency BTA.
It notes that numerous Thracian treasures have been discovered by the Bulgarian archaeologists in about 1,500 excavated burial mounds (tumuli), and that many more are yet to be excavated. In their work, however, the Bulgarian and foreign archaeologists who work with them have to compete with the treasure hunting and antique trafficking mafia, the paper adds.
The story published by Le Figaro focuses on the startling gold and silver treasures of the Thracians presented in the Louvre, saying that they combine the local craftsmanship genius of the Thracians with influences from other ancient peoples such as the Celts and the Scythians.
It expresses regret that the ancient city of Seuthopolis, the capital of the most powerful Thracian state, the Odrysian Kingdom, now lies on the bottom of a water reservoir built during the communist period but emphasizes the impressiveness of the royal and aristocratic Thracian tombs located around the town of Kazanlak (a region known as The Valley of Thracian Kings), and the fact that the Bulgarian museums today preserve the splendid artifacts discovered in them.
According to the feature story, the most impressive Ancient Thrace item exhibited in the Louvre in the bronze head of Odrysian King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 BC to ca. 300 BC) (which was in fact part of an entire huge bronze statue; it was found in 2004 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov (1943-2008)).
The eyes of the bronze head of King Seuthes III are made of alabaster and glass paste, and the eyelashes and eyebrows – from copper strips, the French paper notes, adding that the entire bronze head sculpture is a miracle of ancient art.
The exhibition “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” (whose original working title was “Ancient Thrace. The Odrysian Kingdom”) showcases the most impressive treasures of Ancient Thrace, and the way of life of the little known internationally Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians, and some of the independent Thracian tribes such as the Getae (Gets) and the Tribali.
A total of 1,629 Ancient Thracian artifacts from 17 Bulgarian and 11 foreign museums will be exhibited in four halls in the Richelieu Wing of the Louvre from April 14 until July 20, 2015.
It has been announced that museums in Croatia, Morocco, Romania, Russia, and the UK have already approached the Bulgarian authorities with inquiries about hosting the exhibition “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria”.
The artifacts from Ancient Thrace were shipped from Bulgaria to France by plane under utmost security measures on March 23, 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 modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.
The treasures 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.
They 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 bronze head of Odrysian King Seuthes III 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 catalog for the exhibition “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” has 320 pages and contains 250 photos, and articles by Bulgarian and international scholars.
The preparation for Bulgaria’s Thracian exhibition in the Louvre started back in 2012 after then and current Bulgarian Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov signed a five-year cooperation agreement with the Louvre.
The scientific concept and the selection of the exhibition items are the work of three French and two Bulgarian experts:
Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of the Louvre Museum, and head curator of the Ancient Thrace exhibit;
Prof. Dr. Totko Stoyanov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”;
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Milena Tonkova, head of the Thracian Archaeology Department at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences;
Dr. Alexandre Baralis from the Louvre Department of Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities;
Dr. Néguine Mathieux, division head in the Scientific Research and Collections Directorate of the Louvre.
List of the 17 Bulgarian Museums That Have Contributed Items to the Louvre exhibit of Ancient Thrace (Facebook pages are linked for those museums without active websites):
The Ancient Thrace exhibition in Paris also features a number of Ancient Thrace-related items from 11 foreign museums – including 20 items from the Louvre, as well as items from the British Museum in London, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, the Prado Museum in Madrid, the Naples National Archaeological Museum, and the Bari Archaeological Museum, among others.
The Boscoreale Treasure is a treasure of luxury Ancient Roman artifacts discovered in the ruins of an ancient villa at Boscoreale, near Pompeii, Southern Italy. It consists of 109 pieces of silverware, as well as over 1000 gold coins and jewellery, and is kept at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The artifacts are dated from 4th Century BC to 1st Century AD. Boscoreale was the location of an important Roman villa that was destroyed and buried by volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. In 1895, the remains of a vaulted box containing the treasure was discovered in the wine-pressing room of the villa, next to the body of a woman. Most of the Boscoreale Treasure was illegally smuggled out of Italy and was later purchased by Edmond de Rothschild, who donated it to the Louvre Museum in 1896.
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 was 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.
King 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).
King 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.
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 BC.
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.