Archaeologist Discovers Gold Coin of Byzantine Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer in Bulgaria’s Perperikon
A gold coin of Byzantine Emperor Basil II also known as the Bulgar-slayer (r. 976-1025 AD) has been discovered by the team of Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov during the ongoing archaeological excavations of the ancient and medieval rock city of Perperikon (Perperik) in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria.
The Byzantine gold coin has been shown to reporters at a news conference in Sofia together with another recent find from Perperikon, which also dates to same time period – a lead seal of a Byzantine noble.
The gold coin is a so called tetarteron (“quarter coin”). It features an image of Byzantine Emperor Basil II together with his brother and successor, Emperor Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028 AD) on the one side, and an image of Jesus Christ on the other.
Emperor Basil II is known, among other things, for his conquest of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) after several decades of Bulgarian-Byzantine Wars, and especially for the Battle of Belasitsa (Battle of Clidium) in which he captured about 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers, and blinded them, leaving one one-eyed man in each cohort to lead them back to their ruler. The sight of the returning blinded army gave the Bulgarian Tsar Samuil (Samuel) (r. 977/997-1014 AD) a stroke leading to his death, and earned Basil II the title of “Bulgar-slayer” in later sources.
The coin is made of 23-carat gold but has a reduced gold content and a reduced weight compared to the same coins with the standard weight of 4.4 grams, Ovcharov says.
He points out that these coins were minted by the Byzantine Emperors at the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century AD.
“One of the Byzantine chroniclers even mocks [the emperors] by saying that they collected the taxes in full but when they themselves had to pay, they paid in coins with reduced weight. Of every 100 coins of this type that were minted, about 2-3 had a reduced content of gold. The coin in question was hardly in circulation because these coins were used as a capital investment, and a guarantee for deals,” Ovcharov explains.
The other newly found artifact presented by him is a lead seal of a patrician (an honorary title in the Byzantine Empire) called Georgios Kiviriotas who lived in a province in Asia Minor. This is the third seal of the same noble that has been discovered in Bulgaria so far; the other two seals are part of private collections.
The newly found seal is dated to the second half of the 11th century AD. The lead seal used for signing letters during the Middle Ages has inscriptions on both sides indicating the name and the position of the Byzantine aristocrat.
Ovcharov says this is the 20th seal that have been found in the ancient and medieval city of Perperikon, while another about 100 lead seals have been found on the outskirts of the city. These seals likened by the archaeologist to medieval “business cards” are taken to mean the active connections of Perperikon with other parts of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th-12th century, after the Byzantines conquered the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) in 1018 AD.
The newly found coin itself is the 17th gold coin to have been found in Perperikon to date. The three-month 2015 summer excavations of the ancient and medieval rock city have yielded over a 1,000 archaeological artifacts, including lots of pottery vessels and several hundred coins, among which the tetarteron stands out, Ovcharov says.
The archaeological excavations of Perperikon, which was an Ancient Thracian, Roman, and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine city, are being carried out with a government funding of BGN 220,000 (app. EUR 112,000), which is relatively lavish compared to the meager funding allocated to other major archaeological sites in Bulgaria; of those, BGN 40,000 (app. 20,500) have been slated for conservation and restoration.
“The good condition of Perperikon’s buildings up to a height of 3-4 meters gives us an opportunity to see this amazing rock city. What we can see is the magnificent city from the Late Roman Age in the 3rd-4th century AD, in which medieval buildings from the 11th-14th century have been incorporated. We want to exhibit [in situ] both the medieval, and the Antiquity buildings,” elaborates archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov.
The current excavations of Perperikon are due to end of September 12 with the excavation of the central square of the city acropolis. The square is about 30 meters long and 30 meters wide, and is surrounded on all sides with monumental stone buildings, including the supposed temple of ancient god Apollo where the archaeologists recently found an Apollo statuette.
For the first time, Ovcharov’s team is excavating the southern suburbs of Perperkon where it has found a 6-meter tall building built into the rocks whose lower section was probably used as a water tank.
“We would like to exhibit all periods from the 7,000-year-old history of Perperikon. If we succeed, we will show everything from the prehistoric shrine, to the Antiquity shrine of Dionysus, to the development under the Roman Empire, all the way to the Middle Ages. We know that in 1362 AD, after a tough siege, Perperikon was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. All that will turn Perperikon into a well-rounded site, and a major center of historical and cultural tourism in Bulgaria,” he states.
Perperikon (also called Perperek or Perperik) is an ancient rock city located in the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria, 15 km away from the city of Kardzhali. It is a large-scale archaeological complex including historical monuments from different ages. Those include a megalithic sanctuary dating back to the Neolithic Age, the 6th millennium BC, a Bronze Age settlement, and a holy rock city established by the Ancient Thracians later taken over by the Romans, Goths, and Byzantines, respectively. In the Middle Ages, especially during the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), it was the site of a strong fortress and a royal palace that Bulgaria and Byzantium fought over numerous times. Perperikon has been excavated since 2000 by Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov who has found evidence that the mythical ancient Temple of Dionysius was located there. The rock city and fortress at Perperikon, not unlike the vast majority of the medieval Bulgarian fortresses, were destroyed by the invading Ottoman Turks in the 14th century.