Bulgarian Police Seize from Traffickers Ancient Roman Sacrificial Altar Dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus
An Ancient Roman sacrificial altar with a well preserved inscription in Latin has been seized from antique traffickers by the Bulgarian police, and has been turned over to the National Museum of History in Sofia.
The Roman altar was readied for smuggling out of Bulgaria when it was confiscated by the Unit for Combating Organized Crime (GDBOP), the National Museum of History has announced.
The sacrificial altar dates to the 2nd century AD; its inscription mentions three Roman Emperors: Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD), his son and Co-Emperor Septimius Geta (r. 209-211 AD), and Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD).
The Latin inscription is dedicated to Roman god Jupiter Dolichenus, one of the so called mystery cults which was popular in the Roman Empire in the 2nd-3rd century AD, and especially under the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD).
The cult for Jupiter Dolichenus was the Roman interpretation of a Semitic cult centered in the city of Doliche in Eastern Asia Minor. It was one of the so called Roman “oriental” cults such as the cults for deities like Cybele, Mithras, and Isis.
The rough translation of the Latin inscription on the Roman sacrificial altar seized by the Bulgarian police reads as follows:
“To Jupiter the Benign Almighty Dolichenus for the health of the emperors Augusti L. Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and to the Caesar L. Septimius Geta dedicated through the august legate Gaius Ovinius Tertulus [by] the priests Nigrinus, Quintus Gaianus, and Longinus.”
The historians from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History interpret the inscription to mean that a temple of Jupiter Dolichenus was built with funding from the Roman Emperors Septimius Severus and Marcus Aurelius.
The money for the temple was brought to the priests Nigrinus, Quintus Gaianus, and Longinus by the imperial representative Gaius Tertulus.
The Museum experts hypothesize that the location of the Roman cult temple of Jupiter Dolichenus may be the place where the sacrificial altar was found by the treasure hunters.
Bulgaria’s National Museum of History, however, has kept the location secret because it intends to carry out archaeological excavations there, and is afraid that, if made public, the place will be ransacked by treasure hunters.
“The temples of Jupiter are usually grandiose buildings. Especially if they were built on the Emperor’s money,” concludes the Museum.
Later, however, in a news release, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry has revealed that the Roman sacrificial altar was captured during a special operation in the northern city of Pleven on September 2, 2015.
The Interior Ministry points out that the police operation was a follow-up of another police crackdown on the treasure hunting and antique trafficking mafia carried out in August 2015 in which at least several men were arrested, and a number of other archaeological artifacts were seized.
The statement makes it clear that if it had been smuggled out of Bulgaria, the 2nd century Roman sacrificial altar may have been sold in Western European auction houses for a price of over EUR 100,000.
Another police investigation led by the GDBOP in June 2015 is reported to have busted an antique trafficking channel to Central and Western Europe, with the Bulgarian police confiscating artifacts such as intact decorated Roman ceramic and glass vessels, bronze fibulas, and ancient arms.