Archaeologists Discover Silver Coin of ‘Dracula’s Grandfather’ Mircea the Elder of Wallachia in Medieval Bulgarian Monastery near Madara
A rare silver coin minted by Mircea the Elder, Voivode (ruler) of Wallachia at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, and the grandfather of Vlad Dracula, who is widely known in international popular culture, has been discovered during excavations of the medieval monastery “Kireka” near the town of Madara, Shumen District, in the National Historical and Archaeological Preserve “Madara”, in Northeast Bulgaria.
Mircea the Elder (r. 1386-1395 and 1397-1418 AD) was the ruler of the Principality of Wallachia north of the Danube, today’s Romania, who was closely allied with the last rulers of the Second Bulgarian Empire in their efforts to repulse the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.
The silver coin features the image of Voivode Mircea the Elder on one side, and the image of what is possibly a Christian saint or a horseman on the other side.
Coins of the Wallachian ruler have been found elsewhere in Northeast Bulgaria in the past – in the Shumen Fortress, and in the Kastritsi Fortress on the Black Sea coast, notes archaeologist Georgi Maystorski, former Director of the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern Bulgarian city of Shumen, as cited by Darik Shumen.
The coin of Mircea the Elder has been discovered near several medieval graves amidst the ruins of the medieval Bulgarian monastery in the region known as Kireka, near the town of Madara. However, the graves in question contained no funeral inventories.
The silver coin was perforated at one end, just underneath the mantle of the Wallachian ruler, but there are no signs that it was worn on a string or a necklace.
The role of Voivode Mircea the Great in Bulgarian, Romanian, and Balkan history is especially interesting because he was a key figure in the Bulgarian-Wallachian resistance against the invading Ottoman Turks.
An adamant enemy of the Ottoman Turks, as was his grandson, Vlad III the Impaler (r. 1448, 1456-1462, 1476 AD) known as Dracula, Mircea the Elder, known in Romanian history as Mircea the Great, was at different times an ally of the different rulers of the successor states of the Second Bulgarian Empire, the main ones being the Tarnovo Tsardom, the Vidin Tsardom, and the Dobrudzha Despotate.
After that period, Bulgaria south of the Danube was occupied for almost five centuries by the Ottoman Empire, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke, while Wallachia north of the Danube remained a vassal state of the Ottomans until the mid 19th century, with the two once closely allied countries drifting apart.
After Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD) lost his two eldest sons – Ivan in 1349 AD and Mihail in 1355 AD – in battles with the Ottoman Turks, he failed to prevent a number of Bulgarian feudal lords from seceding, and on top of that divided the remainder of the Second Bulgarian Empire between his two surviving sons.
His third son Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) received the smaller so called Vidin Tsardom, with the Danube city of Bdin (Vidin) as its capital, and his fourth son Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) received the rest, the so called Tarnovo Tsardom, with the capital proper of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo).
Bulgarian boyar Balik (r. ca. 1337-1366 AD), a powerful feudal lord, acquired independence from the Bulgarian Tsars setting up the so called Dobrudzha Despotate, also known as the Principality of Karvuna, in the region of Dobrudzha, today’s Northeast Bulgaria and Southeast Romania. He was succeeded by his co-ruler and brother, Despot Dobrotitsa (r. 1347-1385 AD). The Dobrudzha Despotate itself was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD.
Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder, whose documents were written in Bulgarian, in the Bulgaric (Cyrillic) alphabet, was first an ally of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Shishman, with whose aid he even came to control briefly parts of the Dobrudzha Despotate, styling himself “master of Silistra and the lands of Despot Dobrotitsa” in 1390-1391.
He was later allied with Tsar Ivan Sratsimir’s heir, Tsar Konstantin (Constantine) II Asen (r. 1396-1422 AD) who could be assumed to have been the last Tsar of the medieval Bulgarian Empire.
Having been a major figure in the Bulgarian-Wallachian resistance against the Ottoman Turkish invasions of the Balkans, Voivode Mircea the Elder died in 1418 AD as a vassal of the Ottoman Empire at a time when all Bulgarian lands, i.e. his allies south of the Danube, had fallen prey to the invading Ottoman Turks, ushering Bulgaria into five centuries of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), and signifying a practically irreversible loss of its former great power status.
According to archaeologist Georgi Maystorski, the newly discovered silver coin of Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder is connected with the last years of the existence of the medieval monastery Kireka in Bulgaria’s Madara when it was also the site of a small settlement inhabited by craftsmen specializing in stone cutting, as indicated by the latest archaeological discoveries (see below).
“The find is from the period when the Bulgarians were desperately trying to defend their lands [from the invading Ottoman Turks], including the Dobrudzha Despotate. [As a result,] it is evidence that probably at the end of the 14th century this region was part of the lands of the Dobrudzha Despotate which briefly came under the influence of Mircea the Elder,” explains the archaeologist, apparently referring to the events in the 1390s, as cited by the Focus news agency.
He points out that the discovery of the silver coin gives the archaeologists a reason to seek the ruins of a large medieval settlement near the Kireka Monastery.
“Our task [now] is to find that medieval settlement that could be the purpose of a visit by an emissary or by the Wallachian voivode himself,” Maystorski elaborates.
He has also reminded that the Kireka Monastery near Bulgaria’s Madara, a small town known for a huge 7th century Ancient Bulgar rock relief known as the Madara Horseman, was first excavated in the 1920s, and then in the 1980s by Bulgarian archaeologist Todor Balabanov. More recently, they were resumed in 2009.
About 60% of what once was the territory of the medieval monastery (which had an area of about 2 decares (app. 0.5 acres) have been excavated so far.
The site of the Kireka Monastery was first inhabited in the 3rd century AD when the region was a province of the Roman Empire, and an Early Christian basilica was built there in the 5th century AD.
The medieval monastery complex which existed on the spot at the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) was probably built on top of an earlier pagan temple during the reign of Knyaz Boris I Mihail (r. 852-889, 893), after the First Bulgarian Empire officially adopted Christianity in 865 AD.
It was destroyed by the middle of the 11th century by the Pecheneg tribes and the Byzantines (Byzantium conquered the First Bulgarian Empire in 1018 AD, and dominated it until 1185 AD).
Yet, now the Bulgarian archaeologists have found evidence that the site of the medieval monastery was inhabited until the 13th-14th century AD.
“We have finally discovered the latest inhabitants of this region,” Maystorski says, referring to the unearthed necropolis as well as a residential structure that has yielded ceramic vessels and tools used for stone cutting.
The 2015 summer excavations of the Kireka Monastery near Bulgaria’s Madara were funded with BGN 5,500 (app. EUR 2,300) from the budget of the Shumen Regional Museum of History.
In the years to come, the Shumen archaeologists plan to excavate the northern section of the medieval monastery complex whose center is known to be pointing towards the Great Basilica in Pliska, the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire between 680 and 893 AD.