‘Golden Legend’ Exhibit Featuring Some of Bulgaria’s Prehistoric, Ancient Thracian Treasures Opens in Japan’s Museum of Western Art in Tokyo

A poster for The Golden Legend exhibition in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

A poster for The Golden Legend exhibition in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

The “Golden Legend” exhibition, which features some of Bulgaria’s most impressive treasures from the Prehistory and Ancient Thrace, has been opened in The National Museum of Western Art in the Japanese capital Tokyo.

The Golden Legend exhibition in Tokyo, which will also be shown in the Japanese cities Sendai and Nagoya, is seen by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture as a major success in the presentation of Bulgaria’s archaeological heritage abroad, after the recent exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris dedicated to Ancient Thrace, which was entitled “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).

The opening of The Golden Legend exhibit at the end of last week was attended by over 500 guests, the press service of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture has reported.

“The Golden Legend” exhibits a total of 280 items from 20 museums in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, the Vatican, France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Spain, and Japan.

Some of the museums contributing artifacts to the Japanese exhibit include the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the Vatican Museum, the National Prado Museum in Madrid, the National Etruscan Museum in Rome (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia), the National Archaeological Museum in Florence (Firenze, Museo Archeologico Nazionale), the Orsay Museum in Paris (Musée d’Orsay), and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

“The Golden Legend” exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno will last from October 16, 2015, until January 11, 2016. It will subsequently travel to the Miyagi Museum of Art in Sendai from January 22 to March 6, 2016, and then to the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art in Nagoya from April 1 to May 29, 2016.

The Bulgarian archaeological treasures featured in the catalog of The Golden Legend exhibit: the Chalcolithic Varna Gold Treasure and the Ancient Thracian Panagyurishte Gold Treasure and Valchitran Gold Treasure. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

The Bulgarian archaeological treasures featured in the catalog of The Golden Legend exhibit: the Chalcolithic Varna Gold Treasure and the Ancient Thracian Panagyurishte Gold Treasure and Valchitran Gold Treasure. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian treasures that are included in “The Golden Legend” exhibition in Japan’s Tokyo, Sendai, and Nagoya come from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, and the Varna Museum of Archaeology (Varna Regional Museum of History).

They include the Valchitran Gold Treasure, several vessels from the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, and two golden tiaras, and part of the Varna Gold Treasure discovered in the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis which have been recognized as the world’s oldest gold. (You can learn more about these treasures in the Background Infonotes below!)

Another part of the Varna Gold Treasure was recently exhibited in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

Another item from Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian exhibition in the Louvre in Paris, the bronze head of Odrysian King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 – ca. 300 BC), is presently on display in the exhibition “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. However, it seems that there is little recognition that the impressive statue is associated with Ancient Thrace or Bulgaria.

The Golden Legend exhibition in Japan is organized by the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, the Japanese newspaper The Tokyo Shimbun, and the Japanese TV station TBS. It is sponsored by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd. The exhibit’s head curator is Takashi Yizuka from the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno.

Bulgaria’s three contributing museums of archaeologyin Sofia, Plovdiv, and Varna – have signed contracts with their Japanese partners for their participation in the joint exhibition.

The Bulgarian guests at the official opening of The Golden Legend exhibit included Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Japan Georgi Vasilev; the Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski; the Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov; the Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology, Prof. Valentin Pletnyov; and Ministry of Culture expert Ekaterina Dzhymalieva who coordinated the contribution of the Bulgarian museums.

The other international guests included the Ambassadors of Greece and Italy in Tokyo, representatives of the Embassies of the Netherlands and Germany in Tokyo, and representatives of the other foreign museums contributing artifacts to the exhibition.

A photo from the official opening of The Golden Legend exhibition in Tokyo. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

The official opening of The Golden Legend exhibition in Tokyo. Photos: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

The Golden Legend 4

The catalog for The Golden Legend exhibition. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

The catalog for The Golden Legend exhibition. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

The Golden Legend exhibit of the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo concentrates on presenting how gold has been seen throughout the ages, and its importance in human history and mythology. It focuses on the Mediterranean civilizations which include the gold treasures contributed by the Bulgarian museums.

Here is the description of the exhibition on the website of the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo:

“The lake-like Black Sea expands deep in the hinterlands of the Mediterranean region. The Bosporus Strait is the entrance to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, and is renowned as a difficult sea-lane.

According to Greek mythology, the hero Jason successfully sailed his ship Argo through this treacherous strait; his goal, the Golden Fleece of a kingdom on the shores of the Black Sea. With the help of Queen Medea, Jason acquired the Golden Fleece, and thus grew the legend of the Black Sea region as concealing golden riches.

But, about 40 years ago it was discovered that this was something more than simple legend. Tombs were found in the Bulgarian town of Varna on the Black Sea coast that contained a massive number of golden burial goods.

These funerary goods are known today as the world’s oldest golden items, dating to more than 6,000 years ago, even before the oldest pyramids in Egypt. The deceased, reduced to bones today, were found holding golden staffs and wearing large gold armlets. The round pieces of gold scattered around the skeleton were the decorations on the clothing that once garbed the deceased.

This exhibition presents a reconstruction of the contents of tombs as they appeared when they were discovered, alongside the display of paintings recounting the legend of Jason and the Argonauts’ pursuit of the then ancient Golden Fleece.

Then some three millennia after the golden treasure of the Black Sea, goldsmithing of incomparable intricacy and quality flourished on in the Etruscan civilization on the Italian Peninsula. The superb artistry of Etruscan gold, whose technologies remain a mystery today, can be seen in the renowned golden armlet from the Vatican Museums.

This exhibition presents numerous masterpieces of gold work from the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean region, along with paintings on the theme of gold, reminding us that the human fascination with the material gold is as old as mankind.”

Also check out our stories about Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian exhibit in the Louvre Museum in Paris:

French Magazine Says Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian Exhibit in Louvre Was One of Europe’s Best in Summer 2015

Bulgaria Sets Up Special Cultural Tourism Route for Valley of Thracian Kings Named after King Seuthes III

French Magazine ‘Archaeological Files’ Dedicates Special Issue to Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian Exhibit in The Louvre

Ancient Thrace Was ‘Land of Gold and Silver’, French Newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ Writes on Bulgaria’s Louvre Exhibit

Bulgaria’s Ancient Thrace Exhibition in Paris Enjoying ‘Enormous Success’, Louvre Director Says

Louvre Museum Extends Advertising Campaign in Paris Metro for Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian Exhibit

Bulgaria, France Open Long-Awaited Ancient Thrace Exhibit in Louvre Museum in Paris

Bulgaria Anticipates Opening of Ancient Thracian Treasures Exhibit in Louvre Museum in Paris

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

Louvre to Showcase Bulgaria’s Top Archaeology Treasures from Ancient Thrace

Background Infonotes:

Bulgaria’s Varna Gold Treasure is the oldest processed gold in the world dating back to the time of the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) Varna Culture (usually dated to 4400-4100 BC).

It was discovered in 1972 in the so called Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis during the construction of a canning factory. It was the operator of an excavator, Raycho Marinov, then aged 22, who stumbled upon several artifacts, collected them in a shoe box, and took them to his home. A couple of days later he informed the local archaeologists. For his discovery back then, Marinov was awarded BGN 500, a substantial sum for the time equaling several monthly salaries. However, the intelligence services of the Bulgarian communist regime followed him around for a while to make sure he had not kept any artifacts for himself in order to sell them.

A total of 294 Chalcolithic graves were unearthed at the necropolis which was excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists Mihail Lazarov (in 1972–1976) and Ivan Ivanov (in 1972–1991). About 30% of the estimated territory of the necropolis is yet to be excavated.

Using radiocarbon dating, in 2006, the Chalcolithic graves where the Varna Gold Treasure was found were dated to 4560-4450 BC.

The discoveries from the necropolis indicate that the Varna Culture had trade relations with distant Black Sea and Mediterranean regions. It likely exported rock salt from the Provadiya – Solnitsata (“The Salt Pit”) rock salt mine.

The shells of the Mediterranean mollusk Spondylus found in the graves in the Varna Necropolis and at other Chalcolithic sites in Northern Bulgaria may have been used as a form of currency.

Among the graves, several featured a wealth of gold artifacts indicating that as early as the Chalcolithic the Balkan Peninsula (Southeast Europe) already had some form of statehood and a royal institution.

The gold artifacts from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis were found in graves with skeletons (mostly male) as well as in symbolic graves without human remains.

One of the most interesting inventories was found in the so called Grave No. 43 which was unearthed in the central part of the Varna Necropolis in 1974. It belonged to a male aged 40-45 but of rather substantial size for the time, 1.70-1.75 meters tall (app. 5 feet 6 – 8 inches).

The numerous gold artifacts discovered in Grave No. 43 near Bulgaria’s Varna weighbb a total of 1.5 kg which one of the reasons to believe that the buried man was a very important member of his community.

The gold items include 10 large applications, a high number of rings some which were on strings, two necklaces, an item believed to be a gold phallus, beads, golden decorations for a bow, a stone ax and a copper ax with gold decorations, a bow with gold applications.

The funeral inventory also includes a large number copper artifacts such as a copper ax, a copper claw hammer, a copper chisel and a copper awl as well as lots of stone, flint, seashell, and bone artifacts including bracelets from the Spondylus mollusk, and 11 ornately decorated ceramic vessels.

In another grave of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis, Grave No. 36, a symbolic grave, the archaeologists found over 850 gold itemsa tiara, earrings, a necklace, a breastplate, bracelets, a belt, a gold hammer-scepter, a good model of a sickle, two gold lamellas representing animals, 30 models of heads of horned animals.

The artifacts were found covered with a gold-laced cloth. The gold items lined the contours of a human body with more artifacts on the right side which is deemed to signify that the grave contained a male funeral. The gold artifacts are interpreted as royal insignia.

Similar “royal” burials have also been found in graves No. 1, 4, and 5 of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis.

Another type of graves in the necropolis contains clay masks of human faces where the eyes, mouths, teeth, and noses are depicted with gold. Unlike the graves described above which contain smith tools, the graves with the mask contain clay vases, cups, and needles. That is why these are interpreted as female funerals depicting the Mother Goddess.

The closeness of the “female” symbolic graves No. 2, 3, and 15 with the symbolic royal graves No. 1, 4, and 5 are interpreted as ritual representations of holy marriages between a king and the Mother Goddess. These six funerals are believed to have been the core of the Chalcolithic Necropolis in Bulgaria’s Varna, and to have predated the rest of the graves.

Much of the meaning of the finds from the necropolis is seen as celebrating the role of the smith who in his role as a creator is seen as supplanting the role of the Mother Goddess transforming the matriarchal world into a patriarchal one.

The position of the smith in the Chalcolithic culture is seen as comparable to that of the king because during the Chalcolithic period metal was more of a status symbol than an economic means.

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 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 Valchitran Gold Treasure was found in 1925 by accident in a vineyard near the town of Valchitran, Pleven District, in Northern Bulgaria. It is the largest Ancient Thracian gold treasure to have ever been found in Bulgaria. Its total weight is 12.5 kg, and its gold content is 88.15%, with the rest being silver and copper. The treasure consists of 13 vessels, including seven vessels in the shape of lids, four cups (one large, three smaller ones), a vessel consisting of three leaf-shaped interconnected vessels, and a krater similar to a kantharos (a large cup with a pair of handles) weighting 4.5 kg. The Valchitran Gold Treasure is dated to the 16th-12th century BC, i.e. the end of the Bronze Age. It is believed that the gold vessels were used for religious rituals by Thracian priest-kings. The treasure is part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia; a replica can be seen in the Regional Museum of History in Pleven.