Bulgarian Archaeology Marks 50 Years since Discovery of Ancient Thracian Gold Treasure from Mogilanska Mound in Vratsa

A view of part of the artifacts from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure (the Vratsa Gold Treasure) as displayed in the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria's Vratsa - the golden laurel wreath and a model reconstruction of the face of the Ancient Thracian princess from the Triballi tribe who wore it; and the gold-plated silver royal greave. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

A view of part of the artifacts from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure (the Vratsa Gold Treasure) as displayed in the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Vratsa – the golden laurel wreath and a model reconstruction of the face of the Ancient Thracian princess from the Triballi tribe who wore it; and the gold-plated silver royal greave. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

A two-day scientific conference in the northwestern Bulgarian city of Vratsa is marking the 50th anniversary since the discovery of one of the most impressive treasures of Ancient Thrace – the Mogilanska Mound treasure.

The 2,500-year-old Mogilanska Mound Treasure, also known as the Vratsa Gold Treasure, was found during the excavations of an Ancient Thracian burial mound in the downtown of Vratsa back in 1965.

In addition to the human and horse skeletons and the chariots discovered in the mound’s three tombs, the archaeologists also found a treasure consisting of a golden laurel wreath, 47 gold appliqués, 2 golden earrings, 4 silver phialae, a silver jug, a rhyton-shaped amphora, and 50 clay figures.

The Mogilanska Mound is believed to have been a royal tomb of the ruling dynasty of the Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi which inhabited the region of Northwest Bulgaria more than 2,000 years ago.

The golden laurel wreath worn by a Thracian princess from the Triballi tribe which was discovered in the Mogilanska Mound in Bulgaria's Vratsa. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

The golden laurel wreath worn by a Thracian princess from the Triballi tribe which was discovered in the Mogilanska Mound in Bulgaria’s Vratsa. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

The most valuable artifact from the Vratsa Gold Treasure is the golden laurel wreath which decorated the head of an Ancient Thracian princess.

The exhibition of the treasure in the Vratsa Regional Museum of History shows a model reconstruction of the princess’s face based on the skull discovered in one of the Mogilanska Mound tombs created by renowned Bulgarian anthropologist Prof. Yordan Yordanov.

According to historians, the Mogilanska Mound treasure was the royal treasure of the ruling dynasty of the Triballi.

“Over the last past few years, during excavations in the Vratsata Pass we have found an Ancient Thracian settlement. This probably was the acropolis where the Thracian rulers [of the Triballi] lived, while the Mogilanska Mound was their necropolis," notes archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Nartsis Torbov from the Vratsa Regional Museum of History, as cited by BNT 2.

“We Bulgarians are proud of the Valley of Thracian Kings located to the south of the Balkan Mountains but I think that we should also be talking about the Mountain of Thracian Kings which is located here, in the Vratsa section of the Balkan Mountain," he adds.

The elaborate gold earrings of the Thracian princess found in the Mogilanska Mound treasure. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

The elaborate gold earrings of the Thracian princess found in the Mogilanska Mound treasure. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

An anthropological reconstruction of the face of the Ancient Thracian princess buriend in the Mogilanska Mound in Bulgaria's Vratsa. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

An anthropological reconstruction of the face of the Ancient Thracian princess buriend in the Mogilanska Mound in Bulgaria’s Vratsa. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

Another one of the most impressive items from the Vratsa Gold Treasure is a gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece) featuring the image of the Mother Goddess.

The forehead of the Mother Goddess depicted on the greave is decorated with a wreath, and her ears – with earrings.

Interestingly, the other decorations such as the golden earrings and the golden laurel wreath found inside the Mogilanska Mound seem to mimic the decorations depicted in the greave image of the goddess.

The unique craftsmanship of the greave has led the archaeologists to conclude that it was the work of a local Ancient Thracian craftsman.

The gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece) from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure features a depiction of the Mother Goddess. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

The gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece) from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure features a depiction of the Mother Goddess. Compare it with the greave from another treasure pictured below. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

The Mother Goddess depicted on the greave wears a laurel wreath with gold leaves and golden earrings that are just like the wreath and earrings found inside the tomb of the Thracian princess. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

The Mother Goddess depicted on the greave wears a laurel wreath with gold leaves and golden earrings that are just like the wreath and earrings found inside the tomb of the Thracian princess. Photo: TV grab from BNT 2

This gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece) is part of the Zlatinitsa Malomirovo Treasure discovered in Southeast Bulgaria in 2005. Compare it with the greave from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure found in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

This gold-plated silver greave (knee-piece) is part of the Zlatinitsa Malomirovo Treasure discovered in Southeast Bulgaria in 2005. Compare it with the greave from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure found in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

The gold and silver greave from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure found in Vratsa, Northwest Bulgaria. Compared it with the greave from Southern Bulgaria shown above. Photo: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

The gold and silver greave from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure found in Vratsa, Northwest Bulgaria. Compared it with the greave from Southern Bulgaria shown above. Photo: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

One of the mysteries about the Mogilanska Mound Treasure (the Vratsa Gold Treasure), and about several other Ancient Thracian treasures, for that matter, is why only one greave has been in the burial mound’s tombs.

This is the case in three other Ancient Thracian burial mounds and the respective treasures discovered in Bulgaria and Romania, such as the Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian treasure from Zlatinitsa-Malomirovo.

“Probably the people from the ruler’s inner circle decided that he can go to the afterworld with a single greave, so to speak, since the other one had to remain with them, the living ones, because after all it was a symbol of the royal power," hypothesizes Torbov.

Another mystery which has been reported about the Ancient Thracian treasure from the Mogilanska Mound in Bulgaria’s Vratsa is why the nose of the Mother Goddess depicted on the greave is smashed, and when exactly this happened.

“The photos from the time of the discovery of the funeral facility show that it was damaged back then. However, there is no way to find out whether the damage was done at the time of the Ancient Thracians, or later, when part of the stone tomb collapsed on top of the greave. However, my colleague Petya Penkova and I have decided that it is best to keep the greave this way because it looks more authentic," explains Torbov.

Artifacts from the Mogilanska Mound Tresure from Bulgaria's Vratsa. Photos and original captions: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

Artifacts from the Mogilanska Mound Tresure from Bulgaria’s Vratsa. Photos and original captions: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

Mogilanska Mound Treasure 4 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 3 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 10 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 1

Mogilanska Mound Treasure 12

Mogilanska Mound Treasure 11 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 5 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 9 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 8 Mogilanska Mound Treasure 7 The artifacts from the Mogilanska Mound Treasure were among the 1,629 Ancient Thracian items that were displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, as part of Bulgaria’s 2015 exhibit there dedicated to Ancient Thrace.

Now that it is back from the Louvre, the Vratsa Gold Treasure found 50 years ago can once again be seen in the Vratsa Regional Museum of History together with another impressive Ancient Thracian treasure – the Rogozen Treasure. (Learn more in the Background Infonotes below.)

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

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:

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.

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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 Triballi were a Thracian tribe inhabiting the region of modern-day Western Bulgaria and Southern Serbia.

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The 2,500-year-old Mogilanska Mound Treasure, also known as the Vratsa Gold Treasure, was found during the excavations of an Ancient Thracian burial mound in the downtown of Vratsa back in 1965.

In addition to the human and horse skeletons and the chariots discovered in the mound’s three tombs, the archaeologists also found a treasure consisting of a golden laurel wreath, 47 gold appliqués, 2 golden earrings, 4 silver phialae, a silver jug, a rhyton-shaped amphora, and 50 clay figures.

The Mogilanska Mound is believed to have been a royal tomb of the ruling dynasty of the Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi which inhabited the region of Northwest Bulgaria more than 2,000 years ago.

***

The Rogozen Treasure, also known as the Rogozen Silver Treasure, was first discovered by accident in 1985 by Ivan Dimitrov, a tractor driver digging a ditch for water pipes in his own yard, and his wife Nadka Savova, in the town of Rogozen, Hayredin Municipality, in Northwest Bulgaria. A second stash of silver and gold plated vessels was found on January 6, 1986, during emergency excavations by archaeologists Bogdan Nikolov, Spas Mashov, and Plamen Ivanov.

The Rogozen Treasure consists of 165 receptacles, including 108 phiales, 54 jugs and 3 goblets. They have a combined total weight of more than 20 kg making it the largest Ancient Thracian treasure ever found. The treasure is an invaluable source of information for the life of the Thracians due to the variety of motifs from the Ancient Thracian and Ancient Greek mythology in the richly decorated artifacts.

Because the large number of vessels was collected over a long period of time, the treasure is dated back to the period from the 6th century BC until the middle of the 4th century BC. Some of the vessels were locally made in Ancient Thrace, while others are imports from Ancient Greece.

The Rogozen Treasure belonged to Thracian aristocrats, most probably the royal family of the Triballi tribe who inhabited the region of today’s Northwest Bulgaria. It is part of the collection of the Vratsa Regional Museum of History, with 20 of its 165 vessels loaned to the National Museum of History in Sofia.

The Ancient Thracian treasure from Rogozen boasts an unusual discovery story. The first 65 vessels from the Rogozen Treasure were found by Ivan Dimitrov, a local tractor driver, and his wife Nadka Savova, as they were digging up a ditch in their own yard in order to lay water pipes, in early June 1985.

Digging at a depth of 40 cm, Dimitrov hit a metal plate with his pickax. He removed the vessel and placed it on his fence having no idea that was a 2,600-year-old Thracian artifact. Then he hit another metal vessel, and together with his wife dug up another 63.

After that the family washed them up, and placed them on a table in their home, until the town holiday when the vessels were stored in shoe boxes so as to avoid exposing them to any guests visiting the home. Dimitrov and Savova had no idea that those were Ancient Thracian artifacts, and thought they were from the local church which had been robbed shortly before that.

One day during a conversation with other tractor drivers in the field and the town mayor discussing the activities of local treasure hunters, the discovery of the vessels slipped the man’s tongue. Days later Mayor Borislav Dramkin, while traveling on a train to Sofia, met his classmate, archaeologist Bogdan Nikolov, who immediately got interested in the tractor driver’s finds. The examination of the artifacts, however, was put off until after New Year’s because Ivan Dimitrov was busy for several days tending a local sheep herd.

Only in early January 1986 did the man show the Mayor the artifacts in his home. Dramkin was dismayed at the find, exclaiming, “Good you weren’t beaten up to death by the treasure hunters [for this find]."

After that, they took the silver treasure to the local town hall in three cardboard boxes, and called Tinka Pavlova, the then Director of the Vratsa Museum of History, who dispatched archaeologist Bogdan Nikolov to Rogozen to examine the find.

According to witnesses, Nikolov nearly fainted when he saw the Thracian treasure, uttering for a long time, “Do you have any idea what this is, what you have found?" He called up his team from the Vratsa Museum, and immediately started archaeological excavations in Ivan Dimitrov’s yard despite the fact that it was in the middle of the cold and snowy winter. Dimitrov later told stories about how he kept his guests, the archaeologists, warm with buckets of wine.

The archaeologists, Bogdan Nikolov, Spas Mashov, and Plamen Ivanov, found a second stash of silver and gold vessels consisting of 100 artifacts. It was located 5 meters northwest of the site where the first stash was found. This is how the date of January 6, 1986, came to be celebrated as the day the Rogozen Treasure was discovered.

Two years after the discovery of the treasure, a British TV crew went to Rogozen to film a documentary about the find, putting plastic replicas of the treasure vessels into the ground, and asking Dimitrov and his wife, Nadka, to dig them up as if they had just found them. It was then that Dimitrov himself made another discovery – a broken-off handle from one of the original silver vessels.

Back in 1986, the family of Ivan Dimitrov received a reward of a total of BGN 20,000 from the Bulgarian government which was quite a substantial sum in communist Bulgaria (1944-1989).

However, much of the reward was spent on welcoming lots of journalists and TV crews, archaeologists and historians visiting the site of the discovery over the next five years. The only major item the family managed to buy with the money was a large wardrobe.

The Dimitrov family used to say they were “lied to" by the authorities that they would be invited to travel abroad for the exhibitions of the Rogozen Silver Treasure; however, these promises never materialized which is understandable given the restrictions on international travel during the communist period. The first international exhibit of the treasure was in the Soviet Union, and the second – in the UK.

Thanks to the discovery of the treasure in Rogozen, the local chitalishte, i.e. a cultural community club, received a one-time subsidy of BGN 100,000 from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.

A couple of decades later, Ivan Dimitrov donated to an exhibit at the chitalishte the only thing he had left from the discovery – posters of the treasure printed and presented to him and his wife by the British TV crew that filmed the documentary in 1988.

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