Bronze Head of Ancient Thracian King Seuthes III Returns to Bulgaria after J. Paul Getty and Louvre Exhibits in Los Angeles and Paris
The already world famous bronze head sculpture of Ancient Thracian King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 – ca. 300 BC), ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the civilization of Ancient Thrace, has been returned to Bulgaria after it was part of major exhibitions in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, USA, and in the Louvre in Paris, France.
The bronze head of King Seuthes III was one of the numerous sculptures in the exhibit entitled “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which took place from July 28 until November 1, 2015.
Now the invaluable artifact has been returned to its “home”, the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia, the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture has announced.
The bronze head of the glorious Ancient Thracian ruler, a contemporary of Emperor Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC) of Macedon, can be seen in the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia as of November 20, 2015, just a day after it made back to Bulgaria on November 19, 2015.
The unique item was found in the Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) Golyama Kosmatka in 2004 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov (1943-2008).
The “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” exhibition was organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington with the participation of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana.
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture reminds of two of the reviews of the J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit in international media that take notice of the bronze head of the Thracian King Seuthes III published in The Pittsburg Post-Gazette, and The Guardian, respectively.
“Equally striking is a bronze portrait, found during a 2004 excavation near Sipka, Bulgaria. It’s thought to be Seuthes III, who ruled the ancient Odrysian kingdom of Thrace around 300 B.C. His flowing beard, bushy mustache and curly locks frame an intense face; the king’s brow is furrowed and his alabaster eyeballs (with intact glass pupils and coffee-colored irises), glare beyond his copper lashes and crow’s feet.
“The Seuthes discovery in present-day Bulgaria attests not only to the vast expansion of the Greek world under Alexander, but also to the way Hellenistic bronzes, through migration, reproduction and plunder, spread the Greek culture to Italy, Egypt, the Balkans and beyond.”
Treasures from the Mediterranean Featured in Exhibit, The Pittsburg Post-Gazette
“Discovered in Bulgaria in 2004, the Portrait of Seuthes III is a pristine head of the Odrysian ruler, noteworthy for its lifelike, almost watery-looking eyes and intricately carved hair. “The huge beard and very intense look, the technique is done in the Greek manner, no doubt an itinerant craftsman who is adapting his work to a local patron.” (Quote from Kenneth Lapatin, associate curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum)
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture also notes that the marvelous photo (see above) of the Seuthes III sculpture was published on the official web page of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s exhibition.
Unfortunately for the promotion efforts of the Bulgarian government, however, there have been some omissions in all this coverage that do not seem to justify the satisfaction of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture.
First of all, unlike the article of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette which happens to mention both Bulgaria and Ancient Thrace (!!!) when discussing the bronze sculpture of King Seuthes III, The Guardian review states only that Seuthes III was “Odrysian ruler” but makes no mention of Ancient Thrace or the Thracians.
(The Odrysians were just one of the numerous Thracian tribes. In the later period of its existence, the Thracian civilization was part of the Hellenistic World and interacted profoundly with Ancient Greece. Which one influenced the other one more, especially in the earlier periods, is still a matter of the debate, in the very least, among some Bulgarian scholars.)
To make matters worse, the caption of the photo of the bronze head of King Seuthes III on the website of the exhibition “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” of the J. Paul Getty Museum also does not mention Ancient Thrace.
It does not even make it clear that the item comes from Bulgaria – unlike the captions of the photos of other sculptures originating from countries such as Greece, Italy, or Croatia, which mention the respective country, or at least the city of the respective museum.
(The caption reads as follows, “Portrait of Seuthes III, about 310-300 B.C., bronze, copper, calcite, alabaster, and glass. National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, BAS. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev”)
In its statement, the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture also reminds that the bronze head of King Seuthes III was the focal point of the Bulgarian exhibition on Ancient Thrace in the Louvre Museum in the French capital 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).
If you are interested in learning more about Ancient Thrace, check out our stories about Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian exhibit in the Louvre Museum in Paris:
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.
King Seuthes III was a king of the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace from ca. 331 BC to ca. 300 BC, at first tributary to Alexander the Great of Macedon. In 2004, as part an expedition dubbed TEMP, late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov discovered Seuthes III’s tomb on the Golyama Kosmatka Mound near his capital Seuthopolis (close to today’s towns of Kazanlak and Shipka), part of the Valley of Thracian Kings. The impressive finds included the famous lifelike bronze head of Seuthes III, his golden laurel wreath, golden kylix (ancient drinking cup), among others.
In 2015, the bronze head of King Seuthess III was shown in the exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris 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), and in the exhibition in J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles entitled exhibition “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World”.