Archaeologists Find Altars for Chthonic Deity Rituals in Fortresses of Ancient Thracian Tribe Asti in Southeast Bulgaria
Altars for religious rituals dedicated to the chthonic deities, i.e. the ancient gods and spirits of the underworld, have been discovered by Bulgarian archaeologists during the excavations of two fortified residences of rulers of the Ancient Thracian tribe Asti in Southeast Bulgaria.
The 2015 archaeological excavations of the two fortified homes of the Ancient Thracian paradynasts, i.e. co-rulers, from the Kingdom of the Asti (2nd-1st century BC), have now been wrapped up, Tsarevo Municipality has announced.
The Thracian rulers’ residences are located near the towns of Brodilovo and Sinemorets; both are in Tsarevo Municipality, which is Bulgaria’s southeastern-most municipality, and is situated on the Black Sea coast.
The excavations have been led by archaeologist Deyan Dichev and by archaeologist Daniela Agre from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
In the fortified Thracian ruler’s residence near Sinemorets, the archaeologists have discovered a well-preserved ceramic kiln with a cult altar next to it, which is also known with the Greek word “eschara”.
According to the researchers, the altar in question was used for rituals as part of the Ancient Thracians’ prayers to the chthonic deities, i.e. the “subterranean” or underworld gods.
“These are the [gods] inhabiting the underworld or gods connected with prophesies and oracles. They are in charge of fertility, wealth, sex, birth, and death. They are close to the people and they are easy to get in touch with,” the archaeologists explain.
An identical “eschara”, i.e. altar, has been found in the Thracian ruler’s residence near the town of Brodilovo which is seen as evidence that both aristocratic homes of the Asti tribe adhered to the same religious cults.
It is noted that the buildings in both fortified residences date back to the time of the conflict between the Ancient Rome, i.e. the Roman Republic and the Pontic Kingdom (Pontus), also known as the Mithridatic Wars, after King Mithridates IV of Pontus, that played out on the Balkan Peninsula in the 2nd-1st century BC.
“[It was at this time that] in the Strandzha Mountain (in today’s Southeast Bulgaria and Northwest Turkey – editor’s note) that one of the most powerful and significant Thracian kingdoms took shape – the Kingdom of the Asti, which survived until the 1st century AD, and has not been sufficiently researched yet,” the archaeologists say, as cited by Tsarevo Municipality.
Both fortified Ancient Thracian residences are located on the banks of the Veleka River, and enjoyed natural defenses.
They were also protected with massive stone walls, with the fortification near Brodilovo having a fortress wall that was 2.4 meters wide. Both rulers’ homes had towers as part of defenses.
During their excavations near both Brodilovo and Sinemorets, the archaeologists have discovered a large number of luxury ceramic vessels such as amphorae and cups from the Ancient Greek polis Megara; these include both vessels that were imported from Ancient Greece, and that were locally made.
In the Thracian paradynast’s home near Bulgaria’s Brodilovo, the scholars have come across a large amount of iron billets for the production of tools and weapons.
What is more, near Brodilovo, they have also stumbled upon two coin treasures (the discovery of the first coin treasure was announced in November 2015).
One of the coin treasures contains silver tetradrachms from several Ancient Greek polises on the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea: Maroneia, Odessos (today’s Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna), and Thasos (located on the Island of Thasos) as well as coins of several rulers of the Kingdom of the Thracian tribe Asti: Mostis, Sadala II the Astian, and his son Cotys II the Astian.
Together with these coins, the archaeologists also found silver bracelets and earrings.
The second coin treasure recently found near Brodilovo consists of silver tetradrachms from Odessos, Messembria (today’s Nessebar), Athens, Maroneia, and coins of the above-mentioned Thracian ruler Mostis.
Next to the other Thracian paradynast’s residence, the one near Sinemorets, the archaeologists have found bronze coins from the Late Hellenistic Period as well as the ruins of a single-nave church from a later time.
“The [newly] discovered treasures show that the region of the Strandzha Mountain played an important role in terms of politics and economics. The [Thracian rulers’] homes were most probably destroyed in a military conflict,” the scholars have concluded.
The 2015 archaeological excavations of the fortified residences of the Asti rulers in Brodilovo and Sinemorets have been funded by Tsarevo Municipality, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, and the international foundation “Horizons”.
In the Third Mithridatic War (73 – 63 BC) in which Rome ultimately prevailed over the Pontic Kingdom (Pontus), the cities and the Ancient Thracians inhabiting what is today Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast were allies of Mithridates VI who sent to their aid forces led by commander Epithinchanonus.
However, the Roman legions of general Marcus Lucullus routed the forces of Pontus as well as the troops of Apollonia Pontica and the Thracians.
Another Ancient Thracian stronghold, the previously unknown fortress Pharmakida discovered recently in Bulgaria’s Primorsko Municipality, has also been found to have been destroyed during Ancient Rome’s Mithridatic Wars.
Also learn more about the Ancient Thracian fortress Pharmakida which is also located in Southeast Bulgaria, and was destroyed in the Mithridatic Wars:
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.