Mysterious Ancient ‘Padlock’ Found in Excavations of Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

This puzzling ancient artifact found recently in the ruins of ancient Serdica in Bulgaria's capital Sofia is believed to be a padlock, or at least to have been used for locking. Photo: Big5

This puzzling ancient artifact found recently in the ruins of ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is believed to be a padlock, or at least to have been used for locking. Photo: Kaloyan Somlev, Big 5

A mysterious ancient artifact which resembles a padlock but nonetheless continues to perplex the archaeologists has been discovered during the recent excavations of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica in the very downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

The bewildering item was found in the fall of 2015 but has been brought to the attention of the media and public only now, during the preparations for the Bulgarian Archaeology 2015 exhibit at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, which is to present the discoveries made during the last archaeological season’s digs all over Bulgaria.

The alleged ancient padlock will be one of the hundreds of newly found archaeological artifacts on display during the Bulgarian Archaeology 2015 exhibit which is taking place from February 11 until April 10, 2016, news site Big5 reports.

It cannot be determined for sure whether the bronze artifact was indeed a padlock but lead archaeologist Assist. Prof. Veselka Katsarova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia believes that it was probably used for locking.

On its bottom, the artifact has a cap holding together its two halves. It also decorated with an unidentified zoomorphic image which has been likened to a lion, a sheep, or even a monkey.

The excavations of ancient Serdica on the St. Nedelya Square in downtown Sofia, right in front of the five-star Sofia Hotel Balkan (formerly the Sofia Sheraton) and the historic St. Nedelya (Holy Sunday) Cathedral, were carried out in the fall of 2015 by archaeologists the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology and the Sofia Regional Museum of History (also known as the Museum of Sofia History), and were funded by Sofia Municipality.

The digs were launched in search of the Roman Forum (public square) of ancient Serdica but instead surprised the archaeologists by revealing the ruins of an enormous building located right where the Forum had been thought to have been.

In addition to the huge building, the archaeologists discovered an Ancient Roman silver coin treasure from the 2nd-3rd century AD consisting of a total of 2,974 silver and 5 bronze coins. The treasure will also be shown in the Bulgarian Archaeology 2015 exhibit together with the pithos that it was found in.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica is the precursor of the contemporary Bulgarian capital Sofia. The oldest traces of civilized life in Sofia are from a Neolithic settlement dated back to 5000 BC located in today’s Slatina Quarter. There are also traces of life from the Charcolithic (also known as Aeneolithic or Copper Age) and the Bronze Age.

After the Bronze Age, the Sofia Valley was inhabited by the Ancient Serdi who are believed to have been a Celtic tribe (some Bulgarian scholars hypothesize that the Serdi were a Thracian tribe, or a Thracian tribe which assimilated a smaller Celtic tribe while keeping its original name).

The name of the Serdi tribe gave the name to the Ancient Thracian settlement called Serdica or Sardica. The city of Serdica was conquered briefly in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.

Around 29 BC, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. It became a municipium, the center of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), and saw extensive development with many new buildings. It is known to have been the favorite place of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great who used to say, “Serdica is my Rome”.

In 343 AD, the Council of Serdica was held in the city, in the 4th century church that preceded the current 6th century St. Sofia Basilica. In 447 AD, the city was destroyed by the Huns. During the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD), a new fortress wall was built whose remains have been excavated and can be seen today. This is when it was renamed Triaditsa.

It became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) in 809 AD when it was conquered by Bulgaria’s Khan Krum, and was known by its Slavic-Bulgarian name Sredets until the 14th century when it took the name of the St. Sofia Basilica.

The Sofia Largo is the architectural complex of government buildings in downtown Sofia erected in the 1950s, in the early years of the former communist regime. Regardless of their Communist Era architecture, today the buildings house the most important Bulgarian government institutions  and are one of the most famous parts of Sofia’s cityscape. Parts of the ancient city of Serdica, which have been excavated, can be seen in the underpasses and the Serdica Metro Station right next to the Sofia Largo.