Rogozen Treasure Phiale with Auge and Heracles (Hercules) Shows Thracian Aristocracy Valued Art of Classical Greece, Bulgarian Archaeologist Says

This phiale from the Rogozen Silver Treasure kept in Bulgaria's Vratsa features a scene from the ancient mythology of Athena's priestess Auge and the hero Heracles (Herculas). Photo: Hayredin Municipality

This phiale from the Rogozen Silver Treasure kept in Bulgaria’s Vratsa features a scene from the ancient mythology of Athena’s priestess Auge and the hero Heracles (Herculas). Photo: Hayredin Municipality

One of the most interesting vessels from the Ancient Thracian Rogozen Treasure, a phiale depicting Auge and Heracles (Hercules) in a famous scene of ancient mythology, shows that the aristocracy of Ancient Thrace had appreciation for the classical art of Ancient Greece, says Bulgarian archaeologist Nartsis Torbov.

Assoc. Prof. Torbov, the head of the Archaeology Department of the Vratsa Regional Museum of History, which is the home of the Rogozen Treasure, adds, speaking in an interview for Radio Focus, that the phiale with Auge and Heracles (Hercules) is a testimony to the heightened aesthetic requirements of the Thracian aristocracy.

He has been in charge of the events for celebrating the 30th anniversary since the discovery of the Rogozen Treasure (also known as the Rogozen Silver Treasure), the largest and one of the most important treasures of Ancient Thrace.

In Ancient Greek mythology, Auge was the daughter of the King of Arcadia Aleus and Neaera. She was a priestess of Athena Alea (a name for the Greek goddess Athena) in Tegea who was seduced by Heracles (Hercules) and bore him a son, the hero Telephus.

Torbov points out that the mythology scene with Auge and Heracles (Hercules) depicted on the phiale from the Rogozen Treasure is also pictured on different items of Ancient Greek toreutics (artistic metalworking) which are kept in top global museum such as the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the British Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

“That is why, we, the residents of Vratsa, are proud that our city is the home of the Rogozen Treasure which includes such a vessel showing the scene with Auge and Heracles," the archaeologists states.

“The Vratsa Museum is the home to one of the most significant ancient treasures which brings it to closer to the biggest [archaeological] museums in the world," he adds.

Another view of the phiale with the depictions of Auge and Heracles. Photo: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

Another view of the phiale with the depictions of Auge and Heracles. Photo: Vratsa Regional Museum of History

Torbov notes that the Rogozen Silver Treasure, which consists of a total of 165 silver vessels, many with gold plated depictions, could be defined as a set for ritual wine drinking of the Ancient Thracians.

“Part of the vessels are not local Thracian produce, and exhibit the features of Ancient Greek toreutics, and the phiale with the depiction of Auge and Heracles has a special place among them. A medallion is attached on top of the phiale portraying the mythology scene [in which] Heracles, the hero known for his power and bravery, seduces Auge, the priestess of goddess Athena," he elaborates.

The archaeologist also explains that no safe assumption can be made about the place where the phiale with Auge and Heracles (Hercules) was produced.

He does not rule out the possibility that the marvelous vessel was made in some of the Ancient Greek colonies on today’s Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

“It is possible that the medallion attached to [the phiale featuring the mythology scene with Auge and Heracles] is a replica of a sculpture composition from the Temple of Athena in Peloponnese (i.e. in Tegea – editor’s note). It is known that this temple was rebuilt in the middle of the 4th century BC by the famous sculptor Scopas," Torbov hypothesizes.

The 30th anniversary since the discovery of the Rogozen Treasure is the second Thracian treasure discovery anniversary celebrated by Bulgaria’s Vratsa recently, after the celebration of the 50th anniversary since the discovery of the Mogilanska Mound Treasure.

The Rogozen Treasure, also known as the Rogozen Silver Treasure, was discovered by accident in June 1985 by a tractor driver digging a ditch for water pipes in his garden in the town of Rogozen, Hayredin Municipality, in Northwest Bulgaria (read more about its discovery story in the Background Infonotes below).

It consists of 165 receptacles, including 108 phiales, 54 jugs and 3 goblets; they are made of silver, some of them plated with gold, and weigh a combined total of more than 20 kg. Because of its total weight, the Rogozen Silver Treasure is often described as the largest Ancient Thracian treasure ever found.

Its richly decorated artifacts feature a variety of motifs from the Ancient Thracian and Ancient Greek mythology. 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.

As 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.

To celebrate the anniversary since the discovery of the Rogozen Treasure, the Vratsa Regional Museum of History has organized a wide range of events including a presentation by the head of the Museum’s Archaeology Department, Assoc. Prof. Nartsis Torbov, and a presentation of original TV footage from the work of Bogdan Nikolov, Spas Mashov, and Plamen Ivanov, the three archaeologists who originally excavated the second stash of the treasure back in January 1986.

Nearly every year all or parts of the Rogozen Treasure are sent abroad for international exhibitions; for example, in 2015, the treasure was part of in Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian 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).

As part of the celebrations of the 30th anniversary since the discovery of the Rogozen Silver Treasure, the Vratsa Regional Museum of History and Vratsa Municipality have launched an advertising campaign to promote it. The promotional campaign will last until October 2016, and will be completed with an archaeological conference dedicated to the largest Ancient Thracian treasure.

View more photos of the Rogozen Silver Treasure here:

Bulgaria’s Vratsa Celebrates 30th Anniversary since Discovery of Ancient Thracian Rogozen Silver Treasure

Also check out our other recent story about a Thracian treasure discovery anniversary:

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

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

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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.

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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.