Bulgaria’s National Museum of Archaeology to Show 2,500-Year-Old Toiletries Box, Medieval Treasure in New Exhibit on “Female Beauty over the Centuries

Bulgaria’s National Museum of Archaeology to Show 2,500-Year-Old Toiletries Box, Medieval Treasure in New Exhibit on “Female Beauty over the Centuries"

Items from the new exhibit: a A 17th century necklace found near the town of Kopilovtsi, Berkovitsa Municipality, Northwest Bulgaria, from the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a A 17th century necklace found near the town of Kopilovtsi, Berkovitsa Municipality, Northwest Bulgaria, from the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

A 2,500-year-old Ancient Thracian toiletries box consisting of a gold-coated silver shell will be one of the artifacts on display in the new exhibition of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia entitled “A Mirror of Time: Female Beauty over the Centuries".

The exhibition will be opened on May 12, 2016, at the Museum’s main building in downtown Sofia, and will feature a total of 170 archaeological artifacts; these include both female adornments and depictions of women on various kinds of vessels.

It has been designed “to present the trends in female fashion on the territories of today’s Bulgaria from the Iron Age until the Late Middle Ages".

The ancient silver shell was discovered in the tomb of King Seuthes III (r. 331-300 BC), ruler of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom, in the Golyama Kosmatka Mound near Kazanlak, in the so called Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings in Central Bulgaria.

The same tomb has yielded the now world-famous head sculpture of Seuthes III which made headlines in 2015 with its showcasing in exhibitions in the Louvre in Paris, France, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, USA.

“The shell is from the Golyama Kosmatka Mound, and probably belonged to the wife of Seuthes III," says Dr. Nataliya Ivanova, the curator of the new exhibition at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, as cited by BTA.

“Beauty is important, and women have always strived to be beautiful," states in turn Assoc Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, the Director of the Museum.

He adds that evidence has been found that as early as the 17th century some women in what is today’s Bulgaria had piercings with small rings.

Items from the new exhibit: a pendentive from the 3rd century BC, from ancient Odessos (today’s Varna) on the Black Sea coast, part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a pendentive from the 3rd century BC, from ancient Odessos (today’s Varna) on the Black Sea coast, part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a phiale with depictions of female heads from the Lukovit Treasure, Lukovit, Northwest Bulgaria; it dates back to the last quarter of the 4th century BC, and is part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a phiale with depictions of female heads from the Lukovit Treasure, Lukovit, Northwest Bulgaria; it dates back to the last quarter of the 4th century BC, and is part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a Parts of a hemstitched belt with a buckle from the 7th-6th century BC, from Vidin, Northwest Bulgaria; part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a Parts of a hemstitched belt with a buckle from the 7th-6th century BC, from Vidin, Northwest Bulgaria; part of the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a A 17th century necklace found near the town of Kopilovtsi, Berkovitsa Municipality, Northwest Bulgaria, from the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

Items from the new exhibit: a A 17th century necklace found near the town of Kopilovtsi, Berkovitsa Municipality, Northwest Bulgaria, from the collection of the National Institute and Museum of History in Sofia. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev, National Institute and Museum of History

The earliest artifacts to be shown in the exhibition “A Mirror of Time: Female Beauty over the Centuries" date back to the 8th century BC. These are bronze and amber bracelets and anklets, necklaces, and clothing accessories.

The development of the local Thracian customs in clothing and adornments will be presented with items discovered in the necropolis near the town of Duvanli, Plovdiv District, in Southern Bulgaria.

Various artifacts depicting females are also to be presented, including an Ancient Greek wine jug from the world famous Rogozen Treasure.

The conquest and incorporation of Ancient Thrace in the Roman Empire brought new female fashion which will be reflected in the exhibition with items from the inventories of graves of noble Thracian women found in the Kitova Mound (located in Sliven Municipality) and Raykova Mound (located in Svilengrad Municipality), both in Southeast Bulgaria.

Vessels for fragrant oils and cosmetics from the funeral inventory of a woman’s grave found near Tulovo (Maglizh Municipality, Stara Zagora District, in Central Bulgaria) have also been included to present the Thracian women’s beauty care during the Roman period.

The development of clothing, hairstyles, and adornments during the Early and Late Middle Ages are also to be presented in the “Mirror of Time" exhibit largely through artifacts from Pliska, capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680-893 AD, and the gold and silver treasure found near the Danube town of Nikopol in 1971 (the Nikopol Treasure) which dates back to the High Middle Ages and the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396).

The Nikopol Treasure is part of the collection of the Regional Museum of History in the northern city of Pleven.

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The Nikopol Treasure dates back to the High Middle Ages and the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It was found near the Danube town of Nikopol in 1971. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

The Nikopol Treasure dates back to the High Middle Ages and the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It was found near the Danube town of Nikopol in 1971. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

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.

***

The Odrysian Kingdom, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrysai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD)), was one of the two most powerful states 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.

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The Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings is a term used to describe the numerous Ancient Thracian tumuli (burial mounds) containing tombs and graves in the valley of the Central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak, which was coined by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, a tracologist (an archaeologist specializing in Ancient Thrace). It is believed that over 1,500 Ancient Thracian burial mounds exist in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings alone, of which some 300 have been excavated by archaeologists. Not unlike the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Valley of the Odrysian Thracian Kings is where the Thracian rulers and high aristocrats were buried.

***

The Nikopol Treasure is a medieval Bulgarian treasure from the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). It was discovered near the Danube town of Nikopol by accident on two separate occasions – in 1915 and 1971.

In February 1915, locals cultivating a vineyard in an area known as Harmanlaka outside of Nikopol discovered a copper cauldron containing silver vessels, earrings, bracelets as well as coins of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) where he is depicted with his sons Mihail Asen and Ivan Sratsimir (later Tsar Ivan Sratsimir of the Vidin Tsardom, r. 1371-1396). Later this became known as the First Nikopol Treasure. In a separate case, in 1917, a hoard of 261 silver coins was discovered near the ruins of the medieval fortress of Nikopol.

A second (part of the same) treasure was found, also by accident, but in 1971 when a tractor driver exposed another copper cauldron during plowing; it was located near the place of the 1915 discovery, at a depth of 1.5 meters beneath the surface. The cauldron contained about 200 silver and gold artifacts with ornate decorations including five silver bullions used for substantial payments in the Middle Ages.

The 1971 discovery is the so called Second Nikopol Treasure. It consists of silver items weighing a total of 3.5 kg, and gold items weighing 320 grams. Most of the artifacts are adornments such as gold ear caps, gold bracelets, a gold necklace, silver torcs (neck rings), and a total of 157 silver and gold buttons used for clothing decoration. The torcs especially are seen as evidence that the treasure belonged to aristocrats with a high social status.

The Nikopol Treasure also includes two silver vessels with inscriptions in Bulgarian, a large silver bowl with gold coating, and two silver spoons with the name “Balin" engraved on them. Balin is believed to have been the last owner of the treasure. The silver spoons have been dated to the 14th century.

The treasure also includes gold and silver coins of Byzantine Emperors John III Ducas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) (technically, Emperor of Nicea since between 1204 and 1261, Constantinople was occupied by the Latin Empire of the Western European knights from the Fourth Crusade), and Manuel II Palaeologus (r. 1391-1423). Based on the latter’s coins it has been stipulated that the Nikopol Treasure was buried in at the very end of the 14th century, i.e. at the time when the invading Ottoman Turks conquered today’s Northern Bulgaria, or possibly shortly after the conquest.

The adornments from Nikopol are said to resemble the decorations depicted in images of medieval Bulgarian nobles from the frescoes of the Boyana Church in Sofia and other surviving churches from the High and Late Middle Ages such as those in Zemen and Kalotina, both located to the west of Sofia.

There have been stipulations that Balin whose name is engraved on the silver spoons may have been the lord of the area around Nikopol in the late 14th century. His name has been connected with that of Todor Balina, one of the leaders of the First Tarnovo Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1598. The First Tarnovo Uprising aimed to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Yoke (as the period between 1396 and 1878 is known in Bulgarian history), and was centered in Veliko Tarnovo, in Central North Bulgaria, the last medieval capital of the Bulgarian Empire. Todor Balina was described as “the prime nobleman" of the Nikopol district meaning a potential descent from a Bulgarian aristocratic family from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire. If Todor Balina and Balin from the Nikopol Treasure were indeed related, this poses a question as to how their noble family survived and even preserved its status since the medieval Christian Bulgarian aristocracy was mostly annihilated by the Ottomans.

The Second Nikopol Treasure is part of the collection of the Regional Museum of History in the northern Bulgarian city of Pleven.