Unseen Prehistoric Arms, Ancient & Medieval Swords Made Public for the First Time in Special Exhibit in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Over 50 different samples of swords from various time periods originating in Bulgaria have been displayed for the very first time in the new exhibition of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

Over 50 different samples of swords and dozens of types of maces from various time periods originating in Bulgaria have been displayed for the very first time in the new exhibition of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology based on a private collection. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

A medieval sword depicting the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) and hundreds of other samples of prehistoric, ancient, and medieval arms originating in Bulgaria, which have never been made public before, have been exhibited by the Museum of Archaeology in the southern city of Plovdiv.

The archaeological artifacts are part of a private collection including a huge arsenal of arms and other military artifacts dating back from the 6th millennium BC until the 16th century. They have now been made public for the first time ever in an exhibition of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology entitled “From Stone to Gun Powder", reports the 24 Chasa daily.

The private collection belongs to Boyko Vatev, an art gallery owner, a former journalist and former member of the Bulgarian Parliament; it has been collected over the past 80 years, first by Vatev’s father, and then by him.

According to the organizers, the exhibited collection contains literally all major samples of premodern armaments that were ever in use on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, an intercontinental crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa.

In addition to the medieval sword with the image of the Virgin Mary, the collection features over 50 different samples of swords from various historical periods.

Other very intriguing ones are a Scythian sword acinaces (akinaka) with two eagle heads, a 4th century BC Celtic sword with a battle scene, an untypically long makhaira sword, and a medieval Crusader knight’s sword found near the Danube River.

The poster for the exhibition entitled "From Stone to Gun Powder". Photo: Plovdiv Regional Museum of History

The poster for the exhibition entitled “From Stone to Gun Powder”. Photo: Plovdiv Regional Museum of History

Photo: Plovdiv Regional Museum of History

Photo: Plovdiv Regional Museum of History

Photo: Plovdiv Regional Museum of History

Photo: Plovdiv Regional Museum of History

The exhibited prehistoric weapons from the period between the 6th and the 4th millennium include arrow tips, a spear made from a deer horn, stone axes, adzes, and maces made of copper and stone.

The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age arms that have been shown for the first time include maces, axes, and daggers. The civilization of Ancient Thrace is also presented with doubled-edged iron swords with straight blades.

“The master smiths in the Balkans produced these masterpieces back when [the rest of] Europe still didn’t know the technology of metal founding," Rositsa Mitkova, head of the Prehistory section of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, is quoted as saying.

She has made it clear that it took the Museum six years to organize the exhibition.

The previously unseen swords and other arms from the Middle Ages were forged of different types of metal – not just iron but also bronze, silver, and gold.

However, the exhibition “From Stone to Gun Power" also features other items from Vatev’s collection, including three major types of ancient helmets: Thracian helmets (also known as Phrygian helmets), Corinthian helmets, and Chalcidian helmets.

The most valuable helmet in Vatev’s collection is a 5th century BC Corinthian helmet. Another intriguing item is the facial part of a mask-helmet from the 1st-2nd century AD.

The collector also possesses a total of 40 umbos (shield bosses), four of them with inscriptions stating their owners.

Vatev’s private collection consists of a total of over 4,000 archaeological artifacts (only some of the most impressive have been showcased in the exhibit of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology).

These include a total of 482 maces which is said to be “the world’s most impressive mace collection" (for example, it is compared with the British Museum in London which has 40 maces in its collection).

“The best thing about this collection is that it is thematic. Not everybody likes collectors but they deserve respect because they buy out unique items from ruthless dealers, invest their money in restoration, and all of this is part of the richness of the country," Bozhidar Dimitrov, Director of the National Museum of History in Sofia, is quoted as saying.

He has estimated the total worth of Vatev’s collection of prehistoric, ancient, and medieval armaments upwards of EUR 1 million adding that it could go much higher if sold at an auction house.

“Respect for Boyko Vatev! He invested so much effort in this collection, and he deserves praise because he’s not keeping it locked up at home, and now everybody can see it," Plovdiv Mayor Ivan Totev is quoted as saying.

Private collections in Bulgaria have been a controversial issue because of the rampant treasure hunting and trafficking of antiques from the thousands of archaeological sites all over the country. However, several large-scale collections of wealthy businessmen have been granted the status of private museums. There proponents argue that they help keep in Bulgaria artifacts and antiques that would have otherwise been smuggled abroad.

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The previously unseen arsenal from the private collection covers all periods in the history of today's Bulgarian territory from the 6th millenium BC until the 16th century AD. Photos: 24 Chasa daily

The previously unseen arsenal from the private collection covers all periods in the history of today’s Bulgarian territory from the 6th millenium BC until the 16th century AD. Photos: 24 Chasa daily

Photo: 24 Chasa daily

Photo: 24 Chasa daily

Photo: 24 Chasa daily

Photo: 24 Chasa dailyPhoto: 24 Chasa daily

Photos: 24 Chasa daily

Background Infonotes:

The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkishword for “hill"), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city" (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity periodEumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills").

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)),Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.