Archaeologists Find 2,600-Year-Old ‘Arrow Coins’ near Apollo Temple in Ancient Apollonia Pontica in Bulgaria’s Sozopol

Two 2,600-year-old bronze arrow tips used as coins have been found in ancient Apollonia Pontica, today's Bulgarian resort of Sozopol. Photo: BurgasNews

Two 2,600-year-old bronze arrow tips used as coins have been found in ancient Apollonia Pontica, today’s Bulgarian resort of Sozopol. Photo: Burgas News

Two 2,600-year-old bronze arrow tips which were used as coins, i.e. a form of early currency, and also as gifts for the gods have been discovered by archaeologists near the location of a temple of Apollo in the Ancient Greek polis of Apollonia Pontica, today’s Bulgarian Black Sea city of Sozopol.

The “arrow coins" have been found by the team of Assoc. Prof. Krastina Panayotova, a long-time researcher of ancient Apollonia Pontica, on the St. Cyricus Island (also known as Sveti Kirik, or the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island), which today is a peninsula connected with the Old Town of Sozopol and the Bulgarian mainland.

The St. Cyricus (Sveti Kirik) Island is where a temple and a huge statue dedicated to god Apollo were erected in the Antiquity period, with Sozopol Municipality presently considering rebuilding the statue known as the Colossus of Apollonia.

In Apollonia Pontica, Apollo was worshipped under the name Iatros, i.e. the Healer. The statue of Apollo the Healer was erected by the Ancient Greek polis ca. 480 BC. It was designed by Calamis, the renowned sculptor from Ancient Athens, who was specially hired for the job.

Towering at 13.2 meters, the Apollonia Pontica statue of Apollo was roughly twice smaller than the Colossus of Rhodes, which represented the Ancient Greek titan-god of the sun Helios. However, it was also 200 years older than the Colossus of Rhodes, and existed for much longer.

The Colossus of Apollonia, as it is sometimes referred to, decorated the port of Sozopol for more than 400 years, until in 72 BC, Marcus Lucullus, one of the great generals of the Roman Republic, captured the city, seized the statue as a trophy, and had it transported to Rome, and installed on one of the historic hills of the Roman capital.

The arrow coins were used as a means of exchange, i.e. a currency before the minting of “round coins", according to archaeologist Krastina Panayotova, reports local news site Burgas News.

In her words, there are two types of ancient arrow coins that are known to the archaeological science and each of the two newly discovered arrow coins represents one of the types.

The arrow tips were used as coins before the minting of "round coins". Photo: Burgas News

The arrow tips were used as coins before the minting of “round coins”. Photo: Burgas News

Arrow coins 3 The excavations under Assoc. Prof. Panayotova on the St. Cyricus Island where the ancient temple of Apollo and the Colossus of Apollonia once stood were started in 2009, and have been sponsored by the Balkan Heritage Foundation, a NGO, since 2011.

In addition to the two bronze arrow coins, during the current archaeological campaign so far, the researchers have also found a theater mask which is only 4 centimeters wide, а ring gem stone, and a book buckle left behind in the ruins of a medieval basilica.

Various highly intriguing artifacts from the Ancient Greek polis of Apollonia Pontica discovered on the “St. Cyricus Island" peninsula in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort Sozopol since the start of the digs in 2009 include a large amount of vessels from the first half of the 6th century found inside two ritual pits.

Among these have been some very rare vessels for fragrant oils: one each in the shape of a bovine head, a ram head, a lying ram as well as two vessels in the form of a warrior wearing a helmet.

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Other artifacts discovered during the recent excavations in Sozopol. Photos: Burgas News

Other artifacts discovered during the recent excavations in Sozopol. Photos: Burgas News

Arrow coins 5 Arrow coins 6 Background Infonotes:

The history of the resort town of Sozopol (Apollonia Pontica, Sozopolis) on Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast started during the Early Bronze Age, in the 5th millennium BC, as testified by the discoveries of artifacts found in underwater archaeological research, such as dwellings, tools, pottery, and anchors. In the 2nd-1st millennium BC, the area was settled by the Ancient Thracian tribe Scyrmiades who were experienced miners trading with the entire Hellenic world.

An Ancient Greek colony was founded there in 620 BC by Greek colonists from Miletus on Anatolia’s Aegean coast. The colony was first called Anthea but was later renamed to Apollonia in favor of Ancient Greek god Apollo, a patron of the setters who founded the town. It became known as Apollonia Pontica (i.e. of the Black Sea). Since the Late Antiquity, the Black Sea town has also been called Sozopolis.

The Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica emerged as a major commercial and shipping center, especially after the 5th century AD when it became allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. As of the end of the 6th century BC, Apollonia Pontica started minting its own coins, with the anchor appearing on them as the symbol of the polis.

Apollonia became engaged in a legendary rivalry with another Ancient Greek colony, Mesembria, today’s Bulgarian resort town of Nessebar, which was founded north of the Bay of Burgas in the 6th century BC by settlers from Megara, a Greek polis located in West Attica. According to some historical accounts, in order to counter Mesembria’s growth, Apollonia Pontica founded its own colony, Anchialos, today’s Pomorie (though other historical sources do not support this sequence of events), which is located right to the south of Mesembria.

Apollonia managed to preserve its independence during the military campaigns of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon under Philip II (r. 359-336 BC), and his son Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC). Apollonia, today’s Sozopol, is known to have had a large temple of Greek god Apollo (possibly located on the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island, also known as the St. Cyricus Island), with a 13.2-meter statue of Apollo created by Calamis, a 5th century BC sculptor from Ancient Athens. In 72 BC, Apollonia Pontica was conquered by Roman general Lucullus who took the Apollo statue to Rome and placed it on the Capitoline Hill. After the adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire, the statue was destroyed.

In the Late Antiquity, Apollonia, also called Sozopolis lost some of its regional center positions to Anchialos, and the nearby Roman colony Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium). After the division of the Roman Empire into a Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (today known as Byzantium) in 395 AD, Apollonia / Sozopolis became part of the latter. Its Late Antiquity fortress walls were built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anasthasius (r. 491-518 AD), and the city became a major fortress on the Via Pontica road along the Black Sea coast protecting the European hinterland of Constantinople.

In 812 AD, Sozopol was first conquered for Bulgaria by Khan (or Kanas) Krum, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) in 803-814 AD. In the following centuries of medieval wars between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, Sozopol changed hands numerous times. The last time it was conquered by the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Todor (Teodor) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1300-1322 AD). However, in 1366 AD, during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), Sozopol was conquered by Amadeus IV, Count of Savoy from 1343 to 1383 AD, who sold it to Byzantium.

During the period of the invasion of the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century AD, Sozopol was one of the last free cities in Southeast Europe. It was conquered by the Ottomans in the spring of 1453 AD, two months before the conquest of Constantinople despite the help of naval forces from Venice and Genoa.

In the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Sozopol was a major center of (Early) Christianity with a number of large monasteries such as the St. John the Baptist Monastery on St. Ivan Island off the Sozopol coast where in 2010 Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov made a major discovery by finding relics of St. John the Baptist; the St. Apostles Monastery; the St. Nikolay (St. Nikolaos or St. Nicholas) the Wonderworker Monastery; the Sts. Quriaqos and Julietta Monastery on the St. Cyricus (St. Kirik) Island, the Holy Mother of God Monastery, the St. Anastasia Monastery.

During the Ottoman period Sozopol was often raided by Cossack pirates. In 1629, all Christian monasteries and churches in the city were burned down by the Ottoman Turks leading it to lose its regional role. In the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Sozopol was conquered by the navy of the Russian Empire, and was turned into a temporary military base.

After Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, Sozopol remained a major fishing center. As a result of intergovernmental agreements for exchange of population in the 1920s between the Tsardom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Greece, most of the ethnic Greeks still remaining in Sozopol moved to Greece, and were replaced by ethnic Bulgarians from the Bulgarian-populated regions of Northern Greece.

The modern era archaeological excavations of Sozopol were started in 1904 by French archaeologists who later took their finds to The Louvre Museum in Paris, including ancient vases from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the golden laurel wreath of an Ancient Thracian ruler, and a woman’s statue from the 3rd century BC. Important archaeological excavations of Sozopol were carried out between 1946 and 1949 by Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Venedikov.

The most recent excavations of Sozopol’s Old Town started in 2010. In 2011-2012, Bulgarian archaeologists Tsonya Drazheva and Dimitar Nedev discovered a one-apse church, a basilica, and an Early Christian necropolis. Since 2012, the excavations of Sozopol have been carried out together with French archaeologists.

In 2010, during excavations of the ancient monastery on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island in the Black Sea, off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol, Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov discovered a reliquary containing relics of St. John the Baptist. In 1974, the Bulgarian government set up the Old Sozopol Archaeological and Architectural Preserve.

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