10th Century Golden Heart Jewel Worn by Bulgarian Empress Discovered in Medieval Capital Veliki Preslav
A remarkable golden jewel in the shape of a heart decorated with a five-color enamel, which may have belonged to the wife of Tsar Petar I (r. 927-969), has been discovered by archaeologists during excavations in Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav”), Shumen District, in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, which was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) from 893 until 970.
The heart-shaped 23-karat gold jewel has been found in the ruins of what is believed to have been an imperial residence of the Tsars of the First Bulgarian Empire who ruled from Veliki Preslav.
The golden heart is 4 cm wide and 3.5 cm tall, and dated back to the middle of the 10th century, which is precisely the time of the reign of Bulgaria’s Tsar Petar I, the son of Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927).
Tsar Petar I was the second son of Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927) and the successor of his throne. Unlike his father, Tsar Petar I did not wage victorious wars, and dedicated his reign to Christianity, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and the Old Bulgarian literature and culture. For this, he was canonized as a saint by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
His long reign was for the most part a period of peace, which, however, ended in a decline by the 960s. Several decades later, in 1018, the First Bulgarian Empire was beaten and conquered by Byzantium.
The dating and the exquisite craftsmanship of the jewel have led the archaeological team to hypothesize that it may have belonged to Tsaritsa (Empiress) Maria Lakapene, a Byzantine noble, who married Tsar Petar I in 927, taking the name Irene (meaning “peace”).
It was this marriage that sealed the recognition by the Byzantine Empire of the imperial title “Tsar” (which was in Old Bulgarian and stemmed from the Roman title “Caesar”) of the Bulgarian ruler, even though it had already been assumed by Simeon I, Petar I’s father, after his army annihilated 60,000 Byzantine troops in the 917 Battle of Achelous (also known as the Battle of Anchialus).
The discovery of the golden heart jewel in Veliki Preslav has been made by the team of Assoc. Prof. Stoycho Bonev and Radostina Georgieva from the Shumen Office of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
“This jewel was a decoration, an appliqué for the clothing. The heart is made of high-quality gold of over 23 karats, and we have dated it to the mid 10th century. It is indisputable that this royal adornment was made in Constantinople, and was the work of an imperial atelier from the 10th century,” Bonev has told local news site Shum.
He believes that the golden heart might have been part of the collection of jewels owned by Bulgarian Empress Maria (Irene) Lakapene.
The enamel the golden heart is decorated with is in five different colors: blue, green, cerise, white, and ivory.
According to the archaeologists, it is so significant as both an archaeological artifact and a jewelry masterpiece that nobody can really estimate its real worth.
“Similar jewels have been found but made of silver or copper meaning they were much cheaper. This is obviously an imperial jewel. Such an item has not been found since 1978 when the Preslav Gold Treasure,” says Bonev referring to another treasure from the height of the First Bulgarian Empire which may also have been presented by Tsar Petar I to his wife Maria (Irene).
The technique used for the making of the jewel has been described as “cellular enameling”, with a silicon mix cast on a gold or silver base to create small cells which are then filled up with colorful glass paste to form the enamel.
The archaeologists emphasizes that the golden heart has been found at a depth of 80 cm, inside the personal imperial residence of the Bulgarians Tsars in Veliki Preslav where they resided with their families.
“The building of secular nature, and was richly decorated. It was about 22 meters long and 19 meters wide. Inside, it must have had a church, a bath, toilets, and rooms for the servants. Its western façade featured a mighty colonnade consisting of 7 column, each one of which had a diameter of 70 cm,” Bonev explains.
It is believed that the residence had at least three floors. This is how it is depicted in a 3D restoration model exhibited in the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology. Bonev estimates that its construction lasted for 28 years, having started as early as the reign of Knyaz (King) Boris I (r. 852-889; 893), Tsar Petar I’s grandfather who converted the First Bulgarian Empire to Christianity and adopted the Bulgarian (Cyrillic) alphabet (also known as the Slavic script).
Several days ago his team has also discovered beautiful limestone friezes and other architectural fragments which were part of the decoration of the main hall of the imperial palace in Veliki Preslav featuring palmette, rosette and cross motifs.
“These are splendid samples of decorative sculpture which decorated the interior of the palace. Such finds can been seen only in a few museums around the world, and I can say that the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology is one of them. Even though it is smaller, it is no less richer,” elaborates the archaeologist.
Plamen Slavov, Director of the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology, has pointed out that the golden heart jewel has been found in digs financed only from the own budget of the Museum to the amount of BGN 8,000 (app. EUR 4,000).
Various media reports emphasize that the archaeological excavations of Veliki Preslav, the 10th century capital of the First Bulgarian Empire, have been rather underfunded by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture which distributes most of the government funds for archaeological research.
At present, the archaeologists are contiuing their research of the Bulgarian Tsars’ residence and are aslo excavating a new medieval building inside the Veliki Preslav Archaeological Preserve whose function is still unknown.
Also check out our other stories about archaeological discoveries in the 10th century capital of the First Bulgarian Empire, Veliki Preslav:
…and our stories about discoveries of seals of Tsar Petar I in different parts of Bulgaria:
Pliska and Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) are two of the capitals of the First Bulgarian Empire. Pliska was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680-893 AD, and Veliki Preslav in 893-970 AD, at the height of the Bulgarian state. The state capital was moved from Pliska to Veliki Preslav, a new medieval city nearby, in 893 AD in order to seal Bulgaria’s adoption of Christianity and the Bulgarian (Slavic, Cyrillic) script (in 865 and 886 AD, respectively). The ruins of both Pliska and Veliki Preslav can be seen today in the Shumen District in Northeast Bulgaria.
Tsar Simeon I the Great was the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) in 893-927 AD. He was probably the most powerful Bulgarian leader of all time in his capacity as both a military commander and a patron of spiritual life, culture, and literature. During his reign Bulgaria probably saw its greatest territorial expansion (although some scholars argue that its territory was slightly greater during the reign of Tsar Samuil (r. 977/997-1014 AD)) coving all of Southeast Europe and much of Central Europe (estimates range around 650,000 sq. km.), including all or parts of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, Hungary, Moldova, and Ukraine, bordering on the three seas – the Black Sea, the Aegean, and the Adriatic. What is deemed more important, however, is that his reign saw the so called Golden Age of Old Bulgarian culture and literature in the Old Bulgarian language (also known today as Church Slavonic), with its cultural influence later spreading to other Slavic peoples in South and Eastern Europe.
The future Tsar Simeon was born in 864 or 865 AD, at about the time the First Bulgarian Empire adopt Christianity as its official and only religion. He was the third son of St. Knyaz Boris I (r. 852-889; 893 AD), and since he was intended to become head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, his father sent him to be educated at the Imperial University of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, also known as the University of the Palace Hall of Magnaura. Simeon studied there between ca. 878 and ca. 888 AD, and because of his erudition, Byzantine chroniclers to refer to him later as “the half-Greek”. After his return to Bulgaria, Simeon started participating in the translation of religious works from Greek into Bulgarian at the Preslav Literary School. However, Knyaz Vladimir Rasate (r. 889-893 AD), Knyaz Boris I’s first-born son and successor to the throne, attempted to abandon the recently introduce Christianity and restore paganism. This led the aged Knyaz Boris to lead a de facto coup d’etat removing Vladimir from the throne, and making Simeon the Knyaz (King) of Bulgaria during the Preslav Council (Assembly) of 893 AD which also decided to move the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire from Pliska to Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav) in order to do away with any pagan traditions.
The young Knyaz Simeon’s reign did not begin smoothly but with what has been described as the first commercial war in medieval Europe in 894 AD, after Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise moved the marketplace of Bulgarian merchants from the Byzantine capital Constantinople to the city of Thessaloniki. In the ensuing military actions, Bulgaria’s forces defeated the Byzantine troops that met them, which was made easier by the fact that the main units of Byzantium were fighting the Arabs in Asia Minor. The notorious Byzantine diplomacy, however, was able to instigate a “backstabbing” attack on Bulgaria from the north by the Magyars who were ferried by the Byzantine Navy across the Danube near the river’s delta. After initial losses and withstanding a siege in the strong Bulgarian fortress of Drastar (today’s Silistra known as Durostorum in Roman times) on the Danube, together with his allies the Pechenegs, the Bulgarian ruler routed the Magyars in the extremely fierce Battle of Southern Buh (in today’s Ukraine) in 895 AD which eventually led their tribes to retreat to the west and settle in the region of Pannonia essentially founding today’s Hungary.
What followed was a constant military conflict between Bulgaria and Byzantium. The Byzantine army was defeated by the Bulgarian forces in the Battle of Bulgarophygon (today’s Babaeski in Turkey) in 896 AD, who then besieged Constantinople. The war ended with a peace treaty after the Byzantine Empire sued for peace and agreed to pay annual tribute to Bulgaria, and ceded parts of the region of Thrace. After the Arabs plundered the city of Thessaloniki, in 904 AD, Leo VI ceded all Slav-populated territories in today’s Northern Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, and Albania in order to dissuade Simeon from capturing Thessaloniki and populating it with Slavs, as the Bulgarian ruler intended. In the meantime, Knyaz Simeon included Serbia as a vassal in the First Bulgarian Empire. The peace generally held until 912 AD when Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise died which led to a succession crisis and strife for the Byzantine throne. After a Byzantine regent refuse to pay the annual tribute to Bulgaria, the troops of the First Bulgarian Empire besieged Constantinople again in 913 AD. In the ensuing negotiations, the Byzantine tribute was paid, and Simeon was promised that the minor Emperor Constantine VII would marry one of his daughters technically allowing him to lay a claim to the throne in Constantinople. The following year, however, the deal was broken by Empress Zoe, Emperor Constantine’s mother, leading to a resumption of the Bulgarian-Byzantine war in which Simeon’s forces captured the city of Adrianople (today’s Edirne in Turkey).
A major clash of the two empires occurred in the summer of 917 AD, when the Byzantines first tried to organize a wide-ranging international coalition against the Bulgarian Empire, and marched against Bulgaria with a huge army of their own led by Byzantine general Leo Phocas (Phokas) the Elder, and a fleet led by Romanus Lecapenus (Romanos Lekapenos), later Byzantine Emperor (r. 920-944 AD). On August 20, 917 AD, in the Battle of Anchialos, also known as the Battle of the Achelous (Acheloos) River near the Black Sea coast, which was one of the largest battles in medieval history, the Bulgarian forces annihilated almost the entire Byzantine army in which only about 2,000 of the total of some 62,000 troops survived. The Bulgarian Emperor personally led a cavalry charge, and his white horse was killed at the height of the battle. Byzantine chronicler Leo the Deacon, who visited the site of the Battle of Anchialos 75 years later, wrote that “piles of bones can still be seen today at the river Acheloos, where the fleeing army of the Byzantines was then infamously slain”. The Byzantine defeat at the Battle of the Achelous (Acheloos) River was followed by another Bulgarian military victory in the Battle of Katasyrtai. After his great victory at Anchialos, Knyaz Simeon assumed the title of Tsar, the Slavic-Bulgarian form of Caesar, i.e. Emperor, and more specifically the titles “Basileus of All Bulgarians and Greeks” (“Basileus” being the title of the Byzantine Emperors) and “Autocrat of All Bulgarians and Romans” (referring to the fact that the Byzantine Empire was technically a continuation of the Roman Empire), and began to strive ever more stubbornly to sit on the throne in Constantinople; the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was promoted from Archbishop to Patriarch. The imperial title of the Bulgarian Tsar and the Patriarchate status of the Bulgarian Church, however, were only formally recognized by Byzantium after Tsar Simeon’s death, in 927 AD, to his heir, St. Tsar Petar I (r. 927-969 AD).
In the last decade of his reign, Tsar Simeon waged even more wars in pursuit of his dream of sitting on the Byzantine throne, which, however, moved further away after in 920 AD Byzantine admiral Romanus Lecapenus (Romanos Lekapenos) removed Empress Zoe as a regent, betrothed his daughter Helene Lekapene to the underage Emperor Constantine VII, and became a Co-Emperor, which is what Bulgaria’s Tsar Simeon had aspired to do. Tsar Simeon waged wars on Byzantium even more fiercely, besieged Constantinople a couple of more times, launched a campaign down south all the way to the Isthmus of Corinth, crushed Serbian revolts and annexed all of Serbia, and even planned a joint attack on Constantinople together with Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah, who was supposed to contribute the Egyptian Navy; the plan failed only because the Byzantines managed to capture the Bulgarian and Egyptian envoys on their way back from Egypt. Of all his victorious wars, Tsar Simeon’s last one – against Croatia in 926 AD – was unsuccessful. He died of a heart failure in his imperial palace in Veliki Preslav on May 27, 927 AD. Byzantine chronicles attribute his death to a magic caused by Byzantine Emperor’s Romanus Lecapenus decapitation of a statue of Simeon held in Constantinople.
While Tsar Simoen’s great territorial expansion and numerous wars, albeit victorious, are a controversial heritage because they are known to have exhausted the resources and the population of the Bulgarian Empire, his undisputedly most important heritage is the so called Golden Age – the thriving and unique Old Bulgarian culture and literature with the use of the Bulgarian (Cyrillic) alphabet which established Bulgaria as the spiritual center of the Slavic peoples. It first started under Simeon’s father, St. Knyaz Boris I Mihail in 886 AD with the arrival of two of the main disciples of St. Cyril and St. Methodius – St. Kliment Ohridskis (Clement of Ohrid) and St. Naum Preslavski (Naum of Preslav) – and the foundation of the Orhid Literary School and the Preslav Literary School. It was in this period that the first Slavic-Bulgarian alphabet, the Glagolitic, was transformed into the second Bulgarian alphabet used today by some 300 million people in Europe and Asia, which is also known international as the Cyrillic.
Under Tsar Simeon’s patronage, the Old Bulgarian medieval scholars were very active in translating Christian texts into Old Bulgarian, essentially the Slavic proto-language, including the Bible, and the works of John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, Athanasius of Alexandria, and the historical chronicles of John Malalas and George Hamartolus. They also authored a number of original texts in Old Bulgarian, including Yoan Ekzarh’s (John Exarch) Six Days (Shestodnev), Konstantin Preslavski’s (Constantine of Preslav) Alphabetical Prayer and Proclamation of the Holy Gospels, and On Account of Letters by Chernorizets Hrabar (“The Brave Monk”, which might have been a pseudonym for Tsar Simeon himself). Tsar Simeon’s capital Veliki Preslav was built up to rival “the Second Rome”, Constantinople, with an impressive imperial palace, and dozens of churches and monasteries, including the so called Round or Golden Church, which is expected to be restored in present-day Bulgaria as a cultural tourism site. Because of these achievements, Tsar Simeon was named “the Great” by later Bulgarian historians. In the words of French historian Alfred Nicolas Rambaud (1842-1905), “Simeon was the Bulgarian Charlemagne, but he was better educated than our Charles the Great and much greater than him, for he laid down the foundations of literature that belonged to the people.”