Archaeologist Discover Roman Era Ritual Pit Inventories in Bulgaria’s Largest Ancient Thracian Burial Mound ‘Maltepe’

One out of a total of five ritual pits discovered at the foot of the largest Ancient Thracian burial mound in Bulgaria. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

One out of a total of five ritual pits discovered at the foot of the largest Ancient Thracian burial mound in Bulgaria. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

A total of five ritual pits containing inventories from the 2nd-3rd century AD have been discovered in the periphery of the largest Ancient Thracian burial mound in Bulgaria, known as “Maltepe", which has been excavated for the first time ever.

The archaeological team led by Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, has also proven that the Thracian burial mound located near the town of Manole, Plovdiv District, in Central South Bulgaria, is in fact from the Roman period

This is very rare because while Bulgaria’s countryside is dotted with thousands of Ancient Thracian burial mounds, the great majority of them date back to the 5th-1st century BC.

“At the present stage, we have established that the [Maltepe] mound [near Manole] is from the Roman Era, and there are no more than 4-5 such Thracian burial mounds in Bulgaria," Kisyov has told the 24 Chasa daily.

All of Ancient Thrace south of the Lower Danube, including what had been left of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), probably the most powerful kingdom of Ancient Thrace (which had been reduced to a client state of Rome by the early decades of the 1st century), was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD, with the Thracian aristocracy and population becoming well integrated in the Roman society.

The Thracian (Getian / Dacian) regions north of the Lower Danube were conquered by the Romans under Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) in 106 AD, and were lost in 271 AD, while the rest of Ancient Thrace, south of the Danube, remained part of the Roman Empire and later the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) up until the expansion of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) south of the Danube in 680-681 AD.)

The Maltepe Thracian Burial Mound near Manole is located about 10 km away from the city of Plovdiv, the successor of ancient Philipopolis. It is some 100 meters in diameter, and is about 28 meters. It is made up of some 87,000 cubic meters of soil. It is not to be confused with another mound of the same name located in Southeast Bulgaria.

Even though it is considered to be the largest Ancient Thracian burial mound in Bulgaria, it had never been excavated until the summer of 2016 when the first digs were started in its periphery as part of a project for creating an open-air museum with BGN 1.6 million (app. EUR 800,000) in funding from the Norway and European Economic Area Grants. It is also said not to have been damaged by treasure hunters – unlike a huge number of other Ancient Thracian mounds.

The excavated section in the periphery of the Maltepe Ancient Thracian burial mound near Manole in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

The excavated section in the periphery of the Maltepe Ancient Thracian burial mound near Manole in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

The five ritual pits which have been discovered in the periphery of the Maltepe burial mound have been found to contain clay vessels, coins, and plaster fragments placed in them as sacrificial offerings.

The newly found coins include a coin minted by Empress Fulvia Plautilla (ca. 185 – 202 AD), wife of Roman Emperor Caracalla (r. 198 – 217 AD), in the important Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose ruins are found today near Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.

Coins of Roman Emperors Aurelian (r. 270-275) and Constantius II (r. 337-361) have also been discovered in the ritual pits.

Kisyov says the discoveries from the initial excavations, which demonstrate that religious rituals were performed in the periphery of the large Ancient Thracian burial mound, are promising, and potentially sensational finds could be discovered as the exploration of Maltepe progresses over the next 2-3 years.

“This year, we were supposed to check whether a [stone] tomb [from the BC period] similar to the ones in Kazanlak and Starosel exists inside the mound," explains the lead archaeologist, referring in part to the tombs revealed in the so called Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings (the Kazanlak Valley) which are already popular tourist attractions.

“We have carried out geophysical surveying. Our data show that no monumental tomb from the 5th-1st century BC can be found underneath. However, it is possible that a Roman Era tomb might be discovered," he adds.

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Roman coins and a vessel discovered in the ritual pits of the Maltepe Thracian burial mound. Photos: 24 Chasa daily

Roman coins and a vessel discovered in the ritual pits of the Maltepe Thracian burial mound. Photos: 24 Chasa daily

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Kisyov notes that the central burial of the mound may be reached at a depth of 26 meters because Roman Era tombs have been found below the level of the terrain which existed at the time of their construction.

A case in hand is a tomb from the Roman period which was discovered near Bulgaria’s Stroevo in 1930, and which was made of stone blocks, and had a dome.

The archaeologists says it is possible that several graves of members of the same aristocratic family might be discovered if it turns out that the Maltepe burial mound was used and built up for several centuries.

“In this case, several graves found at different depths and levels could be discovered," he says.

Because of its proximity to ancient Philipopolis, the Maltepe mound might harbor the burial of a major Ancient Thracian aristocrat from the Roman period, or a Roman noble who had a villas in the vicinity of the city (which was the capital of the Roman province of Thracia, i.e. Thrace).

The Maltepe mound could even hide a grave from the last decades of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom. Media reports have mentioned that this could even be the grave of Odrysian King Rhoemetalces I (r. 12 BC – 12 AD) who was an ally of Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus, and the two of them even minted coins together, with the image Augustus on one side, and the image of Rhoemetalces and his wife Pythodoris on the other.

“In any event, I think there are at least 4-5 graves inside the mound. In its foundations, there might an earlier tomb from the BC period. Our research shows it is a Thracian mound from the Roman period – 1st-3rd century BC, but very often the foundations of such mounds hide earlier tombs," Kisyov has told the Monitor daily.

He also mentions that chariots might be discovered buried in the periphery of the Maltepe mound because this was an Ancient Thracian custom.

The first ever excavations of the mound near Bulgaria’s Manole have been carried out with BGN 30,000 in funding from Maritsa Municipality. The archaeologists have been trying to preserve the mound as much as possible so that it can be exhibited in situ as part of the future open-air museum.

Lead archaeologist Kostadin Kisyov, a long-time researcher of Ancient Thrace, made headlines in 2015 with the discoveries of a 1st century AD inscription (which turned out to be a quote from Solon’s “Prayer to the Muses”), and the burial of an Ancient Thracian princess in a Thracian burial mound near Tatarevo. Before that, in 2013, he discovered an Ancient Thracian war helmet with mythology motifs in a Thracian burial mound in Brestovitsa.

The Maltepe mound is about 100 meters in diameter and 28 meters tall. Photo: Maltepe.bg

The Maltepe mound is about 100 meters in diameter and 28 meters tall. Photo: Maltepe Project

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 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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