Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni Marks 40 Years since Discovery of Large Ancient Roman Silver Coin Treasure

The discovery of the 8 kg hoard of Ancient Roman silver coins at the Roman ceramics factory near Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni in July 2016. Photo: Pavlikeni Museum of History

One of the largest hoards of Ancient Roman silver coins to have ever been found in Bulgaria was discovered at a Roman ceramics factory and villa estate in the northern town of Pavlikeni 40 years ago.

The treasure of Ancient Roman silver coins dating back from the 1st – 2nd century AD, and weighing a combined total of over 8 kg, was found on July 16, 1976, during archaeological excavations led by late archaeologist Bogdan Sultov.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary since this impressive archaeological discovery, its story has been told by Kalin Chakarov, archaeologist at the Pavlikeni Museum of History, in an article for the local daily “Pavlikenski Glas”.

Chakarov points out that the Roman silver coin hoard found in 1976 appears to have been closely connected with the history of the Ancient Roman pottery making center, a cultural landmark which is presently being restored in a project with an EUR 740,000 grant from the Norway Grants / European Economic Area (EEA) Grants, a development aid mechanism of the governments of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

The Ancient Roman ceramics production center near Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni has an area of 139 decares (app. 34.3 acres).

It was part of the villa estate of a Roman military veteran, and is dated to the end of the 1st century AD – the beginning of the 2nd century AD. It was destroyed in 170 AD by the Costoboci, then rebuilt, and ultimately abandoned for good after 235 AD, possibly because of the barbarian invasion by the Goths and Carpi in 238-239 AD.

On July 16, 1976, two men working on the archaeological excavations led by Bogdan Sultov, Stefan Krastev and Boris Minev, dug up a ceramic pot covered up with a bowl.

The pot turned out to contain a total of 3,728 silver coins weighing 2-2.5 grams each for a combined total of over 8 kg.

Chakarov explains that initially the then lead archaeologist Bogdan Sultov assumed the coin treasure had been buried in the middle of the 3rd century AD, during a barbarian invasion of the Goths.

A few years after the coin hoard discovery, however, with the coins having been properly cleaned up and studied in a lab, Bulgarian numismatist Marko Tsochev found out that the latest coin dates back to 166 AD, a time when the Roman Empire was ruled by Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD) and Lucius Verus (r. 161-169 AD) as Co-Emperors, Chakarov notes.

It turned out, though, that the Roman silver coin hoard discovered in Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni had been collected over a long period of time, with the earliest coins in it dating back to the period before the Romans established the provinces of Moesia (ca. 12 AD), and Thracia (Thrace) (45 AD), and even back to the time when Rome was still technically a republic.

Out of the total of 3,728 coins in the treasure, 724 were found to be from the reign of Roman Emperor Antonius Pius (r. 138-161 AD), 686 from Trajan’s reign (r. 98-117 AD), 578 from Hadrian’s (117-138 AD), 238 from Vespasian’s (r. 69-79), and 227 from Domitian’s (81-96 AD).

“Logic led the researchers to the assumption that somebody started to save off in the last decades of the 1st century AD, and added the last coin in 166 AD at the earliest,” says archaeologist Kalin Chakarov.

He reminds the story of the Roman veteran’s villa estate located in an area called “Varbovski Livadi” (“Willow Meadows”) near today’s town of Pavlikeni in Central North Bulgaria, which was built at the end of the 1st century AD by a veteran with initials T.F.G.

Several decades later, the estate emerged as one of the region’s largest pottery making centers, known today as the Ancient Roman Ceramics Center, which is presently being developed as a prime spot for cultural tourism by the local authorities.

The ceramics production there covered everything, from household vessels to child toys, votive tablets, bricks, tiles, and ceramic pipes.

The owner of the ceramics factory sold its produce not just in the region of the major nearby Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum but also, based on archaeological finds, north of the Danube and as far away as the Bulgaria’s today’s northern Black Sea coast.

Chakarov reminds that at the end of the 160s, the Roman province of Moesia Inferior was attacked by the Costoboci tribe who burned down a large number of settlements on their path.

The Costoboci are believed to have taken advantage of a relocation of Roman military forces when the Fifth Macedonian Legion (Legio V Macedonica) was moved from the military camp of Troesmis in today’s Eastern Romania to the military camp of Potaissa in today’s Northwest Romania.

Other Roman detachments were also shifted from the east to the west, i.e. from the Lower to the Middle Danube region during the so called Marcomannic Wars (ca. 166 – 180 AD) that the Roman Empire waged against Germanic and Sarmatian tribes.

“The Costoboci used this “gap” and invaded south of the Danube through the region of Dobrudzha. After that, they headed west, incurring damages in around the Roman camp Novae (today’s town of Svishtov), and attacked the city of Nicopolis ad Istrum which didn’t have fortress walls yet,” Charakov explains.

He adds that because of the Costoboci invasions, a number of ancient cities in today’s Bulgaria such as Serdica (Sofia), Augusta Traiana (Stara Zagora), and Philipopolis (Plovdiv) as well as Nicopolis ad Istrum, were fortified with fortress walls after 170 AD, in time for future barbarian invasions.

“The [Costoboci] invaders also reached the region between today’s Pavlikeni and the town of Varbovka, and destroyed the Roman villa and the ceramics production center. This was probably when the owner of the coin hoard put his savings into a pot, and buried it in the floor of a building in the estate with the thought of recovering the coins once the danger is no longer there. It seems that Fortuna, the goddess of happiness and luck, was not on the estate manager’s side. He never touched his money again which remained buried into the ground for another 1,810 years, until the moment when they were discovered during Bogdan Sultov’s excavations,” Chakarov elaborates.

He emphasizes that to this day the silver coin treasure found 40 years ago at the Ancient Roman ceramics production center near Pavlikeni remains one of the largest silver coin treasures from the Roman Age to have been found in Bulgaria.

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Coins from the pot discovered in 1976 can be seen at the Regional Museum of History in Veliko Tarnovo, whereas tourists can learn more by visiting the Ancient Roman ceramics factory near Pavlikeni which is the only open-air museum of its kind in Bulgaria, and welcomes visitors year-round.

The Ancient Roman ceramics factory in Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni recently made news headlines with the accidental discovery of a huge Roman gravestone with a Thracian Horseman relief. This led archaeologist Kalin Chakarov from the Pavlikeni Museum of History to start rescue excavations resulting in the discovery of a Roman tomb containing a gold amulet, among other artifacts.

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Roman ceramics factory and Roman military veteran’s villa near the town of Pavlikeni in Central Northern Bulgaria was found in 1971 by Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Sultov who excavated it for about a decade.

It is the best researched Ancient Roman ceramics factory in Southeast Europe. It also especially notable because today it has been turned into an open-air museum ceramics production during the Roman Era, featuring a large number of preserved ancient kilns as well as a restoration of the ancient manufacturing process housed in modern-day buildings made of ancient materials.

The Ancient Roman ceramics production center near Pavlikeni is located on a plot of 139 decares (app. 34.3 acres). It was part of the villa estate of a Roman military veteran, and is dated to the end of the 1st century AD.

The ceramic production started at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Archaeological excavations have revealed a total of 52 kilns for baking household and construction ceramics which was traded and sold in the entire region.

The Ancient Roman villa estate with its ceramic factory was destroyed in 170 AD by the Costoboci, then rebuilt, and ultimately abandoned for good after 235 AD, possibly because of the barbarian invasion by the Goths and Carpi in 238-239 AD.

Archaeologist Bogdan Sultov’s excavations of the Roman ceramic center near Pavlikeni were terminated in the 1979 (Sultov passed away in 1982), and were resumed only in the summer of 2014 with funding from Pavlikeni Municipality. In 2015, the Municipality and the Pavlikeni Museum of History won a EUR 736,000 grant for the partial restoration and rehabilitation of the site. In addition to Ancient Roman buildings and kilns, the excavations there have revealed numerous ceramic vessels, tools, jewelry, and even Ancient Roman child toys.

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