1,900-Year-Old Female Leather Shoes Unveiled for the First Time in Exhibition in Bulgaria’s Sliven

These female leather shoes made 1,900 years ago were discovered in Eastern Bulgaria in 2009. They were under restoration for several years before being presented to the public for the first time just before Christmas 2016. Photo: Sliven Regional Museum of History

A pair of rather well-preserved 1,900-year-old leather shoes discovered in the Sliven District in Eastern Bulgarian has been announced to the public for the first time in a new exhibition of the Sliven Regional Museum of History.

The female leather shoes from the Thracian – Roman period were discovered during archaeological excavations in 2009 but had never been presented to the public until now.

They are now showcased after several years of restoration together with other previously unseen archaeological artifacts in the new exhibition of the Regional Museum of History in the city of Sliven opened on December 20, 2016, by Museum Director Nikolay Sirakov.

All items on display were discovered in two burial mounds – Popova Mogila (“Priest’s Mound") near the town of Trapoklovo, and Zlatnata Mogila (“The Golden Mound") near the town of Chintulovo – by the team of archaeologist Diana Dimitrova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and archaeologists from the Sliven Museum.

The previously unseen archaeological finds date from the 5th century BC until the 2nd century AD.

Sliven Museum Director Nikolay Sirakov (middle) showing the 1,900-year-old female leather shoes to reporters. Photo: Sliven Regional Museum of History

“Certainly, the item to generate the greatest interest is a pair of lady’s leather shoes which is 1,900 years old," says the Sliven Museum in a statement.

“This is one of the few pairs [of ancient shoes] discovered during regular archaeological excavations in Bulgaria. It presents ancient female fashion during the Roman Age," it adds.

The nearly 2,000-year-old shoes are made of leather and textile, and are laced with bronze wire.

The other most intriguing previously unseen archaeological find on display in the new exhibition of the Sliven Regional Museum of History is a bronze hydria, a vessel for liquids, dating back to the 5th century BC.

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A 5th century BC bronze hydria, an ancient vessel for liquids, is the other top item in the exhibition of previously unseen archaeological finds in Bulgaria’s Sliven. Photo: Sliven Regional Museum of History

The landscape of Southern (and partly Northeast) Bulgaria is dotted with Ancient Thracian burial mounds.

The Romans had conquered all of the previously glorious Ancient Thrace south of the Danube by 46 AD, and subsequently the local Thracian aristocracy became well integrated into the Roman society.

Sliven History Museum Director Nikolay Sirakov (right) is seen opening of the exhibition of previously unseen archaeological finds including the ancient female leather shoes (visible in the foreground) and a 5th century BC hydria (seen in the background). Photo: Sliven Regional Museum of History

While unrelated to the newly unveiled finds, the most famous archaeological landmark of the city of Sliven in Eastern Bulgaria is the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress Tuida which is intriguing for many reasons, including a relatively well-preserved secret passage.

Learn more about the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

Тhe Tuida Fortress is a Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress located on the Hisarlaka Hill in the eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven.

It was first excavated in 1982 by archaeologists from the Sliven Regional Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The archaeologists have discovered there remains of a Late Iron Age Ancient Thracian settlement (6th-1st century BC) which in the Roman period turned into a market place; a 2nd-4th century Thracian settlement is cited in written sources as Tuida, Suida, or Tsoida. The name is believed to be of Thracian origin, though its precise ethymology is still unclear.

The Tuida Fortress was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD. It is known to have had a secret tunnel built in the 6th century AD leading to the Novoselska River located to the west, a tributary of the Tundzha River.

The Tuida Fortress avoided destruction during the invasion of the Goths in 378 AD but was destroyed in the invasions of the Huns in the 5th century AD. It was rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518 AD), preserving but also enhancing the original architecture of the fortress. The Tuida Fortress was ultimately destroyed around 598-599 AD, most probably during an invasion of Avars and Slavs.

The territory around today’s Bulgarian city of Sliven was made part of Bulgaria, i.e. of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), around 705 AD when Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel gained the Zagore Region south of the Balkan Mountains after he helped Byzantine Emperor Justinian II the Slit-nosed (Rhinotmetos or Rhinotmetus) (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) regain his throne in Constantinople. Thus, a Bulgarian settlement, whose name remains unknown, was built on the place of the Tuida Fortress. A lead seal of Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Mihail (r. 852-889 AD) has been found there.

The Bulgarians rebuilt the fortress walls and the aquaduct of Tuida, and erected new buildings inside the fortress that were covered with marble slabs produced by stone cutters in the then Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav"). Several bricks with an Ancient Bulgar sign (resembling “|Y|") have been found there. Written sources indicated that Tuida was the seat of a bishop from the 4th century AD onwards.

After the original excavations of the Tuida Fortress first started in 1982, they were resumed in 2004. The archaeological finds there include, in addition to Knyaz Boris I’s lead seal, a number of iron tools, ceramic vessels, ornaments, coins, and bones from 14 species of wild and domesticated birds including Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), great bustard (Otis tarda), and common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).

The archaeological excavations have revealed the fortress walls of Tuida, fortress towers and gates, remains of buildings, two marble pedestals dedicated to gods Apollo and Zeus which contain the name of the fortress as Tuida or Suida (known in written sources as Tsoida), a 3rd century AD inscription describing the settlement as a market place, a cult complex used between the 4th and the 13th century consisting of a three-nave one-apse Early Christian basilica and a unique baptistery decorated with murals and mosaics.

The ruins of a larger basilica have been found outside the fortress walls (which encompassed an area of about 40 decares (app. 10 acres)) which is taken to mean that the settlement was not confined by the fortified area but spanned outside of it.

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