Ancient Roman Gold Necklace Discovered by Archaeologists in Ancient City Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria

The 4th century AD gold necklace discovered in the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria was likely produced by a jeweler in Rome. Photo: TV grab from the Bulgarian National Television

A sophisticated Ancient Roman gold necklace from the 4th century AD has been discovered by the team of archaeologists excavating the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica, whose ruins are located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria.

Heraclea Sintica is thought to have been founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon in 305-297 BC, who also founded Thessaloniki, today in Greece.

The city was named “Heraclea" after the mythical Ancient Greek hero Heracles, more popularly known today as Hercules, and “Sintica" after the Thracian tribe of the Sintians who inhabited the valley of the Struma River.

Since 2007, the ncient city has been excavated by a team led by Ass. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, Director of the Petrich Museum of History.

The newly discovered Ancient Roman gold necklace, which is over 1,600 years old, has been found amid the ruins of what was a store on the city’s central square, which was later used as a home.

The discovery has been completely unexpected by the archaeological team because precious metal finds from are usually discovered in necropolises, in graves of prominent people, rather than inside cities.

That is why finding the well-preserved Roman gold necklace has come to a surprise in what was the downtown of Heraclea Sintica, the Bulgarian National Television reports.

The Ancient Roman gold necklace found in Heraclea Sintica is said to be an intricate but common work. Photos: TV grabs from the Bulgarian National Television

The 4th century AD gold necklace is 48 cm long, and weighs 49.28 grams. It is believed to have been made by a jewelry atelier in Rome itself.

“The necklace was lost at the end of the 4th century, and since it seems rather new and rather well preserved, it was probably produced in the 4th century," says lead archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski.

“We have no reason to assume that this was a long-time family jewel made in the 3rd century, for example, and passed on from mother to daughter," he adds.

No other artifacts from the ancient store where the necklace has been found indicate that it itself might have been a jeweler’s shop.

“If this had been a place for jewelry, we would have found other adornments as well, and some tools. But we are finding in what had been turned into a home towards the end of the 4th century AD," Vagalinski explains.

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Lead archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski shows the newly discovered Ancient Roman gold necklace. Photo: TV grab from BNT

It is noted that the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city named after Hercules suffered several earthquakes during the eight centuries when it existed.

By the end of the 4th century AD, it had lost much of its glory, which is also visible from the fact that the one-time main square stores were then used as everyday homes.

The discovery of a millstone for turning wheat into flour is one find that testifies to this development.

The newly discovered Roman gold necklace is said to be typical of the period between the 2nd and 5th century AD. Such necklaces were produced by specialized jewelers in the capital of the Roman Empire.

“This is a typical Roman product, of the Istmion type. These were made in large ateliers in the capital, and that’s why their craftsmanship was so uniform," the lead archaeologist says.

“What really impresses us is that the city [of Heraclea Sintica] – up until its very last moments, the end of the 4th century AD, – had residents who were well off, and who continued to live and work there," Vagalinski elaborates.

The ruins of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near today’s Bulgarian town of Petrich. Photo: Petrich Museum of History

Photos: TV grabs from the Bulgarian National Television

His team hypothesizes that the Roman gold necklace might have been lost by its owner during the panic in the last earthquake which ultimately destroyed Heraclea Sintica.

The archaeologists have found no human remains of people who died in that or earlier earthquakes meaning that they either managed to escape, or the bodies of any casualties might have been removed.

The lack of human remains, however, makes it possible that the owner of the gold necklace may have survived the final earthquake which put an end to Heraclea Sintica.

The necklace is to be exhibited for the public at the Petrich Museum of History. For the second year in a row, Petrich Municipality has funded the summer excavations of the ruins of Heraclea Sintica with a total of BGN 30,000 (EUR 15,000).

Shortly after its discovery, the gold find has been shown to tourists from Bulgaria and Switzerland visiting the ancient ruins.

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Background Infonotes:

Heraclea Sintica was an Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria. It was the center of the ancient region of Sintica along the Struma River, which was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Sintians.

The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was mentioned by Homer, Herodotos, and Thycudides in their works. It was founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon (r. 305-297 BC), who also founded Thessaloniki.

In the not so distant past, the location of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was a matter of contention between archaeologists from Bulgaria and Greece.

In 2002, Bulgarian archaeologists managed to identify the city for sure after they found a Latin inscription dated back to 308 AD, in which Roman Emperor Galerius (r. 293-305 AD as Caesar, 305-311 AD as Augustus) addressed the local urban citizens of Heraclea Sintica responding to a plea to restore their lost civil rights.

Heraclea Sintica had a civic basilica (found in 2016) which is 22 meters long and 16 meters wide, and parts of its walls have been preserved up to a height of 5 meters.

Its ruins are located right near the ruins of a similar public building which is some 700 years older (dating back to the 4th century BC, i.e. the early Hellenistic period), and was discovered in 2015.

In the Late Antiquity, the city of Heraclea Sintica gradualy waned and was replaced as a regional center by the nearby city of Parthicopolis founded by the Romans in the 2nd century AD (today’s town of Sandanski, previously known as Sveti Vrach).

In recent years, Heraclea Sintica has been excavated by Ass. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, Director of the Petrich Museum of History.

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