A richly decorated bronze hand of Ancient Thracian, Phrygian, and Roman Era god Sabazios from the Antiquity period has been shown to the public for the first time by its owner, the Regional Museum of History in the city of Gabrovo in Central Bulgaria.
The cult for Sabazios – depicted as a nomadic horseman god and heavenly father – of the Phrygians and the Thracians in Asia Minor and the Balkans, and was later also spread within the Roman Empire, all the more so after it conquered their territories in the 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
The bronze hand of the Antiquity deity Sabazios has been owned by the Gabrovo Regional Museum of History for a long time, but it has not been displayed as part of its permanent collection.
The Museum recently declared it its top cultural heritage artifact for December 2017 in order to attract attention, and, respectively, funding to its plan to organize a new permanent exhibition where the bronze hand of Sabazios and other top archaeological items will be featured.
“The idea of the team of the Gabrovo Regional History Museum is to make the hand of god Sabazios part of its future new exposition which necessitates very considerable funding. Until it can be procured, the Gabrovo Museum will be presenting its valuable exhibits as cultural heritage items," the Museum says in a statement.
The bronze hand of Phrygian and Thracian deity Sabazios was discovered by accident by a local plowman plowing a field in the town of Gradnitsa near the town of Sevlievo, Gabrovo District.
The weird artifact literally popped out of the ground, the bronze hand’s gesture resembling that of a Christian blessing: the thumb, the index finger, and the middle finger are upright, while the ring finger and the pinky are folded.
The bronze hand is hollow but is very richly decorated with various symbolic ornaments such as birds and mammals, and deities’ staffs or wands.
The discoverer of the Sabazios hand at first turned it over to the chairman of the local municipal council, and subsequently it was delivered to the Gabrovo Regional Museum of History.
The hand of Sabazios was discovered by accident in 1970 by a man plowing a field. Photo: Gabrovo Regional Museum of History
“Such an artifact is seldom discovered," the Museum says, adding that the hand of Sabazios was used for religious rituals by the Phrygians and the Thracians.
“Phrygia is in Asia Minor, in today’s Turkey. The cult for Sabazios was brought [to the Balkans] by Thracians who are known to have traveled [there] as early as the 13th-12th century BC," says archaeologist Rosen Yosifov with respect to the Thraco-Phrygian deity.
“With them, the worshipping of Sabazios came back to Thrace and then spread all over Europe," he adds.
Yosifov points out that the cult for god Sabazios was the strongest within the Roman Empire between the 1st century BC and the 4th century BC.
He notes further than hands of god Sabazois have been discovered from Britain, Italy, and Switzerland all the way to Russia, a testimony to how powerful the cult for the Thracian and Phrygian deity was.
In addition to the Sabazios hand owned by the Gabrovo Museum, four more such artifacts have been discovered in all of Bulgaria to date.
They are owned by the regional history museums in Stara Zagora, Pleven, and Dobrich, and the private collection “Ares". Each of them is about 12 centimeters tall (4.5 inches).
All of them are made of bronze except for the one owned by the Dobrich Regional Museum of History, which is made of ivory. However, it is not as richly decorated as the others.
It is noted that some contemporary researchers see a connection between the cult for Sabazios and Christianity. The Sabazios hand owned by the museum in Bulgaria’s Gabrovo is a case in hand because the position of its fingers reminds of a Christian blessing.
The ornaments on the hand testify to the mixing of various religious cults.
The cult for Sabazios is seen as having to do with rebirth. Photo: Gabrovo Regional Museum of History
Archaeologist Rosen Yosifov emphasizes that on top of the index and middle finger of the hand there is an image of lightning bolt, with an eagle on top of it. However, only the eagle’s legs have survived, the bird itself has broken off.
On top of the thumb of the Sabazios hand there is a depiction of a pine cone. On the inside of the hand, there is a flute and a ram’s head.
The two narrow sides of the artifact feature an olive branch and a caduceus, the staff with two snakes carried by ancient god Hermes from the Ancient Greek, Ancient Thracian and other ancient mythologies.
The back side of the Sabazios hand showcased to the public by the Gabrovo Museum features a tortoise, a frog, a lizard, a thyrsus (staff) of god Dionysus. A snake is also seen, crawling up from the base of the hand to its top.
The hollow bronze hand of Sabazios has a small opening in its lower section so that it can be placed on top of the staff of a Sabazios cult priest.
The Gabrovo Museum points out that the artifact’s main idea has to do with rebirth, leading to the mixing of cults for the earth and the sun through various depictions; Sabazios himself is deemed to transform from an earthly deity into a heavenly one.
“Rebirth and the passage through various states is presented in its purest form in Orphism," the Gabrovo Museum concludes, referring to the Orphic religion associated with the Ancient Thracians, Ancient Greeks, and the Hellenistic world, and the works of the mythical poet Orpheus, himself an Ancient Thracian.