Archaeologists Discover Bronze Dionysus, Eros, Cupid Statuettes from Ancient Serdica in Downtown of Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia
Several bronze statuettes depicting ancient deities Dionysus, Eros, and Cupid are among the most intriguing artifacts discovered during the 2017 archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Serdica in the downtown of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia.
As the digs were still in progress at the end of last fall, the archaeological team hypothesized they may have discovered the 3rd-4th century AD (Late Roman) coin mint of Serdica.
The latest findings are based on the excavations over the past three years of ruins of ancient Serdica on the St. Nedelya Square in downtown Sofia, right in front of the five-star Sofia Hotel Balkan (formerly the Sofia Sheraton) and the historic St. Nedelya (Holy Sunday) Cathedral.
The excavations there have been carried out since the fall of 2015 by Assist. Prof. Veselka Katsarova as the team leader, and Shezhana Goryanova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology and Alexander Stanev from the Sofia Regional Museum of History (also known as the Museum of Sofia History) as deputy team leaders. Archaeologists Vladislav Todorov, Elena Nikolova, and Kalina Petkova from the National Gallery of Arts also participated in the excavations, which have been funded by Sofia Municipality.
The digs had originally been launched in search of the Roman Forum (public square) of ancient Serdica but instead surprised the archaeologists by revealing the ruins of an enormous building located right where the Forum had been thought to have been.
In addition to the huge building, in 2015, the archaeologists discovered an Ancient Roman silver coin treasure from the 2nd-3rd century AD. The coin hoard found in a ceramic vessel consisted of a total of 2,974 silver and 5 bronze coins.
Furthermore, during the 2017 digs on the St. Nedelya Square, the archaeologists discovered no Ancient Thracian traces on the said location but for the first time discovered prehistoric finds in downtown Sofia which date back to the Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age) period, some 7,000 years ago.
They have been shown to the public for the first time as part of the exhibits in the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology exhibition in the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
The annual exhibition at the National Museum of Archaeology traditionally presents Bulgaria’s most interesting finds from the past archaeological season. The 2017 exhibition can be seen in the Museum in downtown Sofia from February 16 until April 1.
Those include one larger statuette of Dionysus, a smaller depiction of Cupid, and two statuettes of Eros. They are dated to the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century AD.
The Eros statuettes are in fact the top parts of what is hypothesized to have been the legs of a candelabrum (candle holder), with the bottom parts shaped as lion legs.
One of the Eros statuettes are even featured on one of the official posters for the 2017 Bulgarian Archaeology exhibition.
(Another of exhibition’s official posters features the medieval nephrite belt buckle from China likely brought by the Mongols (Tatars) and discovered in the Kaliakra Fortress on the Black Sea cape of the same name.)
During the 2017 excavations of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Serdica on the St. Nedelya Square in downtown Sofia, the archaeological team’s goal was to research further the already excavated area of 700 square meters (over 7,500 square feet).
Most of the area in question is covered by the ruins of the already mentioned large public building – hypothesized to have been a mint in the Late Roman period, an Ancient Roman street running east to west, and three cellars from the time of Bulgaria’s National Revival (18th-19th century) (when the country was still part of the Ottoman Empire).
The western part of the large Roman public building had one large hall divided in three, while the eastern part was occupied by four square rooms. In then, at a depth of about 2 meters (appr. 7 feet), the archaeologists have come across a large number of Roman (2nd-3rd century AD and Late Roman (end of 3rd-4th century AD) finds, such as pottery, pipes, coins, metal and bone items.
The earlier archaeological structures underneath the large building were also Roman, from the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD.
The archaeologists have also excavated in full a home from the Ottoman Era, more precisely, the 15th-16th century, with an area of about 25 square meters (appr. 270 square feet) and well preserved wooden floor and roof structures, which was dug up into one of the rooms from the large Antiquity building.
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The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica is the precursor of the contemporary Bulgarian capital Sofia. The oldest traces of civilized life in Sofia are from a Neolithic settlement dated back to 5000 BC located in today’s Slatina Quarter. There are also traces of life from the Charcolithic (also known as Aeneolithic or Copper Age) and the Bronze Age.
After the Bronze Age, the Sofia Valley was inhabited by the Ancient Serdi who are believed to have been a Celtic tribe (some Bulgarian scholars hypothesize that the Serdi were a Thracian tribe, or a Thracian tribe which assimilated a smaller Celtic tribe while keeping its original name).
The name of the Serdi tribe gave the name to the Ancient Thracian settlement called Serdica or Sardica. The city of Serdica was conquered briefly in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.
Around 29 BC, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. It became a municipium, the center of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), and saw extensive development with many new buildings. It is known to have been the favorite place of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great who used to say, “Serdica is my Rome”.
In 343 AD, the Council of Serdica was held in the city, in the 4th century church that preceded the current 6th century St. Sofia Basilica. In 447 AD, the city was destroyed by the Huns. During the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD), a new fortress wall was built whose remains have been excavated and can be seen today. This is when it was renamed Triaditsa.
It became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) in 809 AD when it was conquered by Bulgaria’s Khan Krum, and was known by its Slavic-Bulgarian name Sredets until the 14th century when it took the name of the St. Sofia Basilica.
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