Marvelous 10th Century Preslav Gold Treasure Displayed after Conservation in Germany as Bulgaria’s Veliki Preslav Marks 40th Year since Its Discovery

The world-famous gold necklace from the 10th century Preslav Gold Treasure from Veliki Preslav, capital of the First Bulgarian Empire. Photos: Radio Shumen

The Preslav Gold Treasure, the greatest known treasure from the Golden Age (9th – 10th century) of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) described by some experst as the richest find of jewels from medieval Europe, has been exhibited in the town of Veliki Preslav in Northeast Bulgaria on the occasion of the 40th anniversary since its discovery.

The Preslav Gold Treasure was discovered by accident on April 11, 1978, in an area known as Kastana located right to the northwest of the ruins of the city of Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav") in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, which was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) from 893 until 970.

The Preslav Gold Treasure is a medieval Bulgarian gold treasure from the 10th century, the height of the First Bulgarian Empire, consisting of over 170 items, almost all of them impressive jewelry art pieces. At least part of them are known to have been made in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria’s neighbor to the south at the time.

The jewels from the Preslav Gold Treasure seem to have been hidden during an escape attempt in the second half of the 10th century. They were placed in a leather bag or a leather-upholstered casket, which was then hidden in the stone kiln of a dugout outside the fortress walls of the medieval Bulgarian capital of Veliki Preslav.

In the fall of 1977, a deeper plowing of the fields in the area broke the kiln and scattered the jewels now known as the Preslav Gold Treasure.

The medieval Byzantine-made gold jewels remained scattered across the field during the winter of 1977 – 1978.

In the spring of 1978, local people found many of the jewels, and at first tried to keep them but the discovery was eventually leaked to the local police, and the 10th century jewels made their way to the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology. It is unknown if all of the treasure jewels were turned in.

Part of the artifacts were found during the ensuing rescue excavations which covered an area of 400 square meters, and were led by renowned archaeologist Totyu Totev (1930 – 2015). All the soil from the designated area was sifted by hand in order to avoid missing even the smallest artifact, and also because of the lack of proper metal detectors at the time.

For the past 15 months, the Preslav Gold Treasure has undergone conservation and restoration procedures at the Roman – Germanic Central Museum (Roemisch – Germanisches Zentralmuseum) in Mainz, Germany.

The Preslav Gold Treasure from the First Bulgarian Empire contains over 170 artifacts, most of them jewels made of 14-karat and 22-karat gold and various types of precious and semi-precious stones. Photos: Radio Shumen

The renewed exhibition of the marvelous medieval Bulgarian gold treasure in its home, the treasury hall of the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology, which was specially modernized 20 years ago, has been accompanied with a celebration of the 40th anniversary since the treasure’s discovery, Radio Shumen reports.

The exhibition comes shortly before the exhibition of the Preslav Gold Treasure for the global public in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, in an exhibition entitled “The Age of Bulgarian Tsars", which is to be opened at the end of May or in early June 2018.

As part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary since the treasure’s discovery, Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology Director Plamen Slavov has opened a photo exhibition showing pictures from the time the discovery was made in 1978.

Speeches and presentations have been given by leading Bulgarian archaeologists who participated in the discovery of the Preslav Gold Treasure 40 years ago as young scholars: Assoc. Prof. Stoycho Bonev (who made headlines in 2016 with the discovery a 10th century gold jewel in the shape of a heart in Veliki Preslav), Prof. Stoyan Vitlyanov, and Prof. Konstantin Totev.

The only part of the Preslav Gold Treasure which is still undergoing conservation and restoration are the five gold tablets from a tiara with depictions of Emperor Alexander the Great and griffins from the Greek mythology and simargls, also known senmurvs or dog-birds, from the Persian mythology.

The five gold tablets from the tiara are presently at the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and are undergoing restoration by Bulgaria’s leading expert in the field, Prof. Veselina Inkova. They will be brought to Veliki Preslav on May 3, 2018.

“I can see the difference [from before the conservation of the Preslav Gold Treasure in Germany," museum director Slavov is quoted as saying.

“This conservation included a clean-up of the metal, which includes gold, gold-coated silver, silver, and bronze, strengthening the glass enamel, and solidifying the decorative stones and the pearls," he adds.

“Back at the time when the treasure was discovered, part of the finds were strengthened by in a crass way. No the material used back then has been removed, and finer techniques have been used for that. Let’s not forget that technology has advanced substantially for the past 40 years since the treasure was found," the archaeologist elaborates.

The artifacts from the Preslav Gold Treasure date from the 9th-10th century and the 3rd-7th century AD. Photos: Radio Shumen

One of the scholars who participated in the rescue excavations following the discovery of the Preslav Gold Treasure by locals in Northeast Bulgaria back in April 1978, Prof. Stoyan Vitlyanov, has revealed details about the discovery.

“The treasure was found in a field prepared for vines planting by a group of women, agricultural workers, who at first divided among themselves. However, at one point each one of them started envying the others over who took what, and someone reported the finding to the police. The police rounded all of them up, all of them confessed who took what, these were controlled confessions, and then the proper archaeological excavations started on the spot where the treasure was found," Vitlyanov recalls.

“I remember that we had windy weather, there was dust all over the place, as if the gods didn’t want to part with the treasure. For about a month, we studied the terrain, and we collected whatever had left," he adds.

“The Preslav Gold Treasure was actually hidden in a casket put in the kiln of a dugout. A very interesting hiding place but perhaps the person who wanted to hide it was in a hurry, and thought this kiln to be best suited for the purpose, or assumed that nobody would be looking for it there. That is how the treasure remained outside the Outer City of the Veliki Preslav Fortress, and made it all the way to our age," Vitlyanov says.

“It is a very peculiar feeling to be a discoverer, to touch such a thing right after it had been found. [During the excavations] we organized ourselves so that whenever someone found something, they showed it to the others, and passed it around, and after that it was weighed, documented, and then entered into the museum fund," the archaeologist recalls.

The 40th anniversary since the discovery of the Preslav Gold Treasure is marked by its conservation in Germany and its upcoming exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Photos: Radio Shumen

At the end of May 2018, the Preslav Gold Treasure is to be showcased for the global public in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, in an exhibition entitled “The Age of Bulgarian Tsars".

This is going to be Bulgaria’s second archaeological exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, in the past three years, after the successful 2015 exhibition of some of Bulgaria’s top treasures from Ancient Thrace entitled “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria" (also translated as “The Saga of the Thracian Kings"; in French: L’Épopée des rois thraces Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie).

Learn more about the Preslav Gold Treasure in the Background Infonotes below!

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Also check out these stories about recent treasure discovery anniversaries in Bulgaria:

Bulgaria’s Vratsa Celebrates 30th Anniversary since Discovery of Ancient Thracian Rogozen Silver Treasure

Bulgarian Archaeology Marks 50 Years since Discovery of Ancient Thracian Gold Treasure from Mogilanska Mound in Vratsa

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

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Bulgars: Webster’s Timeline History, 354 – 2007

A history of the first Bulgarian empire

2: Byzantium, Pliska, and the Balkans (Millennium Studies)

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Top 12 Places to Visit in Bulgaria – Top 12 Bulgaria Travel Guide (Includes Sofia, Sunny Beach, Nessebar, Plovdiv, Belogradchik & More)

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

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Background Infonotes:

The Preslav Gold Treasure was discovered by accident on April 11, 1978, in an area known as Kastana located right to the northwest of the ruins of the city of Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav") in today’s Northeast Bulgaria, which was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018) from 893 until 970.

The Preslav Gold Treasure is a medieval Bulgarian gold treasure from the 10th century, the height of the First Bulgarian Empire, consisting of over 170 items, , almost all of them impressive jewelry art pieces, either entirely made of 14-karat and 22-karat gold, or gold-plated. At least part of them are believed to have been made in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria’s neighbor to the south at the time.

The jewels from the Preslav Gold Treasure seem to have been hidden during an escape attempt in the second half of the 10th century. They were placed in a leather bag or a leather-upholstered casket, which was then hidden in the stone kiln of a dugout outside the fortress walls of the medieval Bulgarian capital of Veliki Preslav.

In the fall of 1977, a deeper plowing of the fields in the area broke the kiln and scattered the jewels now known as the Preslav Gold Treasure.

The medieval Byzantine-made gold jewels remained scattered across the field during the winter of 1977 – 1978.

In the spring of 1978, local people found many of the jewels, and at first tried to keep them but the discovery was eventually leaked to the local police, and the 10th century jewels made their way to the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology. Yet, it is unknown if all of the treasure jewels were turned in.

The jewels were discovered on April 11, 1978, by a group of women, agricultural workers at the local Communist Era collective farm, who went out in the fields to plant vines. The first of them to find an artifact from the treasure, its world-famous necklace, was Mariya Vicheva.

“The first time I saw it, I started shaking [with emotion]. I told myself, “What is this thing supposed to be?", Vicheva comments for BNR recalling her discovery 40 years ago.

In addition to the story of its hiding, other mysterious surrounding the 10th century Preslav Gold Treasure include the questions why it contains church vessels and coins in addition to the gold jewels, and who its owner was, as none of the artifacts bears any clues about that.

Part of the artifacts were found during the ensuing rescue excavations which covered an area of 400 square meters, and were led by renowned archaeologist Totyu Totev (1930 – 2015).

All the soil from the designated area was sifted by hand in order to avoid missing even the smallest artifact, and also because of the lack of proper metal detectors at the time.

The Preslav Gold Treasure remains one of the richest and most glamorous finds from the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

The spot where it was discovered was a settlement, a suburb of the 10th century Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav, which was abandoned after it had been burned down, most probably during the invasion of the Kievan Rus forces in 969 or the Byzantine invasion of 970 – 971 (see below). It is located about 3.5 kilometers (2.1 miles) northwest of the imperial palaces of Veliki Preslav.

The part of the Preslav Gold Treasure which has made it to the museum contains a necklace, part from a second necklace, parts from a tiara, several various massive earrings, rings, gold appliques for clothes decoration, precious stones and pearls, gold and gold-plated buttons, silver spoons, parts of a cup, horn metal decorations, and 15 silver Byzantine coins – of Byzantine Emperors Constantine VII the Purple-born (Porphyrogenitus) (r. 913 – 959) and Romanus II (r. 959 – 963).

The main necklace, the partially preserved tiara, and several of the earrings were made using the very expensive and complex jewelry technique of glass enamel. They are believed to have been produced by the imperial jewelry atelier in Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium.

The making of the entire treasure has necessitated the application of all complex goldsmiths’ techniques such as granulation and filigree.

The tiara has been preserved only partly – through a total of five tablets that were part of it. Its central tablet features an image of Macedon Emperor Alexander I the Great (r. 336 – 323 BC) riding on a chariot drawn by two griffins. Two of the other gold tablets feature griffins, one with an eagle’s head, and one with a lion’s head, creatures from the Greek mythology. The last two tablets, however, feature simargls, also known senmurvs or dog-birds, which are usually associated with the Persian mythology. Plamen Slavov, Director of the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology in 2018, referred to this combination of Greek and Persian mythology motifs in the same necklace as “containing a cultural clash".

The famous necklace of the Preslav Gold Treasure consists of 13 rectangular gold tablets connected with chainlets, and seven hanging medallions shaped like drops. The necklace weighs a total of 227 grams.

The central medallion features a captivating depiction of the praying Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary). This type of iconography depiction in which the mother of Jesus Christ is shown with arms in ornate position, with Christ enclosed in a circle in her womb, is known as Oranta, i.e. “praying", or Panagia, i.e. “of the sign" in Ancient Greek.

The other necklace medallions feature images of saints, birds, and floral motifs depicted with colorful enamel. The medallions are framed with strings of black pearls.

The Preslav Gold Treasure is the largest archaeological find presenting the riches of the First Bulgarian Empire from its Golden Age (a term referring to political and military might, and even more so to cultural and literary development).

The jewels from the Preslav Gold Treasure were a small part from the so called palace “chain armor", that is, the treasury containing the insignia of imperial power in Veliki Preslav.

The story of the Preslav Gold Treasure could be connected precisely with the destruction of the city of Veliki Preslav by Byzantium (and Kievan Rus), a heavy blow dealt to the First Bulgarian Empire in 970 – 971.

It was the time of the end of the long reign of Bulgarian Tsar Petar I (r. 927-969) which was known as a period of relatively stability but also relative decline of the huge First Bulgarian Empire.

In 967, Byzantine Emperor started a war against Bulgaria, and managed to revoke the annual tribute that Byzantium had been paying to the First Bulgarian Empire. Subsequently, he bribed with 15,000 pounds of gold Knyaz Sviatoslav I of Kievan Rus to literally “stab Bulgaria in the back".

Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas was assassinated in 969 by his general, nephew, and successor, Emperor John I Tzimiskes.

Kievan Knyaz Sviatoslav I’s highly successful invasion weakened the First Bulgarian Empire to such an extent that in 971 Nicephorus II’s successor, Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) was able to capture the Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav, stripped the captive Bulgarian Tsar Boris II (r. 970-971) of his imperial symbols, and proclaimed the annexation of Bulgaria.

The First Bulgarian Empire, however, survived for 50 more years, until 1018, under the leadership of general and later Tsar Samuil (r. 997-1014) shifting its power center to the southwest, with its capital in Ohrid (today in the Republic of Macedonia).

Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes is known to have captured Bulgaria’s insignia of imperial power. It seems likely that during the invasion of the Byzantine forces, and their march on Veliki Preslav someone tried and succeeded in hiding part of the Bulgarian imperial treasure in kiln in a dugout outside of the city. The Preslav Gold Treasure remained hidden there for over a millennium.

The Preslav Gold Treasure is part of the collection of the Veliki Preslav Museum of Archaeology.

“Data from the excavations and the presence of coins of Byzantine Emperors Constantine VII and Romanus II give grounds to date the hiding of the [Preslav Gold] Treasure to after the middle of the 10th century, and to link that with the devastation of Veliki Preslav by Knyaz Sviatoslav I of Kievan Rus in 969, and the city’s capture by Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes in 971," the Veliki Preslav Museum says.

In 2017 – 2018, the Preslav Gold Treasure underwent conservation at the Roman – Germanic Central Museum (Roemisch – Germanisches Zentralmuseum) in Mainz, Germany.

In 2016, Bulgarian archaeologist Stoycho Bonev (who took part in the Preslav Gold Treasure digs in 1978) while excavating a site in Veliki Preslav discovered a 10th century gold jewel in the shape of a heart decorated with a five-color enamel, which may have belonged to the wife of Bulgarian Tsar Petar I (r. 927-969). It is unknown if it should be associated in any way with the Preslav Gold Treasure.

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