Archaeologists Discover ‘Monumental’ Roman Era Tomb of Thracian Aristocrat in Bulgaria’s Largest Burial Mound

Archaeologists Discover ‘Monumental’ Roman Era Tomb of Thracian Aristocrat in Bulgaria’s Largest Burial Mound

The flat roof of the Roman Era Thracian tomb has been exposed by the archaeologists at about 5 meters beneath what was the Maltepe burial mound’s top. Photo: TV grab from Nova TV

A “monumental” Roman Era tomb from the 3rd century AD which most probably belongs to an Ancient Thracian aristocrat has been discovered by archaeologists excavating the Maltepe Burial Mound near the town of Manole, outside of the city of Plovdiv, in Southern Bulgaria.

Digging from the top down of what is described as the largest Ancient Thracian burial mound not only in Bulgaria, but also in the entire Balkan Peninsula, the archaeological team has exposed the roof of the Roman Era Thracian tomb, at a depth of about 5 meters below what used to be the mound’s top.

The researchers have found that the tomb is rectangular – 7 meters long and 7 meters wide, with scanners helping them establish that it is about 5 meters tall.

The team from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology led by its Director, Assoc. Prof. Kostadin Kisyov, is yet to locate and enter into the burial chamber underneath the Maltepe mound in order to try to figure out who was buried inside it.

However, according to Kisyov, judging by the way the Roman Era tomb was built, it appears to be identical, or at least very similar, to a tomb in the Roman city of Viminacium, the capital of the Roman province of Moesia Superior, which is believed to have belonged to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Carinus (r. 283 – 285 AD).

On the roof of the newly exposed tomb, the researchers have found large stone blocks, quadrae, which were most probably part of a monument that may have contained a statue of the buried aristocrat.

The roof of the Maltepe Roman Era Thracian tomb is a square measuring 7 by 7 meters. Photo: TV grab from Nova TV

A view of the already excavated top of the Maltepe burial mound near Bulgaria’s Manole, Plovdiv District. Photo: TV grab from bTV

This is what the Maltepe burial mound near Bulgaria’s Plovdiv looked like in 2017, at an earlier stage of its excavations. Photo: Maltepe Open-air Museum Project

The Maltepe Thracian Burial Mound is some 100 meters in diameter, and about 26 – 28 meters tall. It is made up of some 87,000 cubic meters of soil.

The Maltepe Mound is located in Southern Bulgaria, near the town of Manole, Maritsa Municipality, Plovdiv District, about 10 km away from the city of Plovdiv, the successor of ancient Philipopolis.

The team from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology has been researching the Ancient Thracian burial mound near Manole for over two years now.

In 2016, the archaeologists discovered in its periphery a total of five ritual pits containing inventories from the 2nd-3rd century AD.

Interestingly, as the researchers scanned the Maltepe mound and were able to confirm the existence of archaeological structures inside it, the research project attracted cultural heritage and tourism funding long before the actual excavations of the Roman Era Thracian tomb had begun.

In 2017, an information center and an open-air museum at the Maltepe Mound were completed in the Maltepe Open-Air Museum Project (official project website) which has been funded with a total of EUR 806,000 by the Norway Grants / European Economic Area (EEA) Grants, a development aid mechanism of the governments of Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

The present excavations of the Roman Era Thracian tomb inside the Maltepe burial mound near Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, with archaeologists now reaching the actual tomb, are the culmination of the research project, though it is far from over.

The newly discovered roof of the Roman Era Thracian tomb underneath the Maltepe burial mound. Photo: TV grab from bTV

The corners of the newly discovered Roman Era Thracian tomb are built of rectangular stone bricks, whereas the walls are built of crushed marble stones cemented with white mortar. Photo: TV grab from bTV

Large quadrae (stone blocks) have been discovered scattered on the tomb roof leading to the conclusion that it probably featured a monument, possibly with a statue of the person buried inside. Photo: TV grab from bTV

“We are still at the beginning [of the tomb’s excavation]. Right now, we are on the roof of the tomb which has been partly destroyed by treasure hunters’ digging. According to our calculations, we still have to go about 4.55 meters in depth in order to reach the actual burial chamber,” lead archaeologist Kisyov has said, as cited by BNT.

“In my view, the tomb belongs to a Thracian [Odrysian] noble who ruled [the city of] Philipopolis in the middle of the 3rd century AD, the time when power in the Roman Empire was assumed by emperors of common origin, who had not been connected to the elites,” he adds.

“The most typical indicator that the tomb itself is most probably connected with some of the Thracian rulers is its location inside a burial mound,” the researcher elaborates.

He refers to the model of the typical Ancient Thracian burial mounds from the time when the Thracians were independent, the most famous being from the 5th – 3rd century BC.

All of Ancient Thrace south of the Lower Danube, including what had been left of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), probably the most powerful kingdom of Ancient Thrace (which had been reduced to a client state of Rome by the early decades of the 1st century), was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD. The Thracian aristocracy and population become well integrated in the Roman society.

The Thracian (Getian / Dacian) regions north of the Lower Danube were conquered by the Romans under Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) in 106 AD, and were lost in 271 AD, while the rest of Ancient Thrace, south of the Danube, remained part of the Roman Empire and later the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) up until the expansion of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018) south of the Danube in 680-681 AD.)

“The dating of the tomb is determined not just by the architecture and the materials that were used but also by the five coins and the pottery that we have discovered scattered around the tomb as part of the burial rituals,” Kisyov explains.

A total of five 3rd century AD bronze Roman coins have been during the excavations of the tomb’s roof. Photo: TV grab from bTV

Pottery vessels and fragments discovered so far during the excavations of the top of the Maltepe burial mound near Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: TV grab from bTV

He doesn’t rule out the possibility that the tomb might contain murals or inscriptions providing clues as to who was buried there.

“The roof of the tomb is flat and built of crushed marble stones cemented together with white mortar. Only the corners are built of rectangular bricks which probably carry the weight of the entire structure,” the archaeologist adds.

He presumes that the inside of the Maltepe burial mound tomb might be arched. If that proves so, it would turn out to be similar to the huge Ancient Thracian tomb from the Roman Era located near Bulgaria’s Black Sea town of Pomorie which is famous precisely for its absolutely unique architecture of a beehive tomb or tholos (tholus) (referred to in Bulgarian as a “dome tomb”).

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.


The Odrysian Kingdom, a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrysai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD)), was one of the two most powerful states of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.


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