Ancient Thracian ‘Bird Headed’ Warship Already under Construction in Bulgaria’s Kazanlak
A replica of a “bird headed” Ancient Thracian warship in already under construction in the Central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak, and will be launched the Koprinka Water Reservoir, whose bottom harbors the ruins of Seuthopolis, the glorious capital of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom.
The Thracian warship replica is being built by Enochfilm Studios led by Atanas Dimitrov, together with Kazanlak Municipality, as part of a project for experimental sailing and archaeology and for boosting cultural tourism entitled “Archaeworld – in the Footsteps of the Great”.
Once completed, the Thracian warship will sail in the large artificial lake near Kazanlka, the Koprinka Water Reservoir.
The ruins of Seuthopolis were flooded in the 1950s by the Bulgarian communist regime precisely for the creation of the Koprinka, one of the largest water reservoirs in the country.
Before they were submerged, the ruins of Seuthopolis, the capital of likely the most powerful Thracian kingdom, that of the Odrysians (Odrysae), were thoroughly excavated by archaeologists.
A large-scale project exists for the “resurfacing” of Seuthopolis by walling it off from the waters of the artificial lake, and thus making it accessible for tourists on the bottom of the lake but its realization is nowhere in sight because of huge cost estimated at tens of millions of euros.
Seuthopolis and the Koprinka Water Reservoir are located in the Kazanlak Valley in the geographic center of Bulgaria, also known as the Rose Valley, and the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings – because of the numerous Ancient Thracian burial mounds with tombs and other archaeological sites.
Thus, the replica of an Ancient Thracian warship is expected to become of the greatest cultural tourism attractions in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings.
The Thracian warship replica that is being built is 19 meters long and 4.25 meters wide at its widest point. It is estimated to weigh approximately 3.5 metric tons (or up to 10 metric tons, according to other reports).
It will be powered by both wind, with a single large sail on its single mast, and by rowers, and will have a crew of 18.
It will be symmetrical, in the sense that it will have no real bow or stern, its ends will be identical and it will be able to sail forwards and backwards without having to make a turn.
The Ancient Thracian warship replica from the artificial lake where the Ancient Thracian Odrysian capital Seuthopolis is submerged will be “bird headed”. Both its tips will end with a bird head.
According to the different reports, the bird heads will be made either of wood and the dyed with gold paint, or of bronze.
Their images will be based on a bird image from an Ancient Thracian helmet believed to have belonged to Odrysian King Seuthes III (r. 331 – 300 BC).
The goal of the initiative for building the Ancient Thracian warship replica is to resurrect the skill of the Thracians to use the rivers for active commercial and cultural exchange, and for political and territorial conquests, according to Kazanlak Municipality.
The vessel is supposed to be made entirely of wood, while its sole sail is to be woven out of hemp and cotton which were crops grown by the Ancient Thracians.
“The ship is [being] made out of the materials that the Ancient Thracians used to make their own ships. That is, the entire skeleton of vessel is made of oak. Its ribs are made of naturally crooked tree trunks… The keel is made of a whole tree trunk, nothing has been added to it, and everything has been carved by hand in order to create this unique form,” project initiator Atanas Dimitrov has told BNT.
The design of the Ancient Thracian warship is said to be based on in-depth research of a wide range of ancient artifacts, including a stele discovered in 1965 near the town of Razlog in Southwest Bulgaria depicting a ship, one of the steles from the 2nd century BC Ancient Thracian sun shrine at Stolovatets.
One of them is a symmetrical ship like the one that is being recreated, although it is unclear whether its tips are decorated with bird heads or with snake heads. The Razlog stele is now part of the collection of the National Museum of History in Sofia.
The Thracian warship replica’s design is also influenced by the murals of the Medinet Habu mortuary temple of Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III in Luxor, Egypt, which depict sea battles between the Egyptians and the “Sea Peoples” during his reign.
While it is unknown if the Ancient Thracians might have been among the “Sea Peoples”, who fought against Ramesses III, and are depicted in the Medinet Habu murals, Dimitrov argues that their vessels must have been very similar.
“In shipbuilding, the construction principles and the silhouette of the vessels changed very slowly so it is very likely that the ships of the Ancient Thracians looked that way,” the author of the Thracian warship reconstruction project says, as cited by local news site Kazanlak.com.
“The ship is symmetrical and can sail on rivers and in the sea. And back then, the Tundzha, Maritsa, and Struma (large rivers in Southern Bulgaria – editor’s note) were large navigable rivers,” he adds.
“The place around here [the Kazanlak Valley] used to be a huge oak forest, even he Crusaders from the Fourth Crusade wrote about it, and that is precisely why the ship is built of oak,” Dimitrov explains.
Back in 2017, the name of the Thracian warship replica was planned to be “The Odrysian”. However, Dimitrov has now mentioned that its working title is “The Seuthes”, after Odrysian Thracian King Seuthes who ruled much of Ancient Thrace in the second part of the 4th century BC.
Once the Ancient Thracian warship is completed, it will be expected by Bulgaria’s Maritime Administration agency in order to guarantee that it is fit for sailing.
The project for the Thracian warship is advised by Doncho Papazov, a famous Bulgarian sailor, traveler, and writer, who happens to be a native of the town of Kazanlak.
The initiator of the Thracian warship project, Atanas Dimitrov, is the author, producer, and director of “Terra Incognita” (“Unknown Land”), a show on the Bulgarian National Television about archaeology and history.
Dimitrov has already realized one successful project for the construction of an Ancient Thracian warship but on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
The vessel in question was built and launched in the Black Sea a few years ago. It is named “The Rhesus”, after the mythical Thracian king who was allied with Troy in the Trojan War, ca. 1200 BC, according to Homer’s Iliad.
“The Rhesus” is supposed to replicate the ships that the Thracian King Rhesus supposedly used in order to sail to Troy in Anatolia, on the coast of the Dardanelles Strait between Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean.
Dimitrov says that the construction of the new Ancient Thracian warship, “The Seuthes” (or “The Odrysian”), is actually the second stage of the project entitled “Archaeworld – in the Footsteps of the Great”, whose first stage was the building and launching of “The Rhesus” in the Black Sea.
He points out that The Rhesus has received very positive international feedback, including from organizations such as UNESCO and the International Maritime Organization.
Being asked why he decided to launch the next Ancient Thracian warship replica in the Koprinka Water Reservoir, right in the geographic center of present-day Bulgaria, rather than in the Black Sea, the TV producer explains that after The Rhesus was shown by the Terra Incognita show on the Bulgarian National Television, he was contacted by the authorities of a number of Bulgarian municipalities with similar cultural tourism ideas.
He chose to work with Kazanlak Municipality but at first their idea was to transport The Rhesus from the Black Sea to the artificial lake overland.
Subsequently, however, they decided to build a brand new vessel, another Ancient Thracian warship, specially for the Koprinka Water Reservoir, which has territory of 8.4 square kilometers.
Dimitrov has revealed that the design and construction of the ship are aided by engineer Georgi Valevski, and that the actual construction is carried out by a team of shipbuilders from the town of Nikopol, a port on the Danube River, who also worked successfully on The Rhesus.
Once it is launched, the Ancient Thracian warship, which is to be made entirely of wood, without any metal parts, is planned to become a major cultural tourism attraction in Bulgaria’s Valley of Roses / Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings.
Also check out these other stories about underwater and maritime archaeology and experimental vessels and voyages:
The Ancient Thracian city of Seuthopolis (today under water) was established by King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 – ca. 330 BC), ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), the most powerful state of Ancient Thrace. It was founded around 325 – 315 BC, after the breakup of the Empire of Emperor Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC), on top of an earlier Thracian settlement which is believed to have been burned down.
For several decades, Seuthopolis was the mighty capital of the Odrysian Kingdom. In 281 BC, Seuthopolis was sacked by the Celts, and by 270 BC, it is believed to have waned. Today, the ruins of Seuthopolis are located near the town of Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria, on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservoir where it ended up as a result of a decision of the communist regime in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.
Seuthopolis was an Early Hellenistic city with active relations to other major centers of the Hellenistic World. The palace of King Seuthes III was also a shrine of the Cabeiri, ancient deities worshiped in a number of Thracian and Greek cities in the Hellenistic World, which indicates that Seuthes might have been a priest-king, the high priest of the Cabeiri among the Odrysian Thracians. The cult for the Cabeiri was associated with fire and metallurgy, and the smith-god Hephaestus.
Seuthopolis was located on elevated ground with natural defenses as it was surrounded on three sides by the Tundzha River. It had a fortified area of about 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres), and much of its territory was occupied by public buildings, rather than homes, with additional population living in suburbs outside of the fortress wall, and in nearby settlements. Its fortress wall was about 890 meters long, and it had the shape of a pentagon, with thorough urban planning similar to that of a Greek polis, and with streets crossing at right angles, and forming rectangular quarters. The city was inhabited by about 50 aristocratic families.
The name of the Odrysian Thracian capital became known thanks to an inscription found in the residence of King Seuthes III which stated in Greek: “This inscription [is] to be engraved on two tablets, and to be placed in Seuthopolis, in the temple of the Great Thracian Gods”. The city also had a temple of ancient god Dionysus.
As part of their excavations in the 1950s, the Bulgarian archaeologists also excavated the necropolis of Seuthopolis, with three burial mounds, which, however, had been raided back in the Antiquity. The fact that many of the graves were found in brick tombs is something untypical of the Ancient Thracians because bricks were not used as construction materials in other parts of Thrace.
King Seuthes III was also the first Thracian ruler to mint his own coins. During the excavations of Seuthopolis, the archaeologists found over 2,000 coins, including about 800 coins of Seuthess III.
The King’s residence was in the northeast corner of Seuthopolis; it had a 40-meter-long façade, and was richly decorated.
The ruins of Seuthopolis were first discovered in 1948 by Bulgarian archaeologists carrying out rescue excavations for the construction of the Koprinka Water Reservoir. The Ancient Thracian capital was fully excavated by 1953. In spite of the value of the archaeological site, the communist government of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944/8-1989) decided to go ahead with the water reservoir project, leaving the ruins of Seuthopolis under 20 meters of water.
In 2005, Bulgarian architect Zheko Tilev proposed a project to make the submerged Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis accessible for visitors by building a round dam around the city walling it off from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir right in the middle of the artificial lake.
The project for making a top-notch archaeological and cultural tourism destination out of Seuthopolis by building a wall around it with a circumference of almost 1.3 km is estimated to cost about EUR 50 million. Walled off from the water, the Ancient Thracian city would be visited by tourists by traveling to its wall by boats, and then descending by four panoramic elevators.
The project has been supported by Kazanlak Municipality which has been fundraising to finance it but appears to be nowhere near securing the necessary sum. Yet, there are great hopes for the “resurfacing” of Seuthopolis, including because thanks to the detailed archaeological excavations in the early 1950s, modern-day Bulgarian archaeologists have all the necessary information to restore the ancient city.
If it is ever accomplished, the exhibition in situ of the ruins of the submerged city of Seuthopolis will be an integral part of the so called Valley of Thracian Kings – the area of the Kazanlak Valley which is dotted with Ancient Thracian tombs, including the tomb of the Golyama Kosmatka Mound where the founder of Seuthopolis, the Thracian King Seuthes III, was buried.
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.
The Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings is a term used to describe the numerous Ancient Thracian tumuli (burial mounds) containing tombs and graves in the valley of the Central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak, which was coined by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov, a tracologist (an archaeologist specializing in Ancient Thrace). It is believed that over 1,500 Ancient Thracian burial mounds exist in the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings alone, of which some 300 have been excavated by archaeologists. Not unlike the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Valley of the Odrysian Thracian Kings is where the Thracian rulers and high aristocrats were buried.
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