Mysterious ‘Game of Thrones’ – Type Find, Agate Jewel for Throne’s Spikes, Discovered in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress

This unknown conical agate artifact found in Bulgaria’s Rusocastro Fortress might have been a jewel decorating the spike of a throne. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

A mysterious 14th century artifact made of agate, a firm semi-precious stone, has been discovered in the Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria, is reminiscent of “Game of Thrones” in the sense that it might have been a jewel decorating the spikes of a throne or a ceremonial chair from the Middle Ages.

The Rusocastro Fortress is best known for the Battle of Rusocastro in 1332 AD. It was the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

In it, Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) of the Second Bulgarian Empire defeated Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD).

Earlier in August, the archaeological team researching the Rusocastro Fortress announced their conclusion that the city’s 6th century AD Early Byzantine fortress walls were almost completely demolished by the Second Bulgarian Empire of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218 – 1241) in the 13th century, and much more massive walls were built in their place.

The discovery of the “Game of Thrones” – style agate artifact has been announced by the Burgas Regional Museum of History, whose team is in charge of Rusocastro’s research, as “a totally unexpected find” that “delighted the archaeologists”.

“During the excavations of a monumental building in the castle of the Rusocastro Fortress the researchers have discovered an artifact shaped as a truncated cone which is made of the striped Chalcedony, also known as agate,” the Museum says.

“The Chalcedony, or agate, is a very firm semi-precious stones which was highly appreciated in the Antiquity as well as the Middle Ages,” it adds.

“The agate artifact is exquisitely polished, and represents a rare sample of medieval jewelry art,” it emphasizes.

The most plausible hypothesis for the 14th century agate jewel from Rusocastro is that it was a throne adornment. Photos: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Only part of one of the halves of the “Game of Thrones” – type artifact has been discovered by the archaeologists at the Rusocastro Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria.

The surviving part of the medieval agate artifact is about 5 centimeters (2 inches) but when complete it would have been substantially taller, and had a diameter of 4.7 centimeters (nearly 2 inches). It is described as a “very beautiful agate sample with brown – purple stripes”.

“The agate artifact was pierced very skillfully from one end to the other, and through than round canal, it was probably installed on a metal or wooden spike,” hypothesize the scholars from the Burgas Museum of History.

“The Burgas archaeologists excavating the medieval city of Rusocastro haven’t found any analogies to this sophisticated agate adornment so far,” it adds.

“They believe that this [artifact is from] the decoration of the backrest of a ceremonial chair of the throne type,” the Museum concludes.

It also says that a final answer to the question about the function of the mysterious agate artifact found in the Rusocastro Fortress will be given only after another similar item is discovered.

The agate artifact certainly worthy of the Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire saga (in spite of the different composition of the Iron Throne) has been discovered together with a silver coin of Tsar Todor (Theodore) Svetoslav, ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1300 – 1322.

The archaeologists from the Burgas Regional Museum of History have already completed the excavations of the western fortress wall of Rusocastro.

The ruins of the Rusocastro Fortress, the largest medieval stronghold in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, an outpost that changed hands between the Bulgarian Empire and Byzantine Empire a number of times. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

Earlier this summer, the archaeologists discovered in the Rusocastro Fortress a hoard of seven silver coins minted in the Principality of Achaea, also known as Morea, a 13th century successor state of Byzantium founded by the Crusaders from the Fourth Crusade.

Shortly before that they had announced the discovery of an unknown 4th century AD fortress tower and a 14th century a Byzantine gold coin of Byzantine Emperors Andronicus II Palaeologus (r. 1282 – 1328) and Andronicus III Palaeologus (r. 1328 – 1341).

Thanks to bones discovered during the 2017 excavations in Rusocastro, the archaeologists found out that the aurochs, the wild cattle which is the ancestor of today’s domestic cows, survived in today’s Bulgaria well into the 13th-14th century when it was still hunted for meat. It was previously thought to have gone extinct in the 12th century at the latest.

In November 2017, the Burgas Regional Museum of History announced the discovery of a huge water cistern plastered on the inside with pink waterproof mortar in the fortress, and in September 2017, it announced the discovery of the “monumental” staircase leading up to the castle of the Rusocastro Fortress.

In July 2017, the archaeological team excavating the major fortress discovered a rare 10th century ivory icon believed to have belonged to a Byzantine Emperor or a member of the Byzantine imperial family, and to have been made in Constantinople.

Before that, the Burgas Museum had just announced the discovery of a 7th century gold coin of Early Byzantine Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610 AD).

The excavations in Rusocastro have been led by archaeologist Milen Nikolov, Director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The 2018 digs have once again been funded by both Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, and the local authorities from Kameno Municipality.

Background Infonotes:

The Late Antiquity (Early Byzantine) and medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine fortress of Rusocastro (Rusocastron) is located in today’s Southeast Bulgaria, close to the Black Sea city of Burgas. Rusocastro was also known as “The Red Fortress” because of the red stones it was built of.

In the 2nd millennium BC, the Ancient Thracians set up a shrine of the Sun God, the Mother Goddess, and the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, near the legendary cave known today as Rusina Cave or Rusa’s Hole. Its site was settled in the period of Ancient Thrace, and was an important center in the Thracians’ Odrysian Kingdom.

The fortress itself was built in the 5th century AD on a strategically located hill. The Early Byzantine fortress was most probably destroyed in the Slavic and Avar invasions in the 7th century. The Rusocastro Fortress was rebuilt by the Bulgars in the 9th century, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD), at the time of the construction of the Bulgarian border rampart known as Erkesiya (in use in the 9th-11th century), and was a major stronghold in the geographic region of Thrace during the High Middle Ages.

The earliest written information about the Rusocastro Fortress comes from a 6th century epigraphic monument dedicated to Byzantine military commander Justin, who, according to some Bulgarian scholars, was the great-grandson of Byzantine Emperor Justin I (r. 518-527 AD), the uncle of Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD). The name Rusocastro was first used in the 12th century by Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the World”, where Rusocastro is described as a large and crowded city. The fortress was also mentioned in a number of Byzantine sources from the 14th century relevant to current events.

The Rusocastro Fortress is famous in Bulgarian history for the Rusocastro Battle in which the army of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), ruler of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), defeated the forces of Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus (Andronikos III Palaiologos) (r. 1328-1341 AD) in 1332 AD.

The Battle of Rusocastro is often referred to as the last big military victory of the medieval Bulgarian Empire before its conquest by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century.

Tsar Ivan Alexander’s victory at Rusocastro is considered the last major military victory of the Bulgarian Empire before its decline in the second half of the 14th century, and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks that ushered in the darkest page in Bulgaria’s history, a period known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). The Rusocastro Fortress was ultimately destroyed in Ottoman campaigns in 1443.

Rusocastro has been excavated by archaeologists Milen Nikolov and Tsanya Drazheva from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. The Bulgarian archaeologists have excavated several churches there including a monastery named after St. George, which existed in the 11th-14th century. Unfortunately, a Christian necropolis in the Rusocastro Fortress was partly destroyed in the largest military drills dubbed “Shield” of the countries from the former Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact that took place in Eastern Bulgaria in 1982.

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