Hoard of 18th Century Ottoman, Western European Coins Found in Treasure Pot in Bulgaria’s Black Sea Town Ahtopol

The mid-18th century Ottoman coins discovered in the Agathopolis fortress in Bulgaria’s Ahtopol. Photo: Archaeological Team / e-Burgas

A hoard of 854 silver and gold coins from the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe from the mid-18th century as well as jewelry have been discovered by archaeologists hidden in a treasure pot in late medieval ruins in the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Ahtopol, the successor of the ancient and medieval city of Agathopolis.

The discovery was made inside the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress of Agathopolis during the excavations of Ottoman Era homes, archaeologist Andrey Aladzhov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia has revealed during a conference in Ahtopol.

The finding of the Ottoman Era treasure pot from the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress of Agathopolis in Southeast Bulgaria is the second archaeological discovery of this type on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast in 2018, after a treasure pot of Tatar plunder from ca. 1400, also containing both coins and jewelry, was discovered in the Kaliakra Fortress in August on Cape Kaliakra in Northeast Bulgaria.

The small Ahtopol Peninsula, which is 300 meters long and 150 meters wide, has had traces of civilized life going back as early as the Neolithic.

Other recent findings from Agathopolis indicate that it originally was an Ancient Thracian town established at the end of the 2nd millennium BC, i.e. around the time of the Trojan War.

During the Iron Age, it was inhabited by the Ancient Thracian tribe Thyni. It was colonized by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. The fortress of Agathopolis was built by the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD.

A total of 851 of the Ottoman and Western European coins from the treasure pot discovered during the recent digs in Ahtopol are silver, and three are gold.

Most of the coins in question were minted by two rulers of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mahmud I (r. 1730 – 1754), and his brother and successor, Sultan Osman III (r. 1754 – 1757),

The three gold Ottoman coins found in the treasure pot in the Black Sea town of Ahtopol. Photo: Archaeological team / e-Burgas

The hoard of Ottoman coins of Sultans Mahmud I and Osman III is the second late medieval treasure pot to be discovered on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast in 2018 after the one in the Kaliakra Fortress. Photo: Archaeological team / e-Burgas

The coin hoard was placed in a cloth bag, and then hidden inside a pithos, a large ceramic vessel used for keeping grain. The coins still show imprints from the threads of the cloth.

Alongside the silver and gold coins, the 18th century Ottoman treasure also contains jewelry such as earrings, necklaces, a belt buckle, and hair adornments.

“I personally was surprised [by the discovery of the treasure pot in Agathopolis] because during the Ottoman period money was in circulation, and was not hoarded,”  says Aladzhov, as cited by local news site e-Burgas.

“The fact that such a large number of coins was buried means that there was either some big invasion or attack, or some other comparable calamity,” he adds.

The archaeological team has two main hypotheses about the hiding of the Ottoman Era treasure consisting of a coin hoard and jewelry, namely, that it was hidden during an attack, or that it was stashed by robbers.

The discovery of the 18th century Ottoman coin hoard has been announced during in Ahtopol during the 13th annual roundtable entitled, “Historical and Archaeological Research in the Strandzha Mountain’s Black Sea coast”, in 2018. The event has been organized by the Black Sea Strandzha NGO chaired by local activist, engineer Petar Kanev.

The event has featured a number of Bulgaria’s prominent archaeologists including Assoc. Prof. Boni Petrunova, Director of the National Museum of History in Sofia and discoverer of the Tatar treasure pot from Cape Kaliakra; Prof. Kazimir Popkonstatinov, discoverer of St. John the Baptist relics on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island off the coast of Sozopol; Prof. Ilya Prokopov; archaeologist Deyan Dichev, a long-time researcher of the Ancient Thracian settlements in Southeast Bulgariа who presented the latest digs in Brodilovo; Kalin Dimitrov, Director of the Center for Underwater Archaeology in Sozopol, which has been making global headlines with the discoveries of the Black Sea MAP expedition, and archaeologist Pavel Georgiev from the same institution; Dimitrov and Georgiev presented recent underwater research in the Varna Lake and Beloslav Lake, and the mouth of the Ropotamo River; Prof. Daniela Agre, an expert in Ancient Thrace; Prof. Stanislav Stanilov, an expert on the Ancient Bulgars and the First Bulgarian Empire; Dimitar Nedev, Director of the Sozopol Museum of Archaeology.

Prominent archaeologists attending the round table in Ahtopol: Boni Petrunova (first on the left), Stanislav Stanilov (second on the left), Kazimir Popkonstantinov (second on the right), among others. Photo: e-Burgas

Background Infonotes:

The ruins of the ancient city of Agathopolis, today’s Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Ahtopol in Tsarevo Municipality, Burgas District, are located on the Ahtopol Peninsula which is about 300 meters long and 150 meters wide, at the foot of the Strandzha Mountain.

The site’s civilized life goes back to the Neolithic. During the Iron Age, the area was populated by the Ancient Thracian tribe Thyni. The discovery of a votive tablet with an inscription and the image of Heros, also known as the Thracian Horseman, the supreme god in the Thracian mythology, attests to their presence.

According to results from the excavations carried out by archaeologist Prof. Diana Gergova prior to 201, the city was founded by Ancient Thracians at the end of 2nd millenium BC, the Late Bronze Age.

Earlier hypotheses had it that it was most probably founded in 430 BC by Ancient Greek colonists from Athens, potentially as part of Pericles’ actions in the Black Sea during the Peloponnesian War. The Ancient Greek polis had its own mint and coins.

While it was part of the Roman Empire (1st-4th century AD), the city was called Peronticus. Later, as part of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, it suffered destruction in the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs in the 5th-7th century AD, it was rebuilt by Byzantine general Agathon. Some hypotheses say that he named the city after himself but others say that it was called Agathopolis much earlier, at least since 323 BC.

According to one legend, Agathopolis was first established as the home of Delphin, son of Poseidon, and Agatha, daughter of Zeus. Zeus was angered by their relationship so he dispatched an army against them but a burrowing owl woke them up and saved them. Thus, Delphin killed the enemies and founded a city called Agapi-polis (city of love) on the Black Sea coast.

In 131 AD, Ahtopol was mentioned as Auleuteichos in the Perlus of the Euxine Sea, a guidebook of the Black Sea towns, by Greco-Roman historian Arrian of Nicomedia, as being located 43.5 km away from Chersonesus (another Ancient Greek city on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast with the same name as the Ancient Greek colony on the Crimean (Taurica) Peninsula).

In the 6th century AD, a fortress wall was built to defend the city against the barbarian invasions, possibly during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD) or Emperor Justine I (r. 518-527 AD). Parts of this Late Antiquity Fortress wall are still preserved up to a height of 3-4 meters; the walls are thick between 1.5 and 2.8 meters.

Agathopolis was first conquered by the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) under Khan Krum (r. 802-813 AD) in 812 AD. It was settled with Slavs under his successor, Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD). Subsequently, during the Middle Ages, the city changed hands between the Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire numerous times.

It was part of Bulgaria until 864 AD, and then again from 894 until 970 AD. Arab geographer Muhammad Al-Idrisi mentioned Agathopolis as a major city in 1150 AD. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), the region of Agathopolis was reconquered by the Bulgarians in the Uprising of Asen and Petar in 1185. It was part of Bulgaria until 1263, and was then reconquered in 1304, in the Battle of Skafida near Poros (Burgos, today’s Burgas).

The city changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several more times until the end of the 14th century. Before that, in 1366 AD, the Count of Savoy Amadeus IV (r. 1343-1383) conquered Ahtopol and the other cities on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast for five months. It was ultimately conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, together with the conquest of Constantinople and the other surviving Byzantine ports in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

During the period of Ottoman Yoke, i.e. when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Ahtopol remained an important port. Ahtopol was visited in 1663 by Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi, and was mentioned in his books of travels as “Ahtabolu”. It was liberated by Bulgaria in the Balkan War of 1912.

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