Blond Roman Woman’s Statue Head Found in Ancient Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria, Hints at Building Ritual

Blond Roman Woman’s Statue Head Found in Ancient Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria, Hints at Building Ritual

The newly discovered statue head of a blond Roman woman from the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica in Southwest Bulgaria. Photo: Video grab from Archaeologia Bulgarica

The marble Ancient Roman statue head of a blond Roman woman has been found by the archaeologists excavating the Ancient Greek, Thracian, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria, with the discovery hinting at what may have been a special ancient construction ritual.

Heraclea Sintica already made headlines earlier in 2018 with the discovery of a headless Roman statue dating back to ca. 100 AD.

While the researchers originally hypothesized that the headless statue may have depicted a local Roman magistrate, subsequently they questioned this initial hypothesis, so the mystery about the identity of the depicted human or deity remains unresolved.

The discovery of the statue head has been announced by Archaeologia Bulgarica, an NGO promoting Bulgarian archaeology and cultural heritage chaired by Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, lead archaeologist at Heraclea Sintica, who just completed his second and last five-year term as Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Heraclea Sintica is thought to have been founded ca. 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon in 305-297 BC, who also founded Thessaloniki, today in Greece. It is possible, however, that Heraclea Sintica was first settled even earlier.

The city was named “Heraclea" after the mythical Ancient Greek hero Heracles, more popularly known today as Hercules, and “Sintica" after the Thracian tribe of the Sintians who inhabited the valley of the Struma River at the time.

The woman depicted in the statue has a so called “melon” hairstyle that was popular with women in the Antiquity. Photos: Video grabs from Archaeologia Bulgarica

The newly discovered statue head features traces of ochre paint indicating that the woman it depicted was blond.

The woman has a so called “melon" hairstyle which was popular in the world of Greek, Thracian, and Roman Antiquity.

The sculpture the female head was part of was made of high-quality marble during Ancient Rome’s imperial age.

The archaeologists think that the female statue in question might have even been “synchronous" with the male statue found earlier.

Perhaps the most intriguing common aspect of the two discoveries of parts of Roman statues made in the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica in the second half of 2018 is the fact that both of them have been discovered carefully placed underneath buildings from later periods.

This has led the archaeological team to hypothesize that the supposed “laying" of statues, or parts of statues such as heads or torsos, under buildings could have been a certain kind of ritual in the Late Antiquity.

Lead archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski is seen here removing the newly discovered Roman woman’s statue head from underneath the structure where it was placed by the Ancient Romans. Photos: Video grabs from Archaeologia Bulgarica

While statues and architectural details from the Antiquity can often be found in archaeological sites around Bulgaria to have been used as construction material in structures from the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, this hypothesis speaks of a practice in Heraclea Sintica that was markedly different.

“It wasn’t that they were used as construction material. To the contrary – both the [newly discovered] head and the [headless] statue were buried with respect, as if [each of them had] a funeral," says lead archaeologist Lyudmil Vagalinski.

“It is possible that the residents of Heraclea Sintica might have believed that this way they would protect their favorite buildings from natural calamities and barbarian attacks," he adds.

“I recall a similar case from the [ancient] city of Heraclea Lyncestis (near Bitola in today’s Republic of Macedonia) , which was also founded by the [Ancient] Greek Macedonians. A marble statue underneath later masonry has been discovered there as well," the research explains.

The female statue head of the blond Roman woman has been found during a dig in the eastern part of the main square (Forum) of Heraclea Sintica.

The depicted Roman woman lived in the 2nd century AD. Photos: Archaeologia Bulgarica

“When we found the [male headless] statue beneath a staircase in August this year we decided it was mere luck. Now this find poses the question whether the careful laying of intact and beautiful pieces of statues under the foundations of walls was part of a certain ritual," Vagalinski concludes.

His archaeological team hopes to be have the chance to discover the torso of the female statue as well.

Another recent find from the ongoing digs in Heraclea Sintica includes a grave from the 5th century AD located underneath the paving of the city Forum.

As the grave contained no burial inventory of gifts for the afterlife, the researchers will be able to determine if it was a male or female burial only after anthropological analysis.

An intriguing artifact found nearby is a bone needle with a thin golden sheet wrapped around its end. If it happened to have belonged to the woman depicted in the statue whose head has been discovered, Vagalinski says she might have been “a lady with good taste who lived in Heraclea Sintica in the 2nd century AD".

One of the first visitors to Heraclea Sintica who has been able to see the newly discovered statue head of the blond Roman woman has been the Speaker of the Bulgarian Parliament, Tsveta Karayancheva.

Shortly after that, the marvelous Ancient Roman artifact was transported for cleaning and conservation to the laboratories of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The still only partly excavated ruins of Heraclea Sintica, a major urban center all throughout the Hellenistic and Late Antiquity, are located near Petrich in Bulgaria’s southwestern corner. Photo: Archaeologia Bulgarica

Together with hundreds of others stunning archaeological finds from 2018, the blond Roman statue head will be on display in the annual “Bulgarian Archaeology" Exhibition to be opened at the Museum in February 2019.

After that, it is to become part of the permanent collection of the Petrich Museum of History in Petrich, Southwest Bulgaria, a town nearly on the border with Greece.

The Archaeologia Bulgaria NGO has released a YouTube video showing the intial discovery of the Roman woman’s statue head in Heraclea Sintica.

Another Roman statue head discovered in Bulgaria in 2018 is believed to be of Roman Emperor Aurelian (r. 250 – 275 AD); it has been found by archaeologists in Ulpia Oescus, a colony of Ancient Rome near the Danube in today’s Northern Bulgaria.

Background Infonotes:

Heraclea Sintica was an Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city located near the town of Petrich in Southwest Bulgaria. It was the center of the ancient region of Sintica along the Struma River, which was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the Sintians.

The ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was mentioned by Homer, Herodotos, and Thycudides in their works. It was founded around 300 BC by Cassander, King of the Kingdom of Macedon (r. 305-297 BC), who also founded Thessaloniki.

In the not so distant past, the location of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica was a matter of contention between archaeologists from Bulgaria and Greece.

In 2002, Bulgarian archaeologists managed to identify the city for sure after they found a Latin inscription dated back to 308 AD, in which Roman Emperor Galerius (r. 293-305 AD as Caesar, 305-311 AD as Augustus) addressed the local urban citizens of Heraclea Sintica responding to a plea to restore their lost civil rights.

Heraclea Sintica had a civic basilica (found in 2016) which is 22 meters long and 16 meters wide, and parts of its walls have been preserved up to a height of 5 meters.

Its ruins are located right near the ruins of a similar public building which is some 700 years older (dating back to the 4th century BC, i.e. the early Hellenistic period), and was discovered in 2015.

In the Late Antiquity, the city of Heraclea Sintica gradualy waned and was replaced as a regional center by the nearby city of Parthicopolis founded by the Romans in the 2nd century AD (today’s town of Sandanski, previously known as Sveti Vrach).

In recent years, Heraclea Sintica has been excavated by Ass. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Director of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and Sotir Ivanov, Director of the Petrich Museum of History.

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