Ostrich Egg Vessel, Silver Thracian Horseman Found in Roman Era Burial Mound near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets

Ostrich Egg Vessel, Silver Thracian Horseman Found in Roman Era Burial Mound near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets

The extremely intriguing artifacts discovered in the Thracian Roman-Era burial mound near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets, including the ostrich egg vessel, the silver, gold-plated Thracian fibula, and the ceramic vessel decorated with a human face mask. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

A wide range of highly intriguing artifacts such as an ostrich egg turned into a vessel and a gold-plated silver fibula featuring the Thracian Horseman deity have been discovered in rescue excavations of a Thracian burial mound from the Roman Era near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets.

The burial mound in question is located near the St. Peter and St. Paul Monastery, Lyaskovets Municipality, Veliko Tarnovo District, in Central North Bulgaria.

It was 50 meters in diameter and 1 meter tall, and dates back to the 2nd – 3rd century AD.

All of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by the Roman Empire in 46 AD, with the Thracian aristocracy and population becoming well integrated in Roman life.

The team led by archaeologist Kalin Chakarov from the Regional Museum of History in Veliko Tarnovo has excavated a total of 19 graves in the burial mound, the Veliko Tarnovo Museum has announced.

Most of the graves date to the middle of the 3rd century AD. The deceased were cremated, and their ashes were laid in specially designed chambers with numerous burial gifts and personal belongings.

The artifacts discovered in the burial mound near Lyaskovets have been presented at a news conference by Veliko Tarnovo History Museum Director Ivan Tsarov, archaeologist Kalin Charakov, and restorer Mihaela Tomanova.

(L-R) Lead archaeologist Kalin Chakarov, Veliko Tarnovo Museum Director Ivan Tsarov, and restorer Mihaela Tomanova are seen here presenting the finds from the Thracian Roman-Era burial mound near Lyaskovets. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The most intriguing finds are from the central grave of the burial mound near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets, which is 3 meters long and 1.2 meters deep.

It was inside it that the archaeologists found an ostrich egg, which used to be a vessel with parts made of leather or wood, as well as silver fibula with a gold coating bearing an image of the Thracian Horseman, the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians.

The Thracian Horseman fibula is the only artifact of its kind to have ever been discovered in Bulgaria.

Another very interesting artifact from the main burial is a jug featuring a depiction of a human mask.

Other finds from the Thracian Roman-Era burial mound near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets include a warrior’s belt decorated with silver appliques, two gold earrings, pottery vessels, several lacrimaria (unguentaria) (vessels for collecting tears as part of the burial rituals), a total of 30 copper and bronze coins from the first half of the 3rd century AD, and a worn-out coin from the beginning of the 2nd century AD.

Most of the coins were obols, i.e. a coin placed under the tongue of the deceased to be found by Charon, the ferryman of Hades, who, according to Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman mythology, carries the souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron into the underworld.

The ostrich egg vessel – of which only the ostrich egg has been found – was dismantled before it was laid in the Thracian warrior’s grave, possibly as part of a burial ritual. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The ostrich egg used as part of a vessel found near Lyaskovets is the only ostrich egg to have been found during archaeological excavations in Bulgaria. Compare it with the ostrich egg vessel below. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

An almost fully preserved Antiquity ostrich egg jug – the only other known one in Bulgaria – is kept at the Regional Museum of History in the Danube city of Ruse. The one found near Lyaskovets would have looked in a similar fashion before it was dismantled. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History

Most of the discovered pottery vessels are deformed or were no longer in use at the time of the burials.

The archaeologists hypothesize that the man buried in the mound’s main grave may have been a warrior of Thracian origin who completed his service in the Roman military and returned to his home place near the major Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

Learn more about the large Ancient city of Nicopolis ad Istrum near Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo in the Background Infonotes below!

“The fibula is extremely expensive. It was custom-made, probably in the atelier of some Aegean craftsman," Museum Director Tsarov has said.

“This is the first such adornment with a depiction of the Thracian Horseman, and it will be emphasized in the Antiquity collection of the museum," he has added.

The silver gold-plated fibula featuring an image of the Thracian Horseman, the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians, is the only one of its kind to have been discovered in Bulgaria. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The pottery vessel decorated with a human face mask is another remarkable artifact from the burial mound near Bulgaria’s Lyaskovets. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The ostrich egg vessel found in the Thracian – Roman warrior’s grave is the only ostrich egg to have been discovered during archaeological excavations in Bulgaria.

It was imported from the African or Asian provinces of the Roman Empire, and was deemed rather exotic at the time. The ostrich egg vessel dates back to the end of the 2nd century AD – beginning of the 3rd century AD.

Before the ostrich egg vessel was placed in the grave, it was ritually taken apart, and its metal parts were removed, the archaeologists say, noting that the reason for that remain a mystery.

The only other ostrich egg vessel in Bulgaria is kept at the Regional Museum of History in the Danube city of Ruse (compare photos above).

It dates back to roughly the same time period as the ostrich egg vessel from the Thracian Roman-Era burial mound found near Lyaskovets.

The ancient ostrich egg vessel kept in the Ruse Museum, however, is in a better condition, and with its metal parts shaping it as a jug still attached to it.

Gold earrings, pottery, coins, and other artifacts found in the Thracian Roman-Era burial mound. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

The ceramic jug featuring a human mask depiction is reminiscent of decorative tiles with human faces found in the 2nd century AD Roman villa and ceramic factory near Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni in the same region. However, no other such vessel has been discovered so far.

The rescue excavations of part of the Thracian burial mound from the Roman Era near Lyaskovets and the St. Peter and St. Paul Monastery were carried out in November and December 2019.

The digs were funded by private investor Plamen Chesnarov, whose firm Troya Stil owns the plot of the mound. The site itself is slated for the construction of a storage facility.

The archaeologists hope to be able to excavate the rest of the burial mound in 2020.

Restorer Mihaela Tomanova is seen here at work restoring the remarkable finds from the buriual mound near Lyaskovets. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

Nicopolis ad Istrum (also known as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum) was an Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city (not to be confused with Nicopolis ad Nestum in today’s Southwest Bulgaria).

Its ruins are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central Northern Bulgaria. Its name means “Victory City on the Danube River". It was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Daciantribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) on a plateau on the left bank of the Rositsa River. This is where the two main roads of the DanubianRoman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

(Ulpia) Nicopolis ad Istrum was first part of the Roman province of Thrace but after 193 AD it was made part of the province of Moesia Inferior. Nicopolis ad Istrum flourished in the 2nd-3rd century, during the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96-192 AD) and the Severan Dynasty (193-235 AD). It further developed as major urban center after the reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Its organization was similar to that of Roman cities in Thrace and Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon.

It was ruled by a council of archons, a city council and an assembly, with local priests worshipping Ancient Roman and Greek deities such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, Mithras. At the time, Nicopolis ad Istrum was inhabited by Thracians, Roman military veterans, and settlers from Asia Minor.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is known to have minted 900 different emissions of bronze coins. The city had orthogonal planning, with an agora (city square), a cardo maximus and a decumanus maximus (main streets), a market place, other public buildings and residential areas, limestone-paved streets and underground sewerage, as well as three aqueducts and several water wells, many of which has been unearthed in archaeological excavations.

The fortress walls of Nicopolis ad Istrum were erected only after the city was ransacked by a barbarian attack of the Costoboci, an ancient people possibly linked to the Getae (Gets) inhabiting an area in today’s Western Ukraine. The city square (agora) featured a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on a horse, a number of other marble statues, a Ionic colonnade, a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion (a public building housing the boule – council of citizens), a building to the cult of goddess Cybele, a small odeon (theater), thermae (public baths) as well as a building which according to an inscription was a “termoperiatos" which can be likened to a modern-day shopping mall – a heated building with shops and closed space for walks and business meetings.

A total of 121 stone and brick tombs and sarcophagi have been found by the Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the city’s necropolis. Some villas and other buildings in the residential parts of Nicopolis ad Istrum have also been excavated.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD.

The Early Byzantine fort covered about one forth of the Ancient Roman city – 57.5 decares (app. 14.2 acres) out of a total of 215.5 decares (app. 53.2 decares), and was also the center of a bishopric. The Early Byzantine fort was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval cityin the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

Nicopolis ad Istrum was visited in 1871 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who found there a statue of the wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD). The city was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist J. Seur whose work, however, was not documented, and in 1906-1909 by Czech archaeologist B. Dobruski. In 1945 and 1966-1968, there were partial excavations led by T. Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Systematic excavations were started in 1970 and were led again by T. Ivanov.

Between 1985 and 1992, Nicopolis ad Istrum was excavated by a joint Bulgarian-British expedition from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and a team of the University of Nottingham. The joint Bulgarian-British excavations were resumed in 1996. The Nicopolis ad Istrum archaeological preserve is managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. In 1984, the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was put on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Ivan Dikov is the author of Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria and 6 Million Abortions: How Communism Utilized Mass-Scale Abortion Exterminating Europe’s Fastest Growing Nation, among other books.

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