Gold Earring from Egypt’s Fayum Mummy Portraits Discovered in Roman City Deultum in Southeast Bulgaria
An actual ancient gold earring which can be seen depicted in some of the so called Fayum Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt has been discovered in Southeast Bulgaria by archaeologists excavating the Ancient Roman colony Deultum near the town of Debelt, Burgas District, close to the Black Sea coast.
Deultum was a Roman colony, which according to Roman law signified a status equal to that of the city of Rome itself. In today’s Bulgaria, there are only three Roman cities which enjoyed this status – Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) near Burgas, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria) near Archar, Ulpia Oescus near Gigen.
Fayum mummy portraits are portraits on wooden boards which were attached to the mummies of upper class residents buried in Egypt during the Roman Era, in the 1st century BC – 3rd AD.
Such mummy portraits have been discovered throughout Egypt but most famously in the Fayum Basin, in Hawara and the Roman city of Antinoopolis from the time of Emperor Hadrian (r. 117 – 138). The term “Fayum mummy portraits” is used both as a geographic and stylistic description.
The Roman gold earring discovered in the city of Deultum in Southeast Bulgaria has been found to appear exactly the same as earrings of women depicted in some of the Fayum mummy portraits. Based on that similarity, the earring is dated by the Bulgarian researchers to the 2nd century AD.
The Ancient Roman city of Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) was built in the 1st century AD near a previously existing Ancient Thracian settlement called Debelt or Develt. It was settled by Roman military veterans from the Augustus’ Eight Legion (Legio VIII Augusta) near the Mandra Lake (today the Mandra Water Reservoir) where it also had a port connecting it to the Black Sea.
The present archaeological excavations in the Deultum – Debelt Archaeological Preserve began on October 1, 2020; the Fayum mummy portrait gold earring was discovered two days later.
The Roman gold earring was found in the joint between tiles in one of the rooms in the ruins of the thermae (public baths) of Deultum, beneath an embankment, informs Krasimira Kostova, head of the Deultum – Debelt Archaeological Preserve, as cited by the Bulgarian National Radio.
“The gold earrings of a noble lady depicted in one of the Fayum Portraits are exactly the same as the earring that we have discovered here in Deultum,” the archaeologist says.
She points out that the thermae of Deultum were destroyed in 357 – 358 AD during a major earthquake.
“The gold earring probably was lost as it fell between the tiles, and when the thermae were destroyed by the earthquake, it remained there. Subsequently, the site was leveled with embankments, which is how it remained there. Because the spot of the thermae remained inhabited after that,” Kostova explains.
“This jewel is extremely sophisticated, it is very interested. We found it has parallels to one of the Fayum mummy portraits, which has led us to date it to the 2nd century AD,” she adds.
“We are construing the discovery of the gold earring like the earrings depicted in that Fayum mummy portrait as evidence that the female inhabitants of the Roman colony of Deultum were following the fashion trends in the Roman Empire, and were up to date with fashion,” the archaeologist emphasizes.
The Fayum portrait gold earring from Deultum – Debelt is fully intact save for a slight bent in its upper part.
It has a cassette filled with white glass with a slight yellowish nuance; below it comes a filigree holder with three pendants, each of which ends with a white glass ball. The patina on the three balls gives them the appearance of pearls.
In addition to the gold earring similar to those in one of the Fayum mummy portraits, the archaeologists excavating the ruins of the Roman city of Deultum have already discovered a large number of bronze coins.
Their digs are now focused on exposing more from the ruins of the thermae (public baths) of the Roman colony.
The later homes, which were built on top of the ruins of the Roman thermae in Deulum, were researched during last year’s archaeological season, with the current excavations now targeting the layers beneath.
Once it is fully studied, the gold earring similar to the ones seen a Fayum mummy portrait from Roman Egypt is going to be put on display at the museum of the Deultum – Debelt Archaeological Preserve.
Learn more about Deultum in the Background Infonotes below!
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Also check this exciting discovery from Deultum – Debelt from last year:
Ivan Dikov, the founder of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, is the author of the book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria, among other books.
The ruins of the Ancient Thracian settlement of Debelt (Develt) and the Ancient Roman city of Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium), which was also a medieval Byzantine and Bulgarian fortress, are located near today’s town of Debelt, Sredets Municipality, Burgas District (17 km east of the city of Burgas), near the Black Sea coast of Southeast Bulgaria.
The Roman city of Deultum itself was founded during the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD) on the northern bank of the Sredetska River, near the Mandra Lake (today the Mandra Water Reservoir) where it also had a port connecting it to the Black Sea. Deultum was a Roman colony, which according to Roman law signified a status equal to that of Rome itself.
In today’s Bulgaria, there are only three Roman cities which enjoyed this status – Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium) near Burgas, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria) near Archar, Ulpia Oescus near Gigen. Deultum was settled by Roman military veterans from the Augustus’ Eight Legion (Legio VIII Augusta).
On the 30th anniversary since the founding of the Roman colony Deultum, then Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) minted a special emission of bronze coins. There are indications that at some point between the 130s and the 150s Deultum was seriously damaged by a barbarian invasion. The Roman city was further strengthened during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD); its limits were marked by inscriptions at two points – in today’s southern suburbs of Burgas, and at the ancient fortress in the town of Golyamo Bukovo.
Deultum thrived during the reign of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD), at the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century AD, when it had an area of about 250 decares (app. 62 acres), and a sophisticated urban infrastructure. Its residents had temples of ancient god of medicine Asclepius and goddess Cybele, and also worshiped the Thracian Horseman, also known as god Heros, and Hercules (Heracles).
In the second half of the 3rd century AD, Deultum was ransacked by the Goths; however, it was restored shortly after that. The city’s thermae (public baths) were re-built with a complex water supply and sewerage system, and a hypocaust (underfloor heating). It is possible that during a visit to Deultum in November 296 AD Roman Emperor Diocletian also visited the thermae.
In the 4th century, the city was known again with its Thracian name, Develt, and it was reinforced because of its new strategic role of supplying and protecting the new capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople (as of 330 AD). In the 370s, there was a major battle near Develt between the Roman forces and the Goths who prevailed and burned down the city. It was restored once again but on a smaller area. In the 5th century, Develt was the center of a bishopric.
In the second half of the 6th century, the city was affected by the barbarian invasions of the Slavs and Avars. Debelt (Develt) was conquered from Byzantium for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) by the Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD who exiled the city’s population in the Bulgarian territories north of the Danube, and settled it with Bulgarians.
Thus, during the Middle Ages, Debelt was a major strategic fortress in the frontier region between Bulgaria and Byzantium. Debelt is also the starting area of the Erkesiya, a huge earthen wall (rampart) with a moat built by the Ancient Bulgars in the 8th century, as early as the reign of Khan Tervel (700-721 AD), after in 705 AD the Byzantine Empire ceded to Bulgaria the Zagore Region, which covers much of today’s Southeast Bulgaria.
The Erkesiya Wall spanned 142 kilometers going all the way from the lakes around the city of Burgas in the east to the Sakar Mountain in the west. The Erkesiya Wall was made the official border between the First Bulgarian Empire and Byzantium in a peace treaty signed in 815 AD by the Bulgarian Khan Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD) and the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813-820 AD), and, in addition to serving a defense purpose for Bulgaria, it became a major customs facility facilitating the trade relations between the two empires all the way to the 14th century.
By the end of the 14th century AD, Debelt waned, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire, and the name of the city was no longer mentioned in historical sources after that period.
The Ancient Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Bulgarian archaeological city of Debelt (Develt) / Deultum was first explored and described at the end of the 19th century by Czech-Bulgarian historian Konstantin Jirecek and Czech-Bulgarian archaeologists Karel and Hermann Skorpil. It was further explored in the first half the 20th century but major archaeological excavations near Debelt started in the 1980s because of the construction of a large metallurgical factory there.
The excavations were led by late archaeologist Stefan Damyanov from the National Museum of History in Sofia, and Petar Balabanov from the Burgas Regional Museum of History. Later, the excavations were led by Tsonya Drazheva from the Burgas Museum, and then by Lyudmil Vagalinski from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia. Debelt – Deultum was declared an archaeological monument in 1965, and in 1988, the Bulgarian authorities set up the Debelt – Deultum Archaeological Preserve which covers an area of about 3 square km, and features over 25 archaeological sites dating back to different time periods – from the prehistory to the Late Middle Ages.
Those include a medieval fortress called Malko Gradishte (“Small Fortress”) which existed between the 4th and the 7th century AD as an Early Byzantine fortification, and in the 12th-14th century AD, as a fortress in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD); and a 9th century church in an area called Kostadin Cheshma where the archaeologists found a total of 34 Christian funerals, and a total of 64 lead seals (most of them belonging to Byzantine dignitaries from the Iconoclastic Period (726-843 AD)) including three seals of the Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Michael (r. 852-889; 893 AD) with the images of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God (Virgin Mary). Since Knyaz Boris I was the ruler who made Christianity the official religion of Bulgaria, scholars have hypothesized that Debelt is where he might have been baptized by the Byzantine clergy.
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