Ancient Greek, Thracian Silver Treasure with Hercules and Nemean Lion, Apollo Becomes October 2020 ‘Exhibit of the Month’ in Bulgaria’s National Museum of Archaeology
A collective find of 12 silver appliques from a horse ammunition featuring characters from Ancient Greek and Thracian mythology, including two scenes of Hercules (Heracles) and the Nemean Lion, and four heads of god Apollo, has been declared “Exhibit of the Month” for October 2020 of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology.
The Ancient Thracian and Greek silver treasure of horse ammunition decorations with Hercules and the Nemean Lion, and Apollo was part of the burial inventory of an Ancient Thracian burial mound in an area called Mramor (“marble”) near the town of Panagyurishte in Central South Bulgaria.
The Ancient Thracian burial mound near Panagyurishte in question was first looted by treasure hunters back in 1903. It was subsequently researched, and a grave from the Early Hellenistic period (4th century BC) was found, as reported by Bulgarian archaeologist (also later a controversial politician) Bogdan Filov in 1919.
The Thracian burial in question contained gold, silver, bronze, iron, and pottery items, including the 12 horse ammunition appliques with Ancient Greek and Thracian mythology motifs. The ancient mythology of the Greeks and the Thracians largely overlapped, although it remains a matter of debate to what extent.
The 12 silver horse ammunition appliques from the Mramor burial mound near Bulgaria’s Panagyurishte, which have been declared “Exhibit(s) of the Month” for October 2020, could be grouped in several categories, according to the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
“The first group includes four relatively well preserved rectangular lamellas. Each one of them is decorated with a relief image of Apollo’s head wearing a laurel wreath in his hair. The back side of the appliques had flat rings used to hang them on [horse ammunition] straps,” the Museum explains.
“The second group of appliques includes a pair of round appliques with soft rims and a medallion in the middle featuring a relief depiction of Heracles (more widely known around the world today with his Roman name and equivalent Hercules – editor’s note) fighting with the Nemean Lion. On the back side there was an attachment ring,” says Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology.
“A third group of appliques has a rim of two lines of dots and an umbo (the boss of a shield) in the middle. Animals are symmetrically depicted around it – a wild boar and a lion, an eagle between their tails and a palmette on top of a volute in front of their heads,” the Museum states.
The next group of the Ancient Greek and Thracian treasure of horse ammunition found un a Thracian burial mound near Bulgaria’s Panagyurishte in the early 20th century consists of three silver plaques with floral motifs.
“The decoration of the next three appliqués consists of relief depictions of four-leafed rosettes and lotus flowers,” the Museum says.
The last silver applique from the treasure with Ancient Greek and Thracian mythology motifs, most notably the presence of god Apollo and hero Hercules (Heracles) with the Nemean Lion is the largest one.
“The final silver appliqué has an elongated shape – narrow at the middle and wider at the ends, thus resembling the shape of a double-bitted axe (labrys). In the middle, the appliqué is decorated with a relief rosette. On the short ends there are pearls and along the edges there is a rim of two dotted lines,” the Museum explains.
“The upper part of the applique depicts Heracles (Hercules) with a club in one hand, grabbing and leading forward the Nemean Lion with the other hand. Below them, there is a lion-griffin,” the Museum elaborates.
“The lower part of the applique depicts a siren with a lyre. Above it, there is once again a lion-griffin,” it adds.
The Museum further explains that some of the appliques in the silver treasure in question appear to have originated from Ancient Greece, while others probably were crafted by local craftsmen in Ancient Thrace.
“With their detailed craftsmanship and style, the appliques depicting Apollo’s head, and the round ones showing Heracles’ (Hercules’) fight with the Nemean Lion convey an [Ancient] Greek origin. The rest of the appliques are assumed to have been made by an atelier in Thrace,” the Museum says.
It further points out that similar horse ammunition appliques made of gold, silver, or bronze have been discovered in a wide range of Ancient Thracian burials as part of the burial inventories or as part of treasure hoards.
The researchers have established their role as decorating the horse ammunition of the Ancient Thracians. Sufficient “iconographic evidence” has made possible the restoration of the elements of the horse tack and their precise distribution.
The largest applique – in this case the one shapes as a labrys, or double-bitted ax – was placed centrally on a strap on the horse’s forehead. The other, round appliques were attached to the straps lining the horse’s cheeks.
“Alongside other artifacts of precious metals, these decorations served as a symbol of power and testified to the high social status of their owner,” concludes the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
It also notes that based on analogies, i.e. other horse ammunition decoration finds and the style and technology of the silver appliques from the Ancient Thracian burial mound in Mramor near Bulgaria’s Panagyurishte, they can be dated to the middle of the 4th century BC.
Some of the most famous Ancient Thracian horse ammunition (horse harness, horse rein) decoration gold treasures include the Kralevo Gold Treasure, the Ivanski Gold Treasure, and the more recently discovered Svetshari Gold Treasure (discovered in 2012) as well as the Primorsko Gold Treasure (discovered in 2016).
Also check out the articles below of the above-mentioned Ancient Thracian gold horse ammunition decoration treasures:
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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.
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