Nikopol Treasure (‘First’ & ‘Second’ Nikopol Treasures)

The Nikopol Treasure dates back to the High Middle Ages and the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

The Nikopol Treasure dates back to the High Middle Ages and the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Pictured is the Second Nikopol Treasure. Photo: Pleven Regional Museum of History

The Nikopol Treasure is a medieval Bulgarian treasure from the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396). It was discovered near the Danube town of Nikopol by accident on two separate occasions – in 1915 and 1971.

In February 1915, locals cultivating a vineyard in an area known as Harmanlaka outside of Nikopol discovered a copper cauldron containing silver vessels, earrings, bracelets as well as coins of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) where he is depicted with his sons Mihail Asen and Ivan Sratsimir (later Tsar Ivan Sratsimir of the Vidin Tsardom, r. 1371-1396). Later this became known as the First Nikopol Treasure. In a separate case, in 1917, a hoard of 261 silver coins was discovered near the ruins of the medieval fortress of Nikopol.

A second (part of the same) treasure was found, also by accident, but in 1971 when a tractor driver exposed another copper cauldron during plowing; it was located near the place of the 1915 discovery, at a depth of 1.5 meters beneath the surface. The cauldron contained about 200 silver and gold artifacts with ornate decorations including five silver bullions used for substantial payments in the Middle Ages.

The 1971 discovery is the so called Second Nikopol Treasure. It consists of silver items weighing a total of 3.5 kg, and gold items weighing 320 grams. Most of the artifacts are adornments such as gold ear caps, gold bracelets, a gold necklace, silver torcs (neck rings), and a total of 157 silver and gold buttons used for clothing decoration. The torcs especially are seen as evidence that the treasure belonged to aristocrats with a high social status.

The Nikopol Treasure also includes two silver vessels with inscriptions in Bulgarian, a large silver bowl with gold coating, and two silver spoons with the name “Balin” engraved on them. Balin is believed to have been the last owner of the treasure. The silver spoons have been dated to the 14th century.

The treasure also includes gold and silver coins of Byzantine Emperors John III Ducas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) (technically, Emperor of Nicea since between 1204 and 1261, Constantinople was occupied by the Latin Empire of the Western European knights from the Fourth Crusade), and Manuel II Palaeologus (r. 1391-1423). Based on the latter’s coins it has been stipulated that the Nikopol Treasure was buried in at the very end of the 14th century, i.e. at the time when the invading Ottoman Turks conquered today’s Northern Bulgaria, or possibly shortly after the conquest.

The adornments from Nikopol are said to resemble the decorations depicted in images of medieval Bulgarian nobles from the frescoes of the Boyana Church in Sofia and other surviving churches from the High and Late Middle Ages such as those in Zemen and Kalotina, both located to the west of Sofia.

There have been stipulations that Balin whose name is engraved on the silver spoons may have been the lord of the area around Nikopol in the late 14th century. His name has been connected with that of Todor Balina, one of the leaders of the First Tarnovo Uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1598. The First Tarnovo Uprising aimed to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Yoke (as the period between 1396 and 1878 is known in Bulgarian history), and was centered in Veliko Tarnovo, in Central North Bulgaria, the last medieval capital of the Bulgarian Empire. Todor Balina was described as “the prime nobleman” of the Nikopol district meaning a potential descent from a Bulgarian aristocratic family from the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire. If Todor Balina and Balin from the Nikopol Treasure were indeed related, this poses a question as to how their noble family survived and even preserved its status since the medieval Christian Bulgarian aristocracy was mostly annihilated by the Ottomans.

The Second Nikopol Treasure is part of the collection of the Regional Museum of History in the northern Bulgarian city of Pleven.

Home: Pleven Regional Museum of History

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