The Ancient Thracian city of Seuthopolis (today under water) was established by King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 – ca. 330 BC), ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st century AD), the most powerful state of Ancient Thrace. It was founded around 325 – 315 BC, after the breakup of the Empire of Emperor Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC), on top of an earlier Thracian settlement which is believed to have been burned down.
For several decades, Seuthopolis was the mighty capital of the Odrysian Kingdom. In 281 BC, Seuthopolis was sacked by the Celts, and by 270 BC, it is believed to have waned. Today, the ruins of Seuthopolis are located near the town of Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria, on the bottom of the Koprinka Water Reservoir where it ended up as a result of a decision of the communist regime in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.
Seuthopolis was an Early Hellenistic city with active relations to other major centers of the Hellenistic World. The palace of King Seuthes III was also a shrine of the Cabeiri, ancient deities worshiped in a number of Thracian and Greek cities in the Hellenistic World, which indicates that Seuthes might have been a priest-king, the high priest of the Cabeiri among the Odrysian Thracians. The cult for the Cabeiri was associated with fire and metallurgy, and the smith-god Hephaestus.
Seuthopolis was located on elevated ground with natural defenses as it was surrounded on three sides by the Tundzha River. It had a fortified area of about 50 decares (app. 12.5 acres), and much of its territory was occupied by public buildings, rather than homes, with additional population living in suburbs outside of the fortress wall, and in nearby settlements. Its fortress wall was about 890 meters long, and it had the shape of a pentagon, with thorough urban planning similar to that of a Greek polis, and with streets crossing at right angles, and forming rectangular quarters. The city was inhabited by about 50 aristocratic families.
The name of the Odrysian Thracian capital became known thanks to an inscription found in the residence of King Seuthes III which stated in Greek: “This inscription [is] to be engraved on two tablets, and to be placed in Seuthopolis, in the temple of the Great Thracian Gods”. The city also had a temple of ancient god Dionysus.
As part of their excavations in the 1950s, the Bulgarian archaeologists also excavated the necropolis of Seuthopolis, with three burial mounds, which, however, had been raided back in the Antiquity. The fact that many of the graves were found in brick tombs is something untypical of the Ancient Thracians because bricks were not used as construction materials in other parts of Thrace.
King Seuthes III was also the first Thracian ruler to mint his own coins. During the excavations of Seuthopolis, the archaeologists found over 2,000 coins, including about 800 coins of Seuthess III.
The King’s residence was in the northeast corner of Seuthopolis; it had a 40-meter-long façade, and was richly decorated.
The ruins of Seuthopolis were first discovered in 1948 by Bulgarian archaeologists carrying out rescue excavations for the construction of the Koprinka Water Reservoir. The Ancient Thracian capital was fully excavated by 1953. In spite of the value of the archaeological site, the communist government of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (1944/8-1989) decided to go ahead with the water reservoir project, leaving the ruins of Seuthopolis under 20 meters of water.
In 2005, Bulgarian architect Zheko Tilev proposed a project to make the submerged Ancient Thracian capital Seuthopolis accessible for visitors by building a round dam around the city walling it off from the waters of the Koprinka Reservoir right in the middle of the artificial lake. The project for making a top-notch archaeological and cultural tourism destination out of Seuthopolis by building a wall around it with a circumference of almost 1.3 km is estimated to cost about EUR 50 million. Walled off from the water, the Ancient Thracian city would be visited by tourists by traveling to its wall by boats, and then descending by four panoramic elevators.
The project has been supported by Kazanlak Municipality which has been fundraising to finance it but appears to be nowhere near securing the necessary sum. Yet, there are great hopes for the “resurfacing” of Seuthopolis, including because thanks to the detailed archaeological excavations in the early 1950s, modern-day Bulgarian archaeologists have all the necessary information to restore the ancient city.
If it is ever accomplished, the exhibition in situ of the ruins of the submerged city of Seuthopolis will be an integral part of the so called Valley of Thracian Kings – the area of the Kazanlak Valley which is dotted with Ancient Thracian tombs, including the tomb of the Golyama Kosmatka Mound where the founder of Seuthopolis, the Thracian King Seuthes III, was buried.