Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo Gold and Silver Treasure from Ancient Thrace

The stunning gold and silver greave (knee-piece) from the Ancient Thracian treasure of Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo dated to the first half of the 4th century BC. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

The Treasure of Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo is a rich Ancient Thrace gold and silver treasure from the 4th century BC, the time of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom.

The Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo Treasure was discovered in 2005 by archaeologist Daniela Agre from Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology during rescue excavations of Golyamata Mogila (“The Large Mound"), an Ancient Thracian burial mound between the towns of Zlatinitsa and Malomirovo, Elhovo Municipality, Yambol District, in Southwest Bulgaria.

The rescue excavations were carried out after the Large Mound had been targeted repeatedly by treasure hunters trying to loot it. The mound in question was part of a large necropolis including a number of Ancient Thracian burial mounds.

Daniela Agre’s discovery is seen as especially rare not only because the better part of Bulgaria’s numerous stunning treasures from Ancient Thrace have been discovered by accident, and finding a treasure during excavations is deemed more of an exception than a rule, but also because the discovery of an intact grave of an ancient (Thracian) ruler is also extremely rare.

The grave found the Large Mound between Zlatnitsa and Malomirovo in Southeast Bulgaria in 2005 contained a big funeral inventory ranging from gold jewelry and adornments to armaments and horse harness decorations.

The most impressive treasure finds are:

A gold laurel wreath with an image of ancient victory goddess Nike;

29 gold rosettes which attached to a leather band placed on the deceased Thracian ruler’s head at the time of his burial;

A massive gold seal ring which the Thracian ruler wore on the little finger of his left hand featuring a Thracian mythology scene known from other artifacts as well, namely, how the Great Mother Goddess offers a phiale (bowl) to the Horseman – King (also known as the Thracian Horseman) in order to make him part of the world of gods;

A silver greave with gold plating richly decorated with images of the Ancient Thracian ruler and Thracian mythology scenes;

2 silver rhytons with gold plating shaped as deer heads – one of the rhytons is decorated with a relief showing two griffins tearing to pieces a bull, the other has relief showing two young warriors killing a boar;

4 silver phiales (bowls), a bronze jug, a bronze situla (bucket or pail), a bronze sifter, a wide dish decorated with an applique, a semi-spherical bronze vessel, a black-figure kylix (wine cup), a pelike (vessel similar to an amphora), four amphorae from the Island of Thasos in the Aegean (Mediterranean) Sea, and an alabastron (a small vessel for oils) made alabaster;

Horse harness decorations: two sets of silver horse harness appliques, 200 silver beads, and two iron reins.

This gold laurel wreath was discovered in 2015 in an Ancient Thracian burial mound near Zlatinitsa and Malomirovo, Elhovo Municipality, in Southeast Bulgaria (it is part of the Zlatinitsa Gold Treasure, also known as the Zlatinitsa-Malomirovo Treasure). Underneath are the 29 gold rosettes attached to a band, which served as a crown to the Ancient Thracian ruler. Below them is the massive gold seal ring found with it, which shows the Great Mother Goddess and the Thracian Horseman, supreme deities in Ancient Thracian mythology. The wreath was the only gold Thracian gold wreath in the collection of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia until December 2015. Photo: Tourbillon, Wikipedia

In its middle, right on the forehead, the golden laurel wreath from the Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo Treasure features an image of ancient victory goddess Nike. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

The armaments found in the Ancient Thracian grave with the Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo Treasure include an iron sword of the makhaira type typical for the Thracians, 200 bronze arrows, 7 spears, an iron chain armor, and a bronze Chalcidian type helmet.

On his feet, the buried Thracian ruler had a pair of leather moccasins, the first such find from Ancient Thrace.

The grave from the Large Mound between Zlatinitsa and Malomirovo is one of the richest burials from 4th century BC Ancient Thrace to have been discovered in Bulgaria so far.

Bulgarian archaeologists especially emphasize the value of the gold laurel wreath and the silver and gold greave describing them as marvelous works of Thracian “toreutics", i.e. artistic metalworking, especially since the decorations scenes shed more light on Thracian mythology, religion, and funeral rites.

One of the two deer head-shaped gold-coated silver rhytons from the Ancient Thracian treasure of Zlatinitsa-Malomirovo dated to the first half of the 4th century BC. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

Anthropological analysis has shown that the buried Thracian aristocrat was 18 or 19 years old when he died. The artifacts found in his grave are symbols of power and status legitimizing him as an important figure in Thracian society.

Leading hypotheses state that the grave where the Zlatinitsa – Malomirovo Treasure was associated with King Cersobleptes (Cersebleptes, Kersobleptes, Kersebleptes), son of Cotys I, King of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom (r. 384 – 360 BC). The person who was buried in the Large Mound may have been one of the four known sons of Cersobleptes.

In the mound, the archaeologists have also found the skeletons of two horses and a dog from an extinct breed. The laying of the Thracian aristocrat’s favorite animals in his grave is a well-known Thracian custom. The dog was found to have been ritually killed with a large stone judging from hairs stuck to the stone. The animal remains were covered with three hemp mats.

In order to honor their deceased ruler, the Thracians from the respective tribe dig up two moats at the burial mound which were used as alleys for remembrance rites such as horse and dog sacrifices, and leaving food and wine.

More offerings were made on top of the grave – there was a wooden structure above the grave itself, and stones were put on top of it. At this “monument", the Thracians would smash pottery vessels filled with food.

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

A Companion to Ancient Thrace (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)

Thrace: The History of the Ancient World’s Link Between East and West

Orpheus and Greek Religion (Mythos Books)

Dionysus in Thrace: Ancient Entheogenic Themes in the Mythology and Archeology of Northern Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey

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