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OLD BULGARIAN TREASURES

Author: Georgi Balaschev

 

Treasure of Nagy-Szent-Miklos

The Treasure of Nagyszentmiklos (also called the Treasure of Sannicolau Mare) is a valuable collection of twenty-three early medieval gold vessels, found in 1799 in Nagyszentmiklos, Kingdom of Hungary in the Habsburg Empire (now Sannicolau Mare in Romania). The treasure was soon transferred to Kunst Historisches Museum, Vienna, where it has been ever since.

The figure of a "victorious Prince" dragging a prisoner along by his hair, and the mythological scene at the back of the golden jar, as well as the design of other ornamental objects, show close affinities with finds at Novi Pazar, Bulgaria and at Sarkel, Russia. Stylistically, Central Asian, Persian-Sassanid and Byzantine influences are predominant.

As noted above, close affinities have been recognized between the Nagyszentmiklos material and that found at Novi Pazar and in Sarkel. Archaeologists in both Hungary and Bulgaria consider these affinities to support theories of migration of their ancients. Both were allied with Khazars for a period. The treasure gives some idea of the arts practiced within the First Bulgarian Empire, Magyar/Hungarian and Khazar Empire. According to professor Nikola Mavrodinov (based on Wilhelm Thomsen) the script on vessel number 21 is in old Bulgarian, written with Greek letters, surrounding a cross, and is saying “Boil Zoapan made this vessel. Butaul Zoapan intended it for drinking”.

The treasure consisting of 23 gold vessels with a totals weight of 9 kg 945 g was found in an iron chest at a depth of 1,5 m during earth works in 1799 in the village of Nagy-Szent-Miklos by the the river Aronika (Torontal County in the Austro-Hungarian Banat, after WW II in northern Romania). The territory is populated by mixed Hungaro-Romanian-Bulgarian population. Initially the magnificent find was dated by the end of 4th and beginning of 5th c. AD, and ascribed as Hunnish or Hunno-Bulgarian possessions, and specifically as a table set of the legendary Hunnish leader Attila [J. Hampel 1885; W. Thomsen 1917; J. Nemeth 1932]. Others, dating the hoard to the Bulgar epoch, expressed the opinion that these gold vessels were Bulgarian and were stolen from the tomb of the Bulgarian Khan Asparuh [M. Dimitrov 1929; S. Mladenov 1934]. The third attributed the hoard to the 8th - 9th c. AD or to the later centuries and attributed it to the Avars [Tsalani, 1956], Besenyos [Thomsen, 1917] or first the Besenyos and then the Kumans [Nemeth, 1932].

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Golden treasure in Malaya Pereshchepina

On a summer day in 1912 shepherd boys from the village of Maloe Pereshchepino, Poltava region in the Ukraine, played by the small river of Vorska. Unexpectedly, one of them was stuck in the sand up to his waist. When they took him out they found that he had fallen into a large gold vessel. The peasants collected other valuable objects with an overall weight of 20 kg of gold and 50 kg of silver. These were perfectly made eating vessels, many pieces of jewelry and richly ornamented weapons. Aarcheologists arrived from Kiev, collected the finds and took them away. Later all finds were taken to the largest Russian museum, The Hermitage, in the capital city Saint Petersburg.

This discovery raised many questions. The first one was the dating of the treasure. The objects had forms characteristic of the 7th c. AD since each historical period had its specific fashion. The dating was aided by the coins of Byzantine emperors who ruled Byzantium in the middle of this century. There were objects of Byzantine, Persian and Barbarian origin. Scholars decided that the treasure has been collected for a long period through presents from foreign rulers, during wars or by buying valuable objects from other people. It was obvious that the treasure has not been buried accidentally and that it belonged to the grave of an important person, which contained his most valuable and favorable possessing. Such a treasure could belong only to the Bulgarians who at that time inhabited the steppe of the Ukraine. Therefore this must be some of their rulers and not representative of the Avars, the Khazars and the Slavs, as was initially thought.

Then came the next question - who was this mighty ruler? The resolution of this question was taken up by the great German archeologist Prof. Joachim Werner - it has been Kubrat, the khan of Great Bulgaria. This state at the time covered a large territory along the rivers Dnepr, Don and Dnestar and must be recognized as the first state unification of the Bulgarians. As a child his uncle Organa took Kubrat to the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople, where he lived for a couple of years and came to know Byzantine culture and way of life. There he became friends with the future emperor Heraclius and this lasted till his death.

On returning to his homeland, Kubrat spearheaded the battle of his people against the Avars. After driving them away, he created about the year 630 the state of Great Bulgaria, which he ruled almost 30 years. After his death his sons buried him with great ceremony and soon separated as the state fell under the rule of the Khazars. His third son Asparuh headed for the Danube where he founded a state, which is a continuation of the traditions of the old Bulgaria.

During the burial by the body of the diseased were laid two valuable gold sets of 12 pieces each. With them he used to treat his guests and nobles. These sets consisted of cups of massive gold and wine decanters. In addition in the grave were laid the most expensive clothes of the ruler and various jewels and ornaments - bracelets, necklaces, buckles and belt applications, and armament. Among them most impressive is the sword made of gold and precious stones. It is believed that the khan received this sword and other valuable objects as presents from his friend - the Byzantine Emperor.

We often ask ourselves the questions - did archeologists give the correct explanation of the treasure? Fortunately the finds contain the most solid proofs of that: three gold rings, on which are engraved monograms with the name of Kubrat. In one of them he is even called "a honorable Byzantine patrician".

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Hidden Treasures at Vrap-Erseka

In London on 14 of September 1981 Sotheby exhibited the Parke Bernet & Co. collection of gold and silver objects referring to them as "Avar Treasures". The objects showed amazing similarity with those found at Vrap, Albania, in 1901 and currently kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Until then specialists inadvertently placed less plausible hypothesis. The study of the golden objects from Vrap points to what is known as "Royal Insignia", attributes which the ruler alone is entitled to wear and use. Judging from the style they were made and used by the Avar khaganate - the Union of Obrai ("Pseudo-Avars"), Bulgarian Slavs, and Kotragoi of Pannonia and Srem. For a certain period this state also included parts of the former Roman provinces of Dalmatia, Dardania and Illyria, in other words an association coming down from present day Hungary to the southwest of present day Albania.

The new golden and silver objects, on show in London were examined by Joachim Werner, the internationally known German archeologist. In order to establish their mysterious origins he visited Albania, at Vrap, the original site, and confirmed beyond doubt the location of the discovery of the new sensational royal treasure. Werner carried out additional studies and made an exhaustive analysis both of the treasure and the site. Subsequently he published a study in Tirana on the Vrap treasure, which had already won international fame, and a separate monograph in Vienna on the new treasure, shown for the first time in Sotheby.

The town of Erseka (a small town near the Albanian-Greek border, 80 km from Ohrid, 120 km southeast of Vrap) is the site where the sensational golden objects, exhibited in London in 1981, were found. Erseka is situated in a valley on the western slopes of Gramos mountain. The valley is in the upper stretches of Osumi river and a continuation of the Korca valley, which in line is a continuation of the Ohrid valley.

Specialists on the Vrap and Erseka treasures refer to them as "archeological finds of a European standing". It is interesting to note that they are unique cast gold belt applications. On one of the sections of the belt of the this prince, found in the royal treasure of Vrap (Albania) we find engraved the sign of a clan, identical to the sign on a belt of a prince from Osora (a site between the Danube and Balaton lake in Hungary); this gave ground for J. Kovacevich, the Serbian archeologist, to suppose that the Khan's clan sign (from the treasures from Vrap and Erseka) is identical with sign from a grave of Malaya Pereshchepina. Sufficient proof exists for identifying it as sign of the Bulgarian Royal clan of Doulo.

Considering the relief there is substantial ground to suppose that the name "lower Ohrid lands" ("Dolnaja zemja Ohridska"), occuring in the marginal notes to the Chronicle of Manasses, describing events during the reign of Emperor Anastasius (491-517), refers exactly to the Ersek, Dolna Prespa and Korcha valley (Devol). Why do we draw attention to these details? Because the Chronicle of Manasses namely speaks of Dolnaja zemja Ohridska, as territory of the first lasting settlement of the Bulgarian Slavs and the Kotragoi, as well as their military and political stabilization during the 6th c. (after 495, 507 and in particular after 586). Here are the marginal notes in the Chronicle of Manasses: "In the reign of Tzar Anastasius, the Bulgarians began to take these lands, and gradually began to build a home (country), as far as the Ohrid lands, and afterwards they conquered all the Ohrid lands".

Werner's study lead to the conviction, that these objects, which make up the oldest and largest collection related with the state of the "Pseudo Obrai", i.e. the Pannonia-Illyria Bulgarian Kotragoi, were made in a Bulgarian state, so far overlooked by historians - the state of Berzitia. The supposition is that this country included the territory between the Vardar river and the Adriatic, to the west, with the exception of the Byzantine fortified towns of Thessalonike and Dures (the Medieval Dyrrachium). To the south this state reached the Pind mountains, and to the north up to the Lim river, a tributary of the Drina. The valuable treasure found at Vrap, which is, above all, evidence of the culture of this forgotten Bulgarian state are kept, as we already mentioned, at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York, while those from Erseka, and exhibited at the Sotheby Gallery are in an unknown private collection.

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Addendum: The issue of this and maybe subsequent commentaries is the following. The geographical location of old Hunno-Bulgarian treasures is variegated; they spread from Korea to central Pannonia. This was the domain of the great Turkic Khaganate, out of which we are interested in its Western Wing and in times AD. Thus the scope of an eventual study on Hunno-Bulgarian antiquities include a defined hoards (Nagyszentmiklos - 10 kg gold, Malaya Pereshchepina - 70 kg gold and silver, and Vrap/Erseka - 7 kg gold and silver). The artifacts have never been exposed "in toto", not to speak of the fact that their linkage is still under consideration.

On the Bulgarian side the archaeological efforts have been very sparse. The country is poorly represented in terms of scholarly research, while all field and laboratory investigations in Archaeology is done by foreigners. Pitifully, the good acquisitions from the first half of 20th century are largely forgotten (or unavailable). See the chronology line — 1) the proposed monograph from Georgi Balaschev (1911) is first effort to assign "outlier" treasure to Bulgarian khans, concurrently, it is the only full description of Nagyszentmiklos in bulgarian language and encompassing all 23 vessels; 2) the next to best are M. Dimitrov (1929) and S. Mladenov (1934) reviews on published literature for the Khans; and 3) the reports from Joachim Werner (1981, 1984) come to filling the gap on Malaya Pereshchepina and Vrap/Erseka, which, were lost in interim study decay for some 70-80 years.

 

Picture 1: Sample illustration on the text above.

(i). Representative items from Malaya Pereshchepina treasure.

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(ii). Representative items from Nagyszentmiklos - Vrap/Erseka treasures.

 

 

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