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Author: Dimitar P. Dimitrov


History of the investigations

1.1.  From 1396 to 1878

Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. In this long period it was foreign scholars, travelers and diplomats who mainly provided data for monuments from the time of the Principate (1st-3rd c. AD) and the Dominate (4th-6th c. AD) on the Bulgarian lands. Count L. Marsigli (1658-1729) from Bologna is among the most notable. His study Danubius Pannonico-Mysicus was published in 1726 in Amsterdam. Its second volume was related to the ancient monuments and marked in fact the beginning of the scientific archaeological studies in Bulgaria.


1.2.  From the Liberation to the World War I

This was the time of setting up the foundations of the archaeology (the ancient one in particular) in Bulgaria. The first Archaeological Society was established in 1878 in the town of Veliko Tarnovo that had been the capital of the second Bulgarian kingdom (12th-14th c.). In 1892 the Archaeological Museum was established in Sofia. At that time Roman sites, including the big cities Oescus and Nicopolis ad Istrum, were intensively excavated. The Czech scholars V. Dobruski, brothers K. and H. Skorpil contributed greatly to the development of the Antique archaeology in Bulgaria. This was also the time when a number of well-educated Bulgarian archaeologists-specialist in the Antiquity started to work, most of them graduated in Western Europe and mainly in Germany.


1.3.  Between the World Wars

Bogdan Filov (1883-1945) was the indisputable leader of the Antique archaeology (the Roman archaeology in particular) in Bulgaria. In 1920 a Chair of Archaeology was established at Sofia University "St. Kl. Ohridski". The Archaeological Society in Sofia developed into an Archaeological Institute with Department of Antique Archaeology. The History museums in the country collected a great amount of Antique finds coming from intensive surveys and excavations.

The work on an archaeological map of Bulgaria started during this period. Two Late Antique castles near the village of Sadovec, Pleven region were investigated in 1934-37 by Bulgarian-German-Austrian team, and Bulgarian-Italian team excavated the Roman colony Oescus in 1941-43. The period was characterized by a relative independence of the various archaeological units (Museums, the Archaeological Institute, the Chair of Archaeology, Societies) from the central authority and by good public relations resulting from the activity of the leading Roman archaeologists on the popularization of their work.


1.4.  After the World War II (1945-1989)

The abrupt political change in Bulgaria disturbed the normal rhythm of the Antique archaeology development. There was direct state interference. The National Archaeological Museum and the Archaeological Institute had to join together and became a part of the reorganization of the Bulgarian Academy of Science (founded in 1869). A certain distance between the archaeological college and the public emerged. On the other hand, due to the centralized funding from the state budget in the 70s and the 80s many large scale excavations were conducted, a great amount of studies and papers were published, Bulgarian archaeologists participated regularly in international forums on Roman archaeology abroad, annual national archaeological conferences were held, the country hosted international archaeological meetings, all students had the opportunity to work on archaeological excavations to practice on the terrain. The Bulgarian Black Sea coast was intensively surveyed, both underwater and on the land, part of these investigations being related to the Roman and Late Antique periods.

At last the bibliography of the Bulgarian archaeology was published in 1957 and expanded in 1974. An automated Archaeological map of Bulgaria system was introduced in the late 80s. M. Domaradzki, Polish trained research fellow at the Archaeological Institute with Museum had the leading role in the successful accomplishment of this almost a hundred years old project.

The organization changes continued. National Historical Museum with rich collection of ancient finds was established, and constantly accumulated materials from excavations and private collections. From the Section for Antique Archaeology at the Archaeological Institute with Museum, a Section for Thracian Archaeology was separated covering the period from the late 4th millennium to the 1st millennium BC. The archaeologists specialized in Roman archaeology were educated in Sofia University, while the post graduate students could choose between Sofia University and the Archaeological Institute.

The number of the international archaeological expeditions increased. Since 1958 (with few breaks) Bulgarian-German (the Academy of German Democratic Republic in Berlin) team excavates the Late Antique castle Iatrus. Since 1960 Bulgarian and Polish (from the Universities in Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw) archaeologists have investigated the legionary camp and Late Antique town Novae. The University in Bologna, Italy took part in the excavations of the Roman colony Ratiaria, and the University in Nottingham, Great Britain participated in the excavations of Nicopolis ad Istrum. In 1973-74 the first Bulgarian expedition abroad under the leadership of V. Velkov made excavations in Carthage.


1.5.  After 1989

The political changes at the end of 1989 were the next challenge (this time mainly in terms of finance) for the Bulgarian archaeology and for its Roman section in particular. There was an abrupt decrease of the number of excavations and especially the regular ones. The intensified investigations in the recent years are mainly rescue excavations resulting from the construction projects of state and private entrepreneurs.

With the exception of the Bulgarian-Italian team in Ratiaria, the rest of the international teams continue to work. The new partner of the Bulgarian archaeologists in Iatrus from the German side is Romish-Germanische Kommission from Frankfurt am Main. Meanwhile the number of the scientific publications about Roman monuments from Bulgaria is constantly increasing. Regretfully, most of them are unfamiliar for the foreign colleagues mainly because the traditional centralized relations of book exchange and distribution are disturbed, and the newly established ones need time to develop as well as higher activity from each of the partners.

Serious changes occurred in the archaeological education. A Department of Archaeology was established at Sofia University providing new possibilities for a more detailed study in archaeology. A New Bulgarian University was established in Sofia upon a decision of the Bulgarian Parliament. The professors of its Department of Archaeology come mainly from the Archaeological Institute. The Chair of Archaeology at Veliko Tarnovo University "St. St. Cyril and Methodius" (founded in 1962) has a strong tradition in Mediaeval archaeology training, but in the recent years has given special focus on the Roman archaeology.

The opportunities for studying and specialization abroad have increased and have become available for broader range of people compared to the preceding period. The visa restrictions are a serious obstacle for the international activities of the Bulgarian Antique archaeologist. The illegal excavations and export of valuable finds from the Roman period made by the so-called treasure hunters have reached its peak in the recent decade.


1.6.  Prospects

Bulgaria is very rich in finds and monuments dating from the 1st to the 6th century, which form a part of the history of the Roman and the Early Byzantine Empire. In this regard the Antique archaeology is objectively "doomed" to a good development and intensive international co-operation though under certain conditions. The most important among them is the adoption of norms and regulations, setting up a balance between the necessary preservation of the centralized control (especially regarding the official permissions for surveys and excavations and their evaluation) on one hand and the extension of the rights of the municipalities (which is a fact already), the inevitable establishment of legalized private museums, auctions for Antique finds and the registered independent companies for archaeological investigations on the other hand. The state should provide funds for the national archaeological institutions. The archaeological tourism is still a profitable business, but the essential problem is what part of the profit is aimed at excavation, preservation and exhibition of the archaeological finds and monuments.



Miscellaneous: We have been trying to systematize the endeavors of Bulgarian archaeology, with its picks and fall-dawns, up until the end of 20th century. It appears not an easy task and a consistent picture appears of a science being "handmaiden" to myriad other scientific disciplines and to knowledge, per se. This being the case and we give here a classificatory scheme of the contributions to archaeology partly, taken from the last valid "Almanac of Sofia University" /1939/; supplementary commentaries are added from elsewhere sources and thus the spread of archaeology between the three faculties of the university makes more sense:

I. Historical-Philological Faculty

1. Department of History, the study of contemporary and recent societies and cultures; contributors Gavril Katsarov (ancient antiquities), Bogdan Filov (medieval antiquities), etc.

2. Department of Geography; contributors Rafail Popov (prehistoric archaeology, the study of artifacts and other remains to determine the cultures and histories of past peoples who left few or no written records), Ivan Batakliev (paleo-anthropology, the study of human evolution, variation and differentiation into races, communities and urban dwellings), etc.

3. Department of Philology; contributors Stefan Mladenov (linguistics, the study of structural patterns and historical relations among languages), Stoyan Romanski (ethnology, the study of the total of learned human behavior, customs, activities and manufactures), etc.

II. Physical-Mathematical Faculty

1. Department of Geology; contributors Petar Bakalov (paleontology, the study of fossil plants and animals entombed in rocks), Georgi Bonchev (stratigraphy, the study of the order and distribution of rock formations laid down by water and wind), etc.


Picture 1: Here is a rare photograph of James Harvey Gaul /1911-1945/.

(i). Despite his untimely death he was shot in the Tatra Mountains, Slovakia, during an air-raid by the Nazis his "Neolithic Period in Bulgaria" published posthumously, remains the connective tissue between "totalitarian" archaeology in Bulgaria and western science for a period of 50 years. The only exception were maybe two books published by British archaeologist Ralph Hoddinott in the 1970s, ditto.



Copyright 2007, 2008 by the author.