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Author: Konstantin Troshev


Introduction to archaeology work in Bulgaria

In the 1880s two Czech brothers, Karel and Hermengild Skorpil took part in excavations of ancient sites in Bulgaria and contributed significantly to the establishing of archaeology in that country. In the 19th century, two thirds of the founders of Bulgarian archaeology were Czechs. It was the beginning of archaeology there and later the cooperation continued. So I think it is a country where the Czechs brought more than in other parts of the world and what really is significant and apparent. At that time Czech archaeologists were also interested in the prehistory of the Middle East. One of them, Professor Bedrich Hrozny, decoded the Hittite script in 1915.

I think the 19th century Alois Musil who was related to the great Austrian author Robert Musil made really important discoveries in the Arab Desert of the Umayyad and the early medieval cities. And of course, it was Bedrich Hrozny, the decipherer of the Hittite script. Also his excavations were important but his decipherment of the Hittite script is something that stands out. It is one of the best achievements of Czech archaeology in general.

A bit earlier the brothers Karel and Herman Skorpil had settled in Bulgaria as a part of a large group of Czechs, whose aim was to assist the newly established Bulgarian state. Karel and Herman started work as teachers in natural science and mathematics, devoting their free time to the search and description of antiquities. The latter turned out to be Karel's true vocation. He was born on 15.07.1859 in the town of Visoko Mito, Czechoslovakia. He graduated in mathematics, but ancient history attracted him stronger. After settling in the Bulgarian town of Varna he started to systematically inspect north-eastern Bulgaria. The ruins at Aboba impressed him deeply. He visited them repeatedly and the views of the large stone fortress and, especially, of the earthen ramparts made him ask himself whether this town was in existence even before its mentioning in the X c. and whether the older capital of Bulgaria, prior to Preslav, was here.

His view was a heresy at the time when it was thought that Preslav was the only capital of the First Bulgarian kingdom. Initially Karel Skorpil did not express his suspicions openly. But with time evidence in his support accumulated. The stone fortress was surrounded by an enormous earthen rampart of a type unknown from either the Christian Bulgarian or the earlier Romano-Byzantine periods. Around the rampart there were devtashlars sites of erected stones, placed in orderly fashion, which were undoubtedly connected with pagan customs and rites. The ruins of the mysterious town and the surrounding area produced several Greek language inscriptions from the pre-Christian Bulgarian period. The names of the rulers Omurtag and Malamir could be read on them. Besides this evidence, the distance of 85 km between the old and the new palace of the ruler Omurtag, stated in the inscription from Veliko Tarnovo, did not correspond to the distance between Preslav and any part of Danube. Karel Skorpil was aware of the authorative explanation of C. Irechek, but he was not convinced by it. At least he expressed his views. In 1897 we read in his book "Mogili" ("Mounds") that: "... here (at Aboba) was, I think, the old Bulgarian capital of Asparukh, Krum, Omortag and Malamer, the capital having moved after that to the near-by Preslav". This laconic conclusion was repeated in the Annual report of the Varna archaeological society from 1897-1898. The views of Skorpil came to the knowledge of the eminent Russian Byzantologist Fjodor Uspenskij, at that time the head of the Russian Archaeological institute in Constantinople. The Russian scholar was known for his efforts to reveal the true place of the Slavs in their relations with Byzantium and supported an attempt to locate the oldest capital of Bulgaria.

In June 1899 F. Uspenskij, accompanied by his assistant M. Popruzhenko, arrived in Bulgaria in order to select a place for the sponsored by his institute excavations. The Bulgarian Ministry of Education on its part dispatched K. Skorpil and the historian V. Zlatarski and this four-men commission left for Aboba. There Skorpil presented his arguments in detail. They were accepted by the rest of the commission as worthy an excavation. The arguments were repeated publicly a little bit later by V. Zlatarski at an archaeological congress in Kiev.

The excavations started on October 6, 1899, with 20 workers. Their number increased to 35 by the end of the season. A mound of ruins, called "Saraj-eri" ("Palace") by the local Turkish population was excavated. In October, 10 workers were send to start digs at the locality "Klise-eri" ("Church"). Skorpil's feeling of the site allowed him to select the two most significant monuments of Pliska, designated as early as then as the Throne Palace and the Large Basilica. The results were surprising and impressive. The excavated buildings, despite the destruction, were so impressive, that initially F. Uspenskij thought they were not Bulgarian, but Byzantine. The excavations continued in 1900, when the work on the localities from the previous year was finished and new, partial excavations of the stone fortress and of buildings to the west and to the north of the palace were initiated. A large pagan temple, converted consequently into a church, and two buildings, described as the living quarters of a palace were discovered. The massive stone walls, built of large ashlars, the layout of the buildings as well as the artifacts did not leave space for doubt this was the capital of Bulgaria from the pagan period. Its name, however, was not revealed. Was it unknown to the sources or was it indeed the mentioned in X-XI c. sources 'Pliskova'? The excavations could not answer this question.

The following years were devoted to the preparation of the report, published in 1905 in vol. X of the Russian institute's journal. The work was done mainly by K. Skorpil. Meanwhile, in 1905 F. Uspenskij organized minor excavations at Preslav. At the same time, following Skorpil's advice, the young archaeologist from Shumen, Rafail Popov, excavated a large half-buried stone column in the field to the west of the then village of Chatalar (modern Tsar Krum), at 6 km to the north of Preslav, on the road towards Pliska. The 25-lines of Greek text on this column inform about a palace, which Omurtag built along the river Ticha in 821-822 AD. In the inscription Omurtag calls his residence "the military camp Pliska". Thus we came to know the name of the first capital. A little bit later the Bulgarian Apocriphal Chronicle from the XI c. was also discovered. The chronicle attributed the foundation of Pliska to tsar Ispor (Asparukh).

Karel Skorpil had a real archaeological discovery on his hands. It was not incidental, but deliberate, the fruit of a long period of preliminary work. In some aspects it mirrors some of the discoveries of the European archaeology in the Asia Minor, the Near East and Egypt.


Karel Skorpil

Karel Skorpil (15 May 1859 - 9 March 1944) was a Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist and museum worker credited along with his brother Hermann with the establishment of those disciplines in Bulgaria.

Born in the city of Vysoke Myto (then Hohenmauth in Austria-Hungary, now part of Usti nad Orlici District, Pardubice Region of the Czech Republic), he finished high school in Pardubice before graduating from the Charles University and the Technical University in Prague. In 1881, he moved to what was then Eastern Rumelia (since 1885 united with the Principality of Bulgaria) to work as a high-school teacher in the Bulgarian cities of Plovdiv (1882-1886), Sliven (1886-1888), Varna (1888-1890, 1894-1915) and Veliko Tarnovo (1890-1894). Since 1894, Karel Skorpil settled permanently in the port city of Varna on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, where he founded the Varna Archeological Society in 1901 and the Varna Archaeological Museum in 1906, of which he was the director from 1915 to his death. He was also a teacher and lecturer at the Naval Academy and the Trade School.

As a young teacher, Karel Skorpil came to be interested in archeology. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he published around 150 works, whether as the sole author or in collaboration with his brother, including 30 in German, Russian and Czech, primarily devoted to Bulgaria. He discovered and headed the excavations of the medieval Bulgarian castles at Pliska, Preslav and Madara; he also unearthed the prehistoric stilt houses in Lake Varna, among others.

Karel Skorpil was member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Bulgarian Archeological Institute. He died in Varna on 9 March 1944 and was buried among the ruins of the old Bulgarian capital Pliska.

All research by the Skorpil brothers was self-funded and all unearthed monuments have been preserved in Bulgaria. A street in Varna where their house is located and the Black Sea village and seaside resort Shkorpilovtsi were named after the brothers. Their hometown Vysoke Myto is also a twin town of Varna.

Karel Skorpil's major works include,

Archaeological and Historical studies in Thrace (1885, co-author).

Monuments across Bulgaria (1888);

Geography and Statistics of Principality Bulgaria (1892, co-author);

Burial Mounds (1898);

Aboba - Pliska (1905);

Wladyslaw Warnenczyk (1923, co-author);

Monuments from the capital Preslav (1930).


Hermann Skorpil

Hermengild Skorpil (8 February 1858 - 25 June 1923) was a Czech-Bulgarian archaeologist and museum worker credited along with his brother Karel with the establishment of those disciplines in Bulgaria, as well as a geologist, botanist, architect and librarian.

Born in the city of Vysoke Myto (then Hohenmauth in Austria-Hungary, now part of Usti nad Orlici District, Pardubice Region of the Czech Republic), he finished high school in Chrudim and Pardubice and graduated from the Technical University in Prague and in natural sciences from the University of Leipzig. From 1880 to 1906 he was a teacher at various Bulgarian cities: Plovdiv, Sofia, Sliven, Ruse and Varna, where he helped in the schooling of natural history, geography, zoology, botany, arithmetic and German language.

Herman Skorpil published the first summary of mineral treasures in Bulgaria with geologic map a pioneer research that served as the basis for scientific mineralogy studies in Bulgaria. Also very valuable are his studies on the geography and statistics of Bulgaria, based on data of the first three official censuses in this country.

In 1884 he founded a museum in Sliven, as well as a museum of natural sciences in Ruse in 1902. From 1906 to his death he was the curator of the Varna Archaeological Museum that for decades since has been the basic motivating power for interest and study in the history of Varna, Varna Region, and Northeast Bulgaria.

Hermengild Skorpil died on 25 June 1923, and was buried in Janavara (Varna region), an archaeological site which features an early-Christian complex with a fifth-century church.

His major works include,

Mineral Treasures in Bulgaria (1884);

Monuments across Bulgaria (1888, co-author);

Geography and Statistics of Principality Bulgaria (1892);

Primitive people in Bulgaria (1896);

Burial Mounds (1898, co-author);

Wladyslaw Warnenczyk (1923).


Vladislav Skorpil

Vladislav Skorpil (15 November 1953 - 27 December 1918) was the eldest brother Skorpil who worked for some time in Bulgaria.

He was graduate of classical philology from Prague and Leipzig. The earliest date for his arrival in Bulgaria is about 1880, together with his brother Hermengild. Instigation came from another Czech scholar, Konstantin Jirechek, who was Minister of Education at that time in the country. As revealed from the archives, Jirechek proved to be first relative to the Skorpil brothers his father Josef and their mother Ana were siblings.

Vladislav Skorpil didn't left much trace in Bulgaria except the first book on archaeology, "Notes on archaeological and historical studies in Thrace", published in 1885. He left then for Russia, where he worked for long years in Odessa and was director of the Archaeological Museum in Kerch. He was in fact at good position with the Emperor's Archaeological Society in Russia, notably for his research with well-known Prof. Michael Rostovtzeff on Scythian art.

Vladislav Skorpil died in Kerch on 27 December 1918.

Important works are,

Archaeological and Historical studies in Thrace (1885).



Proceedings of the Russian Archaeological Institute in Constantinople, Volume 10: Aboba-Pliska (1905)

F. I. Uspenskiy Chapter I. The historical and archaeological significance of Aboba and its environs. Excavations. Name of the ancient settlement. 1-15
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter II. Geographical observation: Aboba plain and mountains around it. Old settlements in Aboba plain. 16-29
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter III. Fortifications in Aboba plain 30-61
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter IV. Constructions in Aboba fortress 62-152
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter V. Building materials 153-172
F. I. Uspenskiy Chapter VI. Old Bulgarian inscriptions: columns with city names; inscriptions with fragments of treaties; inscriptions with historical content; fragments of inscriptions of various content and origin 173-249
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter VII. Marks on building materials 250-264
F. I. Uspenskiy Chapter VIII. Unknown script. The most ancient symbols of script 265-280
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter IX. Drawings on stones and bricks, and sculptured fragments 281-286
D. V. Aynalov Chapter Х. Church utensils and decorations 287-290
B. A. Panchenko Chapter XI. Byzantine seals and coins 291-300
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XII. Home view and trade 301-317
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XIII. Weapons 318-321
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XIV. Water supply 322-324
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XV. Barrows 325-337
D. D. Yellikh Chapter XVI. Skulls 338-371
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XVII. Megalithic monuments 372-384
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XVIII. Monuments in the environs of Aboba plain: Stana, Provad mountains, watershed hills and Shumen mountains. 385-442
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XIX. Some roads in East Bulgaria 443-502
K. V. Shkorpil Chapter XX. Entrenchments and earthworks in Bulgaria 503-543
F. I. Uspenskiy Chapter XXI. A recently discovered inscription of Omurtag. Capitals (settlements, camps) of the ancient Bulgarians 544-554
B. A. Panchenko Appendix I (to Chapter VI). Seal of bagatur and bain John Khotin 555-557
K. V. Shkorpil Appendix II (to Chapter XX). Concerning earthworks and entrenchments 558-569



Addendum: "Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum /CIL/ assembled the inscriptions of the Danubian provinces (Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Moesia and Dacia) together with Latin texts from the Greek East (Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt). When Theodor Mommsen published this monumental work in 1873 most of the entries were based on written accounts from earlier scholars and travelers, many with little or no experience of the "minutiae" of Greek and Roman epigraphy. Whenever possible Mommsen himself travelled to conduct personal autopsy of the major collections accessible within the then existing boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The dismemberment of Turkey-in-Europe five years after the publication of CIL was to open for scholars many districts from which Mommsen himself confessed he had found virtually nothing to report ..."

As a matter of fact this excerpt should be read as introduction to some preliminary studies on brothers Skorpil cf., Karel Skorpil and Hermengild Skorpil with their groundbreaking work in Bulgaria. The apostolic contributions of those two Czech scholars on discovering the early roots of the medieval Bulgarian Kingdom, as we see, from the workload of the "Russian Archaeological Institute in Constantinople, Volume 10: Aboba-Pliska" is quite impressive. In its bulk of some 600 pages, altogether, this collection of archaeological material couldn't be surpassed even towards the end of the years after World War II.

It came as it goes that one of the brothers, Hermengild, died rather early in his life and Karel was surmised to carry on alone for another 20 years. What was seemingly a Herculean archaeological work was done with much funding from outside. The contributions of the Russian archaeology is without doubt immense. Also the Germans gave much impetus to the newly consolidated Kingdom of Bulgaria (1908), and while there were only two archaeologists in Bulgaria beforehand Vasil Zlatarski and Rafail Popov subsequently, in the 1920s and 1930s their numbers increased to more than a dozen. These are circumstances that make the estimate of Skorpil's work even more complicated, while their original research soon became overlaid by additional matter that provoked new debates.

So it brings to the point, what really important was left by Karel and Hermann Skorpil for the period of their stay in Bulgaria 1881 to 1944. We have browsed many times the original sources available and they are really very parsimonious in terms of personal data. Evidently the names K. and H. Skorpil were not common-hold in their native country Czechoslovakia, since the archives in Vysoke Myto didn't reveal any further information than their birth certificates and some early reminiscences. The five brothers Skorpil, sons of Vaclaus Skorpil (a schoolteacher), were obviously emissaries of good will around the world. One of them worked in Odessa, another in Pilzen and the two of them in Bulgaria. The correspondent of this tiny monograph at hand couldn't reveal any auxiliary information and pitiably no photographs were recovered from their Czech period.

The volatility of king Ferdinand towards foreign subjects in Bulgaria was obvious in those early years. Let us try to make a psychological portrait of the two scholars. Karel Skorpil the engineer and organizer, commendably the more robust from the two, being a fundraiser and reconnoiter of international scale. He helped to establishing many scientific associations at their early phase in Bulgaria and was member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Bulgarian Archeological Institute; Hermann Skorpil the naturalist and traveler, austere but thin man with incessant energy, always in the shadow of his brother. He defended their primer goal in Bulgaria as teachers and educators to the end and was instrumental to writing the first easy-reading textbooks in natural history, geology, geography, demography, etc. in Bulgarian language.

One last thing before compromising with the heritage of K. and H. Skorpil. It is documented in the book, that the archive of Karel Skorpil was stolen by a certain American publisher in the 1930s but later recovered at an antiquary auction in Paris and albeit without the picture material. That could be purely a speculation that we don't know for sure, but from our collateral sources we can prove that Bulgarian archaeology did not remain mute from those tumultuous interwar years. Far from any Indiana Jones adventures, we can cite here some alternative authors that fully supported the foundation work of the Czech scholars. Moreover, some bulgarian authors cf., Vasil Avramov (with work on Hemus mountain passes), Lyubomir Vladikin (with work on Tsarevgrad Tarnovo) and Dimitar Krandjalov (with work on earthen ramparts in Dobrudja and Besarabia) which were long times considered as fiction writers and decadents by the modern archaeology reference literati, apparently shouldn't be ignored as sources up-to-date. Their polygraph work looked far better than Karel Skorpil's, their charts provided richer detail and they presented aerial photographs for the first time in Bulgaria, ditto.


Pictures 1 & 2: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). Original content of the most popular book by K. Skorpil, viz., "Materialje dlya Bolgarskih Drevnostei Abobe-Pliska".


(ii). It may seem unbelievable to the bystander, but the proportions of the first Bulgarian capital Aboba-Pliska were larger than capital Constantinople itself. These measurements have been corroborated lately by a German-Bulgarian archaeological expedition.


(iii). Last picture of the Skorpil brothers together at meeting of Polish-Bulgarian Society for Friendship (1923); Hermann is to the left, Karel is to the right, 2 members of the Polish delegation in the middle.



Copyright 2010 by the author.