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IN THE LAND OF TREASURES

In 1851, near the village Rozovets located in the Kazanlak valley, a certain grandfather Stoyan took out from a barrow a marble block. An opening gaped and precious antiques shined inside: even before Schliemann to excavate the Troy, the first Thracian treasure was discovered. It contained a gold wreath and things reminding those described by Homer in his epos: there, for the first time, the shining Thracian dinner sets and royal accoutrements were praised in song. In Bulgarian lands, the practice to lay precious metals in graves is older by three millennia than this was practiced in the times of the Trojan War. The earliest, from the end of the 5th millennium BC, are the gold findings at the village of Hotnitsa, the Varna and Dourankoulak necropolises. During the following three millennia, no gold objects have so far been found in Thrace. Such items appeared again only in the first centuries of the 1st millennium BC, from the time of which the cups found at town of Belene and the village Kazichene as well as in the Valchitran treasure most likely have come.
Gradually, in the museums had accumulated such a great amount of precious metals that the number of gold and silver objects as well as the 'underground treasuring' of coins formed the notion of Bulgaria as a peculiar 'country of treasures'. Of course, it is not the abundance of such items here that is important. Far more significant with respect to analyzing Thracian and, more generally speaking, the early European aristocratic culture, are the forms of the treasure objects and the scenes depicted on them.


Without the elegance of the long-neck rhytons and protomes of horses, bulls, Pegasus or sphinxes we could hardly imagine whatever royal dinner set. The same holds true for the rythonized pitchers and the short-neck rhytons: they are given the shape of 'female head' or protomes of deer, roe-deer, goat, ram, bull. The rhytonized amphorae are richly decorated with raised images. The little pitchers shine in gilt and the silver phials amaze the viewer.
The scenes depicted on the walls of these vessels as well as the applications on shields, armors and horse harnesses are diverse and show subjects not known to us from other sources. Attempts at interpreting them only on the basis of Hellenic mythology or by using complicated constructions related to the 'immortalization' of Thracian elite within the framework of an 'Orphic royal doctrine' are, as a rule, a failure. This is so because of the underestimation of their folklore aspect: these scenes reflect also the practices from Thracians' traditional ritualistic calendar.


Among the constant efforts and cares of the Hittite Kings, as early as in the 2nd millennium BC, was, first of all, to ensure the fertility of the cultivated fields and the well-being of the herds of domestic animals. Hittite texts reveal a series of rites aimed at "ensuring rain", "releasing the God-Sun from the prison", "having the Big River letting free her flow"... It was especially important to "appease the wrath of Telepin " who, when enraged: "collects the grain, the Goddess of fields, the growth of plants, their blossoming and their swelling up with juices... cows, sheep and people stop leaving issue anymore... The mountain valleys dry up... The pastures dry up. The springs dry up. And famine settles in the country so that men and gods alike die of hunger." Gods willingly fulfilled these ritual prayers: Kings were able to persuade them that the higher the number of people in the lands dependent on them and the more prosperous they are, the more precious donations the gods themselves were to receive.


Similar beliefs were traditional during the 1st millennium BC not only in Asia Minor and the Caucasus but also in the Balkans. Here they were typical for the largest European rural community in the antiquity, the Thracian one. The folklore simplicity of its rituality was so strong that its foundation had been well preserved in the course of the following two millennia. During the Middle Ages, it also became the essence of the beliefs of the new local animal-breeding community, the Bulgarians, not only because Thracians infused as a substantial component into the Bulgarian people.


Bulgarians continued successfully to develop the millennium-old rural Balkan traditions. It was exactly these traditions that let them to settle here soundly and to live, to shed sweat, tears and blood in the land of the key historical-geographic regions Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia in the course of the following thirteen centuries. Ancient-Thracian relics can be found in Bulgarian festival-ritualistic cycles of Koleda, Gergiovden, the 'kouker' plays and other ritual practices of seasonal nature, related to the everyday life of land tillers and settled animal-breeders. After 9th century AD, they are given a new meaning on a Christian basis in a number of Bulgarian cults like those of 'St. Marina', 'St. Iliya', 'St. Vlas', 'St. Modest', 'the Day of St. Trifon', 'the Day of St. Enyo (or the Summer St. John)', 'Babin Day'...


Beliefs in 'Dragons' and 'She-Dragons', 'sacred deer', 'samodiva', 'the weird sisters', and so on have a pagan nature, while many 'Services' are delivered on certain days in chapels dedicated to various saints. Such is the cult of the 'self-chased deer' that, on the appointed day and hour, comes and alone puts its head under the oblatory knife. The same is true for the successor of the 'Thracian Horseman', St. Georgi: in a syncretic image at folklore level it represents both the 'Hero-victor' and the 'knight' Krali Marko. Also, Bulgarian 'villi' and 'samovilli' (wood nymphs) coincide with the main characters of Thracian ritual cycles. The images and scenes from Thracian objects as if illustrate the local fairy tales and songs about 'Krali Marko', the 'Serpent-Dragon', the 'Three-headed Lamia', the 'Lower' and the 'Upper' worlds...


Almost every living thing in Thracian plots has also the ability to fly. Not birds alone fly. Horses and chariots are also winged. Wings are put on goats, deer and wolves/dogs. Lions are winged. Boars fly, too; griffons soar and sphinxes flap their wings; bulls also spread wings. Not only Thracian gods fly but so do the heroes. The tradition the heroes-younaks' (younak literally means 'a young, strong man') to be winged and able to fly has been preserved in Bulgarian folklore, too. Such abilities were given even to the Bulgarian voivode (literally means 'a leader in battles', 'military leader') from the second half of 19th century AD, Fillip Totyu about whom both Bulgarians and the Turks that chased him sincerely believed he was hiding wings under his shirt of a hero.

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