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THE EARLIEST EUROPEAN WORKED GOLD

The earliest European worked gold has been found in Bulgarian lands. The first gold anthropomorphic and zoomorphic applications, rings, ringlets and beads that people started to bury in the Mother-Earth are dated from before seven millennia. Beliefs and mythological cycles about anthropomorphic goddesses and gods took shape; at those times again and in the same lands scepters were made that symbolize the royal power.

The brilliant pre-historic Chalkolithic cultures were wiped out in the 4th millennium BC by a complex of factors, among which the grand climatic changes stand out followed by the invasion of Nordic peoples: they began rushing into the Balkans in the last centuries of the millennium. During the following two millennia here formed the first big Balkan community, the Thracian one. It covered the vast region from the northern ranges of the Carpathian Mountains in the north to the White (Aegean) Sea in the south; to the south-west it bordered to the Adriatic Coast; to the north-west Thracian lands bordered with the lands of the German tribe Suevs, while to the north-east the border entered into today's Ukrainian steppes that divide the Thracian from the Scythian community. That is why to Dionysos Periegetes Thracians possessed an "endless land" (Dion. Per. 323) and according to the 'father of history' Herodotos (5.3) "Thracians arc, along with Indians, the most populous people on the face of the Earth."


The totality of data points out that by the 1st millennium BC Thracians had already formed about 90 different communities, which we provisionally call 'tribes'. From the 4th century BC on, part of these tribes had united under the scepter of the Kings of the Odryses dynasty founded by Teres I. During the centuries that followed, the Kings of this dynasty began to pile up treasures of artfully made objects. They were made by toreuts of different origin but work for and servicing exactly the Thracian royal economy.


To bury precious metal outside the necropolises became a stable practice exactly from the end of 6th - 5th centuries BC on. The first such treasures consists of silver coins of great nominal value, from the south-west Thracian tribes. The picture changes by the end of the 5th century BC and becomes typical for the whole of the 4th century BC. Then, apart from purely coin-containing findings people had begun to hide in the earth objects made of precious metal, too. The following more important things can be said with responsibility about the Thracian aristocratic practice to keep in the earth treasures as well as to put inside tombs valuable objects:


1. The valuable objects from before the middle of the 4th century BC are, as a rule, an inseparable part of the Odryses' royal economy. Typical features of this economy was the strict regulation of contacts with the outside world, the supreme ownership of Odryses' royal family of all that is over and under the earth as well as the ways of collecting taxes, duties, charges and donations. Because of that (but also because of a number of other factors and most of all because of the stern control over extraction of gold and silver) until the middle of the 4th century BC only Odryses from the highest standing families were allowed to hoard treasures. However, they did not bury them in the earth: part of them they put in their tombs but another part (and the bigger one at that) was hoarded in the royal treasury. After Phillip II the Macedon occupied the key areas in the kingdom of Kersebleptes in 341-340 BC, he also captured the Odryses' treasury; it was most likely kept in the 'Holy Fortress' located in the 'Holy Mountain' (today's Tekir Dag in Turkey). As a result, a lot of vessels from Odryses' royal dinner sets popped up in burial and treasure findings to the north of Haemos (Stara Planina Range) as well.


2. The number of treasure objects found to the north of Stara Planina Range exceed by many times the findings from the lands to the south of it. The ratio is 10 to 1 and it comes to point at the exclusive nature of 'Mysian' as compared to 'Thracian' findings. This fact cannot be explained only by the 'diplomatic activity' of the Odryses' King Kotys I (around 383-360 BC) in the land of Triballs and Gettae: the articles found in the lands of the Lower Danube that can be ascribed with certainty to Odryses are more than abundant. The information supplied by the historian Thucydides that, in contrast to Persian the Odryses' Kings "followed a tradition... more to take than to give" is contrary to the above explanation.


3. In the 4th century BC, when most treasures were buried, the building of monumental Thracian tombs and under-barrow complexes flourished. There, along with the dead who at those times might not have been members of the Odryses elite, the practice of placing gold and silver objects of exceptional value had started.


4. The practice of rich Thracian burials from the second half of the 4th century BC on is not such an exceptional phenomenon. It makes a very strong impression only when compared to the Hellenic traditions. It is indicative that exactly in the Persian kingdom, conquered by the troops of Alexander III the Great one can find good parallels both with Thracian tombs and with burial donations. It is a known fact that in the 30 000-, 32 000- or 40 000-strong army led by the Macedonian King in 334 BC to conquer the world there were 5000 to 7000 Thracians. This comes to say that they were among the most numerous draft in the army and part of these Odryses, Triballes and Agrianes elite that 'had seen the world around' while being soldiers of Alexander, returned later to their homeland.


5. In any case, the master-toreuts were of various origins. Within the borders of the Odryses' royal economy they got a higher prestige than their peers in Hellenic police-states where a considerable part of them were meteks and even slaves. In Thrace the craftsmen were privileged and part of the entourage of the royal institute. This higher public status and authority seems to have permitted them to re-create more freely on local grounds and for the royal needs the images and the ideas that have come from the Anatolian-Caucasian, from Persian, from Hellenic and, from the end of the 5th century BC, also from the Phoenician toreutic schools.


6. It became fashionable to see in the scenes from the treasures "Thracian mystery practices', which allegedly were related to the royal ideology of 'immortalization'. These interpretations are artful but they are beneath criticism. Herodotos was the first to point out that the 'secret' of the local mysteries was known only to the 'initiates': how then and from where such scenes had been depicted by the toreuts? To accept these scenes for 'mystery practices' related to the 'immortalization' of Thracian elite would mean first, that craftsmen who created these objects should also have been 'initiated in the mysteries' and this is an absurd assumption having in mind exactly the postulated strictly aristocratic nature of the 'occult Thracian Orphism'. Then, also both the craftsmen and the respective client would have broken their 'secret', and we know quite well that the initiated ones took a special oath to keep this 'secret'.


7. Phillip II the Macedon, Alexander III the Great and Lysimachos in the second half of the 4th century BC destroyed the until then Odryses' monopoly on everything and everybody in Thrace. The newly emerged political, economic and cultural relations had allowed a considerably larger part of the Thracian elite of those times to hoard treasures.


8. During the 'Hellenistic epoch' treasures were hoarded both in coins and in precious objects and the inflow of coins of gold and silver had definitely increased. The increase of this flow of coins was based on those factors thanks to which the production underwent expansion and trade was freed from the rather strict regulation. The increased demand for mercenaries also played an additional role in boosting economy: Thracians regularly joined the armies of Hellenistic rulers. All that allowed many other members of Thracian elite to adopt the practice of hoarding treasures, to build monumental tombs and to lay valuables in them, something that, until then, was exclusively an Odryses' practice.


9. Since the 3rd and until the 1st centuries BC coin findings predominate. The treasure articles are not only less in number, quantity and weight but have lost their brilliance and impressiveness. This fact was not due to some kind of 'Thracian toreuts' leaving for the Scythian lands under the 'pressure of Celts'. A new, 'Hellenistic epoch' had been settling, which caused changes in the way of thinking, of values and mind-settings, in fashions; a decisive blow was also delivered to the Odryses' royal economy. In fact, craftsmen did not flee but rather the royal orders decreased and the practice to collect those brilliant 'gifts' typical for the former royal dinner sets simply stopped. It was exactly that the prestigious vessels were the first to disappear: making of rhytons stopped, there were no more the richly decorated rhytonized amphorae, one could not see anymore little pitchers, there were no exquisite royal phials.


10. Many and most varying explanations have been and are being offered on the practice to bury treasures. For the time being, the complex analysis outlines the observation that Thracian culture as any rural culture was able to deal in money and gold affairs only in the case the town culture served as its middleman. This explanation is simple and that's why it seems convincing: gold, even when it is in an unbelievable abundance, when appears in Thracian community structured under the total King's aegis and variegated occasionally by privileged artisan-trader's communes, cannot 'contribute' in a sustained way to the prosperity of the local economy. It seems one of the reasons that had led to burying of precious metal in the earth has its roots in this conjecture. I.e. this has been a practice not because of and not for some immediate danger. This observation, along all the other, allows also for understanding why in the indisputably poorer and not so well developed part of Ancient Thrace as was the Lower Danube plain, treasure consisting of precious objects and coins occur ten times more frequently.

This site presents treasure articles the selection of which was determined not by the brilliance and weight of the precious metal but by the striving to illustrate the basic in the ancient-Thracian beliefs. The user should bear in mind that local lands, in which people buries treasure for millennia on end, offer those favourable factors, which allow for early development of all aspects of man's economic activity. Among these is also the first European metallurgy and metal working. The sacral dimensions of the earliest in Europe worked gold impress as do the first European scepter, symbol of the royal power as well as the first manifestations, if not of letters, then at least of protoletters as early as by the end of the 5th millennium BC.


This millennia-old background outlines the European significance of Bulgarian lands: here, the foundations of at least a part of the beginnings of the European civilization models were laid along with the taking of form of the principles on the basis of which two independent structures, the 'rural' and the 'urban' ones, have differentiated and developed. Nowhere else in Europe, the researcher would have a better field to follow up the peculiarity and to outline the essential differences between the rural and the urban culture. To perceive the principle differences in the outlook on life, to view in detail the difference in the everyday stereotypes and the ways by which both peasants and town people perceive, give a philosophical meaning and strive to organize the world. To understand that the best of all times have been present here when the two cultures had cooperated but when they started to counteract in a violent way, the destruction and anarchy settled in the Balkans.


"In the history of civilizations as well as in the history of personalities the childhood is decisive" wrote the French historian Jacque le Goff. The European 'aristocratic childhood' has its roots in the Balkans too, and Thracian monuments illustrate a part of its initial stages.

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