On December 8th, 1949, in the grounds of the ceramic factory Meroul, three brothers: Pavel, Petko and Michael Deykovs were digging clay for bricks. At a depth of about 2 m their shovels reached some yellowish objects. The brothers took them out of the clay inspected them and came to the conclusion that all this is some ‘hidden Gypsy brass instruments’ and threw them carelessly aside. Residents of Panagyurishte crowded around to see the ‘Gypsy brass music’; some even tried to blow the ‘instruments’ in order to become convinced in their practical uselessness.
Then, however, the then curator of the local museum, Dr. Petar Gorbanov, an alumnus of the University of Vienna, arrives on the spot. The disciple of the great archaeologist of the 19th century, Prof. F. Schachermayer does not accept the conclusions of the village ‘experts’ and organises the salvaging of the finding.
The panagyurishte treasure consists of nine vessels made of pure gold, of total weight 6165.45 g and is a part of a dinner set. According to Ivan Venedikov, the set had been completed in three times: first the
three rhytons with animal heads were acquired, then the rhyton with goat’s protome and the phial and finally the rhytonized amphora and the three rhytons shaped like female heads. He discusses the manner of making up the dinner set: the suite has not been full because another, fourth in a row, anthropomorphic rhyton was missing along with two more shaped like animals.
It seems more likely, however, that this dinner set is part of loot: its total value is 14 000 drachmas (in silver equivalent). The latest date of its being buried in earth is considered 280-279 BC when Celtic tribes had invaded Thrace.
Four of the vessels are rhytons, three are rhytonized pitchers, one is a rhytonized amphora (with two openings) and one is a big shallow phial. The three rhytonized pitchers were shaped like female heads, the three rhytons have the shape of animal heads, two of which are of fallow deer and one is like a ram’s head. One of the vessels is a rhyton with a long horn and goat’s protome.
Substantial contribution to understanding the finding was made by Dr. Petar Gorbanov. He describes the amphora-rhyton as a vessel peculiar to Thrace and defined it as a ‘rhytonized amphora’. According to him, such vessels were used during the rite of ‘libatio’.
Maybe, in connection with the manner of using the rhytonized amphora, we will have to quote the following text by Herodotos about a Scythian tradition (4.66): “Once a year, every leader of a region gave an order to make a mix of wine and water in a vessel. Every one of the Scythians who had killed enemies in battle was entitled to drink from this beverage. However, those who did not have such merits could not even touch the vessel: they sat aside, put to shame and to them this was the gravest disgrace. Regarding those who had happened to kill more enemies they drank from vessels with two openings [variant: from two goblets combined in one].” During these ritual feasts warriors that had deserved fame in battles sat on the ground in a circle and passed to each other the full phials and goblets. This custom had also been testified to by Aristotle (Pol. 7.2.6) who wrote: “With Scythians, during one of the holidays, they did not allow the warrior that had not yet killed even a
single enemy to drink from the goblets passed around in a circle.” It seems likely that the large shallow gold phial was used exactly to that end: only those from the respective outfit that had distinguished themselves on the battlefield.
Two rhytons with a fallow deer also make an impression and they have some remote parallels in local beliefs in the self-chased deer. The legend and the cult of the self-chased deer that came on the fixed date and hour to the respective sanctuary and alone put its head under the oblatory knife has survived through millennia (The Gold Deer and the Gold Doe are extremely popular in the epos of North-Iranian peoples).
The origin of the treasure and the interpretations of the scenes on the vessels, however, still remain disputable. The origin of the treasure is likely to be related to the development of the relations between Lysimachos and Seuthes III after 323 BC.
At any rate, the entirely gold make of the Panagyurishte vessels shows an undoubtful ‘Hellenistic’ novelty to the local toreutics, no matter where and by whom they were ordered and manufactured.