Valchitran treasure

THE TREASURE OF VALCHITRAN

This treasure was found quite accidentally in 1924, while farmers were doing a deep plough of a vineyard near the village Valchitran (District of Pleven). After vicissitudes (a part of the precious things that were found in the beginning were later cut into pieces during a sharing, while another part simply ‘disappeared’) only 13 vessels, all weighing a total of 12 425 g got into then People’s Museum in Sofia: a big kantharos-like vessel, tri-section vessel, a big and three smaller chalices each one with a single handle, two big and five smaller disks. Apart from gold, electron (an alloy of gold and silver) was also used in their making, and what is the most intriguing, amber. In making the disk decoration, with bulbous handles, makers of the vessels used the technique ‘niello’: a rarely occurring inlay of silver on gold.

The man who first published information on this treasure, doctor Vasil Mikov, has done a comparative analysis and gives the most acceptable dating: 9th-8th century BC. Of late, because of uncertain parallels with the treasure from Bessarabia and some other data, it has been accepted that the most likely dating of the Valchitran treasure is from 13th century BC.

So far, apart from the Valchitran treasure two more cups from Thracian lands are also known: one is from Belene (a small town on the Danube riverside) and one is from Kazichene (a village in Sofia plain, now a borough of Sofia City). Both are made of gold; they definitely are not from the Chalcolithic period and precede the initial stages of ancient Greek colonization of Thrace in 8th – 7th centuries BC. It seemsĀ certain that the big, wide and relatively deep gold vessels were used to dilute and mix wine: the ancients used to mix wine, honey and milk in them when they were about to make effusions in honor of Dionysos, and maybe this holy triad corresponds to Homer’s ‘kykeion’. In any case, these were the sacred liquids, acquired in a miraculous way by the maenads, as described in Euripides: “One of them grabbed the thyrsos and hit the rock: a jet of crystal clear water spurted from it; another threw the thyrsos on the ground and to her God sent a spring of wine. Those that wanted to drink a white drink raked up the earth with the tips of their fingers and found streams of milk; and from the ivy of the thyrsi sweet honey run down.”

The vessels have a good parallels in Homer (Od. 9. 196-211): “I had with myself a goat bag full of dark sweet wine given to me by Maron, son of Evanteos, priest of Apollo, protector of lsmaros… He offered me wonderful gifts, gave me 7 talents of beautifully worked gold, also gave me a crater – a whole of it made of silver, then he poured in all twelve amphorae sweet unmixed wine, a divine drink”.

Production of sweet wine in Thrace is also confirmed by Atheneos (Dipnosoph. 1.31a): “Epicharmos [of Cicily, author of comedies, lived in 6th – 5th century BC] states that the Bibline wine has been called so because of some mountain named Biblina. And Armenidas says that Biblina is a region in Thrace [between the mouths of the rivers Stryma and Mesta], which has also been called Antisara and Oisyme. Thrace, and generally speaking, the lands adjacent to it, have been justly considered the lands where sweet wine is made.” The ‘chalice’ Priam gave to Achiles to ransom the body of the dead Hector (Hom.II. 24.228-234): “Priam opened the nice lids of the chests. He took out of them … also a beautiful chalice, a thing of great value, which Thracian men had given to Priam as a present when he had visited them as an emissary. “

It is accepted that data on Thrace presented by Homer should be dated as far back as from the late Bronze Age. This, however, is disputable: the only certain date, which can be accepted as a terminus antequem is 6th century BC (it was then that Homer’s epos had been edited for the last time). There are indeed rich cultures of the late Bronze Age in Thrace but gold findings dated for certain from that Age have not yet been found, though met-alworking here had been quite well developed. An information was released of late about a “silver treasure” from the “Bronze Age”: the disputable finding does not contradict this observation and if the dating is correct, then the question is to what extent the precious metal (along with iron, which at those times was 14 times as expensive as gold) in that Age was not an exceptional ‘royal prerogative’, inaccessible (not allowed) not only to the common people but also to its noble elite. Some gold findings from today’s Bessarabia, provisionally dated from the late Bronze Age do not belittle but even exalt this observation.

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