valley thracian kings

The Valley of the Thracian Kings

Dr Georgi Kitov has been one of the contradictory personalities in present-day Bulgarian archaeology. Recently, the American National Geographic magazine referred to him as half-hero – half-criminal. The reason for this has been his method of excavating the ancient Thracian mounds using machines. The truth is that for decades now, while trying to get access to tombs of Thracian kings that have not yet been plundered, Kitov has been competing with the mafia of treasure-hunters, who have the most modern equipment at their disposal. And he has sometimes succeeded.

As early as in the 1970s and 1980s, the archaeologist came across unique finds, shining to the forefront of which was the tomb in the Zhaba [Frog] Mound next to the little south Bulgarian town of Strelcha. But he had his most notable strikes in the 1990s and in the early 21 st century near the town of Kazanluk, in the valley south of the Balkan Range. Located there in the last centuries before the birth of Christ was the capital of the Kingdom of the Odryssae, Seuthopolis, named after one of its rulers Seuthes III. Back in time, prior to the Second World War, the famous Kazanluk Tomb, with the world famous murals in the style of Hellenistic art, were found close by.

Coming to the fore were one after the other the tombs of kings and aristocrats from the period of flowering of the Kingdom of the Odryssae. They were all buried under huge mounds of earth, shaping out a grand necropolis. Most of the tombs had been plundered, but sometimes the team of Georgi Kitov happened to find unique pieces of the Thracian applied arts. The architecture of the tomb structures is impressive, like those from the Ostrousha, Malkata Arsenalka and other mounds.

All this, however, proved to be a prelude to the discoveries of 2004. In August, Kitov explored the Svetitsa [Saintess] Mound and came across a stone tomb that had not been pillaged. In it he found dozens of objects of bronze and silver, as well as magnificent painted ceramic vessels. Featuring among the finds was an incredible gold burial mask. Just a few days later, the researcher started work at the Golyamata Kosmatka mound. Geophysicists had registered a big cavity there, pointing to a Thracian tomb. But before reaching it, archaeologists found a unique sculptured head of bronze, depicting a middle-aged bearded man. Later it was to be specified that the head was among the ten pieces in the world which had survived from the high Hellenistic sculpture.

Sometime later, Dr Kitov uncovered the gate to the tomb. To the satisfaction of all, it proved not to have been plundered. Incredible objects were found in it, associated with the cult of the ancient people to their prominent deceased. Among the dead person’s possessions are numerous gold finds, elements of elaborate armament and wine drinking vessels made of precious metal. And scattered on the burial bed, among the mortal remains, were scores of little leaves of the gold wreath, which had decorated the head of the king of the Odryssae during his lifetime.

It was definitely a king, because there was no doubt that this was a matter of a ruler. When specialists compared the features of the bronze head with the portraits of the kings of the Odryssae featuring on coins, it turned out that the image presented was of Seuthes III, the builder of Seuthopolis. And the objects in the tomb and the particles of bones also obviously belonged to that great ruler. All this has justified people calling the region around Kazanluk “The Valley of the Thracian Kings”.

The activities of Dr Georgi Kitov have not, by far, been confined to these findings alone. In 2000-2002, near the village of Starossel, he came across another centre of the Odryssae, going back to before the New Age. Several magnificent architectural monuments have been brought to light under mounds, again. Unlike the common tombs, they have wonderful facades with staircases and colonnades. Built at outstanding places, they can be seen from afar. In fact these are temples of Thracian rulers, deified after their death. The preserved gates come to show that entry into them had been repeated. Far to the South, near the village of Alexandrovo, in the vicinity of Haskovo, the team of the famous archaeologist brought to light a tomb with magnificent murals. They show inimitable hunting scenes, illustrating the daily lifestyle of the Thracians.

Naturally, every year cannot possibly be successful. During the whole season of the year 2006, Dr Kitov uncovered just one small and simple tomb in the vicinity of the village of Konoush, Haskovo region. Entering it, he injured his leg and lost a considerable quantity of blood. Yet, his sense of humour did not forsake him, and he joked that he had made the obligatory sacrificial offering before disrupting the millennial rest of the dead persons buried there.

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