Thrace Artifacts in Bulgaria: Archeologists Find Thracian Treasures in the Balkans

The Panagyurishte Treasure (Панагюрско златно съкровище) is a Thracian treasure discovered in 1949 two kilometres south of the town of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria. It consists of nine gold vessels (a phiale, an amphora and seven rhytons) with total weight of 6.164 kg of 23-karat gold. All of the objects are richly and skilfully decorated with scenes of Thracian myths, customs and life. The treasure is dated to the 4th-3rd centuries BC, and is thought to have been used as a royal ceremonial set, possibly by a Thracian kings. The big amphora has handles shaped as centaurs, and the openings for pouring wine represent Negro heads. Inbetween those two opinings, the amphora is decorated with a scene of Hercules fighting a snake. Three of the seven rhytons are jugs with Amazon heads and carry scenes and heroes from Greek mythology, and the phiale carries inscriptions giving its weight in Greek drachmae and Persian darics. As one of the best known surviving artifacts of Thracian culture, the treasure has been displayed at various museums around the world. When not on a tour, the treasure is the centerpiece of the Thracian art collection of the National Museum of History in Sofia.

South Bulgaria was once ancient Thrace and part of the Roman Empire. Artifacts from Thrace are invaluable, but they may be at risk during archeological digs.

Bulgaria is as proud of its Thracian history as it is with its connection with Byzantium and Eastern Orthodoxy. Thrace, a geographically historical region that eclipses souther Bulgaria, was the land of the Indo-European Thracians. The Thracians, before they were subsumed by Slavic tribes, were a part of the Roman Empire and left archeological evidence of their existence for today’s archeologists.

Thrace Artifacts in Bulgaria – Archeological Finds

Archeologists have discovered remnants of Thrace that indicate metal-working skills, engineering skills for transportation, and interest in wealth and warfare. Therefore, archeological finds have included chariots, armor and weapons, jewelry made of precious metals, and the skeletons of wealthy Thracians buried with sacrificial animals or horses.

Thrace Artifacts in Bulgaria – Threats to to Artifacts from Thrace

While the international archeological community has an interest in Thracian finds in Bulgaria, these artifacts are nevertheless under constant threat. Looters, who scour the countryside for Thracian artifacts, have beaten many archeologists to important tombs or other burial sites. However, there is also some dispute over the methods of the archeologists living and working in Bulgaria, themselves. The means some of them use to unearth important Thracian finds is appalling to colleagues in the field; the use of large earth-moving equipment, as well as lack of carefully kept records about archeological sites and artifacts removed, has some archeologists shaking their heads at those who practice unorthodox methods. Another consideration is the archeologist’s affiliation – and some have been accused of involvement with former looters of archeological treasures.

One archeologist, Georgi Kitov, has even been reprimanded by colleagues for his rushed methods and lack of data collection. His affiliations have been questioned,as have his motives.

Thrace Artifacts in Bulgaria – Archeological Sensationalism

The pride Bulgaria feels in its Thracian history, and the fame to be had by archeologists who discover important finds, leads some individuals to allow the media to sensationalize their work. The desire for recognition also encourages the use of hurried collection methods and disregard for scientific bases for speculation. It may be that Kitov falls under this category – he has received media recognition for his discoveries of a rare gold mask and an unlooted three-room Thracian tomb.

While much can be learned from Thracian artifacts found in Bulgaria, including information about Thracian culture, rituals, and daily life, the rush to find Thracian puts intellectual discoveries about Thrace at risk.


  1. Brunwasser, Matthew. “Thracian Gold Fever.” Archaeology, Mar/Apr2005, Vol. 58, Issue 2.
  2. Brunwasser, Matthew. “ A Ride to the Afterlife.” Archaeology, Sep/Oct2007, Vol. 60, Issue 5.