Saturday, November 26, 2011

Coin treasures on Bulgarian lands shed further light on Bulgarian history

Coin treasures on Bulgarian lands shed further light on Bulgarian history | Radio Bulgaria

With its 40 thousand archeological monuments, Bulgaria ranks among the three richest countries in terms of historical heritage in Europe, a UNESCO survey conducted in the second half of the 20th century indicates. Since then, Bulgarian lands continue to surprise and amaze scholars with new archeological finds. It suffices to bring to mind that the world’s oldest processed gold was found in this country in the Varna necropolis and it dates back to the 5th millennium BC. It was again in Bulgaria that archeologists came across the richest treasures of beautifully adorned gold vessels of the Thracians – the earliest known tribes to have inhabited Bulgarian lands. The most prolific coin find in the world, the Reka Devnya Hoard, was also discovered in Bulgarian territory. Thanks to their specific geographic position on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Bulgarian lands are particularly rich in archeological finds consisting of coins not only in terms of their quantity but also in terms of their diverse origin.

In an interview for Radio Bulgaria, professor Nikolay Markov, PhD in historical science and collaborator of the National Historical Museum, told us more about ancient coins found in Bulgaria.

The earliest coins found on Bulgarian lands date back to only half a century later than the start of coin minting in the world, whose cradle is believed to have been Lydia, in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. The ancient coins, their metal content and the imagery upon them tell modern historians a lot about the economic and social situation in different historical periods. The world’s first coins were made from an alloy of gold and silver. Long afterwards, the two noble metals remain the major materials used in coin minting. No Lydian coins have been found in Bulgarian lands, but we have found several coins from the early 6th century BC, professor Markov told Radio Bulgaria.

There are particularly rich hoards of Thracian coins discovered in Bulgaria lands and many of them bear portraits of the rulers of the time. More from Nikolay Markov:

“Thracian coins are some of the first coins bearing portraits of real-life persons. The coins minted in the ancient Greek city-states of the time did not feature such images. The reason for this was the special place that Thracian kings had in Thracian society. The king was actually a creature on the boundary between deities and ordinary humans. He was a demigod. This was probably the reason why numerous coins had portraits of Thracian rulers depicted on them.” The discovered coin hoards in Bulgaria show modern scholars that, in all likelihood. The first coin forgeries appeared in the dawn of coin minting itself. There are quite a few forged coins known in the Balkans, including Bulgaria.

“One example of such forgeries are the well-known coins of the ancient Celtic tribes. These Germanic tribes appear on the Balkan Peninsula in the early 3rd century BC. One theory claims that the Thracian tribe of the Serdi had a Celtic origin. The Celts imitated the popular coins of Alexander III of Macedon. In these forgeries, the coins have lower weight and are very easy to spot by the primitive imagery upon them. These images are so primitive that sometimes they consist of only dots and dashes. Anyway, these coins did a good job as they are found quite often and over a substantial territory of the Balkans. It is very likely that a large part of these forged coins were made in Bulgarian lands”.

The richest hoards of coins in Bulgaria, however, date back to Roman times.  “The richest hoards of coins date back to the Roman rule and they are particularly prolific during the barbaric invasion when people tried to hide their possessions underground. Under the continuous barbaric attacks, such burying of coins happened repeatedly in the course of several centuries. As a result of this, we have found huge amounts of coins dating back to the mid-3rd and 6th century AD. In all likelihood, the world’s largest coin find has been found in Bulgarian lands in 1934. This is the famous Reka Devnya Hoard. It consists of two enormous earthenware pots used for storing grain. One was full of coins to the top, and the other was ¾ full. The amount of the coins was so substantial that their exact number has been kept secret to date. Yet, it is believed the two pots contained several hundred thousand coins.

Some of them were stolen, but the largest part was submitted to the Archeological Museum in Sofia. One theory says this might have been the storage site of a Roman army. This is one of the most viable hypotheses given the content of the treasure – a huge amount of coins made of silver”.

Family treasures were made of gold rather than silver coins, as this made them more compact. Very few coins dating back to the early Bulgarian Middle Ages between the 7th and the 10th century AD have been found, as money transactions at that time were not popular in Bulgarian lands. For this reason, when in 1018 Bulgaria was invaded and conquered by the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Basil II issued an order that taxes in Bulgarian lands should be collected in kind.

“The first Bulgarian coins are the coins of Tsar Ivan Asen, dating back to the first half of the 13th century. Bulgarian medieval coins bear the image of the Bulgarian tsar as well, but unlike Thracian coins, these images are not portraits but rather a symbol of power. These are schematic images that did not aim at creating a true-to-life representation of a concrete personality.

The Bulgarian tsars are depicted on all coins with all royal insignia – the crown, the scepter, etc. Traditionally, the name of the ruler was inscribed on medieval Bulgarian coins next to his image”.

Since Antiquity to the Medieval Period, the image of a ruler on a coin was a guarantee for its authenticity. Bulgarian archeologists have found extremely rich hoards of coins dating back to the period of the Ottoman Rule in Bulgaria (14th to the late 19th century).

Thus, Bulgarian archeologists have come across coins coming even from as far as the New World from Peru, Mexico.

Yet, the exceptional richness and variety of coins found in Bulgaria is constantly whetting the appetite of a whole army of treasure hunters with whom the state is still unable to cope.

Translated by Rossitsa Petcova


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