Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari (1985)

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Bulgaria 1997. Sarcophagus figurine from Sveshtari.

Discovered in 1982 near the village of Sveshtari, this 3rd-century B.C. Thracian tomb reflects the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings. The tomb has a unique architectural decor, with polychrome half-human, half-plant caryatids and painted murals. 

The 10 female figures carved in high relief on the walls of the central chamber and the decoration of the lunette in its vault are the only examples of this type found so far in the Thracian lands. 

It is a remarkable reminder of the culture of the Getes, a Thracian people who were in contact with the Hellenistic and Hyperborean worlds, according to ancient geographers.

  • Bulgaria 1997. Sarcophagus figurine from Sveshtari. Scan by courtesy of Miomir Zivkovic (Serbia & Montenegro). 

Later excavations of these tombs have revealed beautiful findings of gold treasures from the period.  The below stamps all depict such findings from the Vulchitrun excavation in the northern Bulgarian district of Pleven near Sveshtari, on the southern bank of the river Danube, in December 1924.  They have been housed ever since in the Archaeological Museum  of Sofia.  

It consists of 13 items of high-carat gold and has a total weight of 12.425 kg.  The centerpiece of the set is the krater (middle stamp in the first row), a vessel weighing over four kilograms in which, according to the ancient custom, the wine was mixed with water.  

Bulgaria 1970. Three Small Gold kyathoi -- Greek term for one-handled cup-like drinking vessels.    Bulgaria 1970. Thracian gold "krater", the centerpiece of the Vulchitrun excavation, used for mixing wine with water.   Bulgaria 1970. Thracian Gold kyathos. 

The set shown above is completed by seven gold disks (lids), two equally large and five smaller ones.  They all have an onion-shaped knob on the upper surface.  Whereas the smaller ones are devoid of decoration the two largest bear a pattern on their top sides consisting of very thin bands of silver worked into the surface.  Investigations have established that the gold employed was mined in the Carpathians in what is today Romania.  The vessels themselves, however, were made in a Thracian workshop. The local craftsman was not only an accomplished master of the artistic side of his trade, he also possessed extensive technical knowledge, which can be seen both in the fine silver inlays on the two large disks (stamps below) and also in the way the electrum was worked. 

Bulgaria 1970. Thracian Gold Disk.    Bulgaria 1970. Thracian triple offering vessel.   Bulgaria 1970. Thracian Gold Disk. 

Within the timeline late Thracians were contemporaries with the Etruscans, the enigmatic people populating the northern part of Italy during the last millennium BC, and who was equally strongly influenced by Hellenistic Art. The Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari were declared World Cultural Heritage in 1985. 

There are at least two famous Thracians, known from Greek mythology and from Roman history.  

Orpheus, the son of the muse Calliope (see her on stamps on the welcome-page of this site) and Apollo, the God of Music (or Oeagrus, King of Thrace), was known as poet and musician.  As such he was the chief representative of the art of song and playing the lyre, and of great importance in the religious history of Greece. Herodotus notes that the Thracians did not fear death overmuch.  According to many ancient sources, the Thracians believed in the existence of a soul, which, separate from the body, was capable of enjoying an afterlife.  It is not known whether this conception of life after death applied to everybody, or merely to an elite group of tribal chieftains and priest-kings; but Herodotus relates how certain tribes mourned the birth of children, and celebrated the death of their elders -- as if the latter event represented release from the misery of the material world.  Thracian beliefs about the immortality of the soul undoubtedly spread southward to Greece, where they contributed to the development of cults such as Orphism.  

Spartacus the Gladiator (?-71 BC).  He is thought to have been a deserter from the Roman army, and was sold as a slave to a trainer of gladiators in Capua, southern Italy. In 73 BC he escaped with other runaway gladiators and occupied the dormant crater of the volcano Vesuvius, where he was joined by large numbers of fugitive slaves. He led his followers in the Third Servile War, or Gladiators' War, defeating two Roman armies, and devastating southern Italy. In 72 BC he defeated three more Roman armies and reached Cisalpine Gaul, where he planned to disperse his followers to their homes. They decided to remain in Italy for the sake of plunder, and Spartacus marched south again. In 71 BC the Roman commander Marcus Licinius Crassus forced Spartacus and his followers into the narrow peninsula of Rhegium (now Reggio di Calabria), from which, however, they escaped through the Roman lines. Crassus then pursued Spartacus to Lucania, where the rebel army was destroyed and Spartacus was killed in battle. The insurrection came to an end, and many of his followers were crucified. Crassus made quite a spectacle of horror by erecting the crucifixes for miles along the Appian Way (Via Appia) leading from southern Italy into Rome.  

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Bulgaria-section,  for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 18 aug 2007  
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