Thracian treasures: From simplicity to complexity

Goat Protome Rhyton

During the 6th – 4th century BC, a large area in Eastern and Southeastern Europe was inhabited by Thracian people – the creators of a great culture. From different clothing to drinking vessels and jewels, to utensils, we get a glimpse at their world. Thanks to the unique Vasil Bojkov Collection, comprising of over 3000 artefacts, we have a chance to learn more about them – from their quests to daily life.

What is interesting is that with the political changes in Thrace, there were new types of utensils introduced. They decorated the tables of the Thracian nobility: rhytons, jugs, cups, etc. Unsurprisingly, the changes affected the material all of these artefacts were made of. Even though bronze was still used for the creation of vessels, more precious metals were coming into place. Thracian aristocrats wanted to wear clothes with ornaments in gold and silver. The vessels on the table as well as the items used for funeral rituals were also either silver or gold and they depended on the social position (status) of the person. A fascinating fact is that Thracian people were able to extract gold and silver from the mountainous areas mainly in the Rhodopes Mountain in modern Bulgaria. Some of the most ancient gold mines on the Balkans still exist in the Eastern Rhodopes. They galleries are longer than 500 meters.

As part of Vasil Bojkov collection, there are several quite interesting pieces that reveal the distinct styles of various workshops and skills or individual toreuts. We may think that Thracian artisans only crafted mesmerizing pieces in extraordinary shapes with different finals or mythological stories pictured on them, but, in fact, there are other simpler (so to speak) artefacts that still represent significant craftsmanship.  They attach new artistic value to objects, adorning vessels with different images from the Thracians lifestyle or legends. For example, there is a gold strainer, which may sound like something absolutely unimpressive at first, while in reality, its particular shape is underlined by tiny details such as water bird head to the handle. Interestingly enough, this is a common final on one-handled sieves since the 6th century B.C.

There are plain silver conical cups from the late 2nd or early 1st century B.C., cups with inscriptions, and cups with emblems that share similar traits. Such conical vases are sometimes called mastos. Undoubtedly, these artefacts are considered to arrive from the same workshop or the same cultural region, at least.

It is quite interesting how following the shape, observing the material used, investigating the inscriptions and the style, can reveal so much about specific objects. As Thracian people didn’t have written language, the findings are the only way to find out more about their beliefs, rituals, politics, arts, and culture.

About the author Iliyana Ivanova is a journalist and historian born in Bulgaria but currently based in London, UK. She has studied at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski and graduated from the Faculty of History with a BA in Archeology and MA in Ancient History and Thracian Studies. Throughout the years, Iliyana has organized various cultural and historical events back in Bulgaria with the idea to reveal little-known-information about the ancient world of Thrace. She continues her practice in the UK as well with the main goal to promote the history and ancient treasures of Bulgaria. Currently, her main focus is one of the most fascinating private collections of Thracian artefacts – that of the philanthropist and collector Vasil Bojkov. Her personal blog contains articles about the pieces owned by Vasil Bojkov, their meaning to her country and the world, his personal life, and all the deeds, charity events, and exhibitions initiated by him.

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