The greatest concentration of gold and silver treasure from ancient Europe has come to light in the Republic of Bulgaria, the heart of the territory of the ancient Thracians. The finest of the Bulgarian finds form the core of this exhibition.
Some of Bulgaria’s gold treasures date from remote prehistory: the Chalcolithic period and the Bronze Age from the fifth to the second millennia B.C. Most come from the Classical and early Hellenistic periods, the fifth to the third centuries B.C. Rich tombs hidden under huge earthen mounds have provided jewelry, drinking vessels that were intended for Bacchic or heroic drinking parties in the afterlife, and ornaments that were applied to horse trappings. Such finds confirm Greek writers’ tales of the Thracians’ wealth, their splendid horses, and their warlike lifestyle.
Treasures hidden in times of danger or buried for ritual reasons have preserved gold and silver vessels intended for pouring libations to the gods and for ritual drinking parties. The most spectacular are the rhytons; they have a filler opening at the top and a hole at the bottom so that the wine flows through them like a funnel. Rhytons are made in the shape of parts of animals or heads of gods, whose virtue and magic power apparently were transmitted to the wine as it flowed through the vessel.
Gods and heroes of both Greek mythology and local Thracian cults embellish the gold and silverwork, and a variety of artistic styles further enriches them. Some vessels are the elegantly stylized work of artists from the Persian Empire, and others are more realistic and unmistakably Greek productions. Native Thracian production can have a Greek sophistication or a harsh stylization, at times derived from the art of the Scythians and other tribes of the steppes of eastern Europe and central Asia.