(updated September 2012)
Although Celtic presence in the area of today’s Bulgarian capital, Sofia, is testified to by numismatic and archaeological evidence from the La Têne B period (early 3rd c. BC), it is not until the 2nd half of the 1st c. BC that the Serdi tribe enters written history (on the Celtic Serdi tribe see also Kazarov, 1910, 1919; Gerov 1967, 1968; Boardman J., Edwards I.E.S., Sollberger E., Hammond N.G.L. 1992: 600; Duridanov 1997).
In 29 BC the Roman general M. Licinius Crassus, after defeating the Bastarnae in the area of today’s northwestern Bulgaria, was attacked on his retreat towards Macedonia by the Scordisci Serdi and Meldi tribes, through whose territory he passed (Dio Cass. 51,25-27; on the reading of Meldi in Dio Cass. see Kazarov 1910). The following year (28 BC) Crassus returned with another army and ‘punished’ the Meldi and Serdi for their attacks on him the previous year. Another branch of the Scordisci, the Artacoi, also appear for the first time during these events, and during the second half of the 1st c. BC large numbers of the Celtic population of western Bulgaria, including the Serdi, migrated eastwards into the central Thracian Mountains (Haemus/Balkans) in order to escape the Roman advance (see ‘Artacoi’ and ‘Scordisci Wars’ articles).
Inscribed cult relief bearing a dedication to the Celtic tribal God Scordus (Sofia region 4th – 3rd c. BC) (After Manov 1993)
Between the Danube and Balkan mountains, topographical and archaeological evidence has identified the Celtic settlements of Burgaraca (Chekanchevo, Sofia region) (Beševliev 1968:416; Gerov 1968:355; Duridanov 1997:138; Mac Congail 2008:39); northwest of Sofia lay the Celtic settlement of Meldia (Dragoman, Sofia district) (Kazarov 1910: 22; Mac Congail 2007:299; Falileyev A. 2010 DCCPN); the settlements of Magaris and Magimias in the Tran district west of Sofia, where also lay the Celtic area of Loukonanta (the Valley of Lugh)(Duridanov 1997:135; Mac Congail 2008:39; Falilevev 2009:281).
In the Kavetzos area (north of Sofia in the hills between Vratza and Berkovica) two Celtic settlements have been identified – Άρχοϋνες / Arkounes (Falileyev 2009; 2010; cf. also Beševliev 1970:22; Duridanov 1997: 134-35) and Douriis/Δουρίες (Beševliev 1970:22; Duridanov 1997:135; Mac Congail 2007: 298, 2008:39; Falileyev 2009: 281). Slightly to the north were the Celtic settlements of Tautiomosis and Vorovum (today’s Kravoder, Vratza region) (Falileyev 2009: 282). As mentioned, the Bulgarian capital Sofia (Serdica) has long been identified by both Bulgarian and international academics as a settlement of the Celtic Serdi tribe (Kazarov 1910, 1919, 1926; Gerov 1967, 1968; Duridanov 1997; Boardman, Edwards, Sollberger, Hammond 1992, Mac Congail 2008; On Celtic settlement in this area see ‘Sacrificial Daggers, Swords and Settlements’ and ‘Celtic Settlements in n. Bulgaria’ article with relevant lit.).
A substantial amount of Celtic (La Têne) archaeological (and numismatic) material testifies to Celtic presence in the Sofia area from the 2nd half of the 4th c. BC until the Roman period. This includes La Têne material found at the villages of Aldomirovzi and Slivnitza (both Slivnitza district, Sofia region – Domaradzki 1984 – Домарадски М., Келтите на Бaлканския полуостров. София 1984), Ravno Pole (Elin Pelin district – see ‘Sacrifical Daggers, Swords and Settlements’ article), Jana (Kremikovzi district – Domaradzki op cit.), Lakatnik (Svoge district – loc cit), Muchovo (Ichtiman district – Domaradski 1984:147; Mac Congail/Krusseva 2010: 57-58), and Dragoman (Dragoman district – loc cit) - all in the Sofia region.
Plan of the Celtic cult complex from Muchovo, Ichtiman district (Sofia region). This structure, with dimensions of 3.5 x 2.5 m., bears all the hallmarks of a ‘Tower of Silence’, where corpses were exposed to be devoured by scavengers and birds of prey, in line with Celtic religious practice (see ‘Birds of Prey’ article).
(Drawing after Domaradski 1984)
Particularly interesting is the concentration of Celtic material discovered in the Gorna Malina district of Sofia, where La Têne material has been found at the villages of Markazevo (Domaradzki 1984), Gorna Malina itself, and at Bailovo (on these sites see ‘Sacrificial daggers, Swords and Settlements’ article’, with cited lit.). Among these finds one should note the La Têne B sword from Bailovo, the earliest Celtic sword yet found in Bulgaria, and therefore relating chronologically to the first stage of Celtic migration into this part of the Balkans (late 4th c. BC), and a Celtic shield of the Karaburma type from Gorna Malina (loc cit). A Celtic warrior burial complete with a (ritually bent) La Têne sword, spear and Celtic ceramic was also discovered in the Poduaine area of Sofia City at the beginning of the 20th c. (Кацаров Г., България в древността. Историко-археологически очерк. Популярна археологическа библиотека, No. 1. София 1926. P. 41).
Celtic zoomorphic ram figurine/attachment from Celtic ceramic (firepot) found at Boznik, Pernik region to the west of Sofia. Such ceramic has been located in the Sofia region at the villages of Jana and Muchovo, and in the Poduaine area of Sofia City (see ‘Cult firepots’ article).
Celtic numismatic material discovered in the Sofia region ranges from Celtic Paeonia type tetradrachms (4th – 3rd c. BC) from the Pernik, Breznik and Kovachevtsi areas to the west of Sofia (Мушмов Н. (1912) Антични монети на Балканския полуостров. София; Forrer R. (1908) Keltische Numismatik der Rhein und Donaulände; Gaebler H. (1935) Die antiken Münzen von Makedonia und Paionia. – In: Die antiken Münzen Nord-Griechenlands, III, 2. Berlin; see also numismatics section 11), Scordisci coinage dated between 270-250 BC from the village of Ogoia (IGCH #435; Dimitrov 2010: 55-56); Celtic Philip III and II type tetradrachms and drachms (III – I c. BC) have been registered at the village of Chavdar (Sofia region) and the environs of Sofia city. Another large hoard of Celtic ‘Philip III’ type coins has been recorded from the village of Vrachesh, in the Botevgrad district (western Sofia Region) (Gerassimov, T. Kolektivni nachodki na moneti, IAI, XVII, 1950, 322), close to the aforementioned concentration of Celtic archaeological material around the Gorna Malina area.
Celtic Strymon/Trident bronze issues, and Celtic ‘Thasos type’ tetradrachms have also been found in the Sofia area, both of the latter types dating to the II-I c. BC (see numismatics sections 1-6 with relevant lit.). Particularly noteworthy is a massive hoard of Celtic ‘Thasos’ coins discovered at the village of Churek (Elin Pelin district, Sofia region). The sheer size of this hoard, which included over 7 kilograms of silver tetradrachms (Филов, Б. 1913; Head, B. 1967:266; Мушмов Н.1912: 5651 and 3940; see numismatics section 2 with relevant lit.), suggests that this type of Celtic coinage was produced in the Sofia area by the Celtic Serdi tribe in the II – I c. BC, although indications are that Sofia/Serdica itself was not a significant settlement during this period.