(Updated August 1, 2012)
Who’s Afraid of the Past ?
A number of factors should be borne in mind when dealing with the coin collections from Bulgarian museums. Since the early 1990’s attempts have been made by a number of Bulgarian and international experts to get access to information on the coin collections in the various museums around Bulgaria, and publish a comprehensive account of the information contained within. This fine work, which has resulted in catalogues of the collections from a handful of museums being published (the CCCHBulg series) has met with varying success. The philosophy of the authors of the CCCHBulg project is based ‘on the understanding that this type of information is not a personal or even a national property in perpetuity, but is above all – a universal patrimonium’. (Paunov E. Prokopov I. Filipova S. (2011) Re-discovering coins: Publication of the Numismatic Collections in Bulgarian Museums – A New Project. In: Proceedings of the XIVth International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow 2009).
From the perspective of Celtic culture in Bulgaria, the completion of such a project would bring long awaited clarity on this controversial issue, surely something which would be welcomed by all those involved in Bulgarian archaeology and culture? However, as has been recently pointed out by those involved in the project – ‘Unfortunately specific information on the contents and details of each hoard preserved in the collections in Bulgaria’s museums remained closed for the foreign scientific community and Bulgarian numismatists as well. This is largely the case for the biggest collection in Bulgaria – in the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Academy of Sciences, Sofia. Under the care of the NAIM, access to information for some 600,000 coins is sealed. This huge amount of material includes valuable collections and complete hoards discovered and donated to the museum by the general public and adherent followers of immaculate reputation in the past when the spirit of academicism and fellowship reigned. It is a pity that even today the collection of the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at Sofia is still being managed by people whose ill-intentioned and perverted policy is reduced to shameless trading with the data about the coin hoards and collections’ (Paunov, Prokopov, Filipova op. cit).
A further problem has been the wholesale theft of coins from Bulgarian museums over the decades, and in particular in the post 1989 period, possibly one of the main reasons why many museums are reluctant to open their collections to the prying eyes of outside experts. A well known example of this phenomenon is that of Veliko Tarnovo regional museum in northeastern Bulgaria where the entire numismatic collection was stolen in December 2006. According to preliminary information, the number of coins stolen is around 30,000 (Prokopov 2007:5), although, as indicated below, this statistic is certainly a gross underestimate, and the real number of recorded and documented coins discovered in Bulgaria, which have subsequently disappeared, is many times that number.
How does this phenomenon relate to the finds of Celtic coins in Bulgaria ? Until recently virtually none of the thousands of Celtic coins found on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria had been properly published (see numismatics sections 1-11). This situation has changed slowly in recent years, thanks chiefly to the fine work of experts such as Paunov, Prokopov and Filipova, and a small fraction of the vast amount of Celtic numismatic material from Bulgaria has slowly come to light in official publications. However, these publications have raised a number of new and disturbing questions, not least the discrepancy between the finds of Celtic coinage officially recorded in Bulgaria, chiefly in the pre-communist period, and those which today are actually in the collections of these museums. Thus, for example, while the publication of the Celtic numismatic material from Lovech Museum outlined below provides us with invaluable information which confirms the archaeological and numismatic evidence of Celtic settlement in this area in the 3rd – 1st c. BC, the material which is not in the museum (see below) raises questions of a very different nature.
‘Barbarian’ coinage in the Lovech Regional museum collection may be broken up into two distinct groups – Celto-Thracian imitations of the Thasos type (Section 1), and Celtic coinage of the “Philip III Arrhidaeus’ type (Section 2). The general circulation, and chronological and artistic context of both these types of Celtic coins in Bulgaria (based on current data) are dealt with in separate articles (see numismatics section 1 and 2), the Celtic Thasos ‘imitations’ dated to the second half of the 2nd c. BC/ 1st c. BC, and the Philip III types dated more generally to the 3rd /1st c. BC.
SECTION 1 – Thraco-Celtic Thasos ‘Imitations’ (2nd/1st c. BC)
(All Inventory numbers and illustrations after Gushterakliev R. and Prokopov I. CCCHBulg. Vol. 1. Part 1 – Numismatic Collection of the Historical Museum Lovech (Anc. Melta) Sofia 2007)
Celtic Thasos Imitation from the Slatina Hoard (IGCH no.488)
Coins 356-370 = Celtic Thasos type hoard with identical die combination (after Gushterakliev, Prokopov op. cit.)
SECTION 2 – Celtic coinage of the ‘Philip III Arrhidaeus’ type
A massive amounts of this type of Celtic coinage has been registered across Bulgaria, and a large number of hoards consisting only of Celtic coins of the “Philip III” type have also been discovered over the last century. This includes examples like those from the villages of Pepelina and Ostritsa (Russe Region), from the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa, and from the village of Radanovo (Veliko Turnovo reg.), from the area of Veliko Turnovo city itself, from the village of Pordim (Pleven region), from the village of Glavatsi (Vratza region), from the village of Vrachesh, in the region of Botevgrad, from the villages of Alexandrovo and Smochan, in Lovech region (Gushterakliev R. and Prokopov I. op cit.; see ‘Celtic Coins in Bulgarian Museums (2) – Razgrad; on Smochan see below), etc.
From the Lovech Museum Collection:
Celtic Philip III type Coins from the Smochan Hoard (Lovech region):
Particularly interesting is a large hoard of Celtic coins found at the village of Smochan in the Lovech region. All coins (57-101) are of the same type:
Obv. Head of Heracles in lion’s skin r. or bucel only.
Rev. Zeus enthroned. Pseudo (?) inscription
It should be noted that, according to the authors (Gushterakliev, Prokopov 2007), this study is a complete record of the coins from this period from the Lovech regional museum. Lovech is an area where archaeological and linguistic evidence provides extensive evidence of Celtic settlement in the pre-Roman period, for example La Têne swords, shields, daggers, chainmail etc. from villages such as Smochan, Dojrentsi, Karpachevo, Letnitza, Teteven, Bachovitza, and Lovech itself (see archaeological and linguistic sections). The numismatic evidence from the Lovech area provides indisputable proof of this.
Particularly interesting is the large hoard of Celtic Philip III imitations found at the village of Smochan, where a variety of La Têne weaponry and other Celtic material from this period has also been recorded. This hoard was found at the Smochan hillfort ‘Kaleto’, only circa 400-500m east of Tumulus 3, which included La Tene D burials and Celtic iron weaponry.
However, one should note the conspicuous absence of other recorded hoards of Celtic coins from the Lovech region in this cataolgue, such as that from Lometz – (Troyan district, Lovech region) (See numismatics article Part 1 – Map 1 # 7; In the vicinity of Lometz a large hoard of silver Celtic drachmae was uncovered at the beginning of the 20th century. The trove included over 100 Celtic silver drachmae (Alexander/Philip III type – GOTA – 574 (and variation) /575/576 and 577) as well as a gold ring with a gem – Мушмов 1926, p. 324 = Noe, no. 622; Pink 1974, 87), from the village of Alexandrovo, in the region of Lovech (Gerassimov, T. Kolektivni nachodki ot moneti prez 1939, IAI, XIII, 1939, 341; Gushterakliev, Prokopov 2007), or the village of Glojene (Teteven district, Lovech region) where a hoard of Celtic Philiip III type tetradrachms was also found and recorded in the early 1970’s (see Numismatics section 1 – Map 1 # 10 – Youroukova 1978 = Й. Юрукова. Монетните находки, открити в България през 1973 и 1974 г. In: Археология, XX, 1978-2:72; also Nedialkova 2010), etc. May we presume that these, and other recorded hoards of Celtic coins from this region, which do not appear in the ‘comprehensive’ catalogue of Lovech museum, have been overlooked in this case, and will soon also be made available for the purpose of academic research?
Celtic settlements/material from northwestern Bulgaria (3rd – 1st c. BC)
* Provisional (August 2012). Map includes only La Têne weaponry, other Celtic material from this area will be dealt with separately
During the 3rd – 1st c. BC period the only locally produced coins (i.e. those produced by the native population) circulating in this area of north-central Bulgaria were Celto-Thracian Thasos models and Celtic Philip III ‘imitations’, which logically indicates, in combination with the archaeological and linguistic evidence (see relevant sections), that the population of the Lovech region of Bulgaria in the immediate pre-Roman period consisted of a Thraco-Celtic population in which the Celtic element was dominant.
Depiction of a Celtic warrior in chainmail from the Letnitza treasure, Lovech region, Bulgaria. (Detail; see ‘The Letnitza Treasure’ article)