UD: Feb. 2016
Recently published archaeological and numismatic evidence from the Dobruja region (s.e. Romania/n.e. Bulgaria) has shed new light on the elusive Celto-Scythian kings who ruled in this area in the Late Iron Age, and provided vital information both on the geographical area controlled by the Bastarnae leaders, and the chronology of their rule.
An inscription on an altar (fig. 1) discovered at Cape Kaliakra in the Southern Dobruja region of today’s Bulgaria has yielded the first concrete evidence about the territory controlled by the (Peucini) Bastarnae king Sariakes in the early 2nd c. BC. Cape Kaliakra, where the altar was discovered, was known in the Late Iron Age as Tirizis (loc cit), and lay slightly to the east of the Bastarnae settlement of Peuce in the Balchik/Dionysopolis area. Previous numismatic and archaeological evidence has confirmed a Celtic (Celto-Scythian) presence in the area, and the Cape Kaliakra inscription to ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΑΡΙΑΚΟΥ provides further epigraphic evidence that this area was controlled by the Bastarnae during the period in question.
Fig 1. The Cape Kaliakra / Tirizis inscription
(after Драганов Д. Монетите на Скитските Царе. София 2012)
The dedication on the altar was made to the Bastarnae king by a Macedonian called Antigon, which also provides a possible chronological framework for the rule of Sariakos. We know from ancient sources that in the second decade of the 2nd c. BC Philip V of Macedonia sent envoys to both the Thracian Celts (Scordisci) and the Bastarnae to solicit their help in his planned war with Rome. Livy informs us that:
‘The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation’.
The testimony of Livy again emphasizes the geo-political importance of the Bastarnae in the region, and the Kaliakra/Tirizis inscription provides the first archaeological confirmation of the contact between the Macedonians and the Bastarnae of today’s northeastern Bulgaria during the period in question.
Further information about the Bastarnae king, Sariakes, comes from extensive numismatic material discovered in the area. Besides a number of bronze issues, Sariakes was the only one of the Bastarnae kings to have minted silver coinage during this period (fig. 2). Silver coinage circulating in this area in the the 2nd/1st c. BC consisted of issues of the Greek Black Sea colonies or that produced by the Thracian Celtic tribes, which makes the silver Sariakes issues particularly noteworthy.
Fig. 2. Silver Sariakes coinage (early 2nd c. BC)
The iconography to be observed on both the silver and bronze (fig. 3) Sariakes issues gives us an important insight into the cultural processes at work among the Bastarnae tribes during this period. As with the other Peucini leaders, the coinage of Sariakes is Hellenistic in nature. This process of Hellenization is to be also observed on the coinage of the Celtic Tyle state which controlled this part of Bulgaria in the previous century, and the portrayal of Greek divinities – Demeter, Zeus, Apollo, Heracles, the Dioscuri etc. – on this coinage illustrates that the Bastarnae in this area (at least the aristocratic class), as with the Galatians, had become heavily Hellenized.
Fig. 3 – Sariakes Bronze issues
THE WHEAT KING
A particularly interesting feature to be observed on the coinage of Sariakes, and other Bastarnae kings, is the recurring presence of the wheat symbol on the reverse of their coinage. The Dobruja area has traditionally been the ‘breadbasket’ of the region, with production of wheat playing a key role in the economy. The wheat symbols on the coins of Sariakes is again an indication that the prosperity of the barbarian Zaravetz culture in this area in the Late Iron Age was largely due to the production and export of wheat along the Danube through Celtic ports such as Mediolana, and to the Hellenistic world through the Greek Black Sea ports.