Bulgarian Treasure Hunter Receives Jail Sentence over Digs in Ancient Roman City Ratiaria

Treasure hunters "at work" in the Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria near the town of Archar, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: TV grab from SBS TV documentary "Plundering the Past"

Treasure hunters “at work” in the Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria near the town of Archar, Vidin District, in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: TV grab from SBS TV documentary “Plundering the Past”

In a rare occurrence, a Bulgarian treasure hunter has been sentenced to a jail term for digging for archaeological artifacts in the Ancient Roman arsenal city of Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria located on the Danube in the northwestern District of Vidin.

The man has pleaded guilty to conducting illegal digs in search of ancient items within the Ancient Roman city of Ratiaria, which has come to symbolize the rampant savagery of treasure hunting in post-communist Bulgaria since from an archaeological site almost intact in the 1980s, in the past 25 years it has been reduced to rubble and craters.

In the case of Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria it is alleged that in the 1990s the Roman city was bulldozed by the local mafia with the alleged participation of some government officials, while local Roma clans have been picking at the archaeological site by hand for decades. The treasure hunting plight of Ratiaria (and Bulgaria, for that matter) was documented in a 2009 documentary of Dateline on Australia’s SBS TV entitled “Plundering the Past”.

The sentenced treasure hunter committed the crime on March 8, 2015, with a metal detector, shovel, and pickaxe, reports local news site Tribali.

The Vidin District Court has sentenced him to six months in prison, and since this is the man’s second treasure hunting offense, the Court added a one-year term from his previous suspended sentence for a total of 1.5 years.

Jail sentences of treasure hunters are rare in Bulgaria regardless of the rampancy of this kind of savage crime; in the few instances of jail sentences, it is usually individual low profile diggers who get sent to prison, while the organized groups of diggers, and the antique traffickers up the chain are rarely busted and imprisoned.

A very small portion of the ruins of the once impressive Ancient Roman arsenal city of Ratiaria has been preserved; the rest have been destroyed by treasure hunters in the past 25 years. Photo: ratiaria.eu

A very small portion of the ruins of the once impressive Ancient Roman arsenal city of Ratiaria has been preserved; the rest have been destroyed by treasure hunters in the past 25 years. Photo: ratiaria.eu

Background Infonotes:

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.

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3 comments

  1. lockdownking · · Reply

    Sorry, but putting a man in jail for pulling items of historical value out of the ground for others to view is ludicrous. These items need to be seen by the public before they are completely destroyed or forgotten about. If I had the money, I’d bail him out. There are too many sites and too many archaeologists that are being allowed to make up rules as they see fit and that in and of itself is wrong.

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    1. Why did you decide that he “pulled them out of the ground for others to view”?? These guys are doing enormous damage. Not to mention the “bigger fish” who are a dangerous mafia. Of course, those hardly ever go to prison but the low-level diggers are also liable because they do more damage, and feed illegally acquired artifacts up the mafia chain.

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      1. lockdownking · ·

        More damage? Next year, the Government will sell that piece of land for millions of dollars because “It benefits the growth of the population”, then construction crews will come in and build condominiums, stores, or even apartments on the site. This will destroy and historical items forever. Let them dig and recover, work with them and not against them for they are the ones responsible for bringing history to light.

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