Silver Buckles of Ancient Bulgar Warrior Aristocrats Displayed for the First Time by Bulgaria’s National Museum of History

A silver belt of an Ancient Bulgar warrior aristocrat. The exhibit entitled “Aristocrats and Warriors. Silver Belts of the Bulgars, 7th-8th Century” is presented by Bulgaria's National Museum of History. Photo: National Museum of History

A silver belt buckle  of an Ancient Bulgar warrior aristocrat. The exhibit entitled “Aristocrats and Warriors. Silver Belts of the Bulgars, 7th-8th Century” is presented by Bulgaria’s National Museum of History. Photo: National Museum of History

Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia has opened an exhibition showing for the first time weapons, decorations, and treasures of Ancient Bulgar aristocrats and warriors from the early period of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD).

The unique items displayed in the exhibition entitled “Aristocrats and Warriors. Silver Belts of the Bulgars, 7th-8th Century” have been discovered (many of them recently) in Ancient Bulgar funerals in the towns of Kabiyuk, Divdyadovo, Velino, and Gledachevo located around Pliska, capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680-893 AD, in today’s Northeast Bulgaria.

They have been provided for the National Museum of History’s exhibit by the Regional Museum of History in the northeastern city of Shumen, and the Maritsa East Museum of Archaeology in the southern town of Radnevo.

Belts symbolized the honor of the Ancient Bulgar men, all of whom were warriors throughout their entire lives once they reached the age of maturity. Their belt buckles had depictions, most often of animals, indicating their clan‘s totem.

“Their belts were made of skin, with a metal buckle made of copper, silver, or gold, coated with applications from the same metal,” explains Bozhidar Dimitrov, Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History.

“According to Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII the Purple-Born (r. 913/945-969 AD), the metal of which the buckle was made signified the warrior’s public status. He writes in his book “On Ceremonies” that among the Bulgarians, copper buckles were worn by the regular warriors, also known as bagaturs. The mid-ranking and high aristocracy known as boilas had belt buckles made of silver, and only the Tsar (the Khan in the pagan period) could have gold buckles and decorations on his belt,” explains Dimitrov.

He adds that in the recent years the Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered Ancient Bulgar belts in different parts of Bulgaria, and since they have not been displayed to date, the National Museum of History has decided to put together a special exhibit.

A clay pitcher from the 8th century AD found in the grave of an Ancient Bulgar warrior aristocrat. Photo: National Museum of History

A clay pitcher from the 8th century AD found in the grave of an Ancient Bulgar warrior aristocrat. Photo: National Museum of History

The presented finds from a recently discovered Ancient Bulgar burial mound (tumulus) near Kabiyuk, include a 75-centimeter (2.5 feet) sabre as well as different belt decorations of silver, gold, and copper.

They belonged to Ancient Bulgar warrior noblemen, and demonstrated their social hierarchy during the Early Middle Ages. Some of the decorations are shaped like horseshoes demonstrating the importance of the horse for the early Bulgarians who were a steppe people known for the power and efficiency of their cavalry.

The Ancient Bulgar exhibit in Sofia also features artifacts discovered in the town of Velino near Shumen back in 1968 which included silver belt decorations.

Other finds on display come from a grave in an early medieval Ancient Bulgar necropolis in Shumen’s Divdyadovo Quarter found in 2004.

The Divdyadovo funeral revealed the skeleton of a 40-year-old Ancient Bulgar warrior buried with his battle ax near his right arm, and an iron sickle near his left arm.

This 9th century AD silver cup found in a grave in Veliki Preslav ("Great Preslav"), capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-970 AD, has a bottom inscription in Greek, reading, inscription “Mother of God, help Sivin, Grand Zhupan of Bulgaria”. Photo: National Museum of History

This 9th century AD silver cup found in a grave in Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav”), capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-970 AD, has a bottom inscription in Greek, reading, inscription “Mother of God, help Sivin, Grand Zhupan of Bulgaria”. Photo: National Museum of History

The exhibit also shows the silver cup of Sivin, a Grand Zhupan (Zupan), a medieval aristocratic title in the First Bulgarian Empire which was later adopted and widely used by the rulers of Serbia in the High Middle Ages. The Grand Zhupan Sivin’s silver cup was found in the 1960s in a grave in the town of Veliki Preslav, capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-970 AD. It is believed to have been made around the middle of the 9th century AD in the previous capital, Pliska, and bears an inscription reading, “Mother of God, help Sivin, Grand Zhupan of Bulgaria”. The Christian inscription in Greek shows that it can be probably dated between 865 AD, when Bulgaria adopted Christianity as a state religion, and 886 AD, when Bulgaria first adopted the Glagolitic alphabet and then developed the Bulgarian (Cyrillic) alphabet.

Bulgaria’s National Museum of History points out that the presented finds from the four early medieval graves and burial mounds reveal important information about the warrior elite of the Ancient Bulgars.

Some of the finds indicate connections with the Ancient Bulgar funerals discovered in the steppes north of the Black Sea, in today’s Ukraine and Southwest Russia, including the Pereshchepina Treasure found as inventory in the grave of Khan Kubrat (r. 632-665 AD).

Khan Kubrat founded the so called Old Great Bulgaria in 632 AD on the territory of modern day Ukraine and Southwest Russia. He was the father of Khan Asparuh (r. 680-700 AD) who around 680 AD moved the center of the First Bulgarian Empire south of the Danube forming the so called Danube Bulgaria, i.e. modern-day Bulgaria.

An Ancient Bulgar aristocrat's belt buckle and decorations discovered in Vrap, Albania. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

An Ancient Bulgar aristocrat’s belt buckle and decorations discovered in Vrap, Albania. Photo: Burgas Regional Museum of History

The comparison of the Ancient Bulgar warrior aristocrats’ artifacts on display in Sofia with finds from Ancient Bulgar treasures found in the towns of Vrap and Erseke in today’s Albania whose territory was settled in the 7th century AD by part of the Ancient Bulgars led by Khan Kuber, son of Khan Kubrat, and brother of Khan Asparuh of Danube Bulgaria proper. Khan Kuber’s Bulgars  were allied with the First Bulgarian Empire, and were then incorporated in it.

as well as finds from today’s Bulgaria south of the Balkan Mountain, in the Zagore region ceded by Byzantium to Bulgaria in 705 AD during the reign of Khan Tervel (700-721 AD) reveal that the belts bear the distinctive signs of the three major Ancient Bulgar dynasties that ruled the First Bulgarian Empire during its early period: the House of the Dulo Clan (r. 632-737 AD; and allegedly 803-997 AD), the House of the Vokil Clan (737-760; 763-766 AD), and the House of the Ugain Clan (r. 760-763; 766-767 AD).

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