Ancient Secrets Unearthed in the Heart of the Balkans
In August 2000, a sensational discovery occurred near the village of Starosel, in central Bulgaria. Archaeologists found the enormous grave of what is believed to be a Thracian ruler, possibly Sitakes I, the first king of a combined Thracian empire.
Sitalkes had an annual income of 800 talents and ruled from the Danube to the Aegean. He invaded Macedonia with a supposedly 150,000 strong army. He died in battle in 424 BC. The site, 100 miles east of Sofia, has been dated as from the fourth or fifth century BC.
The grave and its surroundings are thought by archaeologists to have been an important religious site for Thracians dating from the stone age. The two-chamber tomb is approached by stairs and a corridor. It is surrounded by a 263-yard long wall made out of some 4,000 stone blocks and was hidden under a 20-meter high mound of earth. The stone blocks of the surrounding wall/facade were largely undisturbed because they were fastened on the other side with iron clamps, which had lead poured over them. To the south it is crossed by a parade staircase flanked by two smaller staircases, climbing to an 11-yard roofless doorway with 5.5-yard high walls leading to the facade. The round stone wall symbolises the Sun, while the temple itself stands for the goddess of Earth who lived in a cave, according to Thracian beliefs. The interior consists of a rectangular entrance and a round vaulted main hall, whose ceiling is supported by 10 Doric semi-pillars, each carved with 10 vertical flutes. The inner walls are covered by ornate stone plates. The dome is decorated with a stone frieze in red, black, green and blue colours.
In a neighbouring mound, archaeologists found a magnificent trove of relics, including a large gold funerary wreath, other gold jewellery (including a 1-ounce gold ring depicting a Thracian horseman spearing a wild boar), bronze shields, helmets and swords, four silver and eight bronze vessels, ancient Greek ceramics, greaves (decorated with the royal double-edged axe symbol), scale armor, a bronze javelin tips, a quiver full of arrows with bronze tips and two sets of silver decorations for horses. A large silver applique was found in the entrance depicting a fully armed Thracian king with a beard but with no moustaches, riding a horse, and raising a rhyton in one hand. These were dated to the fifth century, B.C. Other tombs were found in the vicinity, thought to be Sitalkes' brother and cousins. One had a golden sarcophagus cover. Among the grave goods of a Thracian aristocrat in the second necropolis were 5 silver horse appliques (around 5 cm wide and 4 cm high) depicting griffins.