The Deultum Amulet Discovery: Bulgaria's Earliest Christian Artifact Revealed!

Archaeology | March 6, 2024, Wednesday // 10:00|  views

Facebook: National Archaeological Reserve Deultum - Debelt

A recent discovery at the National Archaeological Reserve and ancient Roman colony Deultum near the village of Debelt in Sredets municipality is believed to be the earliest indication of Christianity in Bulgarian lands, according to BTA reports. Unearthed during summer excavations in 2023, a silver amulet has garnered attention for its significance. After meticulous restoration and analysis of its inscription, the amulet is now on display at the reserve's museum, as announced by archaeologist Dora Todorova, the curator.

Found during last year's excavations led by Krasimira Kostova and Assoc. Dr. Ivo Cholakov from the National Archaeological Institute with a Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (NAIM at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), the amulet was discovered in a burial site alongside the deceased's head. Initially thought to be a silver ingot, it was later revealed to be an amulet inscribed with the names of archangels Gabriel and Michael, along with the Guardian Christ, following restoration efforts by Silvia Borisova.

Todorova explained that the term "Guardian" (ΦΥΛΑΞ) denotes both Christ's role and the amulet's purpose of protecting its wearer. Early Christians often concealed their faith, hence Christ's representation with various symbols. In this instance, the amulet was buried with the deceased, suggesting secrecy, with Christ's name inscribed in a manner forming a cross, a common feature in early Christian inscriptions.

The interpretation and dating of the amulet were conducted by renowned epigrapher Ch. Assistant Dr. Nikolay Sharankov, in collaboration with the reserve's team for reading and publishing inscriptions unearthed during excavations. According to Krasimira Kostova, director of the National Archaeological Reserve "Deultum" - Debelt, the artifact dates back to the late second or early third century AD, marking a significant milestone in the region's Christian history.

In his analysis featured in the specialized publication Arheologia Bulgarica, Dr. Sharankov presents a compelling argument for dating the inscription as +ΡЄICTOC with ЄI instead of I. He posits that the inclusion of the cross and the naming of only Archangels Gabriel and Michael strongly suggest the amulet's connection to a Christian community. Moreover, Sharankov asserts that its dating establishes it as the oldest Christian artifact in Bulgaria, marking the earliest mention of Christ in the region.

"Inscriptions visible to the public rarely overtly disclosed early Christians' religious allegiance," Sharankov notes. "They often utilized innocuous symbols such as birds or fish, or veiled expressions like 'God' that didn't draw suspicion. Explicit references to Jesus Christ were rare, with one early example found in a tomb inscription from Plovdiv, ancient Philippopolis, dating back to the early 3rd century. However, in that instance, the name 'Jesus' was conveyed through a cipher—likely understood only by Christians—as the number 888. In contrast, the amulet from Deultum, concealed from prying eyes, allowed for the direct mention of Christ without ambiguity or secrecy."

According to Sharankov, the significance of discovering such an ancient Christian artifact in Deultum is unsurprising, given that the Roman colony was the earliest settlement with a documented Christian community and bishopric in the region.

Founded in the 1st century AD, Colonia Deultum served as the first Roman colony in the area, established for veterans of the VIII Augustus Legion. Archaeological study of the colony began in the 1980s, yielding a wealth of information from various sites. Notably, the Southern Necropolis of the Colony has been a focal point of exploration for several seasons.

Excavations of the necropolises have unearthed a diverse array of well-preserved artifacts, now showcased in the reserve's museum. Among the discoveries are glass embalmers and lacrimatories, medical implements, children's toys and pacifiers, jewelry, ceramics, military paraphernalia, and musical instruments, shedding light on the daily lives of Deultum's inhabitants, as explained by archaeologist Dora Todorova.

The discovery of the silver amulet at the National Archaeological Reserve and ancient Roman colony Deultum stands as a testament to the rich history and cultural significance of the region. As scholars continue to unravel its secrets and significance, this artifact provides invaluable insight into the early Christian communities that flourished amidst the Roman Empire's legacy. With each excavation and analysis, Deultum offers a window into the past, illuminating the diverse tapestry of human experience and the enduring legacy of faith and tradition. As visitors marvel at the artifacts on display in the reserve's museum, they are reminded of the profound impact of history on the present, inspiring a deeper appreciation for the complexities of our shared heritage.

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Tags: Christianity, Deultum, archaeological, Bulgaria


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