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THE LETNITZA TREASURE
INVALUABLE MONUMENT OF THRACIAN ART

In 1963 a group of workers from the village of Letnitza, the Lovetch region, had to dig the foundations of a sheepfold in the yard of the farm. Quite unexpectedly they found in the hole a bronze vessel turned upside down. When they took it out many small silver objects fell out of it. The workers distributed them among themselves. Later archeologists from the Lovetch Museum found the men and took the objects to the museum. It is still uncertain whether they found all of items since some parts of the set were obviously missing.
The bronze vessel has two handles with loops slung on them. It contained ornaments of horse-trappings and an iron harness of Thracian type. The objects are attributed to the 4th c. BC. Probably these are applications to the straps of a riding horse of a representative of an aristocratic Thracian family. Naturally the leather parts are not preserved and the position of the ornaments is only speculative.
On the applications we can see various images, which are not directly connected with Thracian art and suggest strong influence of Greek culture, but most probably they were made in Thrace. Among these images there are many male and female figures.
Archeologists noticed that applications belong to two different groups - filigreed (typical for the horse-trappings and identified on other finds) and solid. Images on the solid applications are as a rule put in a frame. This makes the treasure very unusual and original. They are 23 and no doubt all belong to the ornaments of the horse head. Central is the forehead shield from the headstall, which represents a lion attacking a bull. There follow applications included in the group of the filigreed images. They again represent scenes of the battle between a lion and a griffin, and snakes aiming at them. Probably these applications come from the headstall of the horse, from its front and side parts.
There follows a group of seven ornaments, on which in a heraldic posture stand, facing each other, griffins or griffins attacking deer, as well stylized heads of griffins. We can notice that one of the marked features of the images is the dominating presence of the image of the griffin, which is a favorite of the Thracian torevts.
It must be noted that all the represented animals are given in action and active participation in the scene.
The second group is made up of 15 applications. The figures on them are not always included in the drawn frame and grow out of it. They are rectangular, only one having an oval form. The major image in them is a goddess with hair in long strands and dressed in a long dress. In one case she is caressing kindly a dragon and in another she caresses in a similar way a three-headed snake. Eight applications have horsemen on them, some of them with beards, others without breads, all dressed in a short dress, with a chain mail and a knee shield. They are riding dashing ahead with spears in their hands.
A third group covers scenes of battles among animals: a doe attacked by a wolf; a griffin stepping on a deer; upright bears in battle. On the oval plate we have horse heads in a circle.
The detailed analysis of all objects from the treasure suggests that they have been produced by at least two craftsmen. The images contain an element of primitivism and naive characteristic of Thracian art. They have been created during the 4th c. BC in the time of the Thracian ruler Cortis (383-360) and buried after his death, during the marches of some of the Macedonian kings Philip or Alexander the Great.
The ornaments on the applications must be judges as a whole. The ornamental motifs and the individual scenes express the general idea that the goddesses, one of which is certainly Demetra and the other is Kore, are represented in the manner of Thracian tradition. They have sexual contact with Zeus, who is presented either as a dragon-griffin or as a three-headed snake. Only on one of the plates this scared marriage (hierogamy) is expressed as a sexual contact between a man and a woman. From these contacts, according to Greek mythology, was born god Dionysus, called Zargei by the Thracians. The suggestion that the horsemen on some of the plates must be interpreted as Zeus and Dionysus, which is untypical of ancient Greek art, is highly probable. This no doubt is a typically Thracian interpretation of the Hellenic myths. Therefore we have a blend of Greek and Thracian mythological personages, which produced original and unique images. Accompanied by partial or full figures of animals and scenes, they are among the original monuments of the Thracians created in the so-called animalistic style. This sacred artistic symbiosis contains the real importance and greatness of the discovery in Letnitza.


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Last update: Mon, 1 October, 2007 17:00