Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Putting A New Face On Thrace Volume 57 Number 6, November/December 2004
by Matthew Brunwasser

The recent find of a magnificent 2,300-year-old solid-gold mask is helping to liberate the Thracians from the "barbarian" reputation given to them by their ancient Greek neighbors, according to archaeologist Georgi Kitov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Kitov made the discovery during the excavation of a burial mound in a region of central Bulgaria considered the "Valley of the Thracian Kings" because of the number and wealth of royal tombs so far discovered there.

The mask is believed to be a likeness of Seutus III, a Thracian king who ruled in the late fourth century B.C. Weighing about one and a half pounds, it is the first solid-gold mask found in the country.

Only partial remains of an adult male were found in the tomb, which contained objects necessary for a kingly afterlife: a sword, a double ax, huge amphorae that were most likely once filled with wine, and bronze and silver vessels. Along with the mask, which was positioned where the head would have been (the skull is believed to be interred elsewhere), an elegant gold ring depicting an athlete was also found on the body.

The mask would have been worn during royal drinking ceremonies that were described by ancient Greek authors, says Kitov. After a Thracian leader consumed wine from a golden vessel emblazoned with his likeness, he would place the mask on his face, impressing his company with his power.

The Thracians were a nonliterate tribe often depicted by their southern neighbors as wild savages. "Archaeology is helping us understand that the Thracians were much more developed culturally and politically than the Greek authors portray them to be," says Kitov.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America