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The  Threskourion

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Sveshtari

Inside the Sveshtari tomb, click to zoom inSveshtari tomb inside view.3 c.BC

Click here to see a larger picture

Click near the top to see an elargement of the painting at the top, or on the right-hand side for Sveshtary tomb caryatids No 3 and 4. 

"A large figural composition with a total length of 2.5m and a height of 0.65m is painted above the bed and naiskos, on the north-west wall of the burial chamber.  It is executed on the second and third rows of stones (top to bottom) of the lunette, and the frieze covers almost its entire length.  The drawing represents a procession of servants and armour bearers, heading towards the King-Horseman and the Goddess, depicted in the centre.  The horseman is wearing a short tunic and chlamys.  He is holding the horse's reins in his left hand and his right hand is outstretched towards the Goddess...Behind the horseman's ear there is a horn...Other Hellenistic rulers are also depicted with similar horns...This iconographic feature dates the horseman to the beginning of the 3rd Century BC."  (text from p 112, The Thracian Tomb Near the Village of Sveshtarti)

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Above: an architechtural drawing of the painting from the lunette facing the entrance to the main burial chamber.  Click on the cavalryman for a closer look.  Thanks to Malvina Rousseva for sending me these pictures and allowing me to use them.

Click to zoom in (96 Kb) Painting from the lunette facing the entrance to the main burial chamber, Sveshtari tomb.  The photograph (Figure 39) and the following text is from Ivan Marazov (Ed) Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians, pp 80 - 82

There is more information about the Thracian tomb at Sveshtari at http://www.unesco.org/whc/sites/359.htm   and in the book The Thracian Tomb Near the Village of Svestari, A. Fol, M Chichikova, T. Ivanov, & T. Teofilov, Svyat Publishers, Sofia, 1986 from which come the colour photographs of the lunette (pp 110-115).

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Above: Reconstruction of the procession, by Johnny Shumate.

The armour bearers The armour bearers

"Two men, probably the armour-bearers, walk behind the horsemen.  The first man, wearing a helmet, carries a long spear over his shoulder, while the other hand hangs against the sheath from which dangles the shoulder-strap.  The second man, dressed in a knee-length garment, holds a shield in his right hand.  Clearly outlined are the reins of the horse, the strap below its neck and saddle with four long pendants, painted red." p 114, Fol et al

A barrel-vaulted tomb discovered near the village of Sveshtari, Razgrad district, in what is now northeastern Bulgaria, has a dromos, an antechamber, a burial chamber, and an additional side chamber next to the antechamber. The quadrangular burial chamber is decorated with ten identical figures in high relief of the hearth-goddess Hestia, patroness of the hearth, each standing with raised arms in a caryatid-like pose (Fig. 1, p35). The figures carry the tomb's heavy interior architrave, which supports the cornice carrying the vault. Hawks-Hestia's bird-appear in two places in the tomb. Hestia was an immensely important deity in Thrace, and according to Diodorus Siculus, "there were many Hestias, and one, common to all, who was the goddess of the state hearth." It was Hestia who had inspired the Thracian god of death, Zalmoxis, with the faith of immortality. The goddess is depicted with a type of open basket that the Greeks called a kalathos on her head. She wears a short tunic resembling a downward-turned lotus flower, and another, longer garment underneath.

sveshtary_tomb_caryatid_8.jpg (20559 bytes)Sveshtary tomb caryatid No 8

Apart from these purely religious images, all of which are associated with the dead, there is an interesting mural on the lunette facing the entrance of the main burial chamber (Fig. 39). As in the dromos of the Kazanluk tomb, this painting is clearly related to an historical event, and it makes use of a popular mythological motif as well. The artist has used the theme of crowning or placing a wreath upon the head of another. The central figure is that of a horseman, his saddle richly ornamented, who is reaching out to take a wreath from the hands of a tall, matronly woman. She is standing on a pedestal, and she, too, is wearing a wreath on her head. Maria Chichikova, who has studied this tomb, has suggested that the female figure represents a goddess crowning a local ruler.` However, she has no attributes of divinity. We know that the act of crowning was used in antiquity to mark a ruler's return from a victorious war. In this scene the central female figure is accompanied by a procession of three young women carrying gifts, or perhaps, the vessel in which the victorious warrior would wash his hands. The horseman is followed by two men, the first of these shown as smaller than the horseman, which indicates his humbler status. The other one, who probably played an important role in the event shown, is represented on the same scale as the horseman, at least this is what can be deduced from the preserved portions of this figure. One detail from the representation of the horseman allows for some speculation about his identity: the ram's horns growing from his head. Alexander the Great was often represented with ram's horns, an allusion to the legend that he was the son of the god known to the Greeks as Zeus-Ammon. It was said that the god, in the form of a dragon, had entered the bed of Alexander's mother Olympias-as he had supposedly done in many similar mythological accounts-and had thus fathered the prince. As a reminder of his supposed divine origin, Alexander was often shown with the ram's horns, which were Zeus-Ammon's principal attribute.` This representation of Alexander first appeared officially on the coins of Alexander's successors as early as in the first decade of the third century BC, but the story had been in circulation much earlier, even while Alexander was still a youth. It might well have inspired the common representation of Alexander as a horseman with horns, an image popular throughout the second quarter of the fourth century BC.

sveshtary_tomb_caryatids_9215.jpg (33691 bytes)Sveshtary tomb caryatids No 9,2,1,5

The area around Sveshtari had fallen under Macedonian rule during the reign of Alexander's father, Philip 11 of Macedon (reigned 359-336 BC), in 339 BC. Several years later, in 335 BC, Alexander marched against the Thracian Triballi tribe, and after forcing them to retreat northward toward the mouth of the Danube, he occupied their territories. This was, in fact, Alexander's first successful military campaign. His victory over the Triballian king Syrmos was a cataclysmic event for that region of Thrace between the south shore of the Danube River and the Black Sea. I would suggest, then, that rather than a goddess, the artist of the Sveshtari tomb has represented a local female ruler, with her retinue of women, in the act of offering a wreath to the victorious Alexander. In this traditional scene of the crowning of a victor, the Macedonian prince is accompanied by a retinue of his own, a group of armed men returning from battle. The third male figure -unfortunately in very poor condition, and thus difficult to interpret-might be either the husband of the lady offering the wreath, or the defeated Syrmos. Here again, as in the Kazanluk tomb, we seem to have a representation of an historical event, which demonstrates that in Thracian tombs mythological themes related to death might be combined with historical ones to glorify a ruler.

Limestone acroterion from the Sveshtary tombLimestone acroterion from the Sveshtary tomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This page last updated on Monday, 07 January 2002 by Christopher Webber thracian@pnc.com.au

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