Rare Medallion With Emperor’s Likeness Among ‘Valuable’ Roman Grave Finds

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A rare medallion with an emperor’s likeness is among a haul of valuable finds discovered at a Roman burial site.

The graves are located near the village of Nova Varbovka in Bulgaria, a country in the Balkans region of southeastern Europe. Archaeological investigations have uncovered a rich array of artifacts, including jewelry, coins and vessels dating back to the first half of the 3rd century, the Regional History Museum in the city of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, announced in a press release.

In the latter half of the first millennium B.C., the powerful Odrysian kingdom dominated the region where Bulgaria lies today. But in 46 B.C., this kingdom was conquered by the Roman Empire, which ruled for several centuries.

The artifacts uncovered by archaeologists near Nova Varbovka come from two graves, according to the museum.

The Roman-era bronze medallion found near Nova Varbovka in Bulgaria. The medallion features the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who ruled from A.D. 198-217.

Regional History Museum – Veliko Tarnovo

One of the graves contains a child aged around 1-2 years old, while the other contains two adults—a woman aged around 45-49 and a man who was about 50-60 years old when he died. Anthropological analysis of the remains has suggested that the individuals from the two graves were most likely related and that the child died before his parents.

One of the most intriguing artifacts found at the burial site was a “rare and very valuable” bronze medallion featuring a depiction of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known as Caracalla, who ruled from A.D. 198-217.

The medallion was minted in the ancient city of Pergamum in Asia Minor, a territory now covered by modern-day Turkey. One side of the medallion shows a scene from the emperor’s visit to Pergamum in A.D. 214, where he sought healing from the Greco-Roman god of medicine, Asclepius.

The medallion is of high value, but due to its large size, it was not used for everyday trading purposes.

In the child’s burial, researchers found several artifacts, including a pair of small gold earrings, jewelry made of glass beads, a ceramic vessel used to store wine and two glass vessels used to collect the tears of mourners.

In the grave of the man and woman, archaeologists found exquisite gold earrings and a pendant, among other artifacts.

The discovery of the graves was accidental, occurring when a tractor driver hit a limestone slab while plowing a field near Nova Varbovka. The driver reported the find to the mayor of the village, who subsequently notified the police. Initially, there were suspicions the burials may be linked to a criminal case.

Artifacts uncovered from Roman graves in Bulgaria
Various artifacts found at the burial site near Nova Varbovka. The people buried in the graves are thought to have been wealthy landowners.

Regional History Museum – Veliko Tarnovo

After it was established that the burials dated back to the Roman era, archaeologists launched an emergency excavation.

The deceased individuals are believed to have been wealthy landowners whose estate was located in the administrative territory of Nicopolis ad Istrum—an ancient Roman city located north of modern Veliko Tarnovo.

This is evidenced by the fact that the burial facilities were constructed with brick, stone and mortar, with mortar plaster on the inside, which only the rich would have been able to afford, according to the researchers. The family may have owned a villa in the area.

Previous research has shown that wealthy landowners lived in their estates in the Sumer and returned to Nicopolis ad Istrum in the winter.

A map shows the location of the village of Nova Varbovka, in northern Bulgaria.

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