Two congresses dealing with Antiquity: September, 20171

Stela Tasheva, Sasha Lozanova

1.The Thirteenth International Congress of Thracology: Ancient Thrace: Myth and Reality, Kazanlak, 3–7 September 2017

A congress of Thracology was first held in Sofia, in 1972, coinciding with the founding of the Institute of Thracian Studies, BAS, now within the Institute of Balkan Studies and Centre of Tracology, BAS. The following congresses were held in such capitals as Sofia, Moscow, and Vienna as well as in such cities as Istanbul, Rotterdam and Constanţa. This year, Kazanlak joined in: a very good choice made by the organisers of the congress: the University of Sofia; Centre of Tracology, BAS; National Archaeological Institute with Museum, BAS; New Bulgarian University and Iskra Kazanlak History Museum. Though, of course, the efforts of colleagues from Kazanlak Municipality and the city’s cultural institutions should not be underestimated, it was UNESCO that provided the bulk of the funding.

The thematic scope of the congresses of Thracology is consistent with the broad time, regional, ethnic and cultural areas of research in this field. Thus historians, archaeologists, linguists, numismatists, art historians, etc., discuss the problems of Ancient Thrace locally (with respect to the Balkans) and/or globally (Europe-wise).

The number of the participants in the recent thirteenth congress was impressive: a total of 180 researchers delivering 140 papers and exhibiting 40 posters with such significant figures and pioneers in the field of Thracian studies among them as Maria Chichikova, as well as representatives of the middle and the younger generations of researchers. Such an age diversity of scholars trained in different schools inspires hope. The presence of colleagues who have completed their MRes or doctoral studies abroad and have come back to live and work in Bulgaria, e.g. Dr Hristomir Hristov (Naval Museum, Varna) and Dr Vessela Atanassova (NBU, Institute of Balkan Studies) was also gratifying.

Among the participants from Europe, Asia and Africa, the most numerous were the authors from Balkan countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia). The official languages of the congress were English, French and German. Such a high research activity was indicative of the growing interest in Thracian studies and their promotion among wider circles of specialists.

Genre diversity is inevitable at such events: from extensive plenary lectures to communicating individual fieldwork; from strictly scientific reports to interdisciplinary papers in different archaeological fields, incl. anthropology and geophysics. Every attendee could derive useful information from the variety of viewpoints and theses. That was the reason why discussions went beyond the halls of the parallel sessions and the procedure.

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Very impressive was the visit to and in situ familiarization with a series of religious sites in the so-called Valley of Thracian Kings. Sightseeing of ancient burial mounds and complexes (in Alexandrovo, Strelcha, Hissar, Starosel, etc.) was a highlight in the programme of the event, piquing the visitors’ interest after the closing of the congress. Diana Dimitrova nd Mitko Madjarov, researchers and archaeologists who have participated in the excavations, took care of the high quality of the provided information.

Some comparative analyses of Thracian artefacts of material culture and their equivalents from more ‘remote’ civilisations in Egypt, Palestine, Scythia, etc., aroused discussions during the sessions. There were also classical viewpoints on studying parallels between the arts in the synchronically developing Roman provinces (e.g. in the field of sculpture by Dr Marina Koleva, Institute of Art Studies, BAS).

The choice of the venue, in the participants’ onion, i.e. of the city hosting the event, was very good due both to its location right in the heart of the ancient Thracian lands and the riches of the local culture, architecture and scenic landscapes. Kazanlak boasts fine buildings and complexes, churches and mosques of the period of Bulgarian National Revival; elegant residential and public buildings of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Constructions in the style of the late Modernism in the centre of the city such as Arsenal Community Centre and Kazanlak Hotel and even the recently built Museum of Roses were of great inertest to the historians of architecture and art. Some of the guests succeeded in visiting sites outside the programme such as, for example, the abandoned and crumbling (unfortunately) Buzludzha Monument that has become a hallmark of a kind of Bulgaria’s late twentieth-century architecture.

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2. The Sixth International Congress on Black Sea Antiquities. The Greeks and Romans in the Black Sea and the Importance of the Pontic Region for the Graeco-Roman World, 7th BC – 5th AD): 20 Years On (1997–2017), Constanţa, Romania, 1822 September 2017

Prof. Gocha Tsetskhladze, affiliated to Linacre College, Oxford is the main figure behind both this and the previous congresses (e.g. in Istanbul in 2009 and Belgrade in 2013). The event became possible once again owing to his initiative; activity; extensive contacts and global cooperation with colleagues both form the East and the West, incl. Australia.

The Congress was dedicated to the 90th anniversary of Prof. Sir John Boardman (University of Oxford). There were 145 registered participants, the congress proceedings being traditionally published by Archaeopress (Oxford). A programme of successive papers without parallel sessions was offered for five days with a permanent exhibition of posters as a collateral event.

The congress was held at the Ovidius University of Constanţa in September, when there are no classes. The hosts organised visits to the National History and Archaeology Museum of Constanţa and its exterior expositions with fortresses and ancient mosaics. Architecturally, the numerous churches of different confessions, the mosques of the late nineteenth century and the ruins of the Grand Synagogue and the Casino piqued the visitors’ interest. Over the last decades, Constanţa has seen a rapid growth increasing its importance of a seaport and a cultural hub. The city boasts significant collections, kept at the Art Gallery and the Folk Art Museum.

Informative for the participants were the trips to Central and North Dobrudja, a region with unpolluted nature and rich cultural heritage, home to nineteen ethnic groups from Antiquity to the present day. Many derived pleasure from the journey onboard a ship to the Danube Delta.

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Some of the participants in the Congress of Thracology (mostly archaeologists) delivered papers on their research at the Congress on Black Sea Antiquities. The reason for this was in the partial concurrence of the problematic and regional areas as well as in the closeness of the historical period as set by the topic of the congress. Studies on the Black Sea region presented in Constanţa were though enriched with additions to zooarchaeology, maritime archaeology as well as with new ethnoarchaeological topics.

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Discussions did not ebb away both in the hall and the lobby, housing the exhibition of posters in front of it. Traditionally, Bulgarian archaeologists demonstrated high standards in research. As for art historians, they were especially interested in the posters featuring the discoveries of:

  • Maria Reho, Margarit Damyanov and Krastina Panayotova: Cold case reopened: a Late Classical tomb in Apollonia Pontica;

  • Teodora Bogdanova, Margarita Popova, Dimitar Nedev and Milena Krumova: Hellenistic Family Tomb from Apollonia Pontica

Zdravko Dimitrov’s paper on Anatolian stonemasons and the western Pontus region: imported models and techniques in the architectural decorations of the early Principate and Mila Chacheva’s poster Ward off evil? Anthropomorphic rod-formed glass pendants and beads from West Pontic Greek colonies presented art material related to architectural decoration and glass artefacts worn next to the skin. We’d note here their participation for the huge amount of their finds of high art quality. The rare finds and analyses of ancient glassware performing apotropaic and decorative functions in their texts were also worthy of attention.

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The next Congress has already been timed for 2021, in Thessalonica, at the International Hellenic University.

We can make a conclusion that such mass participation of researchers from different countries in these events dealing with Antiquity and the Black Sea region, are indicative not only of the evolution and enrichment of these fields, but also of the potential for future finds and discoveries. We believe that in such a context, the studies undertaken by the Bulgarian college would be given yet another impetus and deserved recognition.

1The authors of this article took part in the congresses with collaborative posters themed respectively: Architectural Images on Antique Coins from Bulgarian Lands (Roman Empire) and Ancient Pottery from the Balkans: Architectural Motifs.

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