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One of the oldest known inscriptions in the Cyrillic alphabet deciphered

| updated on 4/20/23 1:51 PM
Photo: BTA

An inscription from the time of Bulgarian Tsar Simeon the Great (893 – 927) was discovered in the Medieval fortress Balak Dere near Huhla village in the Eastern Rhodopes. Experts say it is one of the earliest known texts in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The folded lead lamina was found in the autumn of last year during archaeological excavations near the fortress, but to begin with the inscription was invisible. It was only noticed by the photographer of the expedition in the process of documenting the monument. And it took several months to establish what the amulet actually was.

“After being duly cleaned, conserved, and the epitaphs deciphered, we established, with absolute certainty that the lead plate is from the 10th century. What is more, the plate itself was found in the archaeological layer where 10th century coins and belt appliqués from that period were discovered,” said, in an interview with BNR-Kardzhali, the chief curator of the National History Museum Ivaylo Kanev, who found the artefact.

It was believed that such apotropaic amulets protected their owner from the evil eye, magic spells and disease. Around 50-60 such 10th century artefacts found in Northeastern Bulgaria have so far been studied, but the find in Balak Dere is unique, with no equivalent so far, researchers say.

Ivaylo Kanev
“The difference is that what we have here is a supplication, even the names of the supplicants are known – Nikola and Pavel,” Ivaylo Kanev explains. “They are asking St. Dimitar to intercede with God on their behalf and protect them from such-and-such calamities, as, the authors say, and I will quote the last line which is very canonical and astonishing, because we have never seen anything like it before: “…wash his face with grace, exonerate the shame, heal, oh, Saint, because His is the glory, and the honour, and the state, now and forever, Amin!” Very well structured, like a canon, there are no simple wishes here. That is the other novelty.”

The artefact reveals important details from Bulgaria’s history in the early 10th century. According to experts, the lead plate with a long Cyrillic text shows that at Balak Dere fortress, just 30 kilometres from Edirne, a Bulgarian garrison was stationed under Tsar Simeon the Great.

But who did the amulet belong to, and how did it find its way here?

Balak Dere fortress
“Imagine 7 rows on the inside, and 4 rows on the outside, after which this plate was folded and was worn by someone on his chest. But who was that person, was he a military man, an officer or a private?  We can only guess. But the owner is not of the rank-and-file judging by the text on the amulet which is so well constructed canonically. That was something only the aristocracy could do. As far as we know, there was even a special position in the Bulgarian church called exarch, whose job it was to make sure the canon was observed and the church services conducted properly.  But we still have a lot of work to do on this inscription,” Ivaylo Kanev says.


Interview by Galina Stefanova, BNR-Kardzhali

Compiled by Veneta Nikolova

Translated from the Bulgarian and posted by Milena Daynova

Photos: courtesy of Ivaylo Kanev, BTA

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