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The treasure hasn’t been exhibited in the British Museum since 1976, says ‎lead curator Dr Jamie Fraser

The Panagyurishte gold treasure is the climax of new exhibition at the British ‎Museum

Photo: Ani Petrova, BNR

Visitors to the British Museum in London can now marvel at one of Bulgaria’s most ‎emblematic archaeological discoveries - the Panagyurishte gold treasure - as part of a ‎thematic exhibition entitled "Luxury and Power: From Persia to Greece”

The exhibition was ‎officially unveiled on May 4 and was attended by Bulgaria's Vice President Iliana Iotova, Minister of Culture Nayden Todorov,  Bulgarian ambassador Marin Raykov and Dr. Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum.

Vice President Iliana Iotova, Culture Minister Nayden Todorov and Bulgarian ambassador in the UK Marin Raykov at the opening of the exhibition
The Pangyurishte gold treasure is undoubtedly the star of this exhibition, says the ‎exhibition's lead curator Dr Jamie Fraser in an interview for BNR’s correspondent in ‎London Veselin Paunov. 

Dr Jamie Fraser is well-versed in the history of the ancient ‎Thracians, he has visited Bulgaria more than once and has a large contribution to having ‎the Panaguyrishte treasure at the British Museum as part of this exhibition.‎

‎“I am so delighted to be able to host the Bulgarian treasure as part of this exhibition. It is ‎the climax and the show-stopping star of the exhibition”, says Dr Jamie Fraser. “There is ‎no doubt in my mind that every visitor who visits this exhibition will leave the exhibition ‎remembering the spectacular dazzling magnificence of the treasure from Panagyurishte. ‎But it’s doing more than just being a remarkable set of objects. It also ties together the ‎narrative of the exhibition which is that things are connected in the style of luxury ‎because that treasure represents the crossover of Greek, of Persian and of local ‎influences”.‎

The phiale - one of the nine artefacts from the Panagyurishte treasure
The exhibition “Luxury and Power: From Persia to Greece” consists of luxury items ‎unearthed over a huge area spanning from Afghanistan to Italy. The exposition delves ‎deep into a period when the Persian Empire of ancient Iran clashed with the cities of ‎Greece, before Greece and then Persia fell under the rule of Philip II and his son Alexander ‎the Great.‎

What will visitors to the exhibition learn? ‎

‎“What we learn from this exhibition is that there is more to the concept of luxury than our ‎ancient sources would tell us. Our ancient sources dealing with the Greek-Persian world ‎were all written by Greeks, and that means what we think we know about luxury in the ‎Persians was often described as decadent, excessive and softened by luxury. That’s a ‎product of the bias of history. The same can be said for the kings of ancient Thrace that ‎we know about the Thracians through the eyes of the Greeks. This exhibition is looking at ‎objects that materialize a myriad of different cultures left behind to say there’s actually a ‎lot more to the story of luxury than what we have in our historical written records and ‎when we look at the objects what we see is a remarkably connected greater Greek-Persian ‎world tying in a whole lot of different cultures such as the Thracians, Western Turkey, ‎Anatolian Kingdoms, Cypriots, all within one larger connected culture.”‎

The display case at the British Museum
The world-famous Panagyurishte gold treasure consists of 9 artefacts – rhytons, a phiale ‎and an amphora made of pure gold, weighing a total of more than 6 kgs. They are ‎lavishly decorated with mythological figures and ornaments. ‎

The treasure was crafted in the 4th or the beginning of the 3rd century BCE and has ‎remained arguably the most beautiful set of gold tableware in the world, a masterpiece of ‎Thracian art of invaluable artistic worth.  The priceless relics are now thought to have ‎belonged to Thracian King Seuthes III. 

The treasure has come to be named after the town ‎where it was found – Panagyurishte.  It was accidentally discovered by three brothers in ‎‎1949 while they were sifting through clay to make bricks. ‎
How did the Bulgarian Panagyurishte treasure find a place in the current exhibition at ‎the British Museum?‎

‎“Every object in any exhibition or in any museum display has to be part of a larger story. ‎So we could have packed this exhibition out with hundreds of objects of ancient luxury ‎but unless they were doing something to help tell a story to the visitor, then we didn’t put ‎them in a case. Why we included the Bulgarian treasure is because it tells that story so ‎beautifully but it also does it at a visual level so spectacularly that it brings a moment of ‎drama and astonishment as much as it does a kind of thinking moment of what this ‎actually might mean on the historical record.”‎

Does Dr Jamie Fraser have a preferred exhibit in this exhibition?‎

‎“My favourite exhibit in this exhibition, and I suspect the favourite exhibit of many of the ‎people who would come to this, is quite clearly the Bulgarian treasure. It hasn’t been ‎displayed in the British Museum since 1976. This really is a once in a generation ‎opportunity for UK museumgoers to see this treasure. And I think they are going to be ‎surprised. Ancient Thrace is not well known by UK museumgoers. This is an opportunity ‎for us to tell the cultural richness of Ancient Thrace and how it’s an important part of this ‎much larger great Persian world with which people are familiar.”‎

The silver amphora from Kukova mound  Photo: Veselin Paunov
In addition to the nine truly exquisite artefacts from the Panagyurishte Treasure, there is ‎another Bulgarian representative in the exhibition. This is a silver amphora with griffins, ‎discovered in the Kukova mound from the Duvanli necropolis near Plovdiv, dated around ‎‎480 BC. The amphora is placed in a display case alongside an impressive gold bracelet ‎from Tajikistan and a silver bowl from Altantepe, Turkey, dated to roughly the same time, ‎and the relationship between them is truly impressive, Veselin Paunov reports.‎

The cultural wealth of ancient Thrance is presented as an important part of the Greco-Persian world. In the photo: gold bracelet from Tadjikistan and silver bowl from Altantepe, Turkey Photo: Veselin Paunov
It is a deep privilege to be able to feature the Panagyurishte treasure as part of this ‎exhibition, says Dr Jamie Fraser: ‎

“We are tremendously grateful for the help and cooperation of the Bulgarian embassy ‎here in London and our colleagues at the National Museum of History in Sofia. They have ‎been remarkably cooperative, generous and wonderful colleagues. I really hope this is the ‎beginning of a much longer friendship.”‎

The exhibition “Luxury and Power: From Persia to Greece” will be on display until August ‎‎13. In June, as part of the exhibition there will be a day dedicated to the Bulgarian ‎treasures hosted by the Bulgarian embassy in cooperation with the British museum. ‎

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Photos: Veselin Paunov, BTA, BNR, BGNES

Edited and published by Rositsa Petkova

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