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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept.

Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

Maya Vassileva

Achaemenid Interfaces: Thracian and Anatolian representations of elite status


Scholars have long noticed Achaemenid affinities with fifth–fourth century BC finds from Thrace1.
Leaving aside the discussion about the Skudra satrapy (which presumably comprised part of Thracian
territory along the Northern Aegean coast)2, it can be stated that the Persian military campaigns in the
Balkans had an impact on the local elites. Achaemenid presence in the area was probably the original
impetus for the Thracian aristocrats to emulate a similar code of royal status representations. However,
Thracian kings and nobles adapted and creatively interpreted further the Achaemenid “borrowings”. The
present paper deals with Anatolian Achaemenid traits in the Thracian sepulchral monuments, specifically
Thracian stone-built chamber tombs dated to the fifth–third century BC, the richest and largest number of
which can be assigned to the fourth century BC, which was the floruit of the Odrysian Kingdom.

‘Perso-Anatolian’ architectural features in Thracian tombs

The sepulchral complex in the Ostrousha Mound, near the town of Shipka in Central Bulgaria (fig. 1),
was compared with Anatolian monuments since its discovery3. For example the monolithic chamber erected
on a stereobate resembles the Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae (fig. 2) as well as the tomb at Buzbazar4. While
the Tomb of Cyrus displays Ionian affinities, the latter does not show any such peculiarities 5. The so-called
Pyramid Tomb at Sardis, whose style has often been defined as „Graeco-Persian‟, could also be added to
this group of monuments 6. The TaĢ Kule rock-cut monument near Phocaea (fig. 3) has a somewhat strange
outline; it can also be considered within the same set of architectural constructions7. The same is true about

The discussion on the Skudra satrapy is summarised in BORZA 1990, 100, 293 and BRIANT 2002, 905; see also: FOL and HAMMOND
1988, 243–248 and JORDANOV 2003, 43, 46.
KITOV and KRASTEVA 1994–1995, 21.
BERGHE 1964.
RATTÉ 1992; BOARDMAN 2000, 57–60; VALEVA 2005, 14–16.
RATTÉ 1992, 160.
CAHILL 1988.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

Fig. 1a-b –The Ostrousha tomb: general view and the

ceiling. (Courtesy TEMP = Thracological Expedition for
Exploration of Tumuli; KITOV 2008, fig. 75).

the rock-cut sarcophagus from Dereyazı8. A

reconstruction of a similar tomb has recently
been produced on the grounds of the archi-
tectural fragments and reliefs found at and
near Daskyleion9.
The Ostrousha Tomb chamber di-
splays a peculiar hybrid nature. It has ele-
ments of Greek architecture, like the gabled
roof, the dentils, and the funerary bed, but
unusually, it has its entrance on its long side.
A similar architectural solution can be obser-
ved in the Antiphelos (modern KaĢ, Lycia) late
fourth century BC Tomb, which is almost
square in plan (4.7 х 4 х 4.5 m), the entrance
being situated on the longer side. To some

Fig. 2 – The Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae. (DEDEOĞLU 2003, 82).

extent the TaĢ Kule monument might be a

good parallel with, the Ostrousha Chamber as while there
is a false door on its short side, the real entrance is on the
longer side, although off centre10.
Parallels with Anatolian/Perso-Ana-tolian tombs
can also be found in other Thra-cian tombs, both rock-cut
tombs and stone-built tomb chambers. The connection
betwe-en the rock-cut and the stone-built tombs in Thrace
has long been discussed. The mo-nolithic rectangular
chambers with pitched roof resemble the Phrygian rock-cut
tombs (most of which date to the sixth century BC and
later) 11 Fig. 3 – The TaĢ Kule rock-cut monument. (DEDEOĞLU 2003, 82).

KLEISS 1996, 135, 138.
CAHILL 1988, figs. 5–6, 9.
For the Phrygian rock-cut tombs see HASPELS 1971, 112–138.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

Fig. 4 - Visiting the monolithic chamber of the tomb in the

Golyamata Kosmatka tumulus near Shipka (South Central
Bulgaria) with Dr. Kitov, 2004. (Photo: the author).

Among the stone-built chambers, an

analogous monolithic chamber has recently been
discovered in the Golyama Kosmatka Tumulus,
also near the town of Shipka, (fig. 4)12. This is not a
freestanding construction as it is incorporated into a
more complex building that follows the design of
Thracian tombs. The chamber comes third in a line
of three successive chambers, constructed one
behind another. In this third room were housed all
of the grave goods. As the chamber lies
perpendicular to the dromos, its entrance is also on
the long side.
Another parallel with the Anatolian
architecture of Achaemenid time is provided by a
painted relief representation of a lion, discovered in
the Zhaba Mogila Tumulus, near Strelcha, central
Bulgaria (fourth century BC) (fig. 5)13. It is possible
that this triangular relief was one of a pair that was
arranged on the pediment of a building, or flanking
a door or a niche, as is the case in some Lycian
monuments14. A similar arrangement can be seen
on Phrygian rock-cut facades: Arslankaya (sixth
century BC)15.
As well, newly discovered tombs in Thrace
have yielded a great number of stone doors that
closed the chambers. Their stylistic analysis shows
that their closest parallels are to be found in Asia
Minor16. The numerous door like stelai found in
Achaemenid Anatolia suggest that the door in the
burial rites and ceremonies were important, as were
the „blind‟ doors on some of the rock-cut monu-ments17. Those found at and near Daskyleion were
placed in tumulus mantles, usually at their peripheries Fig. 5 – The painted lion relief from the Strelcha tomb.
and should probably be associated with (KITOV 2008, fig. 26).
commemorative practices . These door stelai have been defined as Ionian-type doors (initially meant for
sanctuaries) with some Persian elements 19. Other „hybrid‟ doors John Boardman terms „Lydo-Ionian‟: the
door frames of the Cyrus Tomb, that of the blind door at TaĢ Kule, as well as those on the towers at
Pasargadae and Naksh-i-Rustam20.

KITOV 2005a, 44.
KITOV 2008, fig. 26.
See e.g. Buildings F and H on the Xanthian acropolis: METZGER 1963. For another possible tomb with relief-carved gables near
Daskyleion, see supra N. 9.
HASPELS 1971, 87, figs. 186–191.
STOYANOVA 2007, 534, 540–541.
CAHILL 1988, 495–498.
POLAT 2005.
BÜSING-KOLBE 1978, 82–83; 119–122.
BOARDMAN 2000, 59–60.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

Fig. 6 – The battle scene on the short side

of the Çan sarcophagus
(Courtesy B.C. Rose).

Thus, the „Greek‟ or Ionian archi-

tectural elements found in the fifth–fourth
century BC Thracian tombs21 are rather
„Graeco-Persian‟, or „Lydo-Ionian‟. The idea
that Ionian architects and builders con-
structed the fourth century Thracian tombs
is no longer valid.
Furthermore, the long accepted
Macedonian and Greek influence in Thra-
cian sepulchral architecture of the early
Hellenistic and Hellenistic times now seems
not so unidirectional.

The Alexandrovo tomb and iconographic


Field surveys in the last few years

revealed hundreds of tumuli along the
Granicus Valley in the Northern Troad22.
During rescue excavations one stone-built
tomb and three sarcophagi were unearthed.
One of these sarcophagi, a fourth century
BC sarcophagus in a tumulus near Çan,
provides a good opportunity to discuss si-
Fig. 7 – The hunting scenes on the long side of the Çan sarcophagus milar Thracian-Persian and „Graeco-Per-
(Courtesy B.C. Rose). sian‟ representations of elite status23.
The Çan Sarcophagus, unlike the
other two, which were placed directly in the ground, was placed in a round stone chamber with a false dome.
There is no dromos and the entrance was sealed with stone blocks 24. Two of the sarcophagus sides, one
long and one short, bear painted reliefs. A battle scene is depicted on the short side: a horseman attacks a
fallen enemy with his spear (fig. 6). The rider is helped by a soldier on foot holding two spears and a
machaira (short, curved sword). While the enemy has been identified as Greek, the clothing defines the rider
as Persian25. The landscape is schematically rendered by a rocky ground level and a leafless tree, near
which the adversary has fallen.
Two hunting scenes occupy the long side of the sarcophagus: a stag hunt and a boar hunt. The
scenes are divided by a similar tree (fig. 7). The stag hunt is situated on the left-hand side of the viewer,
while the boar hunt is on the right-hand side. The two scenes are colour marked: the left-hand one is on a
blue background while the right one is on green. The boar is attacked by two dogs while the horseman aims
his spear at the boar‟s eye. The hunter wears Persian costume – long-sleeved cloak and anaxyrides (trousers).

ROSE 2007a, 249; 2007b, 72–74.
SEVINÇ ET AL 2001, 385–387, fig. 2; ROSE 2007a, 256, fig. 11; 2007b, 75.
Another opinion is that the enemy is a Mysian: MA 2008.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

The second hunting scene has suffered

bigger damages but two stags chased by two
riding hunters can be distinguished. The
stags are represented much smaller than the
wild boar26.
The choice of the scenes on the Çan
Sarcophagus provokes a comparison with
some Thracian monuments. The boar hunt is
widely represented in Thracian toreutics27. A
recently found chamber tomb with wall
paintings at the village of Alexandrovo,
southeastern Bulgaria, provides rich compa-
rative material28. Despite stylistic differences
in the paintings, the visual vocabulary and
the visual programme of both the Alexandro-
vo Tomb and Çan Sarcophagus are very
close (fig. 8). In both cases the paintings
were meant for a round burial chamber or
placed within such a chamber. Battle scenes
are depicted on the smaller surface – above
the chamber entrance at Alexandrovo29 and
Fig. 8 – The paintings on the dome of the Alexandrovo tomb
on the short side of the Çan Sarcophagus30. (Die Thraker 2004, 255, fig. 11).
A horseman attacks a soldier on foot
who is already on the ground. In the
Alexandrovo painting the enemy is not yet
down. In this respect, the Thracian scene can
be compared with one on a fragmentary relief
at the Archaeological Museum in Manisa
(from a sarcophagus or from a burial
chamber), where a figure on horseback
attacks a naked opponent on foot, who is
shown shielding himself31.
In both cases, the hunting scenes are
shown in a larger space: the dome of the
tomb and the long side of the sarcophagus
respectively. Both on the Çan Sarcophagus Fig. 9 – One of the boar-hunt scenes from the Alexandrovo tomb
and in the Alexandrovo paintings the wild (After: Die Thraker 2004, 256, fig. 13).
boar is attacked by two dogs: one on his
back, biting his neck, the other attacking his belly, a pattern well known from ancient hunting scenes (fig. 9).
There are some iconographic differences, however: the most enigmatic figure on the Thracian painting is the
naked man with a double-axe. Besides this, there are four horsemen hunting two boars and two stags. They
are helped by a hunter on foot equipped with spears, a machaira and a club32. The boars are already
wounded, unlike the one on the Çan Sarcophagus where a spear is aimed at the boar‟s eye. The Anatolian

SEVINÇ ET AL 2001, 388–395, figs. 4–10; ROSE 2007a, 256–257, fig. 13.
MARAZOV 1996, 160–179; 2005, 92–96.
KITOV 2001.
KITOV 2001, 19–20.
SEVINÇ ET AL 2001, 386.
POLAT 2001.
KITOV 2001, 20–27.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

Fig. 11-12 – Impression of a Persian seal

(BOARDMAN 2000, fig. 5.39)
and Persian seal (BOARDMAN 2000, fig. 5. 46).

boar has a bigger head and a shorter muzzle, and looks

somewhat clumsier. The outline of his body is comparable to
the Near Eastern representations of lions.
The similarities in the clothing of the riding hunters are
even more obvious. All of them wear anaxyrides and soft shoes
of textile or leather. The Thracians are represented as wearing
a „Median costume‟: two are shown wearing long-sleeved tu-
Fig. 10 – Detail from the Alexandrovo paintings to
show closer the saddle blanket nics. The saddle blanket is almost identical with the Persian
of the Thracian hunter horse cloth: it is decorated with a border of stepped half-
(After: Die Thraker 2004, 257, fig. 14).
merlons (fig.10). Beyond the Çan Sarcophagus, this type of
saddle blanket is known from the „Graeco-Persian‟ stele from ÇavuĢköy33, which is a close parallel, as well
as fifth century BC depictions of riders on other media in Northwestern Iran and Northwestern Anatolia34.
Battle and hunting scenes can be found on the Persian seals and bullae, which provide „the universal
iconographic medium‟ for imagery transfer, not dissimilar to Greek vases35. The series of seals with hunting
scenes and battles between a Persian and a Greek are usually defined as „Graeco-Persian‟ and dated to the
fifth century BC and later36. They show duels between a horseman and a pedestrian, as well as hunting
scenes (figs. 11 and 12)37. A boar hunt scene can be seen on several of the bullae from Daskyleion38.
Similarly to the sarcophagus relief, the head of the animal is attacked.
Besides the Alexandrovo Tomb, the same iconographic schemes can be observed in fourth century
BC Thracian art of different media. Boar hunt scenes are most popular in minor arts, especially in Thracian
toreutics. One of the famous examples is the silver gilt belt from the village of Lovets, North Central Bulgaria
(fig. 13)39. Jug No.159 from the Rogozen Treasure (fig. 14)40 and the recently discovered seal ring in Peicho-

Fig. 13 – Silver gilt belt from Lovets, central Bulgaria (Die Thraker 2004, 318, fig. 3).

BORCHHARDT 1968, 206–208; AKURGAL 1961, 172, fig. 119; SEVINÇ ET AL 2001, 398, fig.17.
BORCHHARDT and BLEIBTREU 2008, Type Ib, 189, pls. 3 and 9. Cf. Baughan in these Proceedings, N. 31.
BOARDMAN 2000, 153.
BOARDMAN 2000, 168–174.
BOARDMAN 2000, 158, 171, figs 5.38, 5.39, 5.46.
KAPTAN 2002, 153–155, DS 94–97, 99; DS188, 189.
MARAZOV 1998, no. 105, 59, 175.
MARAZOV 1989, 188–189, no. 159.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

va Mogila near Starosel, Central Bulgaria (fig.

15)41 can be added to the examples. The bronze
statue of a boar, probably part of a statuary
group, found in Mezek near the Bulgarian-Tur-
kish border, now in the Istanbul Museum, also
shows a wounded boar42. In the toreutics, often
the animal is wounded with two spears, or one is
still in the air.
The semantics of the hunting scenes
have been discussed, including Achaemenid and
Indo-European parallels43. Scholars have long
detected the meaningful iconographic differen-
ces between the hunting scenes in Greece and
in the Near East. Hunting a wild boar or a stag
on horseback depicted on sixth century BC
Greek vases is a collective event, a suite of Fig. 14 – Detail of jug No.159 from the Rogozen treasure
44 (MARAZOV 1996, fig. 124).
young men (ephebes) chasing the animal .
Representations of a hunt on horseback practi-
cally disappeared from vase painting in the early
fifth century BC. Now, it is a lonely hunter on foot
that is depicted, most often identified as
Earlier scenes of royal hunts and duels
existеd in Anatolia and in the Near East , as did
earlier mythological texts on the subject 47. The
king is depicted as hunting lions from a chariot
on the Assyrian reliefs. Recently, the role of the
hunt in Hittite royal ideology has been discussed.
Hittite texts from Tudhalyias IV‟s reign (thirteenth
century BC) reveal that the hunt was related to
the claim and reclaim of a certain territory by the
royal power48. They are related to the
royal/aristocratic trial that led to the renewal and
consolidation of the royal power49. The king thus
associates himself with the heroic past.
The boar depicted on the Rogozen Jug Fig. 15 – The bezel of the gold seal-ring from the Peychova tumulus
is almost as big as the hunters‟ horses. Thus, it showing boar-hunt on horseback.
has been suggested that a supernatural animal (KITOV 2005b, 35, fig. 38).
is represented, which the ruler/aristocrat should face and overcome . Here the most often quoted ancient
text is Herodotus‟ passage on the boar hunt in which Atys, Croesus‟ son was killed (1.36–43). This monstruous

KITOV 2003, 16, fig. 71.
VENEDIKOV and GERASSIMOV 1973, fig. 60.
MARAZOV 1996, 160–179.
DURAND and SCHNAPP 1989, 61–65.
DURAND and SCHNAPP 1989, 65–69.
W EST 1999, 373–374.
HAWKINs 2006.
MARAZOV 1996, 179; 2005.
MARAZOV 1996, 161.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’

animal was devastating the Mysian lands. In describing the hunt, Herodotus speaks about „picked men‟ (1.
36): obviously, young noble men who would attack the wild boar, helped by dogs. On the one hand, this
hunting episode resembles the initiation of the ephebes, but on the other, it comes close to the trial of the
king-to-be. Adonis being killed by a boar in the Calydonian Boar Hunt furnishes another mythological
example (Theocr. Id. 30, Ovid. Metam. 10.710, Apollod. 3.14.4, Macr. Sat. 1.21.4)51.
Both the Achaemenid Anatolian and the Thracian hunting scenes fall within this tradition of hybrid
hunting scenes which, designed primarily for sepulchral monuments, can be linked with the „Eastern‟ royal
ideological tradition. In the Çan Sarcophagus and in the Alexandrovo Tomb the hunt is given more space
and is thus more important than the battle scene52. This could mean that the hunt was ideologically more
important for the Anatolian and Thracian aristocrats. The sarcophagus and the Thracian tomb painting have
important differences, which relate to their cultural contexts, but they also share important features which link
the Thracian and Western Anatolian spheres.


It was 20 years ago when Machteld Mellink noted: “The syncretism of the Greek, West Anatolian and
Persian art is noticeable from Thrace to inner Lycia”53. Although Anatolian and Achaemenid affinities have
long been recognised in Thracian tombs, specific comparisons more effectively situate the Thracian visual
repertoire. The most compelling examples are to be found in the fourth century BC stone-built Thracian
tombs and vessels made out of precious metals. The monuments discussed above reveal similarities in the
representation of elite status in fourth century BC Thrace and Achaemenid Anatolia.
The Western Anatolian monuments to which the Thracian monuments have been compared were
products of a provincial satrap aristocracy or the local Persianized elite. In the past, they have been called
„Graeco-Persian‟. This term has recently been much criticised and for good reason 54. There are no good
parallels from Persia proper for either Anatolian or Thracian monuments. Both the locals and the Persians
interacted with the East Greeks. Scholars now prefer to use „emulation‟ to denote a process of adopting,
adapting and creation55. This term may be helpful in understanding the creation of Thracian monuments of
Achaemenid inspiration. The models that Thracian aristocracy emulated were „Graeco-Persian‟, Ionian or
„Lydo-Ionian‟ – that is, models from Western Anatolia rather than Persia itself. Proximity and similarities in
the social structure of Thrace and Achaemenid Anatolia must have facilitated this emulation at this Western
Achaemenid interface.

Dr. Maya Vassileva

Center of Thracian Studies
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
13, Moskovska Street
Sofia 1000

VIDAL-NAQUET 1983, 170.
SEVINÇ ET AL 2001, 401.
MELLINK 1988, 221.
ROOT 1991, 22, KAPTAN 2002: 2–4; MILLER 2006.
MILLER 2007, 66–67.

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XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Roma 22-26 Sept. 2008
Session: Being ‘Graeco-Persian’


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Bollettino di Archeologia on line I 2010/ Volume speciale G / G1 / 4 Reg. Tribunale Roma 05.08.2010 n. 330 ISSN 2039 - 0076