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27 april '20

Lead bucrania from the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica

Lead bucrania from the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica (pres. Sozopol)

The lead plates in the shape of a bull's head are among the most interesting and relatively rare finds from the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica. Similar objects are known only from ancient Olbia (in pres. Ukraine), from the region of Odessos (pres. Varna) and the Getic capital Helis (Sboryanovo archaeological reserve), where single examples have been found. It was suggested that some of them have been produced in the local workshops of Olbia, Apollonia and probably Odessos.

The discovery of the bucrania in the context of domestic or public sanctuaries evidences to their character as votive gifts. On the other hand, placing them in graves, on offering places and ritual fires in the necropolis could suggest their role in the funeral rite as "magic" objects that most probably accompanied the dead on his way to Beyond.

Regardless of the differences in the style and details of the images, the ribbons, garlands, the decoration of grapes, ivy leaves, vines and rosettes that crown the head are always present as common elements in all of them. These special attributes and symbols point to the sacrificial animal. Thus, the lead plates could be associated with the sacrifice of a bull - the basic zoomorphic incarnation of Dionysus, the god of the dying and reborn nature, but also the patron of the dead and the lord of the souls.

On some of the Apollonian bucrania a human face is represented on the forehead. Its similarities to the images on a series of silver coins (diobols) of the city was the reason for some controversial identifications of the latter as Gorgon Medusa or as Apollo. Hence, the lead bucrania could be interpreted as apotropaia, confronting and averting evil, and at the same time, leading and protecting the dead in the Underworld.
 
1. Bucranium, lead, necropolis of Apollonia Pontica, mid-4th – early 3rd century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 34000
The bull is with a rhomboid muzzle and long, curved horns. Above the ears is a ribbon that ends with snake heads. A head of Gorgon Medusa is represented on the forehead.
2. Bucranium, lead, necropolis of Apollonia Pontica, mid-4th – early 3rd century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 64917
The horns and parts of the muzzle are missing. There is a garland with bunches that decorates the head. A Gorgon Medusa’s or Apollo’s head is represented on the forehead
3. Bucranium, lead, necropolis of Apollonia Pontica, mid-4th – early 3rd century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 64921
The bull is with a trapezoid muzzle and relatively short, curved horns. The forelocks are stylized as a lotus (?) blossom with triangular leaves.
4. Bucranium, lead, necropolis of Apollonia Pontica, mid-4th – early 3rd century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 37915
The bull is with a rhomboid muzzle and long, curved horns. Above the ears is a ribbon that ends with snake heads. A relief rosette (or star?) is represented on the forehead.
 
Author: L. Konova
Photos: T. Dimitrov, L. Konova
 
Further reading:
Венедиков, Ив. Фракийцы в греческом искусстве Понтийской Аполлонии. – Советская Археология, 1969, 3, 70-73.
Зайцева, К.И. Свинцовые изделия в виде головок быков, баранов и секир из Ольвии. – Боспорские исследования, VII, Симферополь – Керчь, 2004, 356-390
Конова, Л. Оловни букрании от некропола на Аполония Понтика. – Известия на Националния исторически музей, т. ХІІІ, 2003, с. 46 – 53
Минчев, Ал. Миниатюрни двойни брадвичики-оброци от Одесос и неговата околност. – В: „Изкуство & Идеология“, Сборник посветен на 70-годишнината на проф. Иван Маразов. София, 2012, 752-767
Стоянов, Т., Николаева, М. Оловен букраний от гетската столица Хелис.  В: Хр. Попов, Ю. Цветкова (ред.) KRATISTOS. Сборник в чест на проф. Петър Делев, София 2017, 545 – 552 Stoyanov, T., Nikolaeva, M. Lead bucranium from the Getic capital Helis. In: (Bulgarian with English abstract)
Konova, L. Opfer- und Götterdarstellungen (Bleibukrania), Proceedings of the Eight International Congress of Thracology Thrace and the Aegean. (Sofia – Yambol, 25 – 29 September 2000), Ямбол 2002, S. 595-598