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Silver adornments from the 17th century treasure discovered near Montana in Northwest Bulgaria.

Silver Treasure Hidden During a 17th Century Bulgarian Uprising Uncovered

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A family treasure likely hidden during a bloody 17th century uprising of Bulgarian Catholics against the Ottoman Empire has been uncovered in the city of Montana.

The hoard of 12 items includes a tiara, two ornaments meant to be worn on the forehead, earrings, two finger rings and additional connecting pieces, says the blog Archaeology in Bulgaria. Whoever buried the treasure wrapped it in a leather purse, which has since mostly disintegrated, but parts of it are intact.

“All of the items are made of silver. The treasure was probably a ‘family fortune’,” says the Bulgarian National Museum of History. Experts from the museum told the blog the treasure was hidden during the turbulent days of September-October 1688 when the residents of the thriving towns of Chiprovtsi, Kopilovtsi, Klisura, and Zhelezna rose against the Ottoman authority.”

The blog says the uprising was the largest by Catholics against the Ottomans.

The museum stated that there were many silver- and goldsmiths in Chiprovtsi, who worked with silver deposits mined in the region that were developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. The smith who made these particular pieces of jewelry used advance metalworking techniques, including filigree, granulation, and covered the pieces in green niello glass-like traces.

A work of the Chiprovtsi goldsmithing school (17th century), National Historical Museum of Bulgaria

A work of the Chiprovtsi goldsmithing school (17th century), National Historical Museum of Bulgaria. ( CC BY 2.5 )

The blog explains that the people of the region of Chiprovtsi had relative freedom from the Ottomans, so it is unclear as to why they rose up.

Peace ended in Chiprovtsi in October 1688 when Ottoman troops from Sofia crushed the uprising of Bulgarian Catholics, of both the Roman and Orthodox persuasions. Those who survived and escaped capture migrated north of the Danube to Wallachia.

Bulgarian uprisings against Ottoman rule in the second half of the 17th century

Bulgarian uprisings against Ottoman rule in the second half of the 17th century. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The uprising had broken out during the Great Turkish War of 1683 to 1699, after Austrian Empire troops captured Belgrade. The Chiprovtsi Catholics hoped to receive help from the Austrians but did not. The Ottomans killed much of the population and enslaved most of those who survived, the blog states.

The ultimate battle of the Chiprovtsi Uprising happened in October 1688 near Montana, a town then known as Kutlovitsa. This is where the silver hoard of jewelry has recently been found.

The Ottoman Turks conquered the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1396. However, some areas of western Bulgaria resisted the Ottoman Yoke until the 15th century. Much of the country was under the thumb of the Ottomans until national liberation in 1878, or 1912 for certain areas.

The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 depicted in an Ottoman miniature.

The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 depicted in an Ottoman miniature. ( Public Domain )

During the Ottoman Yoke, as Bulgarians call it, the people waged guerrilla war and led several revolts and major uprisings in an attempt to get the Ottomans out of their country. The blog says all of the revolts “were crushed with heinous atrocities by Ottoman troops and irregulars.”

 “One of these uprisings was the Chiprovtsi Uprising based in the town of Chiprovtsi (Chiprovets) in Northwest Bulgaria, which had emerged as a thriving center of Roman Catholic Bulgarians in the 17th century (in contrast to the overwhelming majority of the Bulgarian population which has been Eastern Orthodox since the 9th century) whose community was led by Bulgarian leaders and clerics educated in the Vatican such as archbishop Petar Bogdan Bakshev (1601-1674) and archbishop Petar Parchevich (1612-1674),” the blog states.

Coat of arms of Bulgarian Roman Catholic bishop and diplomat Petar Parchevich, a key figure in the uprising's early organization.

Coat of arms of Bulgarian Roman Catholic bishop and diplomat Petar Parchevich, a key figure in the uprising's early organization. ( Public Domain )

An excerpt from a long article on the website History of Bulgaria explains the conditions for the Bulgarians under Ottoman rule:

The Turkish conquerors ruthlessly destroyed all Bulgarian state and religious structures. The natural political leaders of the people in the Middle Ages, i.e. the boyars and the higher clergy, vanished from sight. That deprived the Bulgarians of both the possibility for self-organization and any chance of having foreign political allies for centuries on end.

The place allotted to the Bulgarian people in the Ottoman feudal political system entitled it to no legal, religious, national, even biological rights as Bulgarian Christians. They had all been reduced to the category of the so called rayah (meaning 'a flock', attributed to the non-Muslim subjects of the empire). The peasants who represented the better half of the Bulgarian population were dispossessed of their land. According to the Ottoman feudal system which remained effective until 1834, all of it belonged to the central power in the person of the Turkish sultan. The Bulgarians were allowed to cultivate only some plots. Groups of rural Christian families, varying in number, were put under an obligation to give part of their income to representatives of the Muslim military, administrative and religious upper crust, as well as to fulfill various state duties.

That website also gives some insight into the haidouk movement of guerrillas who lived in the mountain forests and led the struggle, including armed uprisings, against the Ottomans. “The haidouk movement indirectly encouraged and safeguarded other forms of resistance such as maintaining the style of life, the language, the traditions and the religion, or incompliance with forced obligations and refusal to pay heavy unjustified tax,” the site states.

Ilyo Voivoda (1805-1898), a Bulgarian revolutionary who fought against the Ottoman Empire.

Ilyo Voivoda (1805-1898), a Bulgarian revolutionary who fought against the Ottoman Empire. ( Public Domain )

Featured Image: Silver adornments from the 17th century treasure discovered near Montana in Northwest Bulgaria. Source: National Museum of History

By Mark Miller

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