The gold of the Khan

The Malaja Pereshchepina Treasure is the most significant Bulgarian medieval hoard

A small part of the Pereshchepina Treasure.

The most important medieval treasure connected to Bulgarian history was discovered and is being kept outside of the present-day Bulgarian state's territory. It was unearthed near the village of Malaja Pereshchepina, in today's Ukraine, and is related to Khan Kubrat.

In 1912 on a sand dune on the left bank of the Vorskla River, one of the left tributaries of the Dnieper, two shepherd boys stumbled accidentally onto what was to become a major archaeological discovery - a hoard containing over 800 objects with a total weight of more than 25kg of gold and 50kg of silver.

News of the immense treasure soon spread in the area and the locals hurried to dig further. In no time, every village house in the region had acquired a golden or silver artefact. However, the authorities took swift measures - a team of archaeologists was sent to the location guarded by policemen who managed to collect most of the finds.

In a few weeks' time, more than 800 objects were confiscated and catalogued, including a set of 11 gold cups, another 16 gold and 19 silver household vessels, a 500-gramme buckle and numerous smaller ones, an emerald necklace, a rhyton, seven rings, 230 gold ingots, 70 Byzantine coins, a bone comb and a chess piece of a horse.

Part of the treasure remained at the history museum in the nearby town of Poltava, but the better part was dispatched to St. Petersburg and displayed at the Hermitage Museum. The gold that remained in Poltava was lost during the WWII, but the artefacts exhibited at the Hermitage Museum have remained to this day in the Migration Period collection.

The sword of Khan Kubrat and two gold rings with the monogram of the ruler of Old Great Bulgaria are some of the most valuable among the Pereshchepina Treasure artefacts, which have a variety of origins. The sword was forged in Byzantium and was a gift from Emperor Heraclius, who was the khan's father-in-law. It is not clear where the gold rings were made.

Contemporary archaeologists believe the Pereshchepina Treasure belonged in all likelihood to Khan Kubrat, founder and ruler of Old Great Bulgaria between 630 and 660 AD. That earlier Bulgarian state, the precursor of present-day Bulgaria, occupied a territory north of the Black Sea, locked between the delta of the Danube and the Caucasus. The presence of artefacts of Byzantine, Iranian, Indian and even Chinese origin, attests to the might of the Bulgarian ruler. There are ongoing speculations that the Pereshchepina Treasure marked the grave of Khan Kubrat, who was also the father of Khan Asparuh, the founder of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680/681 AD.

According to some witness accounts, human and animal remains were unearthed together with the treasure. Other artefacts include fragments of a sceptre, representing a staff with gold facing; a gold lion figure used as a tip of a wooden sceptre, a golden drinking horn, a golden torque, etc. - all of them part of a ruler's regalia.

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