ART IN ANCIENT ABRITUS
Unlike modern people, people of Pre-Modern ages saw art practices as inseparable part of worshipping, of religious rites. It is no accident that ancient Greeks saw the inspiring Muses as guided by the god Apollo and Hephaestus (Volcano) was the god of blacksmiths. That is why for masters each piece of art had the value of a sacrifice.
Works of art discovered in ancient Abritus support that understanding. Each of them is a proof of the enormous efforts of its author to please gods. At the same time the works of art are a telling demonstration of continuity in cultural traditions of Local Thracian population and the new-comers from Italy, Gaul and Asia Minor. The mixing of different ethnic groups in Abritus area led to mixing of their religious cults – a phenomenon that science calls syncretism.
Toreutics or artistic metalworking is deeply rooted in Thracian civilization – the famous treasures of Rogozen, Panagyurishte and Galiche were created during the Classic and the Hellenistic Periods (5th – 2nd centuries B.C.). The golden protome of Pegasus of the 4th century B.C. found near the village of Vazovo is an elite monument of Thracian toreutics. The Museum of Razgrad has a collection of 16 bronze stereotype plates of the 2nd – 3rd century. Among the most beautiful is the one displaying Phrygian goddess Cybele also called “Mother goddess”. Religious syncretism which was characteristic of the age is visible with the image of the three anonymous goddesses of the find - Atargatis, Anahita, Bendis.
The image of Heracles-Hercules adds up – the mortal who was honored with the right to live with the immortals because of his heroic feats. Here also join Zeus-Jupiter and Hera-Juno – the rulers of Mount Olympus – the Hellenic versions of the supreme male and female deities in the old Thracian religion who favored anonymity. Two of the stereotype plates depict the Asia Minor god-horseman – Sabazios.
The stereotype plates undoubtedly prove who were the most favored deities in the area of Abritus. It turns out that the Thracian horseman was often depicted on the stone works of art that were largely ordered in the Roman Age – consecrated plates (votive tablets).
The offering plates to Zeus and Hera, the Three Nymphs, Hygeia, Ares, Artemis, Sabazios, Cybele, Ma found at the same time prove that in the conditions of mobility which was typical of Roman society, features and functions were easily transferred from one deity to another.
The analysis of artifacts such as bronze sculptures prove another major tendency in the development of ancient art demonstrated by the studios of Abritus as well – the aspiration to follow Hellenic prototypes created by renowned masters. In the style of traditional iconography with characteristic features were depicted deities of the Greco-Roman pantheon: Zeus-Jupiter, Hera-Juno, Artemis-Diana, Heracles-Hercules.
Two statuettes of Aphrodite (Venus) also display transformations of her that were popular in the past – Anadyomene (Rising from the Sea) and Pudica (Shy Venus). The artistic qualities of one of the bronze statuettes of Zeus-Jupiter link it to the pre-Roman original works of Lysippos and most of all to Leochares. The perfect finishing of details speaks of the high professionalism of the author. Among the finds were also bronze statuettes of Zeus, of Hermes-Mercuty with his usual attributes - caduceus and purse – and of Dionysius-Bacchus.
Stone processing was probably the most widely practiced art in ancient Abritus. Together with the carving of consecrated plates, stone-cutters also created sacrificial altars, tombstones, sarcophaguses, devotional inscriptions. Versions of stone columns in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders and various friezes, reliefs and groin ceiling tiles were also created for the needs of construction. Here too, just like elsewhere in the empire, elements of older monuments were used when making later ones. Thus, some of them were practically saved from destruction.
The construction of the castle and the maintenance of its defense system undoubtedly engaged quite a few master builders. Some of them provided stone from the closest quarries and prepared stone quadrae for construction of the defense devices. Others directly fulfilled the requirements of architects in construction of fortress walls, gates and towers of various shapes.
Romans are known to have inherited the architectural mastership of the peoples they conquered and as a result they became the best ancient builders. Research in Abritus confirms that to the fullest degree – the defense devices, the residential, public and religious buildings discovered so far are impressive in solidity of structure and richness of shape.
Potters also contributed to constructing the architectural ensemble since they prepared pottery tiles for the roofs as well as bricks for the floors. Lots of pottery containers were also used in everyday life – pithoi, pots, amphoras, lamps. That is why there must have been workshops specialized in making pottery for everyday use.
Undoubtedly, jewels were also actively produced in the castle. Proofs for that are the bracelets, earrings, rings, torcs and fibulae found so far. Carpenters, weavers, shoemakers cannot have been less skilful. However, we can only imagine what they were capable of.