Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós
The Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós (Treasure of Sânnicolau Mare) is an important hoard of 23 early medieval gold vessels, in total weighing 9.945 kg (about 22 lbs), found in 1799 near the town then known as Nagyszentmiklós or Groß-Sankt-Niklaus (Romanian: Sânnicolau Mare) in northern Banat (then part of the Torontál County within the Kingdom of Hungary in the Habsburg Empire, today in Timiş County in western Romania, near the border with Hungary). After the excavation, the treasure was transferred to Vienna, the capital of the empire. Ever since, it has been in the possession of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it is on permanent display. A wide range of views continue to be held as to the dating and the origins of the styles of the pieces, and the context in which they were made, which may well vary between the pieces. Unusually, the inscriptions on some pieces have if anything increased the complexity of the arguments rather than reduced them. Recently, Romanian officials have asked the Austrian government for its repatriation.
The treasure, consisting of 23 gold vessels and variously dated from the 6th to the 10th century, was found on 3 July 1799 by Neru Vuin, a Serb farmer, in the vicinity of Nagy Szent Miklos / Groß-Sankt-Niklaus (Romanian: Sânnicolau Mare). The figure of the "victorious Prince" dragging a prisoner along by his hair (see figure on the right), and the mythological scene at the back of the golden jar, as well as the design of other ornamental objects, show close affinities with finds at Novi Pazar, Bulgaria and at Sarkel, Russia. Stylistically, Central Asian, Persian-Sassanid and Byzantine influences are predominant.
On one of the vessels in the hoard there is an inscription written in the Greek alphabet which reads:
- (Transliteration: bouēla zoapan tesē dygetoigē boutaoul zōapan tagrogē ētzigē taisē)
The language of the inscription is probably a Turkic language. While there is no consensus as to the meaning of the inscription, several translations have been suggested (see the article on the inscription) and there is general agreement that Buyla and Butaul are Turkic names or titles, and that they are associated with the title of župan. There is another inscription in Greek language and several other very short inscriptions in a runiform script and also likely to be in a Turkic language, but these are very brief and also have not been deciphered.
The cultural milieu or milieux in which the objects in the treasure were created, assembled and deposited remains controversial, with the debate often affected by nationalistic concerns.
According to interpretation of the inscription on one of the vessels, this inscription was written by a people whose local leaders had Turkic names and bore Slavic titles (i.e. the title of župan).
Magyar and Bulgar
As noted above, close affinities have been recognized between the Nagyszentmiklós material and that found at Novi Pazar and in Khazaria. Archaeologists in both Hungary and Bulgaria consider these affinities to support theories of ancient migration between regions. Both were allied with Khazars for a period. The treasure gives some idea of the arts practised within the First Bulgarian Empire, Hungarian and Khazar states. According to professor Nykola Mavrodinov (based on Vilhelm Thomsen), the script on vessel number 21 is in Bulgar, written with Greek letters, surrounding a cross, and reads, “Boyla Zoapan made this vessel. Butaul Zoapan intended it for drinking.”.
One school of Hungarian archaeologists maintains that the tenth-century gold and silversmiths working in Hungary were Khazar. When Magyars migrated to Pannonia in 896, some Khazar tribes, known as the Khavars, came with them to their new homes. The Khavars were skilled gold and silversmiths.
Khazar art is believed to be modelled on Persian-Sassanide art patterns. The Soviet archaeologist O. H. Bader emphasized the role of the Khazars in the spread of Persian-style silver-ware towards the north. Some of these works may have been re-exported by the Khazars, true to their role as middlemen; others were imitations made in Khazar workshops - the ruins of which have been traced to near the ancient Khazar fortress of Sarkel. The Swedish archaeologist T. J. Arne mentions ornamental plates, clasps and buckles found as far as Sweden, of Sassanide and Byzantine inspiration, manufactured in Khazaria or territories under their influence. Thus, the Khazars, Magyars and Bulgars could have been intermediaries in the spreading of Persian-Sassanide art in Eastern Europe.
Several elements of the Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós have Central Asian counterparts. One is the scene of the divine Garuda bird's lifting up a human body. This motif can be found all over Central Asia, India and Siberia. The motif of an animal drinking from the cup also occurs throughout Eurasia from China, through Siberia, to Hungary. The image of the nautilus shell in the set may relate to India, where the animal is native to the Indian Ocean. This relation goes back to the Hephthalites, the white Huns who ruled during the 4th and 5th centuries in Gujarat, Rajastan.
However, this scene might also be about the Persian story of Zal and legendary bird of Simorgh. Zal was the father of the greatest Persian/Iranian hero Rostam and the child of a famous hero called Sam Nariman. He was rejected by his father because he was albino and the Simorgh saved him and raised him.
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