5 mirror frames found in Roman villa in Bulgaria

Archaeologists excavating an outbuilding of a Roman villa near the town of Pavlikeni, northern Bulgaria, have unearthed five lead mirror frames dating to the late 2nd or early 3rd century. The small round frames suggest there’s more to this villa than archaeologists realized.

The villa, thought to have belonged to a Roman Army veteran, was first built at the end of the 1st century/beginning of the 2nd century. In addition to being a country estate, it was also used for ceramic production during its relatively brief lifespan. The complex stood for less than a century before being pillaged and razed by the invading Costoboci during the Marcomannic Wars (170-171 A.D.). It was rebuilt but the second iteration lasted even less time, being abandoned some time after 235 A.D., likely during the incursions of the Goth and Carpi tribes into Roman territory south of the Danube around 238.

The 35-acre site has been excavated every season for four years. In the 2016 season, a geophysical survey found evidence of Roman construction materials — roof tiles and basalt quarried from the nearby extinct volcano today known as Chatal Tepe — outside the main building. Excavations in 2016 and 2017 revealed a square building 5.65 meters (18.5 feet) wide and 6.35 meters (20.8 feet) long. It had an east-facing entrance, a wise choice in a region where western winds blow very hard and very cold, with an antechamber supported by wooden columns. The columns have not survived, but their stone bases have. There were two hearths in the structure, one in the antechamber, one in the main room. The mirrors were discovered in the interior hearth.

Three of the mirror frames are identically sized and have the same decoration: a stylized depiction of a wine krater with vines growing out of it. Three of the five also have the same inscription lettered in Ancient Greek. At first glance, archaeologists thought it read “ТYXH KAΛH,” which expresses a wish that their owner have a good fate. Closer examination after cleaning revealed a different phrase, with a very different implication of what this building’s purpose may have been.

“Some of the mirrors have inscriptions, reading, ΨΥΧΗ ΚΑΛΗ, not ТΥΧΗ ΚΑΛΗ, as I originally thought. That means a ‘good soul’. Mirrors are generally discovered in shrines,” lead archaeologist Chakarov has told ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com.

The discovery of the lead mirror frames has added a new hypothesis about the function of the building where they have been found, namely, that it might have been a temple of some kind. The initial hypothesis, which is still being considered, is that it was a residential building.

“The find consisting of lead mirror frames points towards the possibility that the building in question might have been a temple. The earlier hypothesis that it was a residential venue still stands, though. A final hypothesis is yet to be decided upon after all discovered material has been processed,” Chakarov explains.

Other materials found at the building including pottery fragments and coins which indicate the building was in use in the late 2nd, early 3rd century A.D., so about four decades before its final demise.

These intriguing finds are the work of a team of volunteers led by Kalin Chakarov, archaeologist from the Pavlikeni Museum of History. Nobody is taking a paycheck and without the 40 volunteers from Bulgaria and four other countries, there would have been no 2017 excavation.

6 thoughts on “5 mirror frames found in Roman villa in Bulgaria

  1. —————————
    “The find consisting of lead mirror frames points towards the possibility that the building in question might have been a temple.”

    May I prostitute another “possibility” ?

    Because -obviously- the more vine they drank, the more beaut.. –er– ..’PsyXh’ became visible. Without reasonable doubt, therefore, we have a “temple” to make the harsh life out there in the provinces more agreeable, i.e. clearly a sign of modern civilization.

    Seemingly, there still are similar temples, but they are nowadays in western Europe (there is τύχη and wine too, but -unfortunately- hardly any ψύχη).

  2. I am interested in the fact that while there are objects interpreted as “mirror frames” there are no reflecting surfaces or mirrors surviving. I believe that all mirrors at this time were polished metal, often bronze, that should have survived as well as lead. IIRC, the silvering of glass for mirrors was a much later invention. This is pure speculation but might looking through the loop of frame have had some sort of social or religious significance. Might have looking at someone through an object like this been some sort of blessing or compliment?

  3. Good point, but it’s mainly the size that matters. A completely different approach: These ‘mirrors’ -at least the one in the 2nd picture- seem to be really tiny, i.e. in comparison to the excavator’s hand, even for an ancient type of mirror.

    Also, I do wonder about those two eyelets on each of them. What about ‘applicators for lead(II) acetate in vine’? Could there have been -let’s say- wooden sticks connected to them? Thus, do we have a complete kit for up to five participants/ lead victims? :skull: (not ruling out orgies, just sayin’)

    “lead(II) acetate has a sweet taste, which led to its historical use as a sugar substitute. The ancient Romans would boil must (grape juice) in lead pots to produce a reduced sugar syrup called defrutum, concentrated again into sapa. This syrup was used to sweeten wine and to sweeten and preserve fruit. It is possible that lead(II) acetate or other lead compounds leaching into the syrup might have caused lead poisoning in those who consumed it.”

    “The composer Beethoven, a heavy wine drinker, suffered elevated lead levels (as later detected in his hair) possibly due to this; the cause of his death is controversial, but lead poisoning is a contender as a factor.”

  4. —————-
    [Absinthe] spoon, the – A perforated or slotted spoon is used to dissolve a sugar cube in a glass of [], usually to sweeten the drink and counteract its mild bitterness. The spoon is normally flat, with a notch in the handle where it rests on the rim of the glass. Originating circa the 1870s their use increased over the 1880s and 1890s and were often stamped with brand names or logos as advertising, much like modern alcohol paraphernalia.”

    … or ancient ones? :confused:

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