За „приятелите на Сократ“ и прабългарите при Балчик (по повод една рецензия)

About the “friends of Socrates” and the Proto-Bulgars at Balchik (referring to a review)

  • Maria Hristova-Penkova National Anthropological Museum of IEMPAM – BAS, Bulgaria 73 Tsarigradsko Shose Blvd.
Keywords: Review, Early Middle Ages, proto-Bulgarian necropolis, Balchik


A paper by Evgenia Komatarova-Balinova was published in 2018 in the proceedings of a symposium in memoriam Irina Shtereva (1942 – 2015). The paper questions in the first place the accuracy of the methods and the arguments used. According to the author, during the 1950’s the concept of the Caucasian origin of the Proto-Bulgars was imposed in the Bulgarian historiography “through the sanction of the Soviet national policy” and reached “the same mythological dimensions as the legendary tale of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece”. The recently published monograph “The Protobulgar necropolis at Balchik” by L. Doncheva-Petkova, K. Apostolov and V. Russeva is represented as an example of this concept. The paper aims at debunking the “Caucasian myth” through a critical analysis of the arguments set in the book and is essentially a review of the monograph. However the claimed statements and evaluations require an independent critical analysis, which is the purpose of the present work.

The criticism of the “Caucasian” theory of the origin of the Bulgarians develops in two main lines. The first concerns the accuracy of the given analogies between the necropoleis explored in the Caucasus region and the Balchik necropolis that aimed at uncovering the potential areas evidencing for the biritualism. This is interwoven with comments on the internal chronology of the monument set in the monograph. The second line examines the ceramic assemblages from Balchik and the North Caucasian monuments, challenging the influence of the North Caucasian ones.

One of the main arguments for the possible existence of biritual necropoleis in the North Caucasus region referred in the monograph are the simultaneous cremation and inhumation burials from the cemeteries of Borisovo and Durso. Here, E. Komatarova-Balinova comfortably keeps to herself the information concerning the detailed “distribution” of the materials from Borisovo made by I. Gavritukhin and A. Pyankov, their chronology and the conclusions, according to which groups I and II (according to Sakhanev) are synchronous. She prefers to quote only A. Komar’s opinion, without denying, that he also acknowledges that two of the cremations were synchronous with the inhumations. Following his conclusions she states: “However, these two burials, do not confirm the practice of biritualism; they confirm the “smooth change of the inhumation ritual with cremation ritual”, which was the only practiced in the late phase of the cemetery”. But such an opinion can only be accepted as well-grounded when it explains the reason causing the change of the ritual of the same population (in history this is usually associated with religious change and in the Мария Христова-Пенкова Abrahamic religions, represented by missions in the Caucasus area since the end of Antiquity, the cremation as a ritual is inadmissible). If one considers the information, such as given by E. Komatarova-Balinova, one faces a new contradiction: exactly how does the “smooth change” from inhumation to cremation fit with her own conclusions that cremation lacks local origin in these same monuments. Trying to clearly outline the differences in the burial rite between the necropoleis with cremation in the Caucasus and the Lower Danube areas, she refers to the results of I. Gavritukhin and A. Pyankov’s study and P. Uspenski’s dissertation. However, the incorrect way of citation significantly changes their own statement.

The comments on the internal chronology of the Balchik necropolis developed by L. Doncheva-Petkova focus on two main points. The first one is connected to the place and the role of the belt buckles that were used as chronological benchmarks in determining the lower chronological limit of the necropolis and that were found primarily in graves with cremation. According to E. Komatarova-Balinova they are part of the grave goods and were not used accordingly, i. e. they were not part of the attire, but had an apotropaic function and were placed as grave gifts. A confirmation for this function is the absence of traces from staying at the pyre. But the fact that the belt buckle from grave No. 185 has its prong replaced confirms its function. An additional argument for this statement is their discovery location, which, according to E. Komatarova- Balinova, is at the rim of the pits, after the remains from the pyre were piled, which, in turn, contradicts both her own words about the impossibility of determining the level of the ancient surface and the position of the belt buckle in grave No. 185 on the drawing that she did by herself (fig. 1).

The second point in the comments concerning the chronology of the Balchik necropolis refers to the period when two belt buckles – a cross-shaped one and a Corinth-type one, were in use. L. Doncheva-Petkova is reproached for taking an overexposed position in her comment concerning the cross-shaped belt buckle (or type D22 according to Schulze-Dorrlamm), because there was no dispute between M. Schulze-Dorrlamm and the soviet scholars about the use of this type of belt buckles after the 7th c. But in the final lines of her comment on the use of these belt buckles M. Schulze-Dorrlamm does not admit the relation between the coin of Leo V (813 – 820) and the assemblage from Chersonesus and opts for a date in the first and early second half of the 7th c. E. Komatarova-Balinova’s main argument that this type of belt buckles were also used after the 7th c. is “catacomb 257 is not a closed complex, and the cross-shaped belt buckle as well as the coin of Constantine IV belong to the artifacts yielded by funerals that are not contemporary”. She refers to I. Gavritukhin’s study on the synchronization of the Avar assemblages with those from Eastern Europe. A verification in the referred study revealed that the graves of individuals No. 1 (where the cross-shaped belt buckle was yielded) and No. 4 (with the coin of Constantine IV) are contemporary. The very date of the late phase of Eski Kermen’s catacomb No. 257 is related to the coin of Constantine IV. In the final periodization and synchronization proposed by I. Gavritukhin, there is a comment on the assemblage under consideration in the “Pereschepino” horizon where it is noted that this is the latest burial (Gavrituchin 2008, 83 – 84). The approach in the comment concerning the Corinth-type belt buckle is also manipulative. Here it is suggested to the audience that “…apart from being very popular … have sufficiently broad chronological limits. For example, in the Crimea these extend to the end of the 8th century”. These broad chronological frames of the Corinth-type belt buckles in the Crimea are “backed up” by E. Nallbani’s study. The summary of her work is presented in several final lines, which were rendered verbatim making obvious that despite of their widespread distribution “the belt buckles date back in the 7th c. and probably in the early 8th c.”. E. Nallbani herself suggests that the arguments for the chronology of the Crimea materials should be reconsidered before adopting a century-long delay for the Corinth-type belt buckles.

After the “successful” debunking of the Caucasian analogies of the Balchik necropolis (point number one in the “Caucasian” myth), E. Komatarova-Balinova is also challenging the second point of the “Caucasian”myth – the pottery. Here she is commenting on the “specific Balchik technology” which finds no analogies among the Caucasian pottery. Her argumentation is based on three main points. 1. The temper used. The Caucasian “link” should be rejected since no shells and snails were used for tempering the clay of the Balchik pottery. Actually the use of this kind of temper is characteristic of a limited geographical area (the Azov region) and is not at all characteristic of most of the Caucasian (in the geographical sense of this term) pottery. 2. Forming vessels. The reconstruction of the technology for forming vessels of two or three parts on a tournette wheel presented by L. Doncheva-Petkova is challenged for several reasons. The first one is that the “assumption” of this “is based on “the different thicknesses of (these – author’s note) parts measured at some vessels”. The second reason is that the instrument used for recording the measures of the vessels  is not specified. The author “feels inconvenient” when hinting at the instrument since its function is regarded only as one-sided. The instrument under discussion is the outside caliper. The third reason, pointed out by E. Komatarova-Balinova, is the lack of identical relief marks on the bottoms, as well as the fact that there are vessels with no marks. V. Malashev’s study of Alan pottery from the Mokraya Balka necropolis in Central Caucasus is presented as an evidence for rejecting the “Caucasian connection”. The stampings made and published by this scholar prove the use of the same board in forming more than one vessel, which reflects the level of specialization of the Alan master potters and serves as “additional and independent source for the synchronization of the assemblages, as well as for verifying that they belong to a certain chronological horizon”. The lack of identical relief marks among the Balchik pottery makes difficult only the synchronization of the individual graves, but does not revoke the fact of forming pottery on a tournette wheel using an additional board and cannot be considered as an evidence for the “specific Balchik technology. Even among Mokraya Balka’s pottery assemblage there are vessels with no relief marks on the bottom that were thrown on the tournette wheel. 3. The third evidence in favor of the “specific Balchik technology” of the pottery is based on the “fact” that there is no morphological similarity between the Caucasus pottery and the pottery from the Balchik necropolis. According to E. Komatarova-Balinova among all given analogies, “scattered over a huge territory”, “none of them presenting a repertoire similar to the Balchik assemblage”. Here it is appropriate to clarify the difference between “analogy of a particular type of vessel” (as actually presented by L. Doncheva-Petkova) and “a similar set of vessels in an archaeological assemblage” (as considered by E. Komatarova-Balinova). In the first case one studies the different influences over the (Proto)-Bulgars during the creation of their pottery tradition, while in the second case one is trying to establish “an identity” between the assemblages. The morphological and technological similarities and differences between the Caucasian, the Saltovo-Mayaki and Bulgar pottery on the Lower Danube were the topic of a number of studies (Ангелова 1982, 59-60; Ангелова, Дончева-Петкова 1990, 65; Рашев 2008, 187; Флeров 1980, 176).

The last paragraph of E. Komatarova-Balinova’s work is a culmination of the negative assessment. In this part the authors of the monograph on the Balchik necropolis (and especially the leading one L. Doncheva-Petkova) are accused for maintaining “old-fashioned ideas” as they are bringing us back in the 1970’s since “the formation of the state and its independent culture are again brought to the two extremely simple processes suggested by Z. Vazharova: the migration of population from one place to another and the preservation of its material culture on the new territories“. Here the audience is facing the question: since obviously E. Komatarova-Balinova is rejecting these ideas, what is the new perspective she is offering? Is she implying that a population emerging ex nihilo without having its own culture created its own state on the territory of the powerful Eastern Roman Empire?

The entire text of E. Komatarova-Balinova is dominated by denial. It is filled with unprovoked rancor and was written from the position of causa contradictiones. The history of science has shown that such contributions are futile and counterproductive to science itself.

How to Cite
Hristova-Penkova, M. (2019). За „приятелите на Сократ“ и прабългарите при Балчик (по повод една рецензия). Contributions to the Bulgarian Archeology / Приноси към българската археология, 9, 165-190. Retrieved from http://series.naim.bg/index.php/CBA/article/view/106