A breastplate bearing an ancient Cyrillic inscription dating to 1,100 years ago was discovered in the medieval fortress “Balak Dere” in autumn 2022 near the village of Huhla, Ivaylovgrad Municipality, in southern Bulgaria, livescience reported on Friday.
"The text was written on a lead plate worn on the chest to protect the wearer from trouble and evil," said Ivailo Kanev, an archaeologist working at Bulgaria's National Museum who leads the excavation team of the fortress, which is near the Greece-Bulgaria border.
The inscription mentions to two supplicants named Pavel and Dimitar, Kanev told livescience.
"It is not known who the supplicants Pavel and Dimitar were, but most likely Dimitar participated in the garrison, settled in the fortress, and was a relative of Pavel," Kanev said.
According to arkeonews, the plate was found in a cultural layer dated to the beginning of the 10th century, the period of Tsar Simeon I, who was also called Simeon the Great. He ruled the Bulgarian Empire between 893 and 927, said Kanev. During his reign the tsar sought to enlarge his empire and therefore launched military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire.
The inscription was only discovered in the aftermath
After the plate was found, a conservation procedure revealed a shallow inscription in Cyrillic letters. The researchers found a quite long Old Bulgarian Cyrillic inscription, seven lines on the inside of the plate and four lines on the outside.
Researchers in #Bulgaria have uncovered an astonishing lead plate with a faded inscription. What they found hidden within is the earliest example of Cyrillic script, which bears an #ancient plea.https://t.co/tfqyTnyMVX— Ancient Origins (@ancientorigins) May 23, 2023
Experts say that the orthography of the inscription has strong similarities to writings from present-day Northeast Bulgaria, where Simeon the Great’s capital of Preslav was located. It is also unusual for its canonical-sounding text.
These facts, taken together with the archaeological context, gives the researchers reason to believe that the inscription on the breastplate is in fact one of the earliest Cyrillic texts known to date.
"This text probably got into the fortress in the period between 916 and 927 and was brought by a Bulgarian military garrison," said Kanev.
The earliest surviving Cyrillic texts until now were dated to 921. The newly discovered inscription is therefore one of the oldest Cyrillic texts ever found, Kanev said.
“After being duly cleaned, conserved, and the epitaphs deciphered, we established, with absolute certainty that the lead plate is from the 10th century. What is more, the plate itself was found in the archaeological layer where 10th century coins and belt appliqués from that period were discovered,” Kanev told Radio Bulgaria (BNR).
"This is a very interesting find and deservedly arouses interest," Yavor Miltenov, a researcher with the Institute for Bulgarian Language of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, said to livescience. "We will need to see the full publication of the inscription and the context in which it was found before we can be certain of its date."