The shrine of Asclepius near the town of Pernik

The shrine of Asclepius near the town of Pernik

Ivan Valchev


Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"                                                                        DOI                                                                      
Archaeology Department 20 June 2020
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. core article


Abstract: The shrine of Asclepius near Pernik is located next to a modern village settlement. It is surrounded by a walled sacred space (temenos), a small temple at the bottom of its courtyard and a monumental altar in front of it. The complex emerged at the end of 2nd c. AD and lasted until the end of the 4th c. AD.

Key words: Shrine, Asclepius, Pagan Religion

The shrine of Asclepius near Pernik is located in the Mangar area, near the left bank of the Rudarshtitsa river, not far from its confluence with river Struma.[1] To the southeast there are traces of a significant settlement from the Roman era and to the east a necropolis is found.[2] Thus, the shrine can be considered one of the rare examples of important worship centers, located in direct connection with a modern settlement.

The complex has been fully studied through rescue excavations and the discovered structures are very close to the classical design of Greco-Roman shrines found elsewhere. According to the architectural design of the shrine there are three main parts. These are a sacred space (temenos), a temple and a monumental altar. The sacred space has an irregular quadrangular shape and its dimensions are 23.7 x 28 m. The entrance is located on the east and in front of it a small aedicule is formed by two columns. The sacred space is surrounded on four sides by walls about 2.8 m high. Inside there are canopies supported by wooden columns[3]. The temple is located in the western side of the sacred space and faces to the east. It has a rectangular design, measures of 7.5 m x 6.8 m a separate entrance hall and the central area. The facade is formed by four limestone columns with ionic capitals. [4] Probably there was a deeper double portico at the back of the courtyard that was forming an adytum.[5] A monumental stone altar was built in front of the temple’s entrance.[6]

Pernik Obr 1 Pernik Obr 2
Fig. 1. The shrine near the town of Pernik  (Любенова 1980, 20, fig. 3)

Fig. 2. Graphik reconstruction of the shrine near Pernik (Любенова 1980, 25, fig. 8)


In regards with the extra-urban centers within the limits of Lower Moesia and Thracia, only the shrine near Telerig in South Dobrudja resembles architecturally and structurally that of Pernik. The worship complex consists of a large rectangular space (60.40 x 39.77 m), surrounded by a wall. The porticos are formed along the western, northern and eastern walls. In the northern part of the walled area is located the temple, which has a rectangular plan (7.70 x 5.00 m).[7] Other town centers that have temples can be found in Serdica[8] and Oescus.[9]

Concerning their architecture and their design the shrines at Pernik and Telerig, as well as the examples from Serdica and Oescus, resemble the typical for the Roman era temple complexes that consist of a courtyard surrounded by porticos and a temple at the bottom of the courtyard. This type is defined as Italian in origin. Such architectural structures are common in the cities of the western Roman provinces but are also found in the shrines of Asia Minor and Syria from the 2nd c. AD and onwards.[10] 

Most of the dedications in the shrine were made to Asclepius, who bears the local epithet Κειλαδεηνος, written in many different variants (IGBulg V, 5786–5803, 5823, 5838, 5850). According to V. Gerasimova-Tomova, this epithet should be interpreted as “Light-emanating“ or “God of the spring.“[11] However, G. Mihailov shows that the second component of the epithet is actually the word δαυα, δευα, dava and its variants, which is specific for settlement names in Thrace and is found in many toponyms.[12]

In the dedications Asclepius bears also the Greek epithet κύριος, lord (IGBulg V, 5785–5786, 5788, 5793, 5795–5796, 5800–5801, 5803, 5806–5808, 5810, 5813, 5821, 5837–5839, 5841–5843, 5853).  Only once the god-healer is called θεός, god (IGBulg V, 5815) and only once the health deities are defined as θεοὶ ἐπήκοοι, gods listening to the prayers (IGBulg V, 5814).

The votive tablets and statuettes from the shrine are very fragmented and the restoration of the entire iconographic designs is possible only for a very limited number of findings. The images of the Thracian horseman are the most, while Asclepius, Hygia and Telesphorus are represented only in a small number of monuments.

The names of 49 worshipers have been preserved in whole or partly. As in the other shrines of Asclepius in Thrace in Pernik also Thracian, Greek and Roman names are represented in various combinations. We have relatively limited information about the social status of the worshipers. The councillor of Serdica Aurelius Heragen, son of Heran is known because of six dedications (IGBulg V, 5785, 5790, 5792, 5803, 5814, 5815). There is also another dedication from a counsillor whose name is Heran and who also comes from Serdica, probably the father of Aurelius Heragen (IGBulg V, 5816). The other devotees have professions that are related to the army – one centurion (IGBulg V, 5794), a standard-bearer (signifer) (IGBulg V, 5786), two praetorians (IGBulg V, 5797, 5819), a cavalryman (IGBulg V, 5820), two soldiers (IGBulg V, 5819, 5856) and one veteran (IGBulg V, 5798).

According to the researcher of the shrine V. Lyubenova the shrine was built at the end of the 2nd c. AD, while its destruction is placed in the second half of the 4th c. AD.[13] It seems quite acceptable that the earliest coins come from the era of Marcus Urelius and Faustina the  Younger dating back to the end of the 2nd century AD. The latest coins are from the period of 383-395 – a total of 159 pieces. Based on them S. Filipova suggests that the shrine was destroyed at the very end of the 4th c. AD.[14] V. Lyubenova does not accept such a late date on the existence of the complex because it contradicts with the historical data.  She interprets these late coins as thrown by followers of Asclepius after the destruction of the shrine.[15] The proposed date by Filipova at the end of the 4th c. AD seems more acceptable because it is supported by specific evidence and is also in accordance with the information from other worship sites located in the western parts of the Thracian lands.


[1] The shrine is visible on the outskirts of the town of Pernik between the two lanes of the road from Sofia to Kyustendil.

[2] Любенова 1980а, 15–19.

[3] Любенова 1980а, 20–21.

[4] Любенова 1980а, 22–23.

[5] Szubert 1990, 411.

[6] Любенова 1980а, 23–24.

[7] Торбатов 2005, 83–84.

[8] Станчева & Фърков 1977, 250–258, 271.

[9] Иванов 2005, 91–232.

[10] Lewis 1966, 70; Lyttelton 1987, 47; Mierse 1999, 15–16.

[11] Герасимова-Томова 1980, 83.

[12] Mihailov 1975, 50.

[13] Любенова 1980b, 138–139.

[14] Филипова 2010, 115.

[15] Любенова 1980b, 138–139.


IGBulg V = Mihailov, G. (1997) Inscriptiones Graecae in Bulgaria repertae. Vol. V. Inscriptiones novae, addenda et corrigenda (Serdicae).

Secondory Sources

Герасимова-Томова, В. (1980) „Надписите от светилището на Асклепий Кейлайден,“ Тракийски паметници. ІІ. Тракийски светилища (София), 48–94/ (Gerasimova-Tomova, V. (1980) “Nadpisite ot svetilishteto na Asklepiy Keylayden,” Trakiyski pametnici. II. Trakiyski svetilishta (Sofia), 48–94).

Иванов, Т. (2005) Улпия Ескус. Римски, късноримски и ранновизантийски град. Т. II. Гражданска базилика и храм на Фортуна [Разкопки и проучвания 34] (София)/ (Ivanov, T. (2005). Ulpia Eskus. Rimski, kasnorimski i rannovizantiyski grad. T. II. Grazhdanska bazilika i hram na Fortuna [Razkopki i prouchvania 34] (Sofia).

Любенова, В. (1980а) „Местоположение и устройство на светилището,“ Тракийски паметници. ІІ. Тракийски светилища (София), 15–27/ (Luybenova, V. (1980a) “Mestopolozhenie i ustroystvo na svetilishteto,” Trakiyski pametnici. II. Trakiyski svetilishta (Sofia), 15–27).

 (1980b) „Заключение,“ Тракийски паметници. ІІ. Тракийски светилища (София), 138–140/ (1980b) “Zakluychenie,” Trakiyski pametnici. II. Trakiyski svetilishta (Sofia), 138–140).

Станчева, M. & Фърков, Ю. (1977) „Новооткрит езически храм в Сердика,“ Известия на Българското историческо дружество 30, 249–277/ (Stancheva, M. & Farkov, Y. (1977) “Novootkrit ezicheski hram v Serdika,” Izvestia na Balgarskoto istorichesko druzhestvo 30, 249–277).

Торбатов, С. (2005) „Ἥρως Ἥφαιστος (предварителни данни за античния култов център край Телериг, Южна Добруджа),“ Heros Hephaistos. Studia in honorem Liubae Ognenova-Marinova (Велико Търново), 80–91/ (Torbatov, S. (2005) “Ἥρως Ἥφαιστος (predvaritelni danni za antichnia kultov centar kray Telerig, Yuzhna Dobrudzha),” Heros Hephaistos. Studia in honorem Liubae Ognenova-Marinova (Veliko Tarnovo), 80–91). 

Филипова, С. (2010) „Монети от светилището в квартал „Даскалово“ (Църква) в Перник,“ От регионалното към националното. Юбилеен сборник в чест на ст. н. с. д-р Христо Харитонов. І част (Велико Търново), 104–118/ (Filipova, S. (2010) “Moneti ot svetilishteto v kvartal “Daskalovo” (Tsarkva) v Pernik,” Ot regionalnoto kam natsionalnoto. Yubileen sbornik v chest na st.n.s. d-r Hristo Haritonov. I chast (Veliko Tarnovo), 104–118). 

Lewis, M.J.T. (1966) Temples in Roman Britain (Cambridge).

Lyttelton, M. (1987) “The Design and Planning of Temples and Sanctuaries in Asia Minor in the Roman Imperial Period,” S. Macready, F.H. Thompson (eds.) Roman Architecture in the Greek World (London), 38–49.

Mierse, W. (1999) Temples and Towns in Roman Iberia (Berkeley & Los Angeles).

Mihailov, G. (1975) “Epigraphica Thracica V,” Epigraphica 37, 25–67.

Szubert, W. (1990) “Remarks on the Thracian-Roman Asclepieions,” Études et travaux XV, 409–415. 


This page is part of the project LABedia: Еncyclopedia of Late Antique Balkans, 4th-5th c.,
financed by the National Science Fund, contract КП-06-Н30/6, 13.12.2018