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Shrine of Zeus and Hera on Babyashka chuka peak, West Rhodopes Mountain
|Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"||DOI|
|Archaeology Department||20 June 2020|
Abstract: The shrine of Babyashka Chuka peak in the Western Rhodopes is thousand years old. The earliest traces of worship activity date back to the Late Bronze Age. Its development culminates in the Late Iron Age. During the Roman era a small temple was built on the top, in which were placed worship statues of Zeus and Hera. The shrine continued to function intensively throughout the 4th c. AD and was destroyed at the end or the beginning of the 5th c. AD.
Key words: Shrine, Zeus, Hera, Pagan Religion
The Babyashka Chuka Peak (1653 m. above sea level) is located in the northwestern part of the Rhodopes and its view encompass the entire Razlog valley. Traces of a Thracian shrine have been recorded there in the 1950s, but the first excavations were made in 1983. At that time, a television tower had already been built at the top and during its construction the cultural strata, especially those from the Roman and late Roman era were seriously damaged. The ridge at the top culminates in two distinct places, connected by a small saddle, where the most significant cultural stratifications are laid. The area where the archeological materials are found is about 12,000 sqm, but the periphery of the shrine varies over time. For example the ritual activites during the Early Iron Age are focused on a little upland, while during the Late Iron Age the whole area of the shrine was used. During the centuries after Christ the worship activity was taking place mainly at the Greater upland, where there is evidence of a temple with statues of the worshiped deities .
The best studied part of the shrine is the Small upland, where materials from the Late Bronze, Early-Late Iron Age, Roman era and Late Antiquity are recorded. In the first millennium BC, the sacred place (temenos) was surrounded by a light stone wall. This first enclosure dates back to the Early Iron Age, but its function was short-lived. Probably the two peaks had been surrounded by a stone wall again only during the period between 3rd and 2nd c. BC. During the Early Iron Age, the main arranging equipment for placing gifts appears, which is also typical for the Late Iron Αge — clay altars of various shapes and sizes, stone piles, in which the gifts were placed and excavated structures (holes).
The shrine that dates back to the Roman era is of a much smaller area. Traces of worship activities are recorded mainly on the Great upland. The damaged materials —possibly a temple — which is related to a sacrifical site and a stone altar have been partially examined. In the highest part of the peak and in immediate vicinity of the temple, a negative space structure with measures of 2 x 3 m and depth about 0.6 m has been also examined. The hole is filled with black soil, lots of coal, ceramic fragments, jewelry, coins and over forty skulls of horned animals, mostly of cows and bulls, but there are also several skulls of rams with very massive horns. The two bronze coins of Constantius II and Gratian allow us to date the facility back to the late Roman era. Animal bones testify to the continuation of blood sacrifices in this shrine at least until the last quarter of the 4th c. AD – a fact that currently is not so clearly attested in other pagan shrines of the same period.
Fragments of marble statues are found in the layer from the Roman era – a torse from a statue of a goddess and a leg from a statue of a life-size male deity. This, as well as the date of the presence of a temple building, shows the development of significant changes in the structure of the shrine during the Roman era caused by the introduction of non-Thracian religious practices.
Gifts that are placed around clay altars or in stone piles during the Early Iron Age are mostly fragments of ceramic vessels. The main characteristic of these ceramic materials, as well as that of the findings of the Late Iron Age, is their exceptional fragmentation. The storing of whole vessels or the breaking of vessels on site has to be considered an exception. During the Late Iron Age, there was a change in the type and the quantity of gifts. Again, the most common are the fragmented ceramic vessels, but there is also jewelry, weapons, handicraft objects and agricultural tools, coins, various objects made of clay, stone, glass and bone, which are stored.
Brooches, ornaments, pottery objects, metal utensils and loom weights, which are considered an indisputable proof of continuity in ritual practices from the Late Iron Age, are found in the layer from the Roman era. However the variety and quantity of gifts decreases sharply over the years. On the other hand, votive tables with images of Zeus and Hera become the most common votive offerings. The gods are represented standing upright, at the opposite side Zeus is dressed only with a mantle (himation) and Hera with a long tunic (chiton) and a veil on her head. They hold crutches in their right hands and wands in their left. A votive table is dedicated to Zeus, bearing the adjective Κύριος (Lord) and the same adjective for Hera (IGBulg V, 5873bis).
The discovered coins from 4th c. AD and the beginning of 5th c. show the intensive functioning of the shrine in the beginning of Late Antiquity. The latest coin belongs to Anastasius, but it is isolated from the rest of the numismatic material and should not be used to prove the continuity in the worship practices at least until the 6th c. The most acceptable date for the continuity of the worship complex is the end of the 4th c AD – possibly beginning of th 5th c., when most of the remaining extra-urban shrines in Thrace were destroyed.
The shrine at Babyak is the best studied example of continuity of worship practices for a long period of time, which extends from the Late Bronze Age until the end of the 4th c. AD. Of course there are some periods of decay during this time, in which the shrine does not function in full, but the preservation of ritual practices is evidence of a certain continuity of the religious worship.
 Тонкова 2008b, 32–33.
 Тонкова 2008b, 34–37; Гоцев & Димитрова 2011, 182.
 Тонкова & Гоцев 2009, 190.
 Тонкова & Василева 2011, 179–180.
 Тонкова & Гоцев 2008, 66–71.
 Гоцев & Божинова 2008, 73–75.
 Тонкова 2008a, 95–96.
 Огненова 1959, 88–89, №№ 1–2, обр. 7–8; Рибарова 1972, 5–6.
 The discovered coins are as follows: Diocletian, Maximian (2 coins), Licinius (2 coins), Licinius II, Constantine the Great (5 coins), Constans (2 coins), Constantius II (18 coins), Constantius Gallus, Julian, Procopius, Valentinian I (6 coins), Valens (2 coins), Gratian (5 coins), Valentinian II (3 coins), Theodosius I (4 coins), Aelia Flaccila , Arcadius (2 coins), Honorius.  Филипова & Прокопов 2008, 166–168.
IGBulg V = Mihailov, G. (1997) Inscriptiones graecae in Bulgaria repertae V. Inscriptiones novae, addenda et corrigenda (Sofia).
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Тонкова, М. & Гоцев, А. (2009) „Археологически проучвания на тракийското светилище при с. Бабяк, община Белица, Благоевградски окръг,“ Археологически открития и разкопки през 2008 г. (София), 189–191 / Tonkova, M. & Gotsev, A. (2009) „Arheologicheski prouchvania na trakiyskoto svetilishte pri s. Babyak, obshtina Belitsa, Blagoevgradski okrag,” Arheologicheski otkritia i razkopki prez 2008 g. (Sofia), 189–191).
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