The Shrine of Asclepius near the village of Batkun (neighbourhood of the village of Patalenista, Pazardzhik district)

The Shrine of Asclepius near the village of Batkun (neighbourhood of the village of Patalenista, Pazardzhik district)

Ivan Valchev


Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"                                                                 DOI                                          
Archaeology Department 20 June 2020     
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Abstract: The shrine of Asclepius near the district of Batkun in the village of Patalenitsa of the Pazardzhik region is the largest known extra urban shrine in the Thracian lands during the Roman era. This worship center appeared at the end of the 1st c. AD or at the very beginning of the 2nd c. AD and functioned intensively until the time of Theodosius I, when it was forcibly destroyed and burned.

Key words: Shrine, Asclepius, Pagan Religion 


 The shrine of Asclepius, which is located in the vicinity of the former village of Batkun, a district now of the village of Patalenitsa, is the largest known shrine in the Thracian lands. It was discovered in the 19th c.,[1] and the archeological excavations were carried out by Dimitar Tsonchev in 1939[2]. The religious site is located in the area of Haidushkoto kladenche (Hajduk well) in the northern foothills of the Rhodopes. There are many springs in the vicinity and next to one of them the shrine was built.

Despite its great popularity, the shrine at Batkun is not distinguished by a particularly monumental and notable architecture. During the excavations, the remains of a square building with measures 19.5 x 19.5 were examined. The construction was made of quarry stones and mortar with belt courses of three rows of bricks in height. Due to the steep slope of the terrain, the building is not oriented according to the cardinal directions, but southwest to northeast. It is not clear in which side was the entrance. In the eastern corner of the building there is a cold spring, which probably flowed through the entire area of the shrine.[3] There is not enough information on the architectual decoration of the complex. Separate architectural fragments, such as bases, Dorian capitals and a column fragment, were found during the excavations, but they are more of a votive function[4]. Due to the significant size of the building, as well as because of the thick layer of burnt wood just above the floor, D. Tsonchev suggested that the ceiling was made of wood.[5]

Batkun Obr 1 New

Fig. 1. The Shrine near Batkun, plan (Tsontchev 1941, 14, fig. 2)

The revered Asclepius bears the local Thracian name of Ζυλμυζδριηνος, written in different variants. The name is formed by the suffix for adjectives that denote the geographical origin ηνος[6] and probably comes from the name of the area, in which the complex is located or is probably derived from the name of a nearby settlement. Moreover various Greek liturgical epithets such as κύριος, lord,  (IGBulg III, 1, 1115+1116[7], 1118, 1122, 1132, 1156–1157, 1171–1172, 1175, 1180–1181, 1184, 1188–1189, 1200, 1223, 1227, 1232–1233, 1240–1242, 1248, 1250, 1267, 1281) and θεός, god (IGBulg III, 1, 1115–1117, 1179, 1260–1261) are widely used. There is also the combination θεος ἐπήκοος, listening to the prayers god (IGBulg III, 1, 1119, 1128, 1278). The adjective ἐπήκοος,  listening to the prayers, is also used independently (IGBulg III, 1, 1120, 1158). These adjectives are typical for the Thracian regions and  not limited only to Asclepius. The expression that is used rarely in Thrace is ἐπιφανέστατος θεός, the most distinguished god (IGBulg III, 1, 1126, 1134–1135(?), 1137–1138, 1140). The adjective σωτήρ, savior for Asclepius is typical for the Greek world and is used only once (IGBulg III, 1, 1174). The considerable variety of epithets used is to some extent due to the diverse ethnic and social origins of the devotees, the presence of people from the municipal aristocracy of Philipopolis, as well as of military men and veterans.

The health deities Asclepius, Hygia and Telesphorus are depicted according to the typical iconography of the Roman era. The healing god is portrayed as an old man with long hair and a beard standing upright. His characteristic symbol is a serpent-entwined rod that he wields. Sometimes Asclepius is depicted as sitting on a throne (IGBulg III, 1, 1166),[8] and once as  а horseman[9]. Hygia in all cases is represented very standardized in iconography – upright, opposite, wearing a long belted tunic, holding a libation bowl in her left hand (patera), while a snake is wrapped around her right hand. Telesphorus is presented in his typical low hood and wide cloak. The votive monuments with images of the Thracian horseman are very fragmented, but it is evident that almost all known iconographic types of the deity are depicted.

The devotees that used to visit the shrine were of very diverse social and ethnic background. The persons with Thracian names and possibly of Thracian origin are very well represented (IGBulg III, 1, 1116, 1118, 1166, 1187–1188, 1190, 1197, 1199, 1201, 1204, 1210). Greek and Roman names are also widespread often in combination withThracian names (IGBulg III, 1, 117, 1122, 1126, 1129,1145–1146, 1167–1168,  1189, 1211–1212, 1216 and others).

The earlier attested devotee is strategus (IGBulg III, 1, 1115+1116[10]). Representatives of the municipal aristocracy, probably from Philippopolis are four councillors (βουλευταί) one of whom is also a senator (γερουσιαστής) (IGBulg III, 1, 1123, 1133, 1143, 1150+1151[11]). Two of the followers held the position of Thracarch(IGBulg III, 1, 1183[12]). The first of them is a ducenary and warden of temple (νεωκόρος) of the Thrace province. The other individuals for whom we have available information had pursued a military career. Two of them are centurions (IGBulg III, 1, 1126–1127), one praetorian (IGBulg III, 1, 1220), two of them are beneficiarii (IGBulg III, 1, 1129, 1152), one is in military service (IGBulg III, 1, 1206), and a veteran (IGBulg III, 1, 1214).

The dating of the shrine is not entirely defined and remains unclear. The researcher of the compex D. Tsonchev dates it back to the second half of the 1st c. AD, and its destruction – at the end of the 4th c. AD.[13] Afterwards the possibility of the existence of the complex in the pre-Roman era was also admitted[14],but there is no concrete evidence of this at the moment.[15] The earliest monument is a dedication to Asclepius, made by the commander (στρατηγός) Dizala, son of Cotis, and the people around his brother Roimos, dating back to one of the consulates of Emperor Trajan (IGBulg III, 1, 1116+1115) – т. е. during 100, 101, 103 or112 г. the idea of N. Sharankov that the monument in question is connected with the actual foundation of the shrine is complete acceptable.[16]

Coins discovered during the excavations are of special importance for establishing the time of the compex’s demise. They are relatively few compared to those of other Thracian shrines – only twenty-one and only half of them are legible. The earliest coin is from the time of Antoninus Pius (discovered before the research), and the next one dates back hardly to the time of Emperor Tacitus.  All the others are from the 4th c. A – one is of Maximian Herculius and Constantine I, four by Constantius II and one for each Constantius Gallus and Theodosius I.[17] The latest coin is that of Theodosius I and marks the destruction of the complex. This was done violently and was accompanied by arson, as evidenced by the 0.20 to 0.50 m. thick burned layer lying just above the floor.[18] The votive monuments were deliberately broken, smashed into small pieces and scattered around the complex, which leads us to believe the existence of a targeted anti-pagan campaign aimed at radically erasing one of the most popular cults in Thrace.

At the end of the 4th c. AD, the pagan religious worship celebrated in Batkun was ceased. There are no preserved archeological materials from the early Byzantine era or from the Middle Ages to indicate the preservation of the old pagan tradition or its reogarnization in a christian way.


[1] Dumont 1892, 218–219, 323–324, nos 5–7, 329, nos 24–24a; Добруски 1896, 427–428; Захариев 1975, 59–60.

[2] Tsontchev 1941, 14.

[3] Zontschew 1940, 82–84; Tsontchev 1941, 11–16. During my visit in the region in March 2017, the spring had become dry.

[4] Tsontchev 1941, 67–68.

[5] Tsontchev 1941, 16.

[6] Гълъбов 1964, 35.

[7] Шаранков 2015, 71–72.

[8] Tsontchev 1941, 32–35, nos 1–12.

[9] Tsontchev 1941, 42, no. 1.

[10] Шаранков 2015, 71–72.

[11] Шаранков 1999, 84–85.

[12] Sharankov 2005, 68.

[13] Tsontchev 1941, 75.

[14] Дончева 2007, 194.

[15] Вълчев 2015, 163.

[16] Шаранков 2015, 71–73.

[17] Добруски 1907, 89; Tsontchev, 1941, 72–75.

[18] Tsontchev 1941, 16.


IGBulg III, 1 = Mihailov, G. (1961) Inscriptiones Graecae in Bulgaria repertae. Vol. III, 1. Territorium Philippopolis (Serdicae).

Secondary Sources

Вълчев, И. (2015) Извънградските светилища в римската провинция Тракия (IIV век) (София)/ Valchev, I. (2015) Izvangradskite svetilishta v rimskata provincia Trakia (I–IV vek) (Sofia). 

Гълъбов, И. (1964) „Тракийските имена на -ηνος, -ανος и техните проблеми,“ Известия на Института за български език 10, 3–64/ (Galabov, I. (1964) “Trakiyskite imena na -ηνος, -ανος i tehnite problemi,” Izvestia na Instituta za balgarski ezik 10, 3–64).

Добруски, В. (1896) „Материали по археологията на България,“ Сборник за народни умотворения, наука и книжнина 13, 398–442/ (Dobruski, V. (1896) “Materiali po arheologiata na Bulgaria,” Sbornik za narodni umotvorenia, nauka i knizhnina 13, 398–442).

Добруски, В. (1907) „Други паметници по култа на Асклепия в Тракия,“ Археологически известия на Народния музей І, 87–98/ Dobruski, V. (1907) “Drugi pametnici po kulta na Asklepiya v Trakia,” Arheologicheski izvestia na Narodnia muzey I, 87–98).  

Дончева, И. (2007) „Тракийското светилище при Баткун,“ Societas classica. Култури и религии на Балканите, в Средиземноморието и Изтока ІІ, 167–215/ (Doncheva, I. (2007) “Trakiyskoto svetilishte pri Batkun,” Societas classica. Kulturi i religii na Balkanite, v Sredizemnomorieto i Iztoka II, 167–215).

Захариев, С. (1975) Географико-историко-статистическо описание на Татар-пазарджишката кааза (София)/ (Zahariev, S. (1975) Geografiko-istoriko-statistichesko opisanie na Tatar-pazardzhishka kaaza (Sofia).  

Шаранков, Н. (1999) „Два надписа с името на Аврелий Асклепиодот (IGBulg V, №5463 и IGBulg III, 1, №1150+№1151),“ Археология XL, 3–4, 84–85/ (Sharankov, N. (1999) “Dva nadpisa s imeto na Avreliy Asklepiodot (IGBulg V, №5463 i IGBulg III, 1, №1150+№1151),” Arheologia XL, 3–4, 84–85). 

Шаранков, Н. (2015) „Нови данни за тракийските стратези,“ Археология LVI, 1–2, 62–78/ Sharankov, N. (2015) “Novi danni za trakiyskite stratezi,” Arheologia LVI, 1–2, 62–78). 

Dumont, A. (1892) Mélanges d’archéologie et d’épigraphie, réunis par Th. Homolle (Paris).

Sharankov, N. (2005) “Statue-bases with Honorific Inscriptions from Philippopolis,” Archaeologia Bulgarica IX, 2, 55–71. 

Tsontchev, D. (1941) Le sanctuaire thrace près du village de Batkoun (Sofia).

Zontschew, D. (1940) “Das thrakische Heiligtum von Batkun,” Wiener Jahreshefte 32, 82–106.


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