The Shrine of Zeus and Hera near the village of Kopilovtsi, Kuystendil district

The Shrine of Zeus and Hera near the village of Kopilovtsi, Kuystendil district

Ivan Valchev


Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski "                                                                         DOI                                              
Archaeology Department 20 June 2020    
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Abstract: The shrine of Zeus and Hera near Kopilovtsi is located in the hinterland of Pautalia and served mainly the religious needs of the urban population. The architectural design of the complex consists of three separate temples and has no other equivalent in the Thracian lands. The time of the shrine’s construction is still debatable; probably it was built in the middle or the second half of the 1st c. AD, but at least one of the temples was built around the middle of the 2nd c. AD. The religious center had functioned intensively until the very end of the 4th c. AD, when it has been forcibly destroyed. 

Key words: Shrine, Zeus, Hera, Pagan Religion


The shrine of Zeus and Hera is located in the area of Mangaritsa, about 1 km southeast of the village of Kopilovtsi in Kyustendil region.[1] The worship center is located directly in the hinterland of Pautalia. Its distance from the city is about 5-6 km and probably a path that led to the road to Serdica was located nearby. The area itself is flat and open while we are certain that its three monumental temples were clearly visible to travelers between Pautalia and Serdica.

Traces of the shrine were located during the extraction of stones in 1909, when two busts of monumental statues of Zeus and Hera were accidentally discovered. Subsequently, archeological excavations were carried out.

During the research, three two-part buildings with a rectangular design and north-south orientation were discovered. The presented reconstruction of building B as a temple with four columns on the facade is not very convincing.[2] It is more likely that buildings A and B were fortified temples that consisted of a vestibule, a nave and probably four columns on the facade. The reason for such a reconstruction is due to the fact that their vestibules end in a southern direction and consist of stable plinths, which are made of granite and sandstone blocks respectively. Probably these plinths served as stylobates for the columns and were forming their front facades. The buildings are made of quarry stones, bricks and are welded with mortar. The smallest one is the eastern building C (7.40 x 11.20 m). West of it is located Building B (16.50 x 10.20 m). The building that is situated further in the west is Building A, which has dimensions close to those of Building B (not mentioned in the publications). Moreover, fragments of the architectural decorations such as trunks, columns and Corinthian capitals were found in the embankment.[3].Based on the differences of the construction materials, V. Katsarova assumes that the buildings have undergone certain repairs and reconstructions, however the dating of these changes cannot be clarified.[4]

Kopilovtsi Obr 1

Fig. 1. The Shrine nearKopilovtsi, plan (Кацаров 1914, 85, fig. 54)


The revered Gods of the shrine Zeus and Hera bear the local Thracian epithet Καριστορηνοι (IGBulg IV, 2150–2153, 2155–2157, 2160), this epithet is always used in the plural while both of the deities are represented in a relief. There is a dedication made in Latin to Iupiter Optimus Maximus Caristorenus.[5] The epithet is formed by the suffix –ηνος and probably as G. Mihailov suggests, comes from the name of the place where the shrine is located or from a nearby village.[6] Some of the revered deities also bear the Greek liturgical epithet κύριοι, lords (IGBulg IV, 2158, 2161–2162, 2170).

In the most monuments of Zeus and Hera the two gods are represented in an iconography typical of the Roman era. Zeus is standing upright, opposite, with long hair and beard, dressed only with a mantle (himation) leaving his chest bare. He holds a vial in his lowered right hand and a scepter in his raised left hand. Hera also has an upright stance, wearing a long belt, sometimes has a veil on her head and holds a libation bowl (patera) and a staff. Both of these monumental statues probably belonged to the aforementioned iconographic design, but only the busts of the deities and their left hands with a part of the staffs are preserved.[7] Images of two horses without riders can be seen on a fragment of a votive table – probably Zeus and Here were represented on a chariot.[8]

Data on the ethnic and social origins of the worshipers are very incomplete due to the fragmented monuments. Nonetheless the recorded individuals bear Thracian names (IGBulg IV, 2151, 2153, 2177), as well as Greek and roman names (IGBulg IV, 2150, 2154, 2161, 2173, 2175–2176, 2178). We have very limited data on the social origin of the worshipers – one is a councilor (βουλευτής) (IGBulg IV, 2181) and one is a priest or high-priest (IGBulg IV, 2152). Boris Gerov accepts that most of the worshipers were residents of Pautalia,[9] something which is quite acceptable if we take into consideration the proximity of the city and at the same time the lack of other settlements near the shrine.

The abundant numismatic material, which was found during the excavations of the shrine makes it possible to determine with some accuracy the chronological framework of its existence. The earliest discovered coin comes from the time of Emperor Claudius, and a coin of Vespasian dates back to the 1st c. AD. Placing the aforementioned dating limit before the imposition of Roman rule over Thrace or during the years immediately after that depending only on these is uncertain. A significant number of coins comes back from the beginning of the 2nd c. AD testifying the intensive function of the shrine during that period. The construction of monumental religious buildings dates back to the 2nd c. AD. The latest possible date can be considered the era of Marcus Aurelius, in which the two busts of monumental statues of Zeus and Hera come from[10] and clearly at least one building was already in use.

The scientific literature suggests that the shrine was damaged during the alleged anti-pagan campaign in the diocese of Dacia during 330-331. The only argument in support of this claim is the fact that only one coin from Julian’s era is found in the complex, while in his  time the shrine probably would have been functioned actively. Therefore we assume that a serious violent act was initiated against the worship complex before 361.[11] At the same time however, coins of Constantine I, Constantine II, Constans and Constantius II – a total of 24 in number were removed without a comment.[12] Apart from that, broken votive monuments have been found among the temple ruin. During a destruction of the shrine before 361 and its restoration under Julian, the broken votive material would be collected, deposited and ritually buried as it was the usual practice[13], recorded in Thracian lands in the shrines of Apollo near Kran[14] or of Ἥρως Ἥφαιστος near Telerig.[15]

The latest coins that were found during the study of the shrine come from the era of Theodosius I (3 pieces) and Arcadius (2 pieces).[16] Compared with other shrines in Thrace, it can be assumed that this had been already destroyed by the end of the 4th c. AD, probably due to the anti-pagan measures of Theodosius However there is some reason to doubt that date due to the fact that unlike other examples of shrines from the Thracian lands, which are located mainly in places far from the cities, the shrine at Kopilovtsi is very close to Pautalia and to the main road of the region that is leading to the provincial capital of Inner Dacia, Serdica.


[1] To this day, no traces of the shrine have been preserved while near the place where it stood a monastery   has been built.

[2] Кацаров 1914, 85, image 54.

[3] Кацаров 1914, 86–88.

[4] Кацарова 2005, 165.

[5] Кацаров 1914, 98, № 28.

[6] IGBulg IV, p. 163–164.

[7] Кацаров 1914, 103, обр. 71–72.

[8] Кацаров 1914, 105, № 8.

[9] Геров 1961, 169, n. 13.

[10] Колева 2010, 99–101

[11] Стойчева 2007, 333.

[12] Кацаров 1914, 89. 

[13] Anghel 2007, 353–358.

[14] Табакова 1959, 97.

[15] Торбатов 2005, 85.

[16] Кацаров 1914, 89. The number of the coins from the both emperors probably is bigger becase the publication includes 250 unidentified coins from 4th century.


IGBulg IV = Mihailov, G. (1966) Inscriptiones graecae in Bulgaria repertae. Vol. IV. Inscriptiones in territorio Serdicensi et in vallibus Strymonis Nestique repertae (Serdicae).

Secandary Sources

Геров, Б. (1961) „Проучвания върху западнотракийските земи през римско време. I,“ Годишник на Софийския университет, Филологически факултет 54, 3, 153–407/ (Gerov, B. (1961) “Prouchvania varhu zapadnotrakiyskite zemi prez rimsko vreme. I,” Godishnik na Sofiyskia universitet, Filologicheski fakultet 54, 3, 153–407).

Кацаров, Г. (1914) „Светилище на Зевса и Хера при Копиловци (Кюстендилско),“ Известия на Българското археологическо дружество 4, 80–112/ (Katsarov, G. (1914) “Svetilishte na Zevsa i Hera pri Kopilovtsi (Kyustendilsko),” Izvestia na Balgarskoto arheologichesko druzhestvo 4, 80–112).

Кацарова, В. (2005) Пауталия и нейната територия през ІVI век (Велико Търново)/ (Katsarova, V. (2005) Pautalia i neinata teritoria prez I–VI vek (Veliko Tarnovo).

Колева, М. (2010) „Статуите на Зевс и Хера от светилището при с. Копиловци, Кюстендилска област. Иконография, стил и датиране,“ Известия на Исторически музей Кюстендил 15, 99–104/ (Koleva, M. (2010) “Statuite na Zevs i Hera ot svetilishteto pri s. Kopilovtsi, Kyustendilska oblast. Ikonografia, stil i datirane,” Izvestia na Istoricheski muzey – Kyustendil 15, 99–104).

Стойчева 2007  (2007) „За основаването на епископската катедра в Пауталия през IV в.,“ Известия на Исторически музей – Кюстендил 13, 331–344/ (2007) “Za osnovavaneto na episkopskata katedra v Pautalia prez IV v.,” Izvestia na Istoricheski muzey – Kyustendil 13, 331–344).

Табакова, Г. (1959) „Светилището на Аполон Зерденски при с. Крън, Старозагорско,“ Известия на Археологическия институт XXII, 97–110/ (Tabakova, G. (1959) “Svetilishteto na Apolon Zerdenski pri s. Kran, Starozagorsko,” Izvestia na Arheologicheskia institut XXII, 97–110).

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). 

Anghel, S. (2007) “Hiding and Protecting Statuary: A Late Antique Practice,” The Lower Danube in Antiquity (VI c BC – VI c AD) (Sofia), 353–360.


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