I. The discovery of Pliska
The name Pliska is Slavic in origin. According to the linguists it is cognate with the Old Russian word pleso, pljos, meaning 'a lake, a swamp'. Probably the Slavs had given this name to the drained nowadays swamp near the town of Kaspichan or to some of the rivers running earby. Similar names are known throughout the Slavic area. Even now, there is a small town called Pliskov in Central Ukraine, in the Vinicka district. This town is situated at the border between two archaeological cultures of the VI-VII c. AD, which are connected with the early Slavs the Penkovo and the Prague-Korchak. [---> Comments on the Slavic etymology of Pliska]
Pliska (under the form of Plyuska) is mentioned for the last time in
the Bulgarian Apocriphal Chronicle of the XI c. Notwithstanding the fact that
import historical events occurred in its vicinity at the time of the Second
Bulgarian Empire, its name does not appear in either Bulgarian or foreign
sources. But the name was not forgotten, it was even known in Western Europe. It
appeared for the first time on a geographical map printed in 1688 AD in
Amsterdam. A little bit later it appeared on other Western European maps. It is
unlikely that anybody back then knew what this old town looked like or where it
was situated. Western European travellers had limited access to the then Ottoman
Empire, and Pliska was situated along a rarely used by them road. The German
traveller Karsten Nibur passed through these places in 1767 AD and heard that
near the town of Novi Pazar there were ruins of a large town, but he could not
visit the site and did not know its name. In 1878 AD the Hungarian Felix Kanic
inspected the ruins, managed to read the name 'Burdizo' on a half-buried stone
column and assumed that this was the name of the town. This uncertainty was due
to the fact that Aboba the name of the small Turko-Tatar village that was
established at the site the XVII c. had no connection with the name of the long
abandoned and forgotten town. Only in 1884 AD, during his big tour of Bulgaria,
the Czech historian Constantine Irechek realised that the ruins next to the
village of Aboba were remains of the town of Pliskova, mentioned by
Byzantine chroniclers of the X-XI c. AD .
|+ Ka(n)a subi-
s ton pole-
on ukon a-
is ton Danoub-
hn k(e) anamesa
ton duo uko(n)
sas is tin auth(n) meshn e-
puisa toumban ke
apo tin auth(n) meshn
ths toumbas eos thn auli(n)
mou thn arcea(n) isin orghe
muriades b| k(e) epi ton D-
anoubin ishn orgies muriades b|. to auto toubi(n)
estin panfumo(n) k(e) metrisa(n)-
tes tin gin epuisa ta grama-
ta tauta. o anqropos k(e) k-
ala zon apoqniski ke al-
os genate ke ina o escaton gh-
nometos tauta qeoron upomnh-
skete ton puisanta auto. to de d-
noma tou arcontos esthn W-
mortag kan<n>a subigh o Q(eo)s a-
zhosi auton zise et-
h r| .
|"Kanasubigi Omortag, inhabiting his old home, made a famous home at the Danube and in the middle between these famous homes, after he took measurements, he made a mound, and from the middle of this mound to my old palace it is 20,000 measures and to the Danube it is another 20,000 measures. The mound itself is famous and after I measured the land, I made this inscription. A man even if he lives well, dies and another is born. Let the one born later, when looking at this inscription, remembers the one who made it. And the name of the archon is Omortag kana subugi. Let God grants him to live for a hundred years."
In June 1899 F. Uspenskij, accompanied by his assistant M. Popruzhenko, arrived in Bulgaria in order to select a place for the sponsored by his institute excavations. The Bulgarian Ministry of Education on its part dispatched K. Skorpil and the historian V.N. Zlatarski and this four-men commission left for Aboba. There Skorpil presented his arguments in detail. They were accepted by the rest of the commission as worthy an excavation. The arguments were repeated publicly a little bit later by V. Zlatarski at an archaeological congress in Kiev .
The excavations started on October 6, 1899, with 20 workers. Their number
increased to 35 by the end of the season. A mound of ruins, called "Sarajeri"
("Palace") by the local Turkish population was excavated. On October 16, 10
workers were send to start digs at the locality "Klise-eri" ("Church").
Skorpil's feeling of the site allowed him to select the two most significant
monuments of Pliska, designated as early as then as the Throne Palace and
the Large Basilica. The results were surprising and impressive. The
excavated buildings, despite the destruction, were so impressive, that initially
F. Uspenskij thought they were not Bulgarian, but Byzantine. The excavations
continued in 1900, when the work on the localities from the previous year was
finished and new, partial excavations of the stone fortress and of buildings to
the west and to the north of the palace were initiated. A large pagan temple,
converted consequently into a church, and two buildings, described as the living
quarters of a palace were discovered. The massive stone walls, built of large
ashlars, the layout of the buildings as well as the artefacts did not leave
space for doubt this was the capital of Bulgaria from the pagan period. Its
name, however, was not revealed. Was it unknown to the sources or was it indeed
the mentioned in X-XI c. sources 'Pliskova'? The excavations could not answer
Wmortag is tin
gin opou egeniqin,
ek Qeou arcon estin.
is tis Plskas
ton kanpon me-
nonta epuisen aulin
is tin toutzan ke me[tigagen
tin dunamin tou [is tous
Grukos ke sklabous ke
tecneos epuisen gefu[ran
is tin Toutzan me to aulin
stulous tesaris ke e[pano ton
stulon estisen leon[tas
duo. o Qeos axiosi ton ek Qeou a-
contan me ton poda aoutou
ton basilea kalo[patounta, eos tre-
ci h Toutza ke eos [----
tous polous Boulgaris epecoun[ta,
tous ecqrous autou upotasonta ce-
ronta ke agaliomenos zisin
eti ekaton. ito de o keros, otan
ektistan, boulgaristi sigor elem,
grikisti indiktionos ie| .
|"Kanasubigi Omortag is by God ruler of the land he was
born in. Living in the camp of Pliska, he built a small camp on (the river
of) Ticha and moved his army there against Greeks and Slavs [*]. And he
skilfully made a bridge over Ticha together with the small camp and he put
four columns in this small camp, and on top of the columns - two lions.
Let God grant the archon placed by God to trample well with his feet the
emperor until Ticha flows and until ..., as he rules over the many
Bulgarians and subjugates his enemies, to live in happiness and joy for a
hundred years. The time when this was built was in Bulgarian shigor elem,
and in Greek - indiction 15."
[* Omurtag, who kept a 'deep' peace with the Byzantines (see the 30-year peace treaty from Sechishte/ Sjulejmankjoj), probably has in mind Thomas the Slav, the Byzantine rebel who proclaimed himself an emperor. Later, Omurtag defeated Thomas near Constantinople]
Karel Skorpil had a real archaeological discovery on his hands. It was not
incidental, but deliberate, the fruit of a long period of preliminary work. In
some aspects it mirrors some of the discoveries of the European archaeology in
the Asia Minor, the Near East and Egypt.
1. For a review of the excavations at Pliska see BESHEVLIEV, V. Iz kusno-antichnata i srednovekovnata geografiya na Severoiztochna Bulgariya. IAI XXV, 1962, p. 1-18.
2. SKORPIL H. and K. Mogili, Plovdiv 1898, p. 153.
3. ZLATARSKI V.N. Gde nuzhno iskat pervuyu bolgarskuyu stolicu Trudy XI Arheologicheskogo suezda v Kieve 1899 g. T. II. Protokoly. M., 1902, p. 116-118.
4. Izvestiya Russkogo arheologicheskogo instituta v Konstantinopole. T. X, 1905.