Archaeologists in Bulgaria have discovered an unusual and extravagant 3rd century CE tomb which they believe may hold the remains of Roman Emperor Philip I the Arab. The tomb was discovered hidden beneath the Maltepe Mound, which, to date, is the most enormous Thracian burial mound that archaeologists have ever unearthed in Bulgaria.
As Archaeology in Bulgaria reports, the tomb, which may be the final resting place of Philip I the Arab, was built in the shape of a Middle Eastern ziggurat and was initially discovered during excavation of the Thracian burial mound that took place in 2018.
At first glance, archaeologists had measured the building beneath the mound at seven meters wide by seven meters long, and surmised that it could be the tomb of an ancient Thracian aristocrat, judging from the building’s design.
However, ongoing excavation later revealed that the tomb was actually closer to 20 meters wide, and ended up looking more like tower tombs in places like Petra, Jordan, and Palmyra, Syria. According to Kostadin Kisyov, Director of the Museum of Archaeology in Plovdiv, tower tombs and ziggurat designs are not normally designs that you would see Thracians building, which suggested that this very unique design might have been concocted to house Roman Emperor Philip I the Arab in the afterlife.
“I claim to know well the Ancient Greek (Hellenic), Macedon, Thracian cultures throughout their different time periods. I have worked on archaeological sites in Bulgaria and other countries, and my specialty is the burial practices of the Thracians and Antiquity burial practices in general. The burial mound and the tomb itself are so grandiose that they have no analogies in Europe.”
Kisyov explained that the archaeologists decided to begin their excavations at the very top of the Maltepe Mound to prevent tomb robbers from plundering treasures beneath, as treasure hunters had already dug a pit at the site.
“I wanted to study the top of the mound first because of the treasure hunters’ pit. We had to make sure whether it was indeed a pit dug by treasure hunters, or whether the soil might have just collapsed since there were stories told in the town of Manole that there used to be an ancient tomb there that had collapsed. Plus, from some of my geophysicist colleagues, I had learned that the military used to dig trenches on top of some of the Ancient Thracian burial mounds in order to install anti-missile complexes there.”
On top of the tomb were once statues, or perhaps a group of different statues, but none of these have remained, and no traces of them have been recovered yet. Kisyov believes that Christians may have demolished this area or that the statues may have been destroyed at the time of the Gothic invasions, but tomb robbers have already made it to this point beneath the burial mound, so it’s certainly possible that any remaining statues may have been looted.
With excavation work continuing at the Maltepe Mound in Bulgaria, archaeologists should be able to discover if Roman Emperor Philip I the Arab is buried inside the tower tomb beneath the mound, or whether perhaps it turns out to be someone who worked for him.