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A mystery about a mystery!


We know what this is, but we don't know much about what such pieces were used for and what the formal content  means.


This lead plaque which is 77mm x 77mm and weighs 75.6g is an object referred to as a mystery cult plaque if the Danubian Horsemen. But information about such things is sparse indeed.

I have not been able to find anything online.

Over to you!



  COMMENT BY: attalos 15 Feb  2005



An example similar to your one (9x7.5 cm) was sold by Gorny & Mosch (Giessener Muenzhandlung), auction 111, october 16th 2001, lot nr. 3454.


In the upper portion of the plaque we can see the personification of the moon (left) and the sun (right). Two snakes below: snakes are usually connected to the concept of immortality.


In the middle Helen surrounded by the Dioscuri (i.e. Castor and Pollux). Both the Dioscuri are represented as the "Danubian horseman". Lying figures below the Dioscuri; under Helen's feet on other examples you can clearly see a tripod.


The Thracian (Danubian) pantheon is very complex and we lack precise historical information: we can only rely upon Graeco-Roman sources (which of course "translate" those gods into the Graeco-Roman pantheon) and archaeological evidence.


For example the Danubian horseman was interpreted by modern scholars as Apollo, Zamolxis, the ancestors' divinity and so on; when there are two horsemen some scholars think they are the Dioscuri.


The figure I said to be Helen  (the way she is described in Gorny's catalogue), is, for others, Bendis: which would make more sense, but I would expect to see the goddess holding a bow and spears. In a period of strong religious syncretism, representations of (the same) divinity is influenced by local cults.


As far as I know, lead plaques were not found in sacred areas (no archaeological evidence of a temple or an altar): therefore scholars tend to think that they were "amulets", and not votive offerings. Date: II-III century A.D




Some bibliography:

- S. Rinaldi Tufi, I cavalieri danubiani e i loro misteri, in I Daci, Catalogue of the exhibition, Milan 1997, pp. 90-91. (brief survey; I have this catalogue at home; if you can read Italian I can send you a photocopy, pages are too big for my scanner)

- D. Tudor, Corpus Monumentorum Religionis Equitum Danuviorum, 2 vols., Leiden 1969-1976. (a corpus of the 232 known reliefs representing the Danubian horseman: most of them were found in Dacia, Moesia and Pannonia)

- V. Vasilev, Bronzene Matrizen aus Moesien und Thrakien(from Bulgaria we know various bronze matrixes used to create those plaques and/or ornamental patterns; a group of them was found in Abritus - actually in Razgard Historical Museum - and are dated to the II-III century AD.)

Two Lead Plaques with a Depiction of a Danubian Horseman from the Collection of the National Museum of the History of the Ukraine, "Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia" 10,1-2, 2004, pp. 67-76. (I do not have this article; but maybe from its notes we might learn something about the most recent scholarship!)

Thrace and the Thracians, ??? 1977. (I do not know where this book was printed, I only have the Italian edition: I Traci, Rome 1981; see chapter I about the Thracian pantheon)



       COMMENT BY: antoninus 5 March 2005


  • Each upper spandrel contains a Victory extending a laurel wreath towards the central displayed eagle, which clutches a globe. A palm frond extends outwards from the eagle, above each arch vault.
  • Within the curve of the left arch a bust of Luna right, on a crescent base and flanked on either side by an 8-pointed star.
  • Within the curve of the right arch a bust of Sol left, wearing a six-pointed sun crown and flanked on either side by an 8-pointed star.
  • Below Luna a horse rider advancing towards a central standing figure. Below Sol the same. Each rider wears a Thracian style helmet and a flowing cloak and carries a short upright spear or sword upon which is impaled an extended serpent. The central figure, facing right, wears a long chiton and peplos, has hair dressed in a bun at the rear and grasps the bridle of each horse.
  • Below the horseman to the left a cockerel faces right, its plumed tail feathers over-hanging a sun disk. Below the bird lies a prostrate figure, face down, wearing a long pleated chiton. A sacrificial knife protrudes from the base of its neck.
  • Below the horseman to the left there is a scorpion and sun disk and beneath them a second prostrate figure as above.
  • Centrally, beneath the standing figure and between the sacrifial victims, there is a triple- legged ara sacra, upon which lies a large scaly fish.




    By anoninus 7th March 2005


"Danubian Horsemen Mystery Plaques Revisited"


Introduction and Background


This thesis attempts to unravel an enigma which has intrigued scholars for more than a century - the 'mystery' portrayed on the ubiquitous lead plaques of the so-called "Danubian Horsemen". Although many words have already been written, much caution has precluded any meaningful interpretation of the symbols displayed on the plaques. What has been generally accepted is that they expressed the credo of a religious cult, active when the spiritual direction of the Roman Empire swayed in the balance.


Like Rome, religions were not built in a day. Both Christianity and Islam evolved from diverse beliefs which had slowly cross-pollinated over millennia. Similarly, in 'Thracian' realms a long-drawn cultural and religious evolution reached back far beyond the sixth century B.C. when Greek poets first drew from the shadows the mysterious "Hyperboreans" who lived 'beyond the North Wind' and the more proximate "Thracian Horsemen of the Sun".


These vaguely defined solar equestrians were almost certainly kin to other esoteric horse-cults along and north of the Danube, whose myths abound with ritual human sacrifice. Only the Haemus Mountains, the abode of Boreas the North Wind, stood between them and the city dwellers of Greece.


As such equestrian communities were habitually itinerant to ensure their large grazing herds prospered, any territorial demarkations remained fluid and frequently overlapped. Early Greek perceptions of the exact identities of shadowy nomadic horsemen moving across the northern fringes of their world may at best have been imprecise. 'Hyperborean', on the other hand, had long described far-off social groups in regular communion with the Greek priests of Apollo. That deity, having metamorphosed through numerous forms and attributes, finally emerged as the Lord of Spiritual Illumination, symbolised by the Sun. Significantly, the "Thracian Horsemen of the Sun" helped to bring about that result. Could the event have inspired the widely revered Balkans icon of Apollo enhorsed?


More to come!

This is a work in progress.



You can offer comments in the discussion forum!




9th August 07

It's generally thought that these are not faked.

However this pair turned up as from Bulgaria. 


   From antoninus


Dr. Roger Tomlin at Oxford did a quick survey of these pics and confirmed what I had suspected - they are NOT what they seem - possibly a Renaissance whimsy, or worse!


Their detail bears no real relation to the genuine article.   I have also come across some recent fakes - much more convincing ones, until the patinations rubbed off!!  



From Steve

22nd JAN 09

These fake horsemen cult plaques came from the seller Merima (Meri) that has been discussed on the forum recently. I thought they came from a better source but I found the receipt last week. I remember now that she said her father got them from an old collection. She added them as bonuses for buying a large amount and because she had sent me a group that had some fakes that I returned. She has a lot of real stuff mixed with fakes but she has newest fakes before anyone else. She also has good fakes of iron fibula.


More about Danubian horse rider plaques


And about fakes of this type of thing>>>HERE