Ceramic pot with inscription from Capidava

Xth Century
burning, modeling, incision
height: 29 cm; max. diameter: 22 cm, base diameter: 1,5 cm


    Descovery year: 1967

    Texts: Dr. Eugen Silviu TEODOR; Photo: Marius AMARIE

    Maybe the oldest epigraphical certification of Romanian language

    At the end of the summer of 1967, two inhabitants of Topalu, Constanța County, were walking on the shore of Danube heading towards Cernavodă.  In the nearby of the roman fortress of Capidava, under the collapsed shore they found a jug almost intact lacking only the handlers and large parts of the neck. Once arrived in Constanța they went to the Museum of Archeology where they spread the word and handed the item over. Necessarily to remember, one of them was named Petre. The archeologist who published this unexpected discovery, Adrian Rădulescu (Pontica, 3, 1970), briefly mentioned what happened without exposing all the details of the story; yet we have the chance to understand whole story from Petre Diaconu’s autobiography which is partially reproduced in this catalog. At the end of archeological season in 1967 the pigs of the villagers from Capidava seized hold of the archeological sections, which they nuzzled until the shores collapsed, thus allowing the jug to roll towards the shore of Danube, where the villager Petre from Topalu found it. According to the standards of typology, the ceramic pot could fit in the category of amphora shaped jugs, of roman tradition, but which was produced most probably in the 10th century, in the second half more precisely. The roman garrison was withdrawn from the city at the beginning of the 7th century when the Roman-Byzantine Empire abandoned its Balkan territories in the hands of barbarians; on the grounds of the former garrison – a superb high cliff of Danube – settled peaceful inhabitants who lived in shabby huts under the Bulgarian authority. Subsequently to the fall of the First Bulgarian Empire, after 971, the lands became once more part of the Byzantine authority. This is the context in which the jug was produced because the technical details suggest a local replica of some luxurious products of the epoch. Even though the jug is broken it measures 29 cm in height, a maximum diameter of 22 cm and a core diameter of 11, 5 cm. The ceramic clay is sandy, of high quality, properly burned (though a small segment has a drying or baking deformation); the ceramic pot underwent a secondary burning process (i.e. after it had been produced, possibly in a fire), not very serious but on most of its surface, giving the illusion of a dark gray color, the original color being reddish-brown. At the date of publication A. Radulescu considered that the jug was produced on a slow wheel which was the most common mean of production at that time; yet this supposition was probably erroneous. Even though the marks of the wheel can barely be spotted (on lower segments though), the bilateral symmetry of the jug’s shape is way to precise for a product considered to be produced on a slow wheel. It is true, the incisions on the median side of the jug were drawn freehand – ones not very skillful, given the absence of a high speed wheel. Certainly it is unusual to deal with a ceramic pot produced on a high speed wheel but yet adorned with freehand horizontal incisions. Adrian Rădulescu also considered that this kind of container was usually enameled but in our case the situation didn’t occur. There is the possibility that the item was considered spoilage for some reason, therefore one of the apprentices might have been practicing his decorating and writing skills. The amphora shaped jug was not a rarity in that epoch, unusual being the decorative techniques. Immediately below the now broken neck were made by wavy incisions - a fashion of the time - four vertical panels, like metopes, on which groups of signs are displayed, with Greek letters, thus dividing the upper register of decoration in four quarters. According to A. Radulescu’s drawings, these quarters have the following writings: (1) ΜΘ, one letter under the other, meaning M (ήτηρ) Θ (εοῦ), respectively Mother of God (2) NH – to be read along the next text  - NHKO (3) KO – to be read in continuation of the earlier one – NHKO (victory?) (4) [A symbol (boot?)]. If the first pair of symbols doesn’t represent a problem, being usual epigraphy at the end of antiquity and the early medieval era, containing indubitable Christian symbols, the other groupings raise problems of interpretation. A possible reading might be NIKA – „victory (through faith)”, but it raises a double spelling error; the first mistake might be the replacement of I with H (eta, which was pronounced as „I” during those days), which would have been an usual mistake for someone who’s native language doesn’t make a difference between the short and long vowels (likewise the Romanian language); for the second mistake, Omicron instead of Alpha, Emilian Popescu (IGL 228) proposed to be read as Νικῶ (win [with the help of the Holy Cross]) but even know we might guess that the author of the inscription was not very skillful into Greek language, hence the replacement of Omicron with Omega. Besides the already mentioned inscriptions, containing Christian references, there is another horizontal engraving including the following text: first row: Ω Ψ Χ Φ Υ Τ Σ Ρ Π Ο Ξ Ν Μ Λ Κ •Ι• Θ: Η Ζ Ε: second row Δ Γ Β Α ‘Π Ε Τ Ρ Ε. The jug contains the Greek alphabet, the letters being curiously disposed inverse, from Omega to Alpha. Taking into consideration the symbolical meaning of these letters (Jesus Christ who is the begging and the end of all things) it can’t be anything else than a mystical meaning. The Alphabet is missing only the letter “Eta” (written in red color) as result of negligence (the author of the inscription made use of the letter even thou making a mistake). Between the letters there are used, here and there, punctuation marks known in the epigraphic system of that time, respectively the period mark written to the left and the right of the letter “Iota”. These marks were used in the past in order to separate the words to each other but which in the 9th and 10th century were written together with the letter I, on the monuments of the First Bulgarian Empire; another significant detail is the use of the double periods (two dots) after the letters Tau and Epsilon, which might be the result of a poor understanding of the Greek alphabet or it may contain mystical symbols still unidentified. Given the fact that the potter lacked the space to write the entire alphabet on a single row he engraved the last four letters on the second one then the author writes as natural from left to right – PETRE, which might be his name. This name is the reason the historians became extremely alert.  Why? The name belongs to the category of saint names, evoking the First Apostle the founder of the Church of the Eternal City – Rome, Saint Peter. The form of the name, however, is hardly derived from Greek, Πέτρε may be possibly for Πέτρος the vocative form, but a vocative form would be unusual for a Greek (Radulescu, 1970, 267). It seems that the only detail that the historians may have omitted so far is the possibility that Πετρε might be a vocative form, more precisely a invocation of the Saint Father of The Church –Peter the Apostle, protector of fishermen – absolutely normal for someone living in a village situated on the shore of Danube… It is so far uncertain whether in the Greek speaking Churches in the 10th century was practiced the invocation of the founder of the most powerful Christian Episcopate, of Rome, who was simultaneously the main rival of the Patriarchy of Constantinople; the inscription, most probably is executed by a layman. However the critics over the hypothesis that the one who engraved the jug might have been a Greek fluent speaker are still valid, taking into consideration the lack of knowledge of Greek orthography. The artisan could have been Slavic as well but he would signed his piece of work with name Petar or Piotr not Petre, which brings an unique consonance, characteristic only to Romanian names. Let’s review: a villager from Topalu named Petre founds a jug on the archeological section just abandoned by Petre Diaconu, the archeology born at Suneci, near Silistra and on the on thousand year’s old jug was written with Greek letters exactly their name – Peter. There is the possibility that this discovery might be the oldest written evidence of the archaic Romanian language. If God can speak from a burning bush lid by lightning, then surely He can dwell in the bazaar of coincidence.

    Fragments from Petre Diaconu’s autobiography

    “Everyone knows what Cocina means, but few know what Svineci means and even fewer what Doimuşlar, more precisely Domuşlar. Svineci, the Slavo-Bulgarian, means porky (characteristic to pigs) exactly what it means in Turkish Domuşlar. Therefore, I, Petre Diaconu, son of Nicolae Diaconu, authentic Romanian, and of Paraschiva, of Bulgarian origin and with a mixture of Greek blood, I was born in a village called Porcești (porky/of pig characteristics) which administratively belonged, in turn, to the municipalities of Cocina and Doimuşlar (i.e. Porcești / Purcareni in our daily Romanian language). Isn’t it weird and also picturesque? I was told by my mother that in the day of my birth, my grandfather gifted me with a sow also born on the same day, i.e. on September the 17th 1924. The sow gave birth in the following years to a herd of swine. I was about 6-7 years old and the owner of nearly 100 pigs, when suddenly, in a spring morning the grandfather commanded my mother to take care of my creatures from that point on; Velicu Jecoff was not willing to pay wages anymore to my swineherd. Hr was my swineherd because the pigs were all belonging to me. And if not, the he ought to sell them concluded my grandfather. My mother didn’t hesitate for a second. She sold all the pigs. Once she completed this task she briefly asked me: „What do you want me to do with the money?” I replied on the same manner: „Buy copper pots.” Even nowadays I can’t figure it out what was the meaning of my mother’s question neither of my answer. Certain thing was that she considered my wish for granted and in the following couple of days she stacked the house with pans, cups, kettles, brass pots, bowls, saucepan, lids, trays of different sizes, trays for jam cocking, water buckets, laundry boilers, all of brass. Every single dish was engraved with mark, P.D., which represented the initials of my name. I lost a herd of pigs, but now I became the owner of a true brass "arsenal". Unfortunately, in September 1940, when we "refugee", most of the dishes were left behind in Silistra. I took the rest of them with us in the Old Kingdom. Later, during the famine, 1945-1947, these brass pots turned out to be very useful. In order to survive we kept on selling them one by one until it was left only one, a laver, obviously engraved under its lip with the initials P.D., which I still keep in Bucharest. Every single time I see the laver engraved with the initials P.D. I don’t recall the brass pots scattered all over the house of my childhood but of the lost herd of swine because of my grandfather’s stubbornness. I should have resisted the disintegration of my herd. Very late I realized that the pig is my talisman especially in my restless career of archeology. I shall make myself clear with certain examples. One of the earliest fragments of pottery found at Păcuiul lui Soare, my archaeological camp is a glazed olive-green piece of pot and embellished with the representation of a wild boar. In addition, from the fortress on the Păcuiul lui Soare Island to Silistra, the city of pupil childhood there are on the way of water 17 km, more precisely exactly the same distance from my birthplace, Suneci to Silistra, this time on foot. I published the thesis regarding the fragment in a magazine of specialty. Until now it is the oldest sample of glazed olive-green fragment with the representation of a pig. When proposed by my younger friend and colleague Marian Neagu, director of the Museum of Calarasi, in 1986 I took over the archaeological exploration on Grădiştea Coslogeni Ialomiţei Balta. Well, in that precise summer of that year it unearthed a skeleton of a pig, ritually sacrificed 3,000 years ago. It is the oldest pig on the territory of our country whose bones were discovered in anatomical position. During the 60’s, after I finished my archaeological explorations in Capidava a sow came after me and started to nuzzle exactly in the section I just left. And what exactly did she discover? A clay jug modeled in the 10th century, on which the potter signed himself with raw pasta with Greek characters. The 10th century potter was named Petre, just like me. The sow from Capidava had discovered within the sector I abandoned the oldest epigraphic document of Romanian language so far, represented by the name of ... Petre (Diaconu)".