This is a story about a group of mysterious artifacts that were recently published in one Balkan metal detecting group online. The artifacts were found a few months ago in the mud of a river near Han, Croatia. The group consists of two pieces of a bronze belt and an intricately decorated vase. They are likely from a rich burial that was washed out by the river. However, what makes these objects so strange is that they appear to be Assyrian, which is not something that would be expected to be found deep in Croatian territory.
I spoke to the person who discovered the artifacts, and I believe that they are authentic. He told me that he has already contacted several museums, but they have not been able to provide any concrete answers, as they do not have experts who are qualified to assess artifacts from this unusual find.
However, I strongly believe that they might be Assyrian, and in the further text I will explain why.
The Symbolism of the Han Belt Buckles – Ring of Kingship
There is very little doubt that these objects have ancient Middle Eastern symbolism. For example, one of the belt buckles depicts a scene that is commonly associated with the bestowal of the ring of kingship. Some of the Middle Eastern cultures that had representations of the ring of kingship include: Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and even Egyptians.
The scene generally portrays a king receiving his legitimacy as a ruler from a deity in the presence of witnesses.
In the following image you can see these similarities. The first picture on the right represents Shapurdukhtak of Sakastan – “the queen of Saka”, receiving the ring from goddess Anahit. Below, on the left, there is an image of a Perisan king Ardashir I, receiving the ring from Ahura Mazda. And finally, in the last image, we see the same idea in the Egyptian relief – the pharaoh Sesostris I, with Horus receives ankh from Amon-Ra.
Given these similarities, we can hypothesize that the scene depicts the coronation of an unknown king, perhaps the very owner of the belt.
The Symbolism of the Han Belt Buckles – The Slaying of the Dragon
The second scene is equally interesting. It depicts another very common motif from this same region – the dragon slaying.
The ancient Mesopotamian epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, is one of the earliest known works of literature in human history. In one of the famous episodes, Gilgamesh and his companion, Enkidu, slay the demon known as Humbaba or Huwawa. Humbaba was a shape-shifter and as such sometimes depicted as a dragon, and sometimes in his humanoid form.
In the picture under the belt piece, you can see that even the position of the hands of both men flanking the monster is very similar. The same is true for their beards.
On the right there are two oher similar depictions from Mesopotamia and Assyria, believed to depict a god destroying a demon of chaos, which is also what Humbaba was.
From the information provided, it’s evident that the belt features symbols from the Middle East. However, it’s challenging to precisely identify the specific culture because many of these cultures frequently shared similar mythological themes and motifs.
Luckilly, these are not the only two objects discovered. And I believe that it is the vase that ponts to the Assyrian origin.
Pazuzu – The Assyrian Humbaba
Pazuzu is a demon or evil spirit that originated in ancient Mesopotamian mythology. It was probably developed later, from Humbaba, and under the influence of the Egyptian Bes. He is often depicted as a grotesque, winged creature with a combination of human and animal features. Pazuzu was considered a malevolent deity, and his primary role was to bring harm, particularly in the form of disease, to people.
Despite being a malevolent entity, Pazuzu was also believed to have protective qualities. In Mesopotamian beliefs, he was sometimes invoked to ward off other evil spirits and demons, essentially acting as a counterforce to protect against supernatural threats. His image and amulets bearing his likeness were used as protective charms by people to safeguard themselves from various misfortunes.
This images were mostly made from terracota, just like in the case of this vase. However, the Croatian figurine has eyes made of lapis lazuli – another indication of a kingly burrial. It’s role here was probably protective, as well as threatening.
The Flower of Anahita
And finally, the flower motif on this vase, also decorated with precious lapis lazuli, could perhaps be a lotus, a flower linked to goddess Anahita.
Anahita, also known as Anahit, is an ancient goddess who played a significant role in Persian and Zoroastrian mythology. She was primarily associated with water, fertility, and the nurturing aspects of the natural world. Anahita was a goddess of great importance in ancient Iran and held a revered position among the deities of the Zoroastrian pantheon.
And as we saw before, she was also associated with kingship, as she is the one who bestowes Shapurdukhtak of Sakastan with the power to rule.
From everything stated so far, it is clear that these object belong to the mythological realm of ancient Mesopotamia and Iran, and it is quite shocking that they were burried for centuries in the mud of a small Croatian river. However, there might be some historical pieces of this puzzle that can paint a clearer picture.
Asseria – an Ancient Megalithic City of Croatia
Located approximately 100 kilometers (equivalent to 62 miles) from the site where these artifacts were unearthed, there exists an ancient megalithic city referred to as Asseria. This name was recognized even in the era of Ancient Rome, although its exact antiquity remains uncertain. Nevertheless, it is evident that Asseria’s roots extend deeply into prehistory. This city served as the center of the Asseriati tribe, which, in turn, was a component of the broader collective known as the Liburnians.
Liburnians – Illyrians with Asian Minor origins
The Liburnians were an ancient Indo-European people who inhabited the coastal region of the northeastern Adriatic Sea, in what is now Croatia. Their territory stretched from the river Arsia (Raša) in Istria to the river Titius (Krka) in Dalmatia, and included the islands of Krk, Rab, Cres, Lošinj, and Pag.
Archaeologists believe that they settled in this area at least around the 10th century BC.
The Liburni were a seafaring people, and their ships were renowned for their speed and maneuverability. They were also skilled craftsmen and traders. The Liburnians were known for their distinctive pottery, jewelry, and weapons.
The Liburnians were first mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC. He described them as a fierce and independent people. The Liburnians often clashed with their neighbors, including the Romans. However, they were eventually conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC.
The origin of the Liburni is a matter of debate among scholars. Some scholars believe that the Liburni were native to the Adriatic region, while others believe that they migrated to the region from elsewhere.
One theory is that the Liburni migrated to the Adriatic region from Asia Minor. This theory is based on the claim that the Liburni were related to the Lukka (Lycia), an ancient people who lived in Asia Minor. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. The Liburni language is Indo-European, and their culture is similar to other Indo-European cultures in Europe.
However, the idea that Liburnian origins are in Asia minor was shared by some ancient Greek and Roman authors, as well as modern scholars. For example, Pliny the Elder stated: “Italicus excursus per Liburnos, quae gens Asiatica est, procedit in Dalmatiae pedem”.
Modern scholars often mention similarities with the division in municipalities, that was characteristic for ancient Lycia. Also, just like in Lycia, Liburnians had the main priest, “sacerdos ad aram Augusti Liburnorum” and the emperial cult. And finally, it seems that the matriarchat also played an important role, and in this regards, the similarities between the Liburnians, Etruscans and Asia Minor were noted already by Herodotus.
Iapydes – Illyrians with Asian origins
We saw that the connection between Liburnians and Lycia is often disputed by some scholars, and their main counter-argument is based on the language (of which only a few words and personal names are preserved). However, the city where these objects were discovered belongs to a larger region of Croatia known as Lika.
In ancient times, Lika was inhabited by Iapydes, another Illyrian tribe. They were the neighbours of the Liburnians. Little is known of Iapydes, and modern scolars often depict their territory inland, away from the coast. However, Iapydes were without a doubt also skilled sailours, as they founded Iapygia in the south-eastern Italian peninsula. In Iapygia, the Iapydes were known for their colorful and ornate clothing, which is similar to the traditional clothing of modern Balkan nations. This style of clothing is also common among other Slavic people, all the way to Russia, Ukraine, and other non-Slavic nations in Asia.
Most scholars would disagree, but perhaps there is a connection between Iapydes and Iazyges – a Sarmatian tribe that live around Danube river in Roman times.
Whoever made this ancient burial in Croatia did so in the period when the Illyrians rulled these lands. It is impossible to say whether these people came from the Middle East via Asia Minor, following the sea route, which would point to the Liburnian connection, or via land, which would perhaps point to the Sarmatian connection.
But the fact remains that there was once an Asseriati tribe in Illyria, and their city of Asseria. There is also a high probability that the toponyms Lycia in Asia Minor and Lika in Croatia are connected.
But perhaps the biggest problem is that nobody takes Slavic medieval scolars seriously. Virtually all of them claimed that the Slavs settled the Balkans and the Meditteranean region from Babylon, before spreading to the north of Europe during the Roman times. Could this theory explain why there are no traces of Middle Eastern languages in ancient Illyria?
I covered this topic in another article. See here.