Kovantzi Belts [Forged Belts]
In the Indo-European anthropomorphic concept of the universe, the belt defines the boundary between the upper and the lower part of the human body. In the Antiquity, it was among those apparel components that had the highest semiotic value. Receiving a belt was indicative of a status transition in both military initiation and mysteries. This element is a sign of a completed shift, probably due to the design on its own – both ends join and mark the end of a cycle by closing a circle. The belt was an essential attribute of female initiation, too – it was a sign of virginity. Our ancestors thought that it holds a magical power and protects the bride’s virginity from those evil powers that threaten her during the transitional instant of the wedding. Thus, the belt was unfastened at the end of the marriage ritual only.
The belt is also a characteristic accent in the clothing of Bulgarians. There are historical clues indicating that in early 7th century, Byzantine troops in Egypt wore specific belts called “Bulgarian”. They were a cavalry’s privilege. Pagan cult purpose or the amulet function of Bulgarian belts was the likely rationale behind Greek clergy’s insistence that Bulgarians must not wear belts while receiving the Holy Communion. It is known that this problem was included in the Bulgarian questions to Pope Nicholas I in 866 CE. In his answers, he rejected this proscription, as wearing a belt was implying chastity.
Bulgarian belt gear from the early Middle Ages comprised buckles, strap decorations, and endpieces. The fasteners are with a prong that fits through an eyelet (hole in the belt). They were widespread among both men and women. Conversely, during the Second Bulgarian Empire period, belts belonged very rarely to women’s attire. They were missing from peasant women’s clothing, too. Belts with metallic gear and buckles were used on isolated occasions in the aristocratic costume only.
Metal belts proliferate as an ornament in Bulgarian female apparel during the late Middle Ages and particularly during the Revival. This is the time of the Ottoman oppression, whose early stages are associated with various Oriental influences over Bulgarian metal crafts. Researchers are still unable to answer categorically to the questions linked with the origins of specific types of belts in Bulgarian women’s costume. For now, it could be admitted that they are an adapted Oriental tradition grafted into the Bulgarian lifestyle after the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria.
The millennial traditions, enriched with both Oriental and European art, inflamed their primitive vitality in the development of goldsmithing – a popular creative métier with a high level of professional specialization.
Silver is used in the making of metallic belts, preferably fineness 800 but most often low-mark (about fineness 500), which is called “lowly” or sachan.
Good specimens of kovantzi belts are less and less frequent on the market. The high-quality items have since long found their owners among private collectors and museums, and commercial transactions are rare.
On our market, kovantzi belts priced from €300 to €5,000 can be found.
This article was written by Vessela Tomalevska and Kiril Kiriakov, publishers of “Antiques Yearly”‑ the publication about Bulgarian antiques.