7-Foot Hermes Statue Found in Ancient Roman Sewer

Bulgarian archaeologists unearthed the marble Greek god during excavation work on the former city of Heraclea Sintica.

Jul 9, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
The Hermes statue was found at the Heraclea Sintica archaeological site in Bulgaria. Source: Spasiyana Sergieva/Reuters.


While digging in an ancient Roman sewer, Bulgarian archaeologists unexpectedly found a seven-foot marble statue of the Greek god Hermes. The discovery was made during ongoing excavations at the Heraclea Sintica archaeological site in southwestern Bulgaria near the Greek border.


Hermes Statue Was Intentionally Buried in Sewer

Bulgarian archeologists with the Hermes statue. Source: Spasiyana Sergieva/Reuters.


Made of marble and standing nearly seven feet tall, the ancient Hermes statue was found to be in surprisingly good shape. “It’s head is preserved. It’s in very good condition. There are a few fractures on the hands,” said Dr. Lyudmil Vagalinski, who leads the team of archaeologists at Heraclea Sintica. The Hermes statue is presumably a Roman copy of an ancient Greek original.


Archaeologists believe the people of Heraclea Sintica buried the seven-foot statue after the Roman Empire officially adopted Christinaity in the 4th century. “Everything pagan was forbidden, and they joined the new ideology, but apparently, they took care of their old deities,” explained Vagalinski. The statue was carefully lowered into the sewers and covered with soil, which helped preserve it for centuries. Archaeologists are still in the process of recovering the Hermes statue. After its removal from the dirt, it will be taken to the History Museum in Petrich, Bulgaria.


The History of Heraclea Sintica

Heraclea Sintica archaeological site. Source: Petrich History Museum, Bulgaria.


Heraclea Sintica—also known as Heraclea Strymonike—was an ancient Roman city located in the modern-day village of Rupite, Bulgaria. King Philip II of Macedon founded the metropolis sometime between 356 and 339 B.C.E. Heraclea Sintica was a crucial urban settlement for the duration of the Roman Empire and into the early Byzantine era. However, an earthquake destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure around 425 C.E. Within fifty years of the quake, Heraclea Sintica had been abandoned.

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The ruins of Heraclea Sintica were discovered by accident in 2002, with excavations beginning in 2007. Archaeological evidence shows that, before the earthquake, the city had various public buildings and temples, including a theater and a forum. In addition to the marble Hermes statue, many well-preserved mosaics and inscriptions have been found at the Heraclea Sintica archaeological site.


Who Is the Greek God Hermes?

The winged sandals of Hermes, c. 19th-century plaster cast from 1st-century B.C.E. original. Source: Archaeological Museum, Pavia, Italy.


In Greek mythology, Hermes was the great messenger to the gods and the son of Zeus and Maia. Wearing winged sandals, Hermes flew between the heavens, the earth, and the underworld to deliver messages—and to make mischief. The ancient myth goes that, as a baby, Hermes managed to steal a herd of fifty sacred cattle from his half-brother Apollo. As one of the twelve gods of Mount Olympus, Hermes appears frequently in ancient Greek, Roman, and Classical art. Hermes came to be associated with trade because of his unusual ability to quickly cross between divine and human realms. He was also considered a protector of messengers, travelers, merchants, orators, and thieves.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.