by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Christina Schlögl
December 7, 2017 – There are many different words to express one’s way of earning money. There is the awful American word “job”, which is used all over these days. Job once characterised a short-term engagement. And most of the time, “jobs” are indeed disposable, indifferent and, aside from the monthly pay slip, they are actually a waste of one’s time. I like the term “occupation” a bit more, the thing that occupies you. Every person needs to occupy themselves with something. How diligently they do it, is another story.
My favourite word though, is the German “Beruf”. It stems from “Berufung”, which translates to “calling” or “vocation”. Thus it refers to an inner calling we all bear within ourselves. One person might know what they are meant to be, starting in his or her early childhood, while another person might be looking for their true calling for their entire life. Ideally, this vocation, is closely tied to our life’s destiny. And when I look at what numismatics means to Dimitar Draganov, his vocation truly is what we would literally call a “Beruf”.
From school to numismatics
History, Literature, these are the subjects, Dimitar Draganov is already concerned with during his time at school. What else is he to do but study history and classic archaeology? In 1978, he finished his Master of Arts at the University of Veliko Tarnovo, which was only founded in 1963. (Unfortunately, I do not speak Bulgarian, which is why I am utterly grateful to Dimitar Draganov for providing me with many details from his life, which I would not have been able to research otherwise. The things he has told me have only heightened my respect for him. As a German, I can hardly imagine what kind of difficulties colleagues like him have to deal with in other countries – countries, where things are much harder than any of us in Germany could imagine.)
It was already during his time at university that he participated in digs in Kabyle, about 130 kilometres away. This excavation was one of the most fruitful ones in all of Bulgaria. The spectrum of finds reached from the Neolithic Age until the early Middle Ages. And certainly a lot of coins were found. Dimitar would already find the most coins as a student and his fellow students joked about him spotting more coins on the ground than any other member of the excavation team.
Of course this young student was fascinated by coins and he wanted to know more about them. But we are still in the 1970s and thus the times of the iron curtain. Bulgaria, too had a “wall” and there were firing orders at the border to Turkey and Greece, just like at any other front of the Cold War.
The wall implied a lack of numismatic literature, a great part of which could only be bought in foreign currency – and people rather invested that currency in other areas. How should Dimitar quench his thirst for knowledge? There was no training for numismatists in his home country. He was left with the few numismatic books, one could borrow from the Bulgarian libraries. And after he had read them all, Dimitar tried to get books via an international loaning system. He copied them before returning them.
Love overcomes all obstacles. And sometimes, obstacles even give wings to someone. Dimitar Draganov realised, what a wonderful, infinitely rich, unexhausted source the coins of the Ancient cities of Bulgaria were offering him. He was fascinated – a fascination that has shaped him until this day.
The Museum of Yambol
Directly after his graduation at the beginning of 1979, Dimitar Draganov started working at the Yambol History Museum as a numismatist and an archaeologist. He also supervised the coin finds of Kabyle, which found their place in the coin cabinet of the Yambol History Museum. The finds – especially the coins – from the excavations Kabyle, are an important part of the 90,000 plus objects, kept in the rooms of the museum today.
Dimitar Draganov dedicated all his energy to them. Almost on a daily basis, he would find new, unpublished types of coins, which demanded careful documentation. And while he fulfilled the daily museum tasks, he would write his doctoral thesis on the coins of Kabyle, which earned him his doctorate in 1968. In 1995, he came extraordinary professor, in 2007 he became full professor. And in 1995, merely in passing, the museum curator became the director of the museum.
These were fruitful years. Not only for the coin collection, which – due to the finds from Kabyle and numerous purchases – became the most important and comprehensive collection of coins minted in Kabyle.
Dimitar Draganov had succeeded in persuading an influential politician to grant him a metal detector for his research. Not an easy task in communist Bulgaria. But the currency was obtained and two metal detectors of the type “Coinmaster” were bought and delivered and thus the number of coin finds from the region of Kabyle rose exponentially.
The newly grown collection was the foundation of his dissertation from 1986, which was published as a monograph in Sofia in 1993. It was also appreciated abroad. Ulrike Peter wrote not only one, but two reviews.
Meanwhile, the Iron Curtain had fallen and thus a million possibilities suddenly existed for an adventurous, open, enthusiastic person like Dimitar Draganov. Firstly he enrolled his museum at ICOMON, the numismatic version of ICOM and thus a new world opened. A world of active colleagues who were more than happy to share their ideas and experiences with him.
In this manner, he managed to get eight Japanese volunteers to Yambol, via the Japan Overseas Corporation Volunteers, who helped him update the infrastructure of the museum to match the current standard. This entailed, just to name one example, modern geodetic equipment which allowed for archaeometric examinations in the entire region of Yambol. This painted an entirely new map of its archaeological past.
Incidentally, a precious by-product of this collaboration was the first Bulgarian book published in Japanese on the fortress of Yambol, which Dimitar Draganov supervised as editor.
The modernisation of the Yambol History Museum had included a set of computer- and photographic equipment. This was used in 1997 to create the first data bank to capture a Bulgarian museum’s objects. Dimitar Draganov was not the only one to be proud of this achievement. The ministry of culture organised a national conference to introduce the other Bulgarian museums to this innovation and to give an example for imitation.
Dimitar Draganov’s heart belongs to the imparting of knowledge, especially to lay people. He has organised more than 30 numismatic exhibitions in his life and he visited almost every important museum in Bulgaria and the neighbouring Romania with them. He founded the first Bulgarian museum newspaper, the “Yambol Museum Newsletter“, which came out every four months, supervised by Dimitar as editor in chief. This publication was later replaced by the collective Bulgarian “Bulgarian Museum Magazine“, also initiated by him.
Furthermore, Dimitar was a leading part of the first Bulgarian production of a multimedia film with archaeological content in 1998. He wrote the script and advised the responsible parties during the shoots.
Friendships in the international world of numismatics
In 1991, one year after the first democratic elections in Bulgaria, the XI International Numismatic Congress took place in Brussels, a perfect opportunity for Dimitar Draganov to finally meet all his colleagues from abroad. He made good use of this opportunity. He especially made quick acquaintance with his the British numismatists. Thus, Roger Bland invited him to join the Royal Numismatic Society as a fellow. Dimitar accepted joyously.
In 1993, he activated these contacts to organise a congress on the topic “Settlement life in ancient Thrace“, where many widely known foreign and Bulgarian researchers met for the first time. Obviously, there were also Western numismatists among them, like Francois de Callatay, David Guest, Nina Frolova and Oliver Picard. The conference papers were already published in the following year, with Dimitar Draganov as editor.
Also in 1993, Dimitar Draganov deepened his relationships to British scholars through a research scholarship at the Heberden Coin Room of the Oxford Ashmolean Museum. Of course he did not only study the coins of the Black Sea region while he was there. He also visited the British Museum and got to know and appreciate William Stancomb, who had accumulated the largest (foreign) collection of coins from the Black Sea region, which would later be published as the Sylloge volume of the British Museum. Numismatics made those two become personal friends, who visited each other repeatedly.
And he did not only make friends in Great Britain. He is a welcome guest at many international congresses. By now he has participated and given lectures at 35 international and national congresses. He has visited every International Numismatic Congress since 1991. Thus he has become one of the most important personalities of Bulgarian numismatics.
Over many years, he had a special connection to the German city of Saarbruecken, or – to put it more accurately – to the University of Saarbruecken, where I did my studies, too. He was the numismatist of the dig of Drama, which was supervised by Professor Jan Lichardus of Saarbruecken. I remember the stories of my fellow students from the prehistoric department, who had the privilege of participating in this excavation. (To my grief, I was not allowed to, myself.) They were amazed by the special atmosphere that was palpable at the digs in drama. They praised the Bulgarian hospitality and how friendly and cooperatively everyone treated each other.
The sad ending to a true love
In 1998, Dimitar Draganov had been honoured as the best museum curator in Bulgaria by the ministry of culture. Four years later, he quit his position as conservator of the Yambol History Museum. Usually, Dimitar only tells his closest friends, what had happened.
Everything was dependent on the plan for the Thracian autobahn. It was planned to pass by the Antique city walls of Kabyle in a very close distance. Dimitar feared for “his” excavation. He was afraid, the constant vibration caused by the heavy traffic would have negative long-term effects on the constitution of this wonderfully preserved excavation. The atmosphere in this wonderful archaeological zone, set in a nature reserve – that he knew – would certainly suffer under the pollution, the noise and the tremor. Thus he only saw one solution. The autobahn had to be relocated. It should make a big curve around the protected zone. Dimitar Draganov brought his concerns up to the top, up to the council of ministers. And they actually took his concern seriously. Following an order from the very top, the route of the autobahn was relocated several kilometres north, to an area of a neighbouring village.
This was much to the annoyance of the public administration of Yambol. Its politicians were outraged about the decision. Of course they quickly found out how this change had come about and found Dimitar Draganov as their scapegoat. He was their traitor, the man who had deprived Yambol of the lucrative business of the autobahn. He was to withdraw his protest! Dimitar was confronted with threats not only against his career, but also against his person. There could be no subject-specific or professional accusations to be made, but there would be other ways…
Dimitar could not square it with his conscience to keep working with such people, as if nothing had happened. And thus he quit his position as museum conservator of the Yambol History Museum, which he had turned into one of the most famous museums in Bulgaria.
Already on the next day, he was appointed head of the numismatic department of the Historic Regional Museum of Ruse.
After he had left, the old route for the Thracian autobahn was reactivated, so that it now passes within sight of the excavation. The archaeological museum even has its own exit. Time will show how much this will harm the excavation.
A new love: From Ruse to the Bobokovs
Thus Dimitar Draganov had returned to his old home. Certainly the coin collection in Ruse was not at all comparable to that of Yambol. This was an annoyance to the scholar Draganov, who loved creating his corpora with original material. Ruse had mostly Celtic imitations of coins of Philipp II and Alexander III. But shortly after Dimitar had taken office, something unforeseen happened, which would change his numismatic and private life for good.
Ruse is the head quarter of the Bulgarian oil company “Prista Oil”. This nationally active company was founded in 1993 by the brothers Atanas and Plamen Bobokov. Not only had they built one of the biggest oil companies in the world, but they also had accumulated a large collection of archaeological treasures of Bulgaria. There were thousands of coins among them. They approached Dimitar Draganov, asking him how they could best make their collection accessible to the public. And thus, the time had come for a great vision. His entire life, Dimitar had never been one for half-measures or compromise. He had dreamt of writing monographs on every single mint in Thrace and Moesia Inferior featuring all types of coins and die varieties. And he had wanted to found a museum that was exclusively specialised in coins, with a gigantic collection for him to work with for his studies. Now, one of the most comprehensive collections of coins from “his” field lay in front of him. He immediately recognised this as a great opportunity for numismatics. This collection could be the base for his monographs and for a national Bulgarian numismatic museum.
He explained to the Bobokov brothers, that, in a country where every small museum has its own archaeological section, it would make no sense to build another archaeological museum. But numismatics was underrepresented everywhere. Bulgaria had around 15 antique mints, which had produced thousands of different types of coins. They were entitled to a museum, were they not? Therefore one had to create a numismatic museum and extend its collection to the world’s largest collection of coins from the cities and kings of Thracia and Moesia Inferiors.
The Bobokov brothers listened to him and only a month later, they agreed and hired Dimitar Draganov to realise his ideas. A wonderful time of planning and buying began. In 2005, the Bobokov Brothers Foundation was founded. It was supposed run the museum. Dimitar Draganov became the foundation chairman. In 2008 the foundation received their official and guaranteed permission from the ministry of culture to build a numismatic museum. Thus the museum of the Bobokov brothers became the first private Bulgarian museum and Dimitar Draganov became its conservator. In 2009, the Bobokov foundation had the largest and most significant collection of mints from the cities of Deultum, Dionysopolis, Mesembria, Pautalia, Nikopolis ad Istros, Markianopolis, Apollonia Pontika, Hadrianopolis etc. It also has probably the best collection of coins from the Scythian and Thracian kings and dynasties.
And then came 2009 and the new law on the Protection of Cultural Property, which immediately made the private collecting of Antique objects in Bulgaria very disreputable and suspicious, if not completely impossible. Collectors were given a year to register their collections. Fearing reprisals, many of them renounced and smuggled their material out of their country or buried it in their front yard. Whoever has more than three unregistered ancient or medieval coins in Bulgaria today, is committing a crime. Since there are hardly any registered ancient or medieval coins in Bulgaria, the legal trade has basically stopped. This is a shame, because the collections of the Bobokov brothers cannot be extended any more.
Nonetheless, Dimitar Draganov constantly drives the museum’s design and structuring forward – by himself, without the help of any other numismatic colleagues. Meanwhile, a four-story building, built in 1900 has been bought. It is being rebuild as a museum. Dimitar has developed every detail himself. The tripartition of the museum was his idea. There is supposed to be one area for students, one for the typical audience, which introduces the different mints of Thracia and Moesia Inferiors in the style of a coin cabinet. The third part will be virtual and offer a lot of multimedia material, like films, some of them in 3D, interactive graphic interfaces and a temple of the goddess Iuno Moneta. Once the museum opens, it will be one of the most modern ones in all of Bulgaria.
Museum conservator, scholar and historic allrounder
It is impossible to pigeonhole Dimitar Draganov. He is one of those people, who impact and change everything they occupy themselves with. Everything interests them and they have a working knowledge of every field. Of course, Dimitar is a museum conservator, who has repeatedly exhibited objects for a public audience to give them the chance of learning and getting excited about numismatics. But he is also a scholar who has published six monographs and more than 100 articles in numismatic journals. He has participated in countless excavations and he has written a phantasy fiction novel together with his wife in his leisure time.
Dimitar Draganov is not a cushy person. He is someone who has a goal and strives to achieve it. He has no tolerance for indifference or aimlessness, because he burns for numismatics. It is his great love. For him, it is more important than private comfort and social status and it is beyond any compromise.
People like Dimitar Draganov make you wonder how they fit all the things, they have done into only one life. For them, numismatics is not a “job”, it is not an “occupation”. No, for Dimitar Draganov, numismatics is a “vocation”, a “Beruf” and a calling, his very own, most inner destiny.
Dimitar Draganov is the type of coin enthusiast, you will only find in our numismatic world. And on this note, dear Dimitar, congratulations on your 65th birthday. We are all looking forward to the many, many things, you are going to do for Bulgarian numismatics in the future.
To read the CoinsWeekly review of Dimitar Draganov’s book “The Coinage of the Scythian Kings in the West Pontic Area”, click here.
To have a look at the publications authored by Dimitar Draganov, go to his academia.edu profile.
There you can also download a short CV.