An interesting archaeological find in Bulgaria this week gave new life to the discussion when the art of distilling became a thing in Europe. This part of an 11th century distillation vessel is the third piece of hard evidence from Bulgaria that it’s national drink rakia was around a few hundred years before the Western Europeans started distilling, which is believed to be in the 16th century. Most interesting statement in the discussion came from Bozhidar Dimitrov, historian and head of the National History Museum in Sofia, who stated in a press release that ‘Bulgarians are invincible as long as they drink rakia’.
To start with the latest finding. As archaeologists were doing excavation works at the medieval Lyutitsa fortress on the hill above the town Ivaylograd, they found a fragment of a distillation vessel. Further research showed this finding dated back from the 11th century, which made it the second uncovered vessel for the distillation of rakia from this age at this fortress and the third in Bulgaria. That third one was also found in a medieval defense building; the Drastar fortress in the town of Silistra.
That these oldest findings were all done in places that were used by the Bulgarians to guard their land seems no coincidence. A written Ottoman source from 1382 seems to prove that Bulgarian fighters in Medieval Times used to drink rakia before going into battle. After the military commander Lala Şahin Pasha suffered an humiliating defeat when trying to storm the fortress of Sofia he had to explain this to the Ottoman sultan. He stated: “Sofia was defended by tough men with moustaches, who drank rakia before the fight and thus became invincible.”
The story reminds a lot of the magic potion that kept the Gallic village of Asterix out of Roman hands. Museum director Dimitrov at least is convinced that his countrymen are also invincible in battle as long as they drink rakia. Bulgarian history however did take a sad turn as they were conquored by the Ottomans in 1396 and stayed under their occupation for almost 500 years. It’s unknown if the soldiers at the time ran out of rakia or someone suggested – God forbid – to fight sober for a change. Fact remains that one of the founding fathers of the Bulgarian uprising in the 19th century, Hristo Botev, was not only a skillful poet but also a huge drunkard.