Ancient Greeks in the Land of Dionysos – Excavation of Emporion Pistiros, Thrace, 2020 (Balkan Heritage/ Institute for Field Research)

COVID-19 NOTICE: Please be sure to reach out to the project contact to find out the status of their upcoming season. Many projects have cancelled fieldwork for 2020 and the information below may not reflect that.

This listing expired on December 31, 2020. Please contact for any updated information.

Location: 4490 Septemvri, Bulgaria

Season: July 20, 2020 to August 17, 2020

Session Dates: Two-week session 1: 20 July - 3 August, 2020; Two-week session 2: 3 - 17 August, 2020; Four-week session: 20 July - 17 August, 2020.

Application Deadline: June 10, 2020

Deadline Type: Rolling


Discount for AIA members: 5% discount off the regular admission fee (for applying directly through BHFS)

Program Type:
Field School, Volunteer

RPA Certified:

Balkan Heritage Foundation (Bulgaria), Institute for Field Research (USA), National Archaeological Institute, Museum at Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, “Prof. Mieczyslaw Domaradzki” Archaeological Museum in Septemvri and New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria);

Project Director:
Asst. Prof. Alexey Gotsev, (PhD in Archaeology) National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Visiting professors: Dr Jacqueline Christmas and Dr Judith Bannerman - College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, UK; Dr Lidia Domaradzka - Sofia University: Ass. Prof. Tzvete Lazova - New Bulgarian University; Gavrail Lazov (MA in Archaeology), Archaeologist and Museologist; Valentina Taneva (MA in Archaeology), Archaeologist and Numismatist; National Historical Museum, Pazardjik; Maya Nikolova, Pottery Conservator at the Archaeological Museum "Prof. M. Domaradski", Septemvri, Bulgaria;

Project Description:

The ruins of an Ancient Greek trade center (emporion) in the heart of Thrace – on the left bank of Maritsa River (ancient Hebros), between the towns of Vetren and Septemvri, were discovered by Prof. M. Domaradzki in 1988. He started regular excavations and in 1990, his team found a stone inscription (known as “Vetren inscription”) that helped the scholars identify the site as the Ancient Greek emporion named Pistiros. Merchants from Greek coastal cities of Maroneia, Thassos and Apollonia lived and traded there with their Thracian neighbors under the supreme protection of the Thracian Odrysian kings (the biggest and mightiest Thracian Kingdom at that time).

The emporion was also a major metallurgical center and a key harbor for export of metals and metal products from Thrace to Greece in the Classical and Early Hellenistic periods (from the middle of the 5th to the beginning of the 3rd century BCE). The trade contacts of the emporion are evident through finds of numerous imports such as Attic red-figured and black-slip pottery, amphorae (mainly Thassian) and coins (e.g. several hoards of copper, silver and gold coins found during the excavations – they represent the coinage of different Odrysian kings (e.g. Amatokos I, Bergaios, Kotys I, Amatokos II, Teres II, Kersebleptes, Teres II), Greek cities (Thassos, Maroneia, Parion, Thracian Chersonese, Enos, Apollonia, Messabria etc.) and Macedonian rulers (Philip II, Alexander the Great, Kassandros, Demetrios Poliokretes, Lysimachos etc.).

Most of the ancient authors and the majority of the modern scholars consider the cult of Dionysos rooted in Thrace. Apparently, it played a very important role in the emporion’s religious life. For instance the Vetren inscription informs about the oath taken in the name of Dionysos by the Odrysian king: Kotys I (383-359 BCE) and his successor from the citizens of Pistiros – this how they guaranteed the integrity of their lives, properties and activities in their town under the sovereignty of the Thracian kings.

So far, archaeologists have uncovered the eastern fortification wall of the emporion (having one gate, a tower, and a bastion – all built of stone blocks analogically to the Thassian fortification system), streets paved by stone plates, solid stone foundations of two buildings as well as an efficient drainage system. Buildings of different types are indicating at least two different chronological horizons of the site’s existence. The investigation of their characteristic features and shapes, as well as the emporion’s planning are among the major research questions concerning Pistiros, together with the following others:

  • what is the dynamic of architectural evolution of the settlement following the disasters such as devastation, earthquakes, fires and floods;
  • which ancient cults were practiced in Pistiros;
  • what were the relations and the interactions between the different ethnic groups in Pistiros: Greeks, Thracians, Celts.

The Balkan Heritage Field School at the site of Pistiros started in 2013. To date, the students have worked in the southeastern sector which is an area next to the fortification wall where two chronologically different building horizons were identified.

The architectural remains from the second horizon belong to buildings made of wooden beams, wattle and daub, and existed in the period between the second half of 4th and beginning of 3rd BCE. Characteristic for this time period are clay escharae (fireplaces) of rectangular or oval shape. A huge amount of local and imported Greek vessels, cult figurines, Greek and Thracian coins, weapon etc. were among the artifacts discovered in the last five years.

The participants in 2020 in Ancient Greeks in the Land of Dionysos – Excavation of Emporion Pistiros will be included in the further excavation of the same sector. 

The project sessions available in 2020 include the following three modules:

  1. fieldwork including excavation, maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan / a ground plan/ a cross-section, 3D positioning of finds, taking coordinates with a level device, and taking photographs at the site;
  2. lectures, workshops and field training in Classical and Field Archaeology, finds’ processing and documentation;
  3. excursions to various cultural and archaeological sites in the region such as the ancient town of of Plovdiv

The participants who join the four-week project session will be able to further develop their skills and competences regarding the field work and findings processing, gained during the first two-week session and to attend a number of extra lectures, workshops and an excursion to some of the most remarkable Thracian royal tombs in the Rose Valley in and around Kazanlak and Starosel, Bulgaria.  They will also attend the Workshops on Advanced Digital Imaging for Archaeological Recording alongside the excavation (it is optional and covered by the admission fee). Students will continue excavating in the morning session but will have the option of additional training in Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) of epigraphic monuments and small objects found in Pistiros, in the afternoon.

There are three application/enrollment paths for this field school:

1. All students at universities/colleges outside Europe seeking academic credit units must apply through the Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA. Click here to apply.

2. All students at universities/colleges in Europe seeking ECTS academic credit units must apply through the Balkan Heritage Field School. Click here to apply.

3.  Participants who don’t need academic credits must apply through the Balkan Heritage Field School. Click here to apply.


Period(s) of Occupation: Late Classical, Hellenistic (5th - 3rd century BCE)

Major field school topics/activities: Interactions between Ancient Greek and Thracian civilizations (with emphasis on trade and religion); Excavations of the Ancient Greek emporion Pistiros in Thrace (5th – 3rd century BCE); History and archaeology of ancient Thrace; Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Photogrammetry; Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation; Processing of finds and samples; Documentation of Classical and Hellenistic Finds; Excursions to significant heritage sites in Thrace, Bulgaria. Academic credits are available for students through NBU, Bulgaria and Connecticut College, USA.

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Two weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: No experience required. However, the project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities.

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodation: Villa Terres Hotel, Karabunar, Bulgaria - in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC), equipped with a/c and TV in a local newly built hotel. The hotel has a small swimming pool and SPA, free of charge for the participants in the field school. There are cheap laundry services and free Wi-Fi is provided. Extra night - 30 EUR (per night per person), Single room - 200 EUR (for two-week period). Meals: Three meals (fresh, organic Bulgarian homemade food) per day are covered by the admission fee. They usually take place (except the lunch packages during the excursions) in the hotel’s restaurant. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Brown-bag lunches during the excursions and days off. Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!

Academic Credit:
1) 12 quarter (equivalent to 8 semester) credit units through Connecticut College, USA for students at universities/colleges outside Europe attending the four-week session only; 2) 6/9 ECTS credit units through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria for students at European universities/ colleges attending two-/ four-week session. credits offered by Connecticut College, USA and New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria.. Tuition is .

Contact Information:

Balkan Heritage Foundation / Institute for Field Research

7 Tulovo St., Floor 5, Apt.7 / 2999 Overland Ave. #103

Sofia / Los Angeles

Sofia / CA - California

1504 / 90064

Bulgaria / United States

Phone: + 359 877 725 052 (BHF); US Toll free number +1 (877) 839-4374 (IFR)

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