Ancient Pistiros: a Classical emporium at Adjiyska Vodenitsa, Vetren (Bulgaria)

The discovery of a river port at a remote, rural location in central Bulgaria in 1988 was not just unexpected; it did not seem to fit the templates of ancient historians.

About the project

Most people assumed that significant commodities exchanges took place at coastal harbours of the Mediterranean. Yet two years later, a 45-line Greek inscription seemed to confirm the existence of a major hub ca. 250km from the nearest Mediterranean shore. Much of the urban centre has been progressively eroded by the River Maritsa (ancient Hebros), the main river course that joins the Thracian Plain of Bulgaria to the Aegean Sea. The surviving traces include a fortified eastern gateway, an east-west running paved road, and complex buildings with stone foundations north and south of it.


The ancient settlement is rich in finds. Among the principal inorganic finds are:

  • Precious and base metals
  • Various kinds of ceramic artefacts, including architectural decorations
  • Coins
  • Imported storage jars
  • Tools and weapons.

Animal bones form the bulk of organic remains.

The University of Liverpool has been systematically involved with investigations at this site since 1999 (following preliminary surveys). Between 1999 and 2003 a project of remote sensing, excavation, and post-excavation analysis was supported by a major grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (continued, in 2004-2006, with Small Grants from the British Academy).

More than 64,000 finds have been logged from excavated trenches, covering no more than 20m2 (2013), including more than 600 complete or near complete individual artefacts and items of special interest. The two areas investigated by the British team are both in residential quarters, away from the principal access roads. Both trenches provide excellent data about production:

  • metallic artefacts
  • woven textiles

and consumption:

  • meat and other animal products
  • table ware
  • alcoholic beverages

in the period ca. 430-250 BC and beyond.


A new exhibition of finds opened in the Archaeological Museum, Septemvri, in the name of Mieczysław Domaradzki, in June 2014, with assistance from staff members at Liverpool. Finds excavated by the British team are on display or catalogued in the Louvre exhibition, Le royaume odryse (15 April – 20 June, 2015).  

Forthcoming monograph

. (forthcoming 2016) (with contributions by , and ),  Pistiros: a Late Iron Age River Port in south-eastern Europe, the Liverpool project , 1999-2012.

Preliminary report

Archibald, Z.H. (2002d) 'A River Port and emporion in Central Bulgaria: An Interim Report on the British Project at Vetren', Annual of the British School at Athens 97 (2002) 309-51.

Previous publications for reference:

  • Chiverrell, R. and Archibald, Z.H., (2009), 'Flooding and river evolution: implications for human occupation and activity at Vetren, central Bulgaria' Géomorphologie: relief, processus, environnement, 4, 287-302.
  • Archibald, Z.H., The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus unmasked (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology, 1998) 364pp.
  • Archibald, Z.H., Ancient economies of the northern Aegean, c.500-31BCE (Oxford University Press, 2013), 385pp.     

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