The project explores the economic relations of the Roman pottery production centres Hotnitsa, Pavlikeni and Butovo with the urban settlements of Nicopolis ad Istrum and Novae. The aim is to reconstruct the production and transport networks between the Stara Planina and the Danube (Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo oblast) in the 2nd-3rd centuries AD using ceramic provenance studies and spatial analyses.

Initial situation

The project 'Roman Regional Pottery Supply Systems' aims at reconstructing the functioning of economic networks in a specific region of the Roman provinces of Moesia Inferior and Thracia in present-day northern Bulgaria in the 2nd - 3rd century AD on the basis of pottery. The AoI stretches from the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in the south to the Danube in the north and is bordered by river valleys both in the west (Osam) and in the east (Jantra). In Roman times, two important settlement centres were located here: the Trajan civilian city foundation of Nicopolis ad Istrum on the northern foothills of the Stara Planina and the legionary site of Novae on the Danube, which is attested from the middle of the 1st century AD and developed into one of the largest urban settlements in Moesia in the course of the 2nd century AD. In addition, with the sites of Hotnitsa, Pavlikeni and Butovo, the region includes three ceramic production centres operating at different times and specialising in different productions, and it is the accepted research opinion that these production centres supplied the entire region. However, despite central research findings to date, ceramic production in the AoI has not yet been investigated holistically and this thesis has thus not been conclusively verified.


Accordingly, the project now offers promising possibilities for a more detailed characterisation of the pottery produced and the regional trade systems. The main questions of the project relate to the provenance of selected pottery finds from the AoI (Nicopolis ad Istrum, Novae, rural sites in the hinterland), the existing transport routes (river/road) and their correlation with rural settlement in the hinterland of Nicopolis ad Istrum and Novae as well as along the Jantra and Osam valleys, and - finally - the spatial, economic and organisational relationship between Nicopolis ad Istrum and the production sites as well as between Nicopolis ad Istrum and Novae.
Accordingly, pottery from selected find contexts is analysed to establish a reference base by which the production sites can be correlated with each other and with Nicopolis ad Istrum and Novae as well as selected rural settlement sites. Raw material samples and pottery samples will also be petrographically analysed; NAA (Neutron Activation Analysis) will be carried out as part of a control group. Furthermore, fluvial data on flow velocities, water levels and seasonality as well as archaeological data on known road courses and their associated infrastructure will be included in cost-distance analyses of different transport route scenarios. 


Based on considerations of current economic theory within Roman archaeology, the results from the three main research questions and the two main methodological pillars of the project will be combined and brought together to form an overall picture for the characterisation of ceramic trade systems and general economic networks as well as the relationship between rural and urban settlement in the AoI and the role of cities in Roman economic systems. Thus, the project not only sets another milestone for the comprehensive characterisation of ceramic production in the AoI, but also creates the basis for follow-up projects on economic development in the Roman Balkan region.