Emporion Pistiros, a name taken from the ancient Greek inscription discovered in 1990, was founded by Thasian merchants or colonists from the Pistyros on the coast of Thrace. It sustained intensive relations with the main economical centers in Aegean Thrace.
Pistiros was founded in the 3rd quarter of the 5th century BC. This would place her founding during the reign of the first kings of the Odrysian kingdom, Teres I, Sparatocos or Sitalkes. Under Amadocus I the emporion already existed and maintained wide trade contacts. Under Cotys I (384 BC–359 BC) and his successors, the Thasian, Apollonian, and Maroneian traders obtained guarantees, included in the Vetren inscription, concerning the integrity of their life, property and activity. This status coincided with the period of zenith for Pistiros.
The excavations uncovered the East fortification wall with a gate, towers, and a bastion, built of stone blocks on the model of Thasian fortification systems, as well as stone-paved streets, buildings with stone bases, and a well-constructed sewer system. The archaeological excavations outlined the following phases of the site:
- I phase (second half of the 5th century BC – end of the first quarter of the 4th century BC): foundation of the emporion, building of the fortification system, pavement of the first streets, building of the drainage system.
- II phase (second quarter – end of the 4th century BC): reconstruction in the site’s plan, connected with the reign of King Cotys I, heyday of Pistiros, regulations concerning the statute of Pistiros and its emporitai (Ancient Greek,"Εμπορίται") in the Vetren inscription.
- III phase (3rd century BC – beginning of the 2nd century BC): burning down and destruction of Pistiros by the Celts in the late 3rd century BC as well as its transformation into a metal production centre.
The Vetren inscription
The inscription in Ancient Greek states
If a merchant brings suit against another merchant (in Pistiros) they shall be judjged among their kinsmen and with regard to whatever is owed to the merchants by Thracians, there shall be no cancellation of these debts.All land and pasture owned by the merchants shall not be taken away from them.He shall not send holders of estates(?) to the merchants.He shall not install a garrison at Pistiros nor will he transfer Pistiros to another.He shall not exchange the land lots of the Pistirians nor transfer them to another.Neither he nor members of his family shall seize the property of the merchants.He shall not levy road taxes on any goods exported by the merchants from Pistiros to Maronea of from Maronea to Pistiros or to the market place Belana of the Praseoi. The merchants shall open and close their wagons.Just as also in the time of Cotys[I swear this oath];Neither i nor anyone of my family will blind or kill a citizen of Maronea;Nor shall i or any member of my family seize the property of a citizen of Maronea,whether he be alive or dead;Nor shall i nor anyone of my family will blind or kill a citizen of Apollonia or Thasos who is living in Pistiros whether he is alive or dead
That co-existence between the Greeks and Thracians rendered them allies to a certain extent. The grave inscriptions of Greeks originating from Apollonia and Maroneia, discovered in Pistiros, and the names incised on pottery (graffiti) both of Thracians and Greeks, prove that the people from Pistiros were not homogenous ethnically. Adjacent to the territory of emporion Pistiros are the Bessoi, the clan-keeper of the Dionysian sanctuary in the Rhodopes. Dionysos as a God, and the Bessi, on his behalf, patronized and ensured the peaceful life and activity of the emporitai in the Upper Thrace. The oath taken in Dionysos’ name by King Cotys I and his successor, according to the Vetren inscription, represents additional proof for the significance of that cult in the official ideology of the Odrysian state. The excavations provided much evidence regarding the cult practices in Pistiros. Amongst the artefacts discovered were preserved or fragmented clay altars with various forms and decorations (few of them preserved in situ), cult zoomorphic figurines made of clay or stone, clay anthropomorphic figurines, and miniature objects and portable hearths (pyraunoi). More than 1000 copper and silver coins discovered during the excavations in Pistiros shed light on its internal and external trade contacts. This is the unique numismatic complex discovered during ordinary excavations where the coinage of several Thracian rulers is represented, e.g. Amadocus I, Bergaios, Cotys I, Amadocus II, Teres II, Cersobleptes, Seuthes III. Here are also found coins from Greek city-states, e.g. Thasos, Maroneia, Parion, Thracian Chersonese, Kypsela, Enos, Apollonia, Messembria, Damastion, Sermyle, Kardia.
Moreover the coinage of Ancient Macedonian and Hellenistic rulers is represented (Philip II, Alexander III the Great, Cassandros, Demetrios Poliorketes, Lysimachos, Seleucus I, etc.). In 1999 another fundamental discovery was made – a collective find consisting of 552 silver and gold coins issued by Alexander the Great, Demetrios Poliorketes, Lysimachos and Seleucus I.
The inhabitants of this antique centre imported luxury pottery from Attic workshops for their domestic usage. Among the painted pottery discovered in Pistiros, prevailing are vessels of krater and scyphos types, rarer than those of the kylix and pelike types. Scenes of everyday life, mythology, leisure, and games of the Ancient Greeks are depicted on the vessels. Represented in more variety are black glazed, e.g. scyphoi, kanthaoroi, bows and one-handled cups, kylices and various shapes of latter type, lekythoi, and fish plates. The import of luxurious Attic pottery in Pistiros was interrupted about the mid 3rd century BC. This trend is typical for whole Thracian plain.
Among the good number of fragments of amphorae, the greatest number are of those manufactured in Thasian workshops or in those belonging to the peraea of Thasos. Various patterns of autochthonous pottery – handmade or wheeled – prevail compared to the imported pottery. One could observe entirely preserved vessels, e.g. sealed oenochoai representing scenes of the Dionysian cult – Silenus abducts a menade, a Satyr’s masque.
Thrace with its rich ledges succeeds in attracting the interest of the population from Aegean region. Emporion Pistiros, which was created under the tutelage of the Thracian kings, became key centre in the export of metals from Thrace to Ancient Greece. Despite the metal export, workshops for jewellery are organized as well in Thrace. The crucibles, blowers, cuts, matrixes, moulds, etc., discovered in Pistiros, are evidence for the development of this activity (what activity) in this region. After the burning down of the emporion by the Celts in the early 3rd century BC, on its remains was established a village for manufacturing fibulae and other ornaments made of iron, bronze, silver and gold.
The excavations of the archaeological site on the left bank of Maritsa began in 1988. They led to the discovering of a big trade centre – emporion Pistiros – that had had a main part in the economical and cultural life in Ancient Thrace.
The excavations of emporion Pistiros are done by a team of Bulgarian, British (Liverpool University), Polish, Czech (Prague University), and French (French School in Athens) archaeologists. The research work is carried out under the scientific guidance of the National Archaeological Institute with Museum – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in co-operation with the Archaeological Museum “Prof.Mieczysław Domaradzki” – town of Septemvri.
How it was possible to found a strongly fortified Greek city so far inland, even if apparently accessible for small boats on the Hebrus river, needs an explanation. The first idea, expressed by the Professor Mieczyslaw Domaradzki that the city was also a royal residence of the sub-king of the Upper Thrace, has little probability. No palace, nothing like hierarchy known from smaller sites – thurseis, or from Seuthopolis, has not been uncovered at Pistiros, and M. Domardzki changed his mind soon after the famous inscription was found. Only very few scholars, among them G. Tsetskhladze, still expressed such opinion still in late nineties. The problem of identification of the place as Emporion Pistiros is also the most probable solution, as shown by further survey at the Roman Bona Mansio, some 3 km away. Apparently the city walls of the emporion served as quarry when building the Roman mansio, and a large number of stones used for the construction of Bona Mansio can easily be identified as coming from the emporion city walls: alternative explanations have therefore much less credibility.
The rich archaeological material found in Pistiros is preserved in the Archaeological Museum “Prof.Mieczysław Domaradzki” – town of Septemvri.The archaeological excavations on Pistiros were discussed in a good number of scientific conferences, publications, and exhibitions.
- Alternatives to Athens: Varieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece by Roger Brock and Stephen Hodkinson,ISBN 978-0-19-815220-0,2001,Front Matter: "... is director of the British team at the excavations at Vetren-Pistiros, an emporium in inland Thrace. ...""
- Alternatives to Athens: Varieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece by Roger Brock and Stephen Hodkinson,ISBN 978-0-19-815220-0,2001,page 216,"Pistiros in the central (Thracian) plain north-west of Pazardjik"
- An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis: An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation by Mogens Herman Hansen, 2005, page 895,"The emporion of Pistiros was a was an inland trading station originally founded by merchants coming from the polis of Pistiros a dependency of Thasos situated on the Thracian coast""
- Archeologia: Rocznik Państwowego Muzeum Archeologicznego w Warszawie i Polskiego Towarzystwa Archeologicznego,Tomes 51–52,2001,page 7,"The city walls and urban planning of the emporion Pistiros date to the first phase of the city, which was founded in the 3rd quarter of the 5th cent. BC"
- An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis: An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation by Mogens Herman Hansen, 2005, page 895"
- Pistiros I: excavations and studies: [the result of the excavations conducted in Vetren-Pistiros in the collaboration of Bulgarian, Czech and British teams], ISBN 80-7184-182-X,1996,page 9, "which was probably destroyed by the Celts in the seventies of the 3rd"
- Readings in Greek History: Sources and Interpretations by D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein,2006,ISBN 0-19-517825-4,page 232: "2.A Greek trading post in Thrace.Literary and spectacular archeological discoveries in the royal cemetery of the Odrysian kings in Bulgaria document the wealth of the Thracian elite and the important place occupied by Greek imports in Thracian material culture. In this inscription an Odrysian official sets out the rules established by the Odrysian kings to protect foreign merchants from the cities of Maronea, Apollonia, and Thasos living in the trading post of Pistiros.It guarantees their right to judge disputes between themselves and protect their property and their persons against seizure and abuse.If a merchant brings suit against another merchant (in Pistiros) they shall be judged among their kinsmen and with regard to whatever is owed to the merchants by Thracians ,there shall be no cancellation of these debts. All land and pasture owned by the merchants shall not be taken away from them. He shall not send holders of estates(?) to the merchants.He shall not install a garrison at Pistiros nor will he transfer Pistiros to another. He shall not exchange the land lots of the Pistirians nor transfer them to another. Neither he nor members of his family shall seize the property of the merchants. He shall not levy road taxes on any goods exported by the merchants from Pistiros to Maronea of from Maronea to Pistiros or to the market place Belana of the Praseoi. The merchants shall open and close their wagons. Just as also in the time of Cotys [I swear this oath];Neither i nor anyone of my family will blind or kill a citizen of Maronea; Nor shall i or any member of my family seize the property of a citizen of Maronea,whether he be alive or dead;Nor shall i nor anyone of my family will blind or kill a citizen of Apollonia or Thasos who is living in Pistiros whether he is alive or dead"
- Readings in Greek History: Sources and Interpretations by D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein , 2006,page 232: A GREEK TRADING POST IN THRACE"... Maronea, Apollonia, and Thasos living in the trading post of Pistiros. ..."
- Volume 1 of Emporion Pistirosр Author Мечислав Домарадскир Publisher Беллопринт, 1995, ISBN 954-684-006-8, p.27–31.
- Домарадски, М., 1991, "Том I. Емпорион Пистирос: Трако-гръцки търговски отношения" ИК "Беллопринт" - Пазарджик, 1991 г.;
- Домарадски, М., 1994 г., "Изложба цар Котис I. Тракийската държава. Емпорион Пистирос", каталог, гр. Септември, 1994 г.;
- Домарадски, М., Танева, В., 1998 г., "Том II. Емпорион Пистирос: Тракийската култура в прехода към елинистичната епоха", гр. Септември, 1998.;
- Bouzek, J., Domaradzki, M., Archibald, Z., eds. 1997: Pistiros I, Excavations and Studies, Prague;
- Bouzek, J., Domaradzka, L., Archibald, Z., eds. 2002: Pistiros II, Excavations and Studies, Prague;
- Bouzek, J., Domaradzka, L., eds. 2005: The Culture of Thracians and their Neighbours: Proceedings of the International Symposium in Memory of Prof. Mieczyslaw Domaradzki, with a Round Table "Archaeological Map of Bulgaria", BAR International Series 1350;
- Domaradzki, M., Domaradzka, L., Bouzek, J., Rostropowicz, J., eds. 2000: Pistiros et Thasos: Structures economiques dans la peninsule balkanique aux VII e — II e siecles av. J.-C., Opole;
- Bouzek, J., Domaradzka, L., Archibald, Z., eds. 2007: Pistiros III, Excavations and Studies, Prague.