Graduate Program in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology

ARHM015. Archaeology of Southeast Europe in the Middle Ages: Bulgaria and the Byzantine Commonwealth. Boyan Dumanov, Ivan Vassilev

Online course, 30 hours, 3 credits



This course offers an overview of the archaeology of the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean in Medieval times. It starts with the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages while inquiring into continuities and changes in urban and rural settlements, religion, military, and political organization.  


In order to better understand complex political landscapes, the course not only focuses on the Byzantine empire but also on Goths, Sarmaths, Huns, Avars, and other groups shaping the ethnic diversity of Southeast Europe in Late Antiquity and Early Medieval times.


The archaeology of Bulgars and Slavs has an important place in this course and will be fundamental for the study of the Bulgarian state in the Balkan peninsula.


The changing cultural and political situation in the High Medieval Balkans is also among our central topics. The course ends with an overview of the Ottoman Period in the Balkan peninsula between 1300 and 1600 AD.


We try to keep a balance between the abundant archaeological and historical evidence on one hand and theoretical issues on the other, such as archaeology of ethnicity, interaction, state formation, politics of empires, and of nomadic or sedentary segmented societies.





Number of hours


The transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Urban centers and rural structures. Christianization and church architecture. Military structures. Economy. Problems of transition – was there continuity?



The Migration period and the Lower Danubian Roman provinces. Archaeology of the barbarian enclaves – The Goths, Sarmaths, Huns, Avars. The problem of the foederati and ethnicity.



Bulgars north of the Black sea. Problems of identification and archaeology. Burial rites and chronology. The Sivashovka group. The burial site from Malaya Pereschepina (Ukraine) – problems of chronology and interpretation. Models of economy in the conditions of a steppe environment. Reasons for migration.



Slavonic archaeology. History of the discipline, methodology and problems of the research. Critical analysis of the written sources. Basic artifacts of the Slavonic colonization of the Balkans. Slavonic culture – a matter of ethnicity or decade of the provincial culture.



The Medieval Constantinople. Late Antique heritage. Urban planning and social structures. Development of fortifications. The fate of the Great Palace and the church of Hagia Sophia. 



Byzantine Dark Ages and archaeology of the old Byzantine centers in the Mediterranean region and the Balkans (c. 800-1000). Byzantium and the second Conversion of the Balkans. Antique and Byzantine influences in the formation of the Christian architecture in the East Balkans. Monasteries.   



The foundation of the Bulgarian state south of the Lower Danube. Initial territory and archaeological structures. The roots of the centers of power – the problem of aule. Pagan burial rites and cemeteries. Mass graves. Characteristic of pagan cults and artifacts. The Madara horseman.



The centers of power of the Early Medieval Balkan states. Archaeology of Pliska and Veliki Preslav. The problem of town and city in the First Bulgarian Kingdom.   



The Byzantine restoration.(c. 1000-1100). The emergence of Medieval towns in the Balkans. Archaeology of urban centers in the Strymon and Axios valleys. Restoration of Byzantine cities in the Eastern provinces.



Later nomads and migrations in the Balkans and the Byzantine East. Pechenegs, Uzi, Cumans, Tartars and Turks. Problems of interactions with the local culture and identification. 



The High Middle Ages in the Balkans (1100-1400). The Medieval town and its transformation back to Early Byzantine models. Historical topography of urban centers in the low and highlands of the Balkans and the Mediterranean region. Tarnovgrad as successor of and alternative to Constantinople after 1204. Did castles exist? (Iv. Vassilev)



Christianity in Byzantium and the states of the Balkan High Middle Ages. Church architecture, episcopal complexes and monasteries.



The economic background. Trade routes, markets and ports. Restoration, development and crises of agriculture. Animal breeding. Subjects of export and overseas import. Coins and coinage of the Balkan medieval states and Byzantium.



Ecclesiastic Architecture and Arts of the Medieval Balkans



Civilization of the Ottoman Balkans in 1300s - 1600s




Essential readings:



Akrabova-Zhandova, I. 1975. Preslav inlaid ceramics. – In: G. Robertson, G. Henderson (Eds.) Studies in memory of David Talbot Rice. Edinburgh.

Angelov, P., D. 1994. The Bulgarians through the eyes of the Byzantines. – Bulgarian Historical Review 22.

Bakalova, E. 1994. The role and importance of monasteries in the cultural history of Bulgaria. – In: K. Nikolau (Ed.) Taseis tou orthodoxou monakheismu, 9os-20os aiones. Praktika tou Diethnous Symposiou pou diorganotheke sta plaisia tou Programmatos “Hoi dromoi tou orthodoxou monakhismou. Poreuthentes mathete”. Athens.               

Bakirtzis, Ch. 1989. Western Thrace in the early Christian and Byzantine periods: results of archaeological research and the prospects, 1973-1987. – Byzantinische Forschungen 14.

Bakirtzis, Ch. 1994. Byzantine Thrace (AD 330-1453). – In: V. Papoulia et all. (Eds.) Thrace. Athens.

Bakirtzis, Ch. 1996. Byzantine monasteries in eastern Macedonia and Thrace. – In: A. Bryer, M. Cunningham (Eds.) Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism. Papers from the Twenty-Eight Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, March 1994. Birmingham.

Borisov, B. 1989. Djadovo I. Medieval settlement and necropolis (11th-12th century). Tokyo.

Borisov, B. 2001. Settlements of Northeast Thrace: 11-12 centuries. – Archaeologia Bulgarica 5.

Bury, J., B. 1910. The Bulgarian treaty of AD 814 and the Great Fence of Thrace. – English Historical Review 25.

Cheshmedzhiev, D. 1997. On the question of the localization of the Slav tribe of Smoljani. – Bulgarian Historical Review 25.

Ćirković, S. M. 2004. The Serbs. Oxford.

Curta, F. 1997. Blacksmiths, warriors and tournaments of value: dating and interpreting early medieval hoards of iron implements in Eastern Europe. – Ephemeris Napocensis 7.

Curta, F. 2001. The making of the Slavs. History and archaeology of the Lower Danube region, c. 500-700. Cambridge.

Dochev, K. 2002. Turnovo, sixth-fourteenth centuries. – In: A. E. Laiou (Ed.) The Economic history of Byzantium from the Seventh trough the Fifteenth century. Washington.

Doncheva-Petkova, L. 1998. A 11th century Pecheneg’s necropolis by Odartsi village, Dobrich destrict. – Archaeologia Bulgarica 6.

Evgenidou, D. 1988. Servia and Moglena, two Byzantine cities of Macedonia. – Istorikogeographika 2.

Fiedler, U. 1992. Studien zu Gräberfeldern des 6 bis 9. Jahrhunderts an der unteren Donau. Hale.

Fine, J.V.A. 1983. The Early Medieval Balkans. A critical survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth century. Ann Arbor.

Fine, J.V.A. 1987. The Late Medieval Balkans. A critical survey from the Late Twelfth century to the Ottoman conquest. Ann Arbor.

Golden, P.B. 1990. The peoples of the south Russian steppes. – In: D. Sinor (Ed.) The Cambridge History of Inner Asia. York.

Goss, V.P. 1987. Early Croatian architecture. A study of the Pre-Romanesque. London.

Harvey, A. 1996. The monastic economy and imperial patronage from the tenth to the twelfth century. – In: A. Bryer, M. Cunningham (Eds.) Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism. Papers from the Twenty-Eight Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, March 1994. Birmingham.

Iordanov, I. 2002. Preslav. – In: A. E. Laiou (Ed.) The Economic history of Byzantium from the Seventh trough the Fifteenth century. Washington.

Iordanov, I. 2003. Corpus of the Byzantine seals from Bulgaria. Part I. Sofia.

Kazanaki-Lappa, M. 2002. Medieval Athens. – In: A. E. Laiou (Ed.) The Economic history of Byzantium from the Seventh trough the Fifteenth century. Washington.

Khandzhiiski, A. 1985. Rock Monasteries. Sofia.

Kostova, R. 1998. Topography of three early medieval monasteries and the reason for their foundation: a case study. – Archaeologia Bulgarica 6.

Kostova, R. 2000. Bulgarian monasteries, ninth to tenth centuries: interpreting the archaeological evidence.- Pliska-Preslav 8.

Kuleff, I., R. Dzhingova 2002. Glass production during Roman and medieval times on the territory of Bulgaria. – Archaeologia Bulgarica 6.

Madgearu, A. 1997. The military organization of Paradunavon. – Byzantinoslavica 60.

Madgearu, A. 2001. The church organization at the Lower Danube between 971 and 1020. – Etudes Byzantines and Post-Byzantines 4.

Marjanović-Vujović, G. 1974. Archaeological proving the presence of the Pechenegs in Beograd town. – Balcanoslavica 3.

Marjanović-Vujović, G. 1990. Rural settlements in the 9th and 10th centuries in the Danube valley in Serbia. – In: D. Austin, L. Alcock (Eds.) From the Baltic to the Black Sea. Studies in Medieval Archaeology. London.


Additional titles in other languages:

Bálint, Cs. 1989. Die Archäologie der Steppe. Steppenvölker zwischen Volga und Donau vom 6. Bis zum 10. Jahrhundert. Vienna, Cologne.

Beshevliev, V. 1963. Die protobulgarischen Inschriften. Berlin.

Henning, J. 1986. Bulgarien zwischen Antike und Mittelalter im Spiegel der Wirtschaftsarchäologie. – Das Altertum 32.

Henning, J. 2000. Vom Herrschaftszentrum zur städtischen Grosssiedlung mit agrarischer Komponente. Archäologische Nachweise der Landwirtschaft aus dem frühmittelalterlichen pliska. – Pliska-Preslav 8.

Lászlo, G., I. Rácz 1983. Der Goldschatz von Nagyszentmiklós. Vienna, Munich.