Department of Archaeology

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Andrew Poulter

Professor, Faculty of Arts



Affter completing my turn as Head of Department, I am now working on the final editing of the results from The Transition to Late Antiquity, scheduled for publication next year (see current research, below). I was the British director of this large-scale field project (including excavation and field survey) from 1996. In 1995 I organized two projects in northern Greece, one on the site of ancient Philippi, the other just north of Katerini which resulted in the discovery of a new early Byzantine fortress or town at Louloudies, near ancient Pydna. My first project in Bulgaria (1985-1992), now published in 3 volumes, was designed to explore the physical character, economy and function of the late Roman city of Nicopolis in north central Bulgaria. The results of these two programmes in the context of other major European projects carried out within the Balkans were presented at a conference at the British Academy in 2003 (published in 2007). My work in Eastern Europe (behind the 'Iron Curtain' until 1989) was made possible by the establishment of strong research links with the Bulgarian National Archaeological Institute and regional museums, an opportunity which facilitated the organization of an international conference at Nottingham on the archaeology of Bulgaria in 1981, including sessions on Prehistoric, Roman and medieval archaeology (subsequently published in 1983). My appointment as lecturer in Roman archaeology at Nottingham took place in 1979, following a temporary post as lecturer in archaeology and ancient history in the University of Leeds (1978-9) when I completed and published my excavations at Old Penrith, Cumbria. After graduation in 1974, I carried out research, first in Birmingham, then at the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, and during a memorable year at the Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest. My passion for Roman archeology dates to my years at secondary school in Guildford, Surrey (St Peter's Catholic School) where my Latin and Geography teachers inspired an interest in ancient history but also in archaeology. Father Topp, my French teacher, first introduced me to field archaeology and, with his help, I participated in the excavation of a Roman villa at Ashtead in Surrey, an experience that determined my future career and led me to study Ancient History and archaeology at the University of Birmingham (1971-4)..

Expertise Summary

Roman provinces of central and eastern Europe; the Balkans in the Roman and early Byzantine periods, the development of new methods in field archaeology (photogrammetric recording of complex multi-level structures) and developing new approaches to site specific intensive survey.

Research Summary

THE TRANSITION TO LATE ANTIQUITY, BULGARIA, 1996- The late Roman city programme (see above) demonstrated that the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum had changed in physical appearance, economy and… read more

Current Research

THE TRANSITION TO LATE ANTIQUITY, BULGARIA, 1996- The late Roman city programme (see above) demonstrated that the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum had changed in physical appearance, economy and function during the early Byzantine period (c. AD 450-600), The challenge for this large scale initiative, in collaboration with Bulgarian archaeologists from the national Institute of Archaeology and the Veliko Turnovo Historical Museum, ,(involving annually up to two hundred field staff, specialists and students), was to seek an explanation why the traditional Roman city was transformed in the 5th century. The method involved two related but distinct approaches:: one to carry out excavations on the site of Dichin, a late Roman fortress (as at Nicopolis involving major ceramic and environmental research) and the second was to develop a new method of site-specific survey to explore the rural settlement in north central Bulgaria.

For further information see 'The Transition to Late Antiquity'.

Select bibliography

A.G. Poulter (editor, translator and contributor), The Transition to Late Antiquity on the Danube and beyond, Proceedings of the British Academy 141, Oxford University Press. 2007.

A.G. Poulter, 'The Roman to Byzantine transition in the Balkans; preliminary results on Nicopolis and its hinterland', The Journal of Roman Archaeology 13 (2000), 347- 58.

A.G. Poulter, 'The Transition to Late Antiquity on the Lower Danube, an interim report (1996-8)', The Antiquaries Journal 79 (1999), 145-185.

A.G. Poulter, 'L'avenir du passé: recherches sur la transition entre la période Romanine et le monde protobyzantin dans la région du Bas Danube, Antiquité Tardive 6 (1995), 329-343.

See also Publications section of website.

Past Research


This, the first British research excavation carried out in Eastern Europe, was carried out in collaboration with Bulgarian colleagues on the site of Nicopolis ad Istrum, an ideal site for comparing the layout and functioning of a Roman and a late Roman urban centre. Central to the programme was environmental research and the construction of an on-site ceramic sequence. Not only was the early Byzantine site examined by a full geophysical survey and selective area excavation, a considerable amount of information came from well preserved 2nd - 4th century deposits. Consequently, it proved possible to reconstruct a continuous sequence of occupation from the foundation of Nicopolis early in the 2nd century down to its final destruction at the end of the 6th century AD. What emerged clearly form the results was that the Roman city was destroyed probably by the Huns c. 450 (when it was already in decline) and was replaced by an imperial military and religious centre and, though still described in historical sources as a polis, the new strongly fortified site was built and supported by central imperial funds. It was no longer tied to its rich agricultural territory, as had certainly been the case for the Roman city it replaced.

For further information see: 'The late Roman city'

Select bibliography

Published in three volumes

A.G. Poulter, The Roman, Late Roman and Early Byzantine city of Nicopolis ad Istrum: the British excavations 1985 - 1992, Monograph of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, London, 1995.

A.G. Poulter, Nicopolis ad Istrum: a Roman to early Byzantine City: the Pottery and the Glass, The Society of Antiquaries of England, 1999 (Poulter on methodology, the excavations and the economic implications, R.K. Falkner on the pottery and J.D. Shepherd on the glass).

A.G. Poulter, Nicopolis ad Istrum, a Late Roman and Early Byzantine city: the Finds and Biological Remains, Society of Antiquaries of England, 2007

See also Publications section of website.


Ths research included two separate projects. The first successfully proved the potential for geophysical (resistivity) survey in the lower half of the ancient city of Philippi in north-eastern Greece.

The second task involved applying a new approach to intensive survey over an area (Louloudies) of 17ha surrounding a newly discovered and excavated late Roman quadriburgium, north of Katerini, in the fertile coastal lowland of the Pieria. The unusual conditions (all the land planted with grown crops) required a new approach to intensive survey but the results (combined with resistivity survey) proved remarkably successful. A previously unsuspected and major fortified 'city' was located 200m south of the quadriburgium. A substantial concentration of bricks with monogram stamps (along the western curtain-wall), together with ceramic finds, dated the new fortifications to the 6th to early 7th centuries AD, perched on the north bank of the Sourvala, with easy access to the Aegean.. As to the function of this site, it may be both a fortress, perhaps protecting the main east coast route which passed close by and used as a store base for the locally grown agricultural produce which could be easily shipped north to Thessaloniki, a city whose own territory was seriously threatened by Slav invasions, particularly in the early years of the 7th century.

The excellent results from the survey inspired the application and development of the survey methodology in the later 'Transition to Late Antiquity Programme' (see below).

For further information see: 'The Macedonia Programme'

Select bibliography

A.G. Poulter and P. Strange, 'Philippi: the results of a geophysical survey, Annual of the British School at Athens', 9 (1998), 453-461.

A.G. Poulter, 'Field survey at Louloudies: a new Late Roman fortification in Piera', Annual of the British School at Athens', 9 (1998), 46-511.

Future Research

The 'ancient city programme' provided new and invaluable information about the physical character and economy of Roman to Late Roman Nicopolis, as well as demonstrating the dramatic transformation of the city in the early Byzantine period. The 'Transition to Late Antiquity' proved of particular importance for the 5th century AD, proving that there had been an abrupt and radical change, an end to the villa economy and, apparently, a 'militarization' of the countryside, transferring control and land from any residual members of the urban elite to irregular military units (foederati ?), not only responsible for local defiance, but also involved directly in agricultural production and the gathering of agricultural resources for export, probably to supply the frontier garrisons on the Danube frontier.

Although occupation of the early Byzantine period was identified at both sites, domestic activity and the true character of life within the city and the fortress were more difficult to identify than the levels of the 2nd to 5th century AD. In fact, vey little is known for sure about the lower Danube in the latest period of Antiquity, from 500 to c. 650. The ancient literary sources chart a succession of invasions during the first half century but provide scant information about their impact or long term effect on the region. The second half of the 6th century is much better served with ancient sources but the evidence remains ambiguous: it has been argued by contemporary historians that there was then a significant revival in the fortunes of the Eastern Empire before the eventual loss of the region in the early 7th century. Alternatively, indications of military weakness within the Byzantine state and the growth of Avar power have been thought to reflect a long-term decline in Constantinople's ability to sustain its rule over this crucial section of frontier.

Consequently, a new agreement for a third research programme has been draw up and will be implemented in the coming year. Final editing of the excavations at Dichin and the field survey (Transition to Late Antiquity) are well advanced and the results will be submitted for publication early in 2009. The aim of the new initiative is to investigate this last period in the history of early Byzantine control on the lower Danube, defining how the region passed into its 'Dark Age' from which emerged the First Bulgarian Kingdom during the second half of the 7th century.

The method, as with the previous programmes, will involve two distinct but related projects. From northern Italy to the Black Sea, the most prominent features of the countryside in the 6th century are the numerous hill top fortifications. Few excavations have ever been carried out to determine the economic basis and the character of these strongholds. Their function as military forts or civilian strongholds, permanent sites or temporary refuges remains largely unknown. The type site of Dobri Dyal, east of Veliko Turnovo in northern Bulgaria, will be subject to large-scale excavation, invoilving ceramic and environmental analysis, to discover more about this form of settlement. The second target for research will be the open countryside. The site specific approach to intensive field survey (developed in the previous programme) will be applied but developed to reconstruct a total surface density plan of building and ceramic materials along a 5km stretch of the river Rositsa (around the excavated site of Dichin). A similar survey of a 5km section of the valley in which Dobri Dyal is situated will also be carried out. The latter possesses much less fertile land than the rich valley soils along the Rositsa, a region which formed the core of Nicopolis' agricultural hinterland and its economic base during the Early Roman Empire. To date, very little 6th century pottery has been found in the countryside (contrasting with the fortress of Dichin and Nicopolis). Possibly, the rich hinterland of Nicopolis had been abandoned in the 6th century and the local population, faced by repeated incursions, had withdrawn to the comparatively safer upland sites, exploiting only the adjacent but poorer quality land. Alternatively, the black 6th century wares, which are much less easy to identify in non-intensive survey, may still be there but in smaller concentrations, reflecting a change in settlement morphology rather than an abandonment of territory. The two surveys offer every prospect of proving what actually did happen during the 6th century, demonstrating either a major dislocation in settlement or continuity of occupation, albeit probably in dispersed small communities, less easy to detect than the major Roman villa sites with their substantial and readily visible concentrations of tile and red fabrics, so typical of the 2nd to 4th centuries AD. Particular care will be taken to dissect the latest periods of settlement, less easy to define, especially after the cessation of the monetary economy c. 600, but which may provide a uniquely important insight into the existence (or absence) of site continuity after the final withdrawal of Byzantine forces.

As a major research initiative, the new programme should help to illuminate the final stages in the transformation of a major part of the Roman Empire into the early modern period, a process of importance for Bulgaria and one which will also contribute to our understanding of the origins of medieval and modern Europe.

Department of Archaeology

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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