Thrace constitutes a unique crossroad of cultures, bridging Asia with Europe and the Aegean with the Black Sea. Its natural resources (mines, timber, rivers, crops, access to markets, etc.) and its strategic location (Royal road/Via Egnatia, harbors, forts) attracted settlers and conquerors throughout the centuries. All this helps us understand why this region became a theater of dispute for indigenous, Greek, Persian, Macedonian, Roman and other forces.
In particular, the coastal strip of land opposite Samothrace defined by Mount Ismaros and Cape Serreion, the Zone Mountains and the river Evros, is characterized by few natural harbors, limited plains and impressive hills. Within this varied landscape, different sites developed from prehistoric times to the foundation of the Roman province of Thrace, including Thracian forts, trade posts, colonies, Macedonian sites, and Roman and then Byzantine cities. PSP aims to survey the area extending from Petrota to Dikella diachronically through the collection and documentation of material remains and through the implementation of remote sensing methods in the wider area (satellite imagery, historical aerial photography, maps, etc.).
Prehistoric and Early Iron Age sites near the AOI, such as Ag. Georgios Maroneia (Ismara), Toumba and Cave Makre, demonstrate the early habitation in the area but also the advantages and disadvantages of the local topography regarding settlement development.
The history of the region was sealed by the establishment of the so-called “Samothracian forts,” i.e. fortified settlements founded by Samothrace probably between 700–480 BCE. Ancient sources state from W to E the following: Mesemvria, Drys, Zone, Sale, Tempyra and Charakoma. The exact geographical location of the above settlements and other neighboring sites remains uncertain (with the exception of ancient Zone), as the information we have from written sources, maps and archaeological remains is either contradictory or incomplete. Furthermore, our notion of the relationship of these sites with Samothrace is often problematic, while equally challenging is our classification of a site (e.g., as a colony, an autonomous city, a town, a trade post, a fort or other) since the data in our disposal regarding the population, size and type of settlements are both limited and varied.
The most important polis of the Samothracian peraia appears to have been Zone, the only one to mint its own coinage and pay nearly double the amount of tribute as a member of the Delian League during the 5th century BCE. Drys is also mentioned in the sources as a polis, but its location has not yet been determined. A third polis singled out in the Athenian Tribute Lists is Sale, possibly located in the western suburbs of modern-day Alexandroupoli. In the 4th and 3rd century BCE, the peraia falls under Macedonian rule, while in the 2nd century BC the region is controlled by Maroneia.
The influence of Samothrace is not always detectable in the area – for example boundary inscriptions indicate that the area of the Evros river estuary constitutes part of the chora of the sanctuary of Samothrace, a 3rd-century BCE gift of the Macedonian kings – while with the establishment of large imperial centers in Thrace, the Samothracian peraia becomes part of the chora of Traianoupolis.
The inter-dependence of the urban and rural element in the peraia of Samothrace appears to have a diachronic character, and it is a particularly aim of the project to explore how the inland landscape and natural resources compliment the profile of the coastal sites, contributing to their growth throughout the centuries and vice versa.
History of Research
In 16th- and 17th-century maps of Thracian toponyms of settlements, mountain ranges and rivers are abundant, but topographical precision is lacking, as early scholars and cartographers were mainly following references from literary sources. Some of these maps include sites of the Samothracian peraia or significant landscape features of the region.
Thraciae Veteris Typus. Χάρτης της Αρχαίας Θράκης του Α. Ortelius, 1585
The first systematic excavations in the area took place during World War I, when Bulgarian archaeologists led by G. Karazow excavated part of Zone’s necropolis and other sites near Alexandroupoli, transporting several of their findings to Sofia. In the war’s aftermath, Père Azaïs, a monk and researcher in the French expeditionary force under General Sarpi, lived in Thrace from August 1919 to May 1920 and together with General Charles Antoine Charpy surveyed the Thracian coast in search of antiquities. In fact, Azaïs located various burial mounds and excavated one in the “Komotini area.” Contemporary bulletin and news reports briefly describe the excavations and how the finds were transferred to the Louvre.
With the exception of Georgios Bakalakis’ Προανασκαφική Έρευνα στη Θράκη and the American campaigns on Samothrace, there was no systematic excavation or field research in Aegean Thrace until the end of World War II. Εxcavations conducted by Dimitrios Lazaridis gradually brought Thrace to the fore, while from the 1980s onwards, thanks to the expanded and systematic efforts of Diamantis Triantaphyllos and the archaeologists of the Ephorate, archaeological research progressed in the area.
The wide range of sites investigated is reflected in the variety of finds discovered, dating to all periods from Prehistoric to Roman. We mention here indicatively the exploration of Prehistoric or Iron Age sites (Parademe, Sarakene, Makre, Ismaros, Ergane, Roussa), colonies (Abdera, Maroneia, Zone), settlements and forts (Diomedeia, Doriskos), necropoleis (Abdera, Dikaia, Mikro Doukato), tumuli (mainly in Northern Evros but also on the coast), sanctuaries (Samothrace, Maroneia, Zone), Macedonian fortresses and tombs (Kalyva, Stavroupoli, Symbola) and Roman cities (Plotinopolis, Traianoupolis). During the past 20 years, a new impetus for (predominantly rescue) excavations was prompted by major infrastructure programs, such as the construction of key arteries (e.g. Egnatia), various land improvement and water-works and undertakings in the energy sector (e.g. TAP).
With regard to the area of fieldwork, research began as early as the 17th century when Robert de Dreux described Makre (most probably) in its Roman phase, documenting a sarcophagus with a Latin inscription, a Turkish tomb near a chapel, a cult stone with healing properties for Muslims and an ancient theater in the area. Excavations were first undertaken during World War I by Bulgarian archaeologists led by G. Karazow, who excavated part of the necropolis of Zone. Later on, systematic exploration was carried out at the site then known as Mesemvria/Mesemvria-Zone by A. Vavritsas, E. Pentazos, P. Pantou, and P. Tsatsopoulou. It was thanks to the work of Tsatsopoulou and her team that the site was conclusively identified with ancient Zone. Finally, during the 1980s and 1990s, K. Kallintzi and N. Efstratiou conducted excavations at the Makre toumba, concluding that the site should be identified with a trade post.
Perhaps more so than archaeologists, the peraia of Samothrace has attracted the interest of historians, epigraphists, numismatists and historic geographers, leading to a wealth of publications and intense discussions on matters of chronology, site-identification and the topography of Aegean Thrace.
Nowadays, researchers explore the type of settlements that existed before the arrival of the Greek settlers and aim to determine their relations with the local Thracians (e.g. hostility, acceptance, coexistence and to what extent). Both the written record and primarily the archeological finds (ceramics, inscriptions, coins, works of art, habitation patterns, etc.) contribute to the detection of Thracian and Greek presence, and later on, of Macedonian and Roman evidence. At the same time, they help us formulate questions on the extent and type of relations within a site (commercial, cultural et al.); its urban, rural or other character; its economy; and broader issues of intercultural relations, topography and interconnection of the Samothracian peraia.
Areas of Interest
The four Areas of Interest (AOI) of our project are defined to the N by the Zonaia Mountains and Via Egnatia, to the W by Mount Ismaros and Cape Serreion and to the E by the modern beach-town of Dikella. Administratively, they belong to two Ephorates of Antiquities, the Ephorates of Rhodope and Evros. The area is characterized by geomorphological variety both in terms of landscape and soil, and of archaeological data.
Area #1, called Exochi, falls within the limits of the Rhodope Prefecture. It is a plateau SW of Petrota, consisting of clusters of cultivated land scattered amidst semi-mountainous, bushy areas. The topography dictates the area that we can explore, limited to about 50ha. The pedestrian survey and geophysical research will be scheduled according to the type of crop (cereals, cotton).
Area #2 also falls within the boundaries of the Rhodope Prefecture, but it is smaller in size (17ha), essentially overlapping with the end of the stream (Gialou Rema) south of Petrota. Its boundaries comprise the declared archeological site plus an extension to the W, to the degree that the topography and the modern facilities in the area (e.g. army summer camp, quarries) allow exploration.
Area #3 expands around the hills NE of Petrota and administratively belongs to the Evros Prefecture. The core of this AOI extends along the plateau between the villages of Perama and Komaros, and the surrounding slopes of higher elevation. It includes cultivated fields, hills with bushy vegetation, and olive groves, among others. Similarly to AOI#1, this area (577ha) was defined by the topography and the existing facilities (e.g. Gold Mining S.A., livestock units, houses), taking further into consideration the fortified hills that dominate the landscape; geographical limitations, such as inaccessibility of hills, dense bushy vegetation; and the exploration possibilities offered by the site for both surface and geophysical research.
Area #4 covers an equally large area on the coastal front of the Evros Prefecture (834ha), expanding E of ancient Zone, W of Makri and S of Mesimvria and Dikella. It is a coastal zone – predominantly flat – with a variety of crops, but also houses and other properties. Archaeological autopsies undertaken in the past have produced a variety of data from this area, which will be considered as we prepare for fieldwork.