Bona Mansio - Roman Road Station on Via Diagonalis

Period: Roman, Late antiquity
Code: MAN.EXC.23
Session: To be announced
Academic credits available: up to 9
Cost starting from: To be announced

The Project and the Course

General Information

Project type: Field school & archaeological excavation. The variety of activities and the team's professionalism and flexibility make this project suitable for both beginners and those advanced in field Roman and Late Roman Archaeology. 

NB! The project is especially appropriate for who would like to gather intense experience with practical archaeological work: mainly technical documentation (drawing & photography), filling of context sheets and inventory cards, pottery reading and statistics etc.       

The field school started: 2016

Site: Mansio Lissae – Roman Road Station, situated between the small towns of Septemvri and Vetren, southern Bulgaria.

Project venue: Villa Velis is a newly built tourist complex including a spa hotel and a winery. It is located in the southern part of the village of Karabunar, 8 km (5 mi) from the motorway exit "Trakia" on the road to Velingrad. During the project work days all participants will be taken from the hotel to the site (which is located 8 km away) and back.

Period(s) of occupation: Roman, Late Roman, Medieval    

Major field school topics/activities: Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation; Roman and Late Roman fortification and architecture; documentation and conservation of Roman and Late Roman finds (mainly pottery & metal), excursions to significant heritage sites in Thrace, Bulgaria.

BHF partners in this project   

Dig director & field school coordinators: Alexander Manev (PhD Candidate in Archaeology, Department of Classical Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences); Angela Pencheva (PhD in Classical Archaeology; Balkan Heritage Foundation & Field School Program Coordinator)


  • Two-week session 1: To be announced
  • Two-week session 2:  To be announced
  • Three-week session 3: To be announced
  • Four-week session 4: To be announced

Application deadlines: To be announced

Minimum length of stay for participants: two weeks

Minimum age: 18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)

Number of field school places available: Maximum 18

Project language: English

Experience required: No previous experience is required.

Special requirements: Participation in the project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities. The average September temperatures in the area are 25-30⁰ C (77-86° F) or higher. All participants should bring clothes and toiletries suitable for hot and sunny weather but should also prepare for possible rainy, windy and chilly days.        

 A medical COVID-19 certificate will be requested from each participant. The participants should have medical insurance including COVID-19 treatment and repatriation. The participants should inform the project staff about any health issues, allergies, and food preferences.

All participants are also expected to prepare by reading (at least) the BHFS handbook chapter about archaeological excavation techniques and methods (reading materials will be sent by e-mail to all registered students before the beginning of the project.)    

Participants will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.        

COVID-19 Safety measures: All participants should read our updated Terms & Conditions regarding BHF's COVID-19 Safety policy.

The Site and the Excavation Project

Via Diagonalis (Via Militaris) became the most important road through the Balkan Peninsula in Roman times when it connected the city of Singidunum (today’s Belgrade, Serbia) on the Danube River with Byzantium (Istanbul) – the city which would later become the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The road is ca. 1000 km (600 miles) long and passes through large important Roman cities like Naissus, Serdica, Philippopolis and Hadrianopolis. It is the fundamental connection between the western part of the Empire and the East. It was also the official route for armies moving throughout the provinces.

Mansio Lissae, later renamed Bona Mansio (Lat. Good Station) is one of the few archaeologically identified Roman road stations on the route of Via Diagonalis. The initial name of the site derives from the putative nearby Thracian settlement of Lissa. The road station was a fortified structure, one of many, intended to safeguard the main road. It is situated in the Thracian Valley, between the Roman cities of Serdica (modern Sofia) and Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv). The station is in the form of an irregular tetragon, surrounded by thick walls with corner towers. The ruins of the fortification are still visible high above ground. 


The very first investigations of the site were limited sounding trenches dug in 2002 within a Bulgarian-French archaeological campaign which sought to research the ancient legacy of the region. The trenches have revealed a thick cultural layer of over 3 meters in depth. The ruins of fortification walls as high as 4 meters were also unearthed. The archaeologists discovered Roman pottery and coins from the 3rd and 4th CE. Nevertheless, the chronology and characteristics of the structure still remain unclear.

Although no modern construction threatens the Roman cultural legacy, the site is considered endangered. Since Roman archaeological valuables attract the interest of many people, during the last decades, the site has turned into a training ground for treasure hunters. The hazard of further destruction, as well as scientific interest in the site, have set this project into motion. With the first archaeological campaigns in 2016 - 2019, BHF aimed also to draw the attention of the local community and the interest of the surrounding municipalities to put this endangered site on their priority list for protection of cultural heritage. Currently BHF is still the main sponsor of the excavations and the entire income from the field school participation fees for the 2022 season will be spent on financing the archaeological campaign! 

The Field School

The practical goal of the excavation in 2022 is to continue uncovering the fortification wall and to create a long-term strategy for the preservation of the architectural elements of the settlement. The scientific aspect of the project aims to gather information about the character and the chronological development of the site and thus to contribute to the study of the Roman road system in Thrace. In accordance to these objectives the starting campaign of the project is set with the following tasks:

  • Create a major plan of the existing fortification structures.
  • Carry out excavations within the fortification wall and outside.
  • Plot the excavated area on the major plan.
  • Process and document all the collected material from the excavations.
  • Work out general stratigraphy for the site.

The project sessions available in 2022 include the following three modules:

  • Fieldwork including excavation, maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan / a ground plan/ a cross-section, 3D positioning of finds, taking coordinates with a level device, and taking photographs at the site;
  • Lectures, workshops and instructions in Roman and Field Archaeology, finds processing, documentation and workshops on conservation of pottery & metal;
  • Excursions to various cultural and archaeological sites in the region such as the ancient town of Philippopolis, present day Plovdiv (Please refer to the Course Program and Agenda below).

The excavation project in 2022 will take place over four weeks: from 22 August until 19 September. Field school sessions with flexible duration are available in this time period: two two-week sessions, a three-week session and a four- week session. Participants who join the three- and four-week project session will be able to further develop their skills and competences regarding the field work and finds processing, gained during the first two-week session and to attend a number of extra lectures, workshops and two excursions to the major Roman city of Diocletianopolis and a military outpost on Via Diagonalis.

All participants will receive:

  • Project handbook (in PDF, send by e-mail, hard copy upon arrival)
  • Balkan Heritage Field School certificate specifying the topics and the hours of the field school activities (fieldwork, lectures, workshops, educational trips, etc.);
  • T-shirt.

The Team

Instructors, Trainers and Area Supervisors:


  • Alexander Manev, Balkan Heritage Foundation Affiliated Archaeologist; PhD Candidate in Archaeology, Department of Classical Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences   
  • Angela Pencheva, Balkan Heritage Foundation & Field School Program Manager; PhD in Classical Archaeology    
  • Orlene Mcfaltrick, Balkan Heritage Foundation Affiliated Archaeologist; PhD in Classical Archaeology
  • Viara Petrova, Archaeologist, curator and research fellow at the Archaeological Museum "Prof. M. Domaradzki", Septemvri, Bulgaria;  PhD student in Archaeology, Sofia University, Bulgaria
  • Maya Nikolova, Pottery Conservator at Archaeological Museum "M. Domaradzki" in Septemvri, Bulgaria
  • Emilia Ivanova MA in Art Conservation, Conservator of Coins and Metal Artifacts, Sofia History Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria; Visiting professor at at the National Academy of Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria

The Program

Two-week field school sessions provide a minimum of 85 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours as follows:

Field Work

  • Practicing basic excavation techniques;
  • Use of tools and working techniques;
  • Creating of field documentation - field journal, context sheets and labels, ground plans and cross-sections, photographs, etc.
  • Identifying and sorting of archaeological finds;


  • Archaeological documentation of pottery (drawing, graphic reconstruction, photographing, description, etc.);
  • Cleaning of pottery.


  • Introduction to the History of the Balkan Peninsula and Thrace in the Roman and Late Antique Periods (I-VI c. CE);
  • Mansio Lissae. Sources and Evidence;
  • Roman Settlement Network and Road System in Thrace;   
  • Pottery Production in Thrace during Roman and Late Antique Periods (I-VI CE);
  • Development and Characteristics of the Fortification System in Thrace in the Roman and Late Antique Periods (I-VI CE);
  • History and Archaeology of Plovdiv; 

Field Instructions

  • Stratigraphy and Chronology;    
  • Dating Artifacts and Materials;
  • Three Dimensional Positioning of Finds, Features and Structures;
  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for Excavation and Documentation;
  • Introduction to the Field Journal, Context Sheets, Log Book and Other Forms
  • Excavation Preparation. Preliminary Indoor Research;
  • Excavation Completion. Post-Excavation Work and Analyses;
  • From the Field to Storage: Review of Basic Methods for Uncovering, "First Aid", Consolidation in Situ, Cleaning, Sorting, Labeling, Documenting and Storing Ceramic Artifacts;      

Guided Tours

  • Tour of the city of Plovdiv (the ancient city of Philippopolis) including the Archaeological Museum, Old Town Quarter and major Roman monuments;
  • The Medieval fortress "Tzepina".

NB! Please note that agenda for the second two-week session (5 - 19 of September) is going to be the same as the agenda for the second two weeks of the four-week session.

The three-week session provides a minimum of 120 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours incorporating all those of the two-week session in addition to the following:

  • Additional and more comprehensive fieldwork training and practices;


  • Roman Numismatics in Thrace (I - VI CE);   
  • History and Archaeology of Diocletianopolis;     




  • Conservation of Metal Artifacts (3-day course)

Guided tours to:

  • Tour of the Roman city and ancient spa complex of Diocletianopolis;

The four-week session provides a minimum of 180 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours incorporating all those of the three week session in addition to the following:

  • Additional and more comprehensive field work training and practices


  • Roman & Late Roman Pottery Conservation (2- day course);

The Agenda


First day

Arrival date:      

  • Two-week session 1, Three- and Four-week sessions:  To be announced
  • Two-week session 2: To be announced

Arrive by noon at Sofia Airport in Sofia, Bulgaria, conduct a COVID-19 PCR* test on arrival at the airport and get self-quarantined for the period before the pick-up, at the Best Western Premier Sofia Airport Hotel** (these rules may be changed. The BHFS will provide ongoing updates on COVID-19 rules and restrictions in Bulgaria to all enrolled students).

*The reimbursement payment covers the shuttle cost BUT DOES NOT cover the first night accommodation and PCR test costs!

**Please do not make any reservations before the confirmation of the field school and the latest updates about the COVID-19 situation, which will be sent to you via email one month before the beginning of the field school!

Second day

9.30 am - All students with negative PCR test results will be picked up from the hotel by a shuttle to Villa Velis, Karabunar, Pazardzhik district, Bulgaria

Afternoon:   Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School and collaborative universities & institutions, the project and the participants. Ice-breakers. 

Introductory lectures. Visit to Septemvri Archaeological Museum and the ancient sites of Bona Manio and Emporion Pistiros.   

8.00 pm - 9.30 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.

Working days

6.30 am - 7.00 am - Breakfast

7.10 am - 7.25 am - Travel to the site

7.30 am - 10.30 am - Fieldwork*

10.30 am - 11.00 am - Break

11.00 am - 1.00 pm - Fieldwork*

1.00 pm - 4.30 pm - Lunch and Siesta break

4.30 pm - 6.30 pm - Lectures/Workshops/Finds processing **

8.00 pm - 9.00 pm - Dinner

*In rare cases of rain, the project provides substitute activities including finds processing workshops and film projections at Villa Velis.

**Lectures and workshops in the area of Classical and Field Archaeology, focused on Roman and Late Antique periods in Thrace.

Excursion Schedule

The following excursions are included in the field school program and covered by the reimbursement payment: 

To be announced (Sunday): One-day excursion to the ancient town of Plovdiv – European capital of Culture 2019   

To be announced (Sunday): One-day excursion to the town of Hisarya (the Roman city and spa complex of Diocletianopolis)      

To be announced (Sunday): Visit to the Medieval fortress of Tzepina

Last day

Departure dates:      

Fall season:

  • Two-week session 1: To be announced
  • Three-week session 3: To be announced
  • Two-week session 2; Four-week session 4: To be announced


Departure day. Check-out by 12.30 pm.


Transfers to the airports in Sofia and Plovdiv can be arranged for an additional fee upon request.  

Villa Velis provides a SPA center with sauna, steam bath and swimming pool for free to all field school participants. The BHFS team can assist with the organization of additional leisure activities for participants upon request such as hiking, wine-tasting outside the Villa, movies etc.

Reading Background

Lander J. Roman Stone Fortifications. Variation and change from the first century AD to the fourth, BAR International Series 206, 1984

Johnson S. Late Roman Fortifications, London, 1983

Hayes J.W. Late Roman Pottery, London, 1972

Hayes J.W. Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery

Pena J.T. Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record, Cambridge, 2007   

Valeva, J., Nankov, E., Graninger D. (ed.) A Companion to Ancient Thrace, Wiley Blackwell, 2015   

Van Tilburg C. Traffic and Congestion in the Roman Empire, Routledge, 2007

Roman Imperial Coinage vol. 1-10


Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities


Project venue: Villa Velis is located in the village of Karabunar, 84 km/52 mi away from the Bulgarian capital Sofia and just 8 km/5 mi away from the "Trakia" motorway exit to Velingrad. The distance from the villa to the site is approx. 15 km/9.5 mi, and it takes approx. 15/20 min to drive. 

The nearest air terminals are: Sofia (Bulgaria, 84 km/52 mi away) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria, 50 km/ 34 mi away.)  If participants arrive at one of these airports, a transfer to Villa Velis in Karabunar can be arranged by request. Individual or group transfer prices may vary, depending on the number of passengers, from 25 to 100 EUR. Ask for details.

How to get there: Participants who individually arrange their travel will be expected to arrive at Villa Velis on the arrival day by 7.00 pm. It may be reached by bus from Sofia (approx. 1 ½ hrs). A detailed travel info-sheet will be provided to enrolled students.

Visa requirements: Citizens of the EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria or any of Bulgaria’s neighboring countries for up to 90 days, with the exception of Turkey. However, the Turkish government facilitates tourism by providing the option for obtaining an e-visa at www.evisa.gov.tr/en/. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our Visa information page.

Accommodation & Meals

Accommodation*: Villa Velis - in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC), equipped with a/c and TV in a local newly built hotel. The hotel has a small swimming pool and spa, free of charge for the participants in the field school. There are cheap laundry services and free Wi-Fi is provided. Extra night - 30 EUR (per night per person), Single room - 200 EUR (for two-week period).

Subject to change. May be substituted with similar level accommodation.

Meals: Three meals (fresh, organic Bulgarian homemade food) per day are covered by the reimbursement payment. They usually take place (except the lunch packages during the excursions) in the hotel’s restaurant. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Brown-bag lunches are provided during the excursions and days off.

Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!


Free Time & Trips

Free time: Possible leisure activities during the siesta and days off in and around Karabunar are: swimming in/sunbathing around the hotel pool, hiking in the Rhodope Mountains, wine-tasting , visiting local tourist sites, traveling by the narrow gauge train to Velingrad (popular and larger spa and wellness town) or shopping and sightseeing in the neighboring cities of Pazardzhik and Plovdiv.

Technicalities & Practicalities

Insurance: The reimbursement payment does not cover insurance. It is mandatory to arrange your own health insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. The insurance must cover as a minimum the following risks: medical treatment in case of an accident or disease, specifically covering COVID-19 as well as costs related to evacuation and repatriation. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.   

Weather: South-European climate dominates in the field school area, making summers hot (30-40° C, 86-104° F). Rainy and chilly days in this season are rare but not excluded.


What to bring?

  • A pair of working shoes (sneakers, running shoes) and a pair of comfortable shoes for walking/hiking;
  • Clothing suitable for an outdoor working environment: sun-hat and light clothes with long sleeves and legs (protecting from the sun and insects), including a light raincoat (consider weather conditions - hot and sunny, but rain may fall as well)   
  • Wide brim hat 
  • Swimming suit   
  • Small backpack (for your water bottle, snacks, camera, etc.)
  • Medication - only prescription medicines you may need. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria;
  • A converter to EU type electricity wall-plug if needed;
  • A good attitude for work, fun, study and discoveries ;)

NB! Excavation & documentation tools and materials, as well as working gloves are available at the site.


The Cost



In order to participate in this educational project the BHFS expects all participants to reimburse their related costs, i.e. B&B accommodation (hotel + breakfast per day), tools, materials, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and other administrative costs. All participants are invited to support the project realization through donations. Information about all related costs will be published as soon as the WHO organization announces the end of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Reimbursement Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer
- Online transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.   
TransferWise money transfer

For further information contact Admissions Office at [email protected].


Academic Credits


New Bulgarian University grants 6 ECTS credits to students for attending two-week sessions and 9 ECTS credits for attending the four-week session. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee. For details: Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.




Bona Mansio - Roman Road Station on Via Diagonalis

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