The Balkan Heritage Foundation and the Department of Archaeology at New Bulgarian University

are pleased to invite you to the latest of our

BEMA Online Seminars in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology

The Relationship between Skeletons, Trade, and Migration at the Ancient Greek Black Sea Colony of Apollonia Pontica (7th-3rd centuries BCE)



by Dr. Katharine Kolpan

Assistant Professor  at the Department of Culture, Society, and Justice at the University of Idaho


Saturday, January 20, 2024

at 1 pm New York (EDT), 6 pm London, UK (GMT),  8 pm Sofia, Bulgaria (EET)

The event will last approximately 90 mins including Q&A.
To register and receive a Zoom link, go to our website and fill out the registration form.

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This presentation utilizes archaeological, historical, and osteological data to examine the founding of the ancient city of Apollonia Pontica, its expansion as a Black Sea trade center, the various lines of evidence that it was a place where locals and foreigners interacted, and how one goes about assessing whether Apollonia drew in migrants, in the same manner, it attracted foreign goods. 

Located in the southern portion of Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast where the modern seaside town of Sozopol now sits, the ancient site of Apollonia Pontica was founded by Milesian Greek colonists from Ionia (Western Turkey) around 610 BC. According to historical sources, the Milesians fled to Apollonia to escape acts of aggression by their Lydian neighbors, who had purposely burned their fields and damaged their agricultural land. The colonists built Apollonia Pontica along the first safe harbor after the Bosporus and quickly controlled maritime access to settlements along the northern Black Sea Coast, the Bay of Burgas, and the inland Thracian Plains. Excavated archaeological materials, such as Attic black- and red-figure pottery, imported glass, foreign wine amphorae, and non-native macro-botanicals, indicate Apollonia was engaged in maritime trade with merchants from other cities throughout the Aegean and the Near East, who likely exchanged these goods for copper and iron ore from local mining operations as well as fish from the area’s abundant fisheries. 

While there is significant evidence that trade goods traveled in and out of Apollonia, what is less certain is the role that immigration played in the colony’s expansion. Though ancient historical records mention the immigrants who founded the colony as well as a second wave of prosperous ship-holding Milesians who also fled the Lydians, it is unclear whether there were successive waves of migration and how well these immigrants integrated into the local populous. As is evident from examining modern migrations, the presence of immigrants may cause friction with the local community, leading to violence, subjugation, and possibly systemic oppression. Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that Aristotle briefly mentions a later influx of migrants contributed to strife and governmental change at Apollonia, suggesting that migration to the colony may have negatively impacted both the migrants and the local population. However, the cultural ties between the original Milesian colonists and later migrants may have also made it possible for certain foreign groups to assimilate within the community without creating hostility. There is a small amount of existing oxygen isotope evidence from Apollonia that suggests some of the individuals buried in its succession of substantial necropolises are not local and may have come from the Aegean. Changes in burial customs over time may also indicate outside influence. Additionally, there is evidence of healed trauma—particularly cranial trauma—among some of the individuals buried at Apollonia, though the relationship between migration and skeletal evidence of violence remains ambiguous, indicating how methods, such as isotope analysis and dental morphometrics, may shed light on whether migrants were more likely to assimilation or be victims of violence. Understanding more about whether migrants contributed significantly to Appolonia’s population would also provide new insight regarding migration to one of the largest and most vital colonies on the western Black Sea Coast during Classical Antiquity.