With horses on the Roman roads

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IMPORTANT! Concerning Coronavirus disease (COVID 19).

In order to protect our participants and team and to comply with the requirement of 15 days quarantine in 2021, all offered field schools and workshops are situated high in the mountain in isolated, environmentally friendly places.

The groups are with a limited number of participants - 5 to 6 persons at most. All of them will not have other contacts for all period of stay. The planned excursions and other trips in the weekends will be held only in case of change the situation with COVID 19.

The members of the team will undergo voluntary isolation and quarantine 15 days before the start of the program. Everyone will take the required tests.

In addition, we will use only homemade food, produced in place - vegetables from local gardens, milk and cheese from local producers, homemade bread, etc. The places we use are located in protected area under the regalement of "Natura 2000" - an European network of strictly protected nature reserves.

With horses on the Roman roads

TYPE: Experimental Archaeology
PERIOD: Roman Ages 2th - 3th c. AD
DATES: 1 August - 14 August & 22 August - 4 September, 2021
PARTICIPATION FEE: 1349 for two weeks

Why Experimental Archaeology?

With horses on the Roman roads

Archaeology uses two kinds of sources - the written memories of the people lived before us and artifacts found in the time of fieldwork. However, we often forget that in fact we deal with the real life situations and we study the life of real people which not differed from us except the fact they had lived long before our time. Good example is the scientific hypothesis that the pottery centers were trade their products 200 even 500 km away. This is true, but is hard to answer how exactly this very fragile goods was transported on the stone Roman roads with carts pulled by horses. How many items? How long time? How many persons were involved? Was it worth the effort? And at all - was it possible to make it? So many questions to be answered before the scientists became sure in the conclutions.

The Roman roads looks easy to be overcome in our times. Just ... try to make it with horses - like 2 000 years ago. Experimental archaeology is a powerful and very interesting method of investigating the past. The results could be unexpected but in any case very useful for Archaeology and Anthropology science.

The current project will focus on well preserved Roman roads situated in a mountain area. We will cross the mountain from Nord to South riding on the ancient roads which connect the Danubian Plain with Thracia. We will cross the boundary between two Late Roman provinces - Dacia Ripensis and Dacia Mediterranea and will try to answer the questions:

  • Where were the places where the horses were irrigated?
  • How many kilometers / Roman miles was possible to ride without stopping for rest (for the people and for the horses)? Is it possible this way to locate the ancient stations and traveler inns?
  • How the roads were guarded and what was the function of the fortresses along the road?

And many more questions ... This will be an exciting Archaeological adventure and scientific research which will give us new skills and knowledge.

Roman roads network in Svoge area

Roman milestone from Mezdra

Haemus Mons (modern Stara planina) crosses almost the entire Balkan peninsula from West to the East where it reaches the Black sea. Today on the ridge of the mountain passes the famous international hiking trail E-3 Kom - Emine (650 km).

In ancient times the mountain divided the Balkan peninsula into two parts - Danubian plain at the North and Thracia in the South. Crossing the mountains was a dangerous and risky venture. That's why the primary building activity of the Romans was to ensure secure passage through this perilous area. Till now are known several Roman milestones situated at the entrances of the mountain passes. The earliest one dated back to the time of emperor Nero (61 AD) and is placed on the road connected the town of Serdica (modern Sofia) with Montana. In the area, we going to study, is known only one milestone, recently discovered in Mezdra - at the Northern exit of Iskar gorge. Its date is 367-378 AD and was erected by the emperors Valent, Valentinian, and Gratian. This milestone shows the distance to the next town / road station - XXVIII Roman miles (about 40 km).

The biggest part of the scientists thinks that the road network in Iskar gorge is built in the Late Antique period (after the reign of emperor Constantius the Great). In this stage of research is hard to confirm or reject this theory. It is hard to believe that in the 2nd-3th century was no connection between the main town Serdica and the Danubian plain. The truth is that the Roman roads are hard to be dated on the basis of the construction only with no additional data from the written sources or road marks. The other method is the stations along the road to be found and excavated. Thus we will get relatable data about the time the road was used and probably the period of its construction. That's why our experimental research is so important. Riding on the Roman road we will look in practice for suitable places to stop and rest and this will give basic information for future study of the area and respectively - for dating the road.

In the studied area along the Iskar river are localized two Roman roads leading from South to North (from Serdica to Danubian plain). Both of them go straight through the mountain and only the Eastern one crosses the river at the modern village of Lakatnik. Here is situated one of the biggest fortresses in the Iskar gorge - the Osikovo fortress. At the same place, the river turns its direction from South-North to West-East.

It is an interesting fact that in 1885 the Austrian researcher Felix Kanitz crosses the river at the same place and describe the situation like this: "Transfer of my horses across the ford happened with a lot of noise and a waste of time. Here the river flows into a deeply concave bed. In places, it is 7-8 meters." It is hard to believe that the Romans used the same method for crossing the river, i. e. we should expect remain of a Roman bridge here.

Nowadays some sections of the old Roman roads are covered with asphalt or flatted with a tractor. However, they are still visible on the terrain and are easy to follow. Comparing with the entire territory of modern Bulgaria, those are the best-preserved remains of Roman roads in all country. Even now long sections of those roads continue to be used. Surprisingly they were never had been studied by specialists and our expedition will be the first real scientific research of this area.

With horses on the Roman roads
With horses on the Roman roads
With horses on the Roman roads

Course description

The main goals of our expedition will be to trace the preserved parts of the two roads, to connect the missing or destroyed sections, and to localize the places along the roads for future surveys. In course of the program will be used methods of field research and GIS (geographic information systems) mapping.

The course will be focused on practical activities. No previous experience or knowledge of field research is required. Introduction to the basic history and archaeology of the Roman period will be given in course of three theoretical lectors. Through different seminars, the students will become familiar with the practical methods used in archaeology and will gain skills to work with GIS, to record data, and to conduct an archaeological field survey.

The training course of horse riding will take place at the beginning of the session within three days.

No previous experience is necessary!

The horses we use are good trained and very meek and friendly. The students will be taught how to communicate and contact the animals and look after them. Will be given a basic knowledge of the horse equipment including how to use it. The training includes horse riding in an arena, short walks in the vicinity with the assistance of the instructor, and exercises for leading and control the horse. By the end of the training program, the students will be able to ride the horses by themselves in a slow gait.

Important! The participants should be in good health and physical condition. They should understand the risk of physical fatigue and minor injuries. The students must be ready to overcome different stress situations as the sudden startle of the horse, physical malaise, etc.

  1. Preliminary research of the studied area. Gathering information about the landscape, archaeological data, and publications.

  2. Working with GIS software. Using vector or raster data, multi-layered and multi-scale spatial frame renders geographical databases.

  3. Working with mobile apps. Tricing roads, trails, etc. Visualization and editing tracks in different file formats.

  4. Archaeological survey methods. Collecting, documenting, and analyzing field information. Working with different kinds of sources.

  1. History of the Svoge area. Archaeological evidence and methods of research.

  2. Roman provinces in the Balkan peninsula. Introduction of Roman archaeology.

  3. Roman roads. Main types, construction and engineering, utilization.

  1. Madzharov, Mitko. 2009. Roman roads in Bulgaria. Contribution to the development of Roman road system in the provinces of Moesia and Thrace. Veliko Tarnovo: Faber

  2. Panaite, A., 2012. Roman roads in Moesia Inferior. Archaeological and epigraphic evidence. Ruse, s.n., pp. 593-600.

  3. Adams, Colin. 2007. Land transport in Roman Egypt 30 BC–AD 300: A study in administration and economic history. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

  1. Archaeological Atlas of Antiquity - Svoge area

  2. Omnes Viae: Roman Routeplanner

The team

Nevena Ilieva


Licensed horse riding instructor


Nevena Ilieva is the owner of a small horse farm in the village of Milanovo. She is a trained horse riding instructor and member of the Bulgarian Equestrian Tourism Association (BETA). Several years already she is exploring the area of Svoge municipality and organize short distance touristic trips with horses. She has mapped the old roads in the municipality and in association with Svoge Heritage Program started the current project. Her main ambition is to make the region attractive to tourists and entusiasts and to preserve and popularize its historical heritage.

Krassimira Todorova

Krassimira Todorova - Curator in Svoge museum collection. Archaeologist Svoge Heritage Program. Specialization in Roman Archaeology.


Conservation of an icon

Dimitar Petrov - Technical support.



The itinerary will follow two Roman roads:

1. Starts somewhere in the area of Vratsa, where is situated the ancient fortress Valvae. From here in South-West direction, the road goes on the mountain ridge to the village of Milanovo, where is our base camp. In this section, the road bed is very well preserved. Unfortunately in the 80s of the last century, the road is flattened and expanded with heavy machines to be used with agricultural purpose. Nowadays this remarkable historical monument is in danger again as the local authorities plan to cover it with asphalt.

The village of Milanovo is situated at 900 m altitude and about 300 m higher than the bed of the river Iskar (ancient Oescus). The route of the road from here to the next point - Lakatnik is not very clear but probably its follow the river Peter - a tributary of Iskar where some strengthening of the coast is preserved. At that place, at the left bank of the river Iskar, is situated the large fortress "Osikovsko gradiste". Here the road crosses the river and heads to the old village of Lakatnik. We should mention that the two villages - Lakatnik and Bov are "duplicated" after the construction of the railway line at the end of the 19th century. The old settlements were 4-5 km away from the train and the people start to move and settle near the train stations. This way two new villages arose close to the railway called Gara (Train station) Lakatnik and Gara (Train station) Bov. Nowadays those two new villages are much bigger than the oldest ones.

Near Lakatnik is situated the second fortress along the road - "Vinovgrad". From here the road takes South-East direction and climb to the ridge of the mountain reaching after 20 km to picturesque plateau. This section is also well preserved and is used by cars and jeeps. At the wide plateau is situated the most interesting archaeological site in the region. In 1901 here was found a small plate with Latin inscription, published by the famous Bulgarian scientist Bogdan Filov. The text says that at the time of Roman Emperors Carus and Carinus (282 AD) from here passes the boundary between the two provinces of Dacia (Dacia Ripensis and Dacia Mediteranea). At the same place are located the ruins of a big basilica or church which is not studied. The not confirmed hypothesis is that this not excavated remains could be the main building of a huge Roman mansio (road station). The forthcoming season the so-called "church" is planned to be excavated by Svoge Heritage Program (see our Program "Archaeological excavations of St. Panteleimon basilica").

The ruins of the basilica are situated just in front of the Trastenaya hut. From here the preserved Roman road continues to the South. Our expedition will follow the road for 30 km and will turn to the village of Batulya, where is our second base camp.

2. The second road is situated at the left bank of the river Iskar and keeps South-North straight direction. Its rout is preserved in vicinity of the villages Zanoge and Zasele. In the time of expedition we will explore the options for its layout and possible not preserved directions.

The expedition incorporates research of the two described above Roman roads. Initially we will start with the Northern part of the first road and will ride to Vratsa. After returning in the base camp in Milanovo we will contniue with the second road, which is situated South of the village. Instead to cross the river Iskar in the ancient point (Lakatnik - where the modern infrastructure is not suitible for horses) we will continue to village of Bov and will use the modern bridge there. From here we will continue to Trastenaya hut where we will find the route of the first road again. We will continue to follow it and will leave it in vicinity of Batulya.

The second session will follow the same itinerary but in opposite direction - starting from Batulya and ending in Milanovo.

Download the track of the expedition gpx kml kmz


Session 1: 1 August - 14 August, 2021

Session 2: 22 August - 4 September, 2021

- guest house / hut / tourist complex

- tent

- training / riding


Day Place Activity
1 Milanovo Arriving
2 Milanovo Training
3 Milanovo Training
4 Milanovo Training
5 Ledenika Riding to Ledenika
6 Ledenika Day in Vratsa
7 Milanovo Riding back to Milanovo
8 Milanovo Day off
9 Outdoors - tents Riding to Zasele
10 Zasele Riding to Zasele
11 Trastenaya Riding to Trastenaya
12 Trastenaya Day off
13 Outdoors - tents Riding to Batulya
14 Batulya Riding to Batulya
15 Sofia Departure


Day Place Activity
1 Batulya Arriving
2 Batulya Training
3 Batulya Training
4 Batulya Training
5 Outdoors - tents Riding to Trastenaya
6 Trastenaya Riding to Trastenaya
7 Zasele Riding to Zasele
8 Zasele Day off
9 Outdoors - tents Riding to Milanovo
10 Milanovo Riding to Milanovo
11 Milanovo Day off
12 Ledenika Riding to Ledenia
13 Ledenika Day in Vratsa
14 Milanovo Riding to Milanovo
15 Sofia Departure

Living conditions

The base camp in Milanovo

The base camp in Milanovo

The base camp in Batulya

The base camp in Batulya

Ledenika hut

Ledenika hut

The basic pack of this project is designed in accordance with the viral pandemic precautions, i.e. the group will keep isolation for all period of stay. Thus we will have two base camps in the beginning and in the end of the expedition, situated in the villages Milanovo and Batulya. In both places, we will use guest houses rented only for members of the expedition. The food will be provided by "Horses in Milanovo" farm. The guesthouses offer good living conditions, including bath, laundry, and WiFi.

In the time of travelling / riding the group will sleep outdoors in tents. Only two of the rides are planned to be in open area in the mountain. In other cases the group will settle down near the huts or touristic complexes.

In case of cancellation of the precautionary measures and quarantine requirements in the summer 2021, the group will use huts and touristic complexes as follow: Ledenika hut, Elata complex in Zasele, Trastenaya hut.

All rides will be followed by jeep which will ensure the "technical support" of the group. The jeep will carry our provisions and luggage as well as medications for first aid. The jeep will be used also in case of emergency or in any other situation when fast reaction and transportation is necessary.

The itinerary is structured so that there is a possibility to do laundry at least every 3 days. Washing and bathing is arranged in each place except the two-days rides in open mountain area (day 9-10, 12-13 for session 1 and 5-6, 9-10 for session 2).

Clothes and equipment

The program ensure all necessary equipment for riding horses, field work and practical seminars. Your personal equipment should not be very heavy! You will need a rucksack, comfortable hiking shoes (we do not suggest open toed shoes or moccasins), comfortable jeans, shorts and tee-shirts. Don't forget to take et least one pullover (sweatshirt, loose jacket, etc.). In the mountain area you will need also, pocketknife, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray.

Elata complex in Zasele

Elata complex in Zasele

Trastenaya hut

Trastenaya hut

Outdoors - tents

Outdoors - tents

Expenses & Discounts


  • The transfer from Sofia airport to basic camp and back.
  • Three days of intensive training on horse riding.
  • 10 full days of horse riding.
  • Tools and equipment.
  • Tuition fees (theoretical lectures and practical seminars).
  • All meals for the time of the expedition.
  • Accommodation in guest houses / huts.
  • Health insurance.


  • Your international transportation expenses.
  • In case you need visa for Bulgaria, you have to cover this cost also by yourself.

One session (2 weeks), accommodation in guest houses / huts € 1,349  
One session (2 weeks), accommodation in tents for all period of stay € 1,259  
Early registration (till December 31, 2020) - one session, accommodation in guest houses / huts € 1,281 5%
Early registration (till December 31, 2020) - one session, accommodation in tents for all period of stay € 1,196 5%
Participation in more than one "Svoge Heritage Program" (SHP) projects, accommodation in guest houses / huts € 1,282 5%
Participation in more than one SHP projects, accommodation in tents for all period of stay € 1,196 5%
Group of three or more people, accommodation in guest houses / huts € 1,214 10%
Group of three or more people, accommodation in tents for all period of stay € 1,133 10%


To join us you should simply fill in our Application form. In the time of applying we required € 150 booking fee to be paid in advance. This amount is not refundable! Your place is considered reserved only after the payment of the fee.

After receiving your application we will proceed with your documents and will contact you within three days with further instructions. The rest of the fee is payable 4 weeks before the beginning of the field school. This amount is fully reimbursable but in case of cancellation, you should inform us not later than one week prior beginning of the expedition. After this deadline, the amount is not refundable!

Any additional questions concerning application procedure and field school you can send to heritage.svoge@gmail.com

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