Bulgarian Prosecutors Charge 3 Men with Treasure Hunting Digs in Ancient Roman Military Camp Novae

Bulgarian Prosecutors Charge 3 Men with Treasure Hunting Digs in Ancient Roman Military Camp Novae

A view of the ruins of the Ancient Roman military camp and city Novae near Bulgaria's Danube town of Svishtov. Photo: World Monuments Fund

A view of the ruins of the Ancient Roman military camp and city Novae near Bulgaria’s Danube town of Svishtov. Photo: World Monuments Fund

Three men from the District of Pleven in Northern Bulgarian have been charged with treasure hunting on the territory of the Ancient Roman legionary base and city Novae located near today’s Danube city of Svishtov, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry has announced.

The Ancient Roman military camp and city of Novae was the headquarters of the Roman First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica) from 69 AD until at least the 430s, i.e. for almost four hundred years; it was one of the major Roman and later Byzantine strongholds defending the so called limes, the Danubian frontier of the Roman Empire.

The three men currently released on bail were busted during a police operation cracking down on treasure hunting and trafficking of cultural artifacts on February 11, 2015.

The men aged between 22 and 27 were caught with a metal detector while digging in the guarded area of the archaeological monument known as “Roman Military Camp and Late Antiquity City of Novae", which was a major Roman and Byzantine military outpost and urban center between the 1st and the 7th century AD.

During the search, the police seized from the three men four coins and six metal fragments dating back to the period of the Roman Empire.

The partially restored ruins of the Roman city and military camp of Novae were unveiled in 2014. The restoration was funded mostly with EU money. Photo: Svishtov Municipality

The partially restored ruins of the Roman city and military camp of Novae were unveiled in 2014. The restoration was funded mostly with EU money. Photo: Svishtov Municipality

A map showing the most important Roman strongholds along the limes, the Lower Danube frontier of the Roman Empire. Novae is located at the southernmost point of the Danube. Map: Zeigelbrener, Wikipedia

A map showing the most important Roman strongholds along the limes, the Lower Danube frontier of the Roman Empire. Novae is located at the southernmost point of the Danube. Map: Zeigelbrener, Wikipedia

Background Infonotes:

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking.

One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.

The Roman Military Camp and Late Antiquity City of Novae is located 4 km east of the Bulgarian Danube city of Svishtov in an area called Staklen (meaning “made of glass" – because of the Ancient Roman glass fragments on the site).

It was a legionary base and a Late Roman city which formed around its canabae, a civilian settlement near a Roman military camp, housing dependents, in the Roman province Moesia Inferior, later Moesia II, set up after the Roman Empire conquered Ancient Thrace south of the Danube in 46 AD. It had a total area of 44 hectares (108 acres), according to a decree of Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD).

Novae is located near the southernmost point of the Danube where in 48 AD the 8th August Legion (Legio VIII Augusta) was stationed after participating in the suppression of a Thracian uprising.

In 69 AD, it was replaced by the First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica), which was headquartered there for the next almost 4 centuries, at least until the 430s AD, and was a major force in the defense of the so called Lower Danube limes (frontier) against barbarian invasions together with other Roman strongholds such as Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Durostorum (today’s Silistra), and Ratiaria (today’s Archar).

A testimony to the importance of Novae was that it was visited by three Roman Emperors: Trajan (r. 98-117 AD), Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD), and Caracalla (r. 198-217 AD). The most prosperous times for Novae was during the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD).

In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae; regardless of the siege, however, the fortress of Novea did not fall into the hands of the Goths.

With the continuing Goth invasions and settlement in the Balkan provinces of the Roman Empire and East Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the 4th and the 5th century AD, in 418-451 AD Novae became the residence of Ostrogoth Chieftain Theodoric Strabo who was a rival of his kinsman, Theodoric the Great, King of the Germanic Ostrogoths (r. 475-526 AD).

The last traces of major construction at Novae date to the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). At the end of the 6th and the early 7th century Novae was attacked by the Avars and the Slavs which led the Ancient Roman and Byzantine city to decline.

In the late 5th and 6th centuries Novae was the center of a bishopric. Novae was last mentioned as a city in written sources in the 7th century AD.

In 2014, the local authorities in Svishtov unveiled the partial restoration of the ruins of Novae with almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) of EU funding.