Bulgarian, Polish Archaeologists Start 56th Annual Excavations of Ancient Roman City Novae in Danube Town Svishtov
Archaeologists from Bulgaria and Poland are starting for the 56th consecutive year the archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman military camp and city of Novae located near the Bulgarian Danube town of Svishtov.
“It is no accident that Novae is the best studied military camp from the Roman Age not only in the Lower Danube Region, but also on the entire former territory of the Roman Empire,” says the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History in a statement announcing the start of the annual Bulgarian-Polish archaeological excavations.
The digs will be started by Polish archaeologists led by Dr. Andrzej Biernacki from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. His team will study a section of Novae located west of the Early Christian bishopric complex from the 5th-6th century AD, whose ruins have been partly restored and exhibited in situ under a project financed with EU funding worth almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3 million).
The Polish team will be searching for a massive public building which existed at roughly the same time as the huge Roman thermae (public baths) whose foundations remain under the above-mentioned bishopric complex, i.e. in the 2nd-3rd century AD. The archaeologists from Poland will seek to unearth the building and figure out its functions.
A second team of Polish archaeologists led by Prof. Peter Dyczek from the University of Warsaw is going to start work on the excavations in the Roman city Novae at the beginning of August.
For the past four years, Dyczek together with his students has been studying the buildings in the central part of the Roman military camp located next to one of the main streets between the eastern and western gate of the fortification. This is where the barracks of the First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica) and an officer’s residence were located. Last year this place yielded some of the most interesting finds including three bronze statuettes.
A third team of Polish archaeologists led by Prof. Tadeusz Sarnowski from the University of Warsaw will also arrive in Bulgaria’s Svishtov in August to reveal and document the different sections of the fortress walls of the Roman military camp of Novae.
Two teams of Bulgarian archaeologists – one from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and one from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History – are continuing their excavations at the western gate of Novae.
Their digs will provide further information about the construction periods, and about two streets – the street connecting the western and eastern gate, and the street running along the inside of the fortress wall of Novae. Once this section of the Roman city is fully explored, it will be exhibited in situ.
The Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History points out that the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture has provided only BGN 15,000 (app. EUR 7,500) in government funding for the 2015 summer excavations of Novae, and that this sum is “extremely insufficient”, especially taking into account the fact that part of it needs to be spent on clearing the terrain and conservation.
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.