3 Treasure Hunters to Be Tried for Looting Ancient Roman City Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov
Three men are going to be tried for treasure hunting by the District Court in the northern Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo as they have been caught looting the Ancient Roman military camp and city of Novae near today’s town of Svishtov on the Danube River.
The three men aged 21, 24, and 26 come from the towns of Iskar and Trastenik, and the city of Pleven, in the Bulgaria’s northern Pleven District.
They are going to face treasure hunting charges on October 21, 2015, report the Bulgarian daily Trud.
In February 2014, they were caught with shovels and a metal detector on the territory of the Ancient Roman city Novae near Bulgaria’s Svishtov.
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 Moesiae, the Danubian frontier of the Roman Empire.
The three men were arrested in the “secure zone” of the Roman military camp, in an area known as Staklen (meaning “made of glass” – because of the Ancient Roman glass fragments on the site).
The security officers confiscated from them a total of four ancient coins and six metal items, all of them dating to the period of the Roman Empire. The metal items were later found to be parts of ancient keys and fibulas.
The three men’s case is said to be interesting because the looters ended up in the small guarded zone of Novae, near the place where part of the Ancient Roman city was restored in a cultural tourism project, whereas most of what once was the territory of the Late Antiquity settlement and the military camp is not guarded.
“These treasure hunters who came from outside the region were probably misled by the treasure hunting mafia in Svishtov to end up in a police trap because the territories [in our region] have been partitioned long ago, and no one can dig wherever they like,” an unnamed expert is quoted as saying.
This statement refers to the rampant treasure hunting crimes happening on a daily basis all over Bulgaria which are doing irreparable damage to a piece of the global archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage. Learn more in the Background Infonotes below.
Also check out our stories about the recent archaeological excavations and discoveries as well as historical reenactments in the Ancient Roman city of Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov:
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.