A view of the previous excavations of a large building in the Roman city of Novae near Bulgariá’s Svishtov, which is believed to have been first used as an armamentarium and then as a granary. The building is yet to be excavated further. Photo: archaeologist Pavlina Vladkova / Yantra Dnes daily
The first team of Bulgarian and Polish archaeologists have begun the 57th archaeological season in a row in the Ancient Roman city of Novae located at the southernmost point of the Danube River near the today’s town of Svishtov.
The Polish team also includes Dr. Elena Klenina from Poznan University, architects Rafal Cerner and Marta Jaskulska from the Wroclaw University of Technology, and several young historians and archaeologists. Any coins to be discovered during the 57th annual digs in Novae will be examined by the numismatist of the Veliko Tarnovo Museum, Stoyan Mihaylov.
The fortress 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.
Until mid July, the first Bulgarian-Polish expedition is going to excavate a section of the Roman city situated right next to the partly restored and exhibited in situ ruins of what is said to be the largest known Early Christian bishop’s basilica from the 5th-6th century AD on the Balkan Peninsula, and the huge Roman thermae (public baths) from the time of Emperor Handrian (r. 117-138 AD) whose foundations remain under the above-mentioned bishopric complex.
This is where during previous excavations the archaeologists exposed parts of a massive building with pillars with was built at the same time as the thermae.
“This season our efforts will be focused on delineating this complex from the north and the west, and figuring out its outline and size," says lead archaeologist Pavlina Vladkova.
The function of the large building with a colonnade remains unknown to the researchers for the time being.
“The most logical hypothesis is that this was an armamentarium, i.e. the room where arms, military equipment, and ammunitions were stored, and military drills and training were conducted," adds Vladkova.
“All military camps from the Roman period were supposed to have such buildings but, unfortunately, the research in all of what was the Roman Empire has yielded incomplete results because not a single building of this type has been completely excavated. This fact has made us more ambitious because the exposure of its all-out layout, size, and exact location will be a contribution not just to the study of Novae but also of the Lower Danube region," the archaeologist elaborates.
She also reveals that her team’s excavations so far have revealed that the potential armamentarium ceased to function as such in 4th century AD, and was turned into a horreum (i.e. a granary). In the early 5th century, during the construction of the bishop’s basilica, the site was leveled off in order to build the Early Christian religious complex on top of it.
The excavations of the armamentarium/horreum in Novae are planned to continue until the second half of July.
In August, two other Polish teams from the University of Warsaw are going to take over the excavations, together two Bulgarian teams who will be working with funding from the Ministry of Culture.
One of the Bulgarian teams will be led by Assoc. Prof. Evgeniya Gencheva from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia. It will continue the excavations of the area around the western gate of Novae, and along the main street (Via Principalis) which bisected what originally was a Roman military camp to reach its eastern gate.
The other Bulgarian team will be led again by Assoc. Prof. Vladkova. It is going to carry on the excavations of a large residence situated outside the fortress walls of the military camp of Novae but close to its western gate.
After the excavations of these two sites are completed, they are expected to be conserved and exhibited in situ together with the already unearthed valetudinarium, i.e. Roman military hospital.
Part of the ruins of Novae were partly restored and exhibited in situ under a project financed with EU funding worth almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3 million) back in 2014.
It is also reported that Svishtov Municipality is working on a new restoration project to build upon the previous one, with the stated goal of making Novae the best and most fully exhibited Roman military camp in Europe.
The Roman Military Camp and Late Antiquity / Late Roman / Early Byzantine 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.