Book on Bulgaria’s Roman Danube Cities Durostorum, Novae Honors Archaeologist Peti Donevski’s 70th Birthday

Archaeologist Peti Donevski, 70, during the presentation of his book of research papers covering decades of research on Roman cities Durostorum and Novae. Photo: Svishtov Municipality

Archaeologist Peti Donevski, 70, during the presentation of his book of research papers covering decades of research on Roman cities Durostorum and Novae. Photo: Svishtov Municipality

A book with a compilation of research papers by archaeologist Peti Donevski, a renowned Bulgarian researcher of the Roman Danube military camps and cities Durostorum (today’s Silistra) and Novae (today’s Svishtov) has been published on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

The book is a bilingual edition (in Bulgarian and English), and is entitled “Peti Donevski. A Collection of Research Papers". It has been presented in the History Museum in Bulgaria’s Danube town of Svishtov, Svishtov Municipality has announced.

Donevski is a long-time researcher of two of the most important Ancient Roman cities on the Danube, Durostorum (Dorostorum; Drastar / Drustur in the Middle Ages), today’s Bulgarian city of Silistra, and Novae (today’s Bulgarian town of Svishtov), which were originally established as military camps by Roman legionnaires.

In his presentation of Donevski’s book, Prof. Rumen Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia has pointed out that Donevski’s contribution to archaeology is remarkable because throughout his career he has made discoveries in two Roman military camps.

Donevski started leading archaeological excavations of Durostorum in Bulgaria’s Silistra back in 1972, and the depth of his research eventually allowed him to draft a topographic map of the Ancient Roman city in the period between the 2nd and 6th century AD.

The map provides covers the Roman civilian and military buildings on a territory of 190 decares (app. 47 acres) in Durostorum’s urban area.

During his research, Donevski has discovered numerous artifacts, including jewels, thus contributing to the study of the everyday life of the Ancient Romans.

Especially notable among his finds is a fully preserved statue known today as “The Roman [Woman]".

Later in his life and career Donevski relocated to his native Danube town of Svishtov where he continued his archaeological research in the Roman city of Novae, and also served as the Director of the Svishtov Museum of History.

He made discoveries at Novae’s eastern fortress wall, and also researched another nearby fortress known as Kaleto, which was in use in the 3rd-4th century AD. (“Kale” is a Turkish word meaning “fortress” left over from the Ottoman period commonly used for the numerous ruins of ancient and medieval fortresses all over Bulgaria, whose proper names are sometimes unknown.)

Svishtov Municipality says that according to his colleagues, Donevski is “among the few archaeologists who manage to create a spiritual link between the researcher and the object of his research".

Learn more about Bulgaria’s Ancient Roman Danube cities of Durostorum and Novae in the Background Infonotes below!

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Prof. Rumen Ivanov (left) presenting Donevski's collection of research papers published as a book. Photos: Svishtov Municipality

Prof. Rumen Ivanov (left in the above photo) presenting Donevski’s collection of research papers published as a book. Photos: Svishtov Municipality

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Durostorum (Dorostorum) – known as Dorostol or Drastar (Drustur) during the periods of the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages – is the precursor of today’s Bulgarian city of Silistra. It was originally founded as an Ancient Thracian settlement on the Lower Danube.

In 29 AD, the Romans built there a fortress keeping the settlement’s Thracian name of Durostorum (or Dorostorum). After his victories wars over the Dacians north of the Danube, Roman Emperor Trajan stationed the elite Claudius’ 11th Legion – Legio XI Claudia – at Durostorum, and the fortress remained its permanent seat until the demise of the Roman Empire.

In 169 AD, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD), Durostorum was made a Roman city – a municipium. Between the 2nd and the 4th century AD, it was a major urban and military center of the Roman Province of Moesia Inferior (later divided into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor), and a major Roman stronghold against the barbarian invasions.

The earliest 12 Christian saints from the territory of today’s Bulgaria are Roman soldiers executed in Durostorum during the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian between 303 and 313 AD, including St. Dasius and St. Julius the Veteran.

In 388 AD, today’s Silistra became the seat of a Christian bishopric. Roman general Flavius Aetius (391-454 AD), who is known as “the last of the Romans” for his army’s victory over the Huns in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 AD, was born in Durostorum. During the barbarian invasions of Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars the city was ransacked several times. It was rebuilt during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

The Slavs settled in Durostorum around 590 AD, and named it Drastar (Drustur). The city became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) around 680 AD. Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD) is known to have built there a large imperial palace known as the Danube Palace of Bulgarian Khans where later Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I the Great (r. 893-927 AD) resided in 896-897 AD.

In 895 AD (during the Bulgarian-Hungarian War of 894-896 AD), the Magyars (Hungarians), allies of Byzantium, besieged the Bulgarian army under the personal command of Tsar Simeon I the Great in the fortress of Drastar but were repulsed. The next year the Magyars were decisively defeated by the Bulgarians in the extremely fierce Battle of Southern Buh (in today’s Ukraine) which eventually led their tribes to retreat to the west and settle in the region of Pannonia essentially founding today’s Hungary.

During the later years of the First Bulgarian Empire the region around today’s Silistra was known for its rock monasteries. In 927 AD, Drastar became the seat of the first internationally recognized Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Damyan.

In 969 AD, it was captured by Knyaz Sviatoslav I of Kiev, the ruler of Kievan Rus in 945-972 AD, but two years later it was conquered by Byzantium under Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976 AD) in the Battle of Dorostolon, and renamed Theodoropolis, after military saint Theodore Stratelates. In 976 AD, Bulgaria’s Tsar Samuil (Samuel) (r. 977/997-1014 AD) regained the city until 1001 AD when it was again conquered by the Byzantine Empire.

Drastar was a metropolitan’s residence and a major fortress during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). In 1279 AD, under Tsar Ivailo (r. 1277-1280), Drastar withstood a three-month siege by the Mongols. It was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1388 AD (ca. 1400 AD, according to some sources), and turned into a major Ottoman fortress. Subsequently, Silistra has remained a major urban center in the Lower Danube region.

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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.

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