Archaeologists Impressed with Ancient Water Catchment Reservoir Which Fed 20-km-Long Aqueduct of Major Roman City Nicopolis ad Istrum in North Bulgaria

The Ancient Roman water catchment reservoir near Bulgaria’s Musina which gave the start of the western aqueduct of the major Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum. Photo: Tihomira Metodieva

An archaeological team has explored for the first time the water catchment reservoir which fed water to a 20-kilometer-long (12.4 miles) aqueduct of the large Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in today’s Central North Bulgaria.

The 2nd century AD water catchment reservoir of Nicopolis ad Istrum is located near the town of Musina, Pavlikeni Municipality, to the west of the important city in the Roman Empire.

It used to catch the water coming from the karst springs inside the Musina Cave, feeding it to the western aqueduct of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

The ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose name means “Victory City on the Danube River”, are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo.

The major city was founded by Roman Emperor Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus) (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) north of the Danube.

Nicopolis ad Istrum stood at the intersection of the two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was partly rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD which in turn was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval city in the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

The archaeological exploration of Nicopolis ad Istrum first started in 1900, while the presently ongoing excavation efforts were restarted in 2007.

The Ancient Roman water catchment reservoir at the Musina Cave has been explored by the team of archaeologist Kalin Chakarov from the Pavlikeni Museum of History who also specializes in the research of the Ancient Roman ceramics factory and villa estate in the town of Pavlikeni and the Ancient Roman mausoleum near the town of Lesicheri, which is known for its still standing 14-meter-tall obelisk.

“Some 2,000 years ago the Romans appreciated the qualities of the karst springs in the Musina Cave, and decided that it was worth building a costly 20-kilometer water pipeline allowing them to always enjoy fresh and quality water in their public and private spaces [in Nicopolis ad Istrum],” Chakarov explains.

 

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The exploration of the Roman water catchment reservoir near Bulgaria’s Musina. Photos: Tihomira Metodieva

In his words, the water catchment reservoir feeding water to the western aqueduct of the large Roman city is an almost fully preserved octagonal facility built with large stone blocks, each of which weighs over half a metric ton.

The archaeologist points out that four rows of the building stone blocks from the structure of the Roman water catchment reservoir near Bulgaria’s Musina have been preserved.

The rows alternate, with one row of pentagonal stone blocks followed by a row of trapezoid-shaped stone blocks.

At some spots, the blocks are pieced together with cramp irons covered with lead.

“The water catchment reservoir has two openings – one in its northern end and one in its western end, giving the start to two canals. The first one is the one sending water to Nicopolis ad Istrum, while the other one is a spillway sending the excess water to the main canal,” Charakov explains.

“The western aqueduct of Nicopolis ad Istrum was probably built at the time when the Roman city was established following the Second Dacian Wars of Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century,” he adds.

The water from the Musina Cave karst springs, which has a constant temperatures of 14 degrees Celsius was brought to the city with a system of underground and overhead canals and arches.

“In at least four locations, the aqueduct is formed as an arcade known from many better preserved aqueducts in France, Spain and North Africa. The largest and most impressive arcade is in the Rositsa River valley. The reason for its construction is the difference in the levels along the route because the slope of the water flow is very important for its proper use,” the lead archaeologist says.

The western aqueduct of Nicopolis ad Istrum went through fields, forests, and valleys reaching a water distribution reservoir (Lat. castellum divisiorum) in front of the city’s western fortress wall from where the water was distributed to its users.

“The aqueduct of the Roman city is one of the largest infrastructure facilities built for thousands of years in the region of Pavlikeni and its water catchment reservoir in Musina impresses with the fact that the water is still running,” Chakarov concludes.

Archaeologist Kalin Chakarov is seen here during the exploration of the Ancient Roman water catchment reservoir which collected water from the karst springs inside the Musina Cave. Photos: Tihomira Metodieva

Learn more about the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in the Background Infonotes below!

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Ancient Rome: A Complete History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chronicling the Story of the Most Important and Influential Civilization the World Has Ever Known

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply (Duckworth Archaeology)

Guide to the Aqueducts of Ancient Rome

Caves and Speleology in Bulgaria

Karstology: Karsts, Caves and Springs: Elements of Fundamental and Applied Karstology

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

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Background Infonotes:

Nicopolis ad Istrum (also known as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum) was an Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city (not to be confused with Nicopolis ad Nestum in today’s Southwest Bulgaria).

Its ruins are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central Northern Bulgaria. Its name means “Victory City on the Danube River”. It was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Daciantribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) on a plateau on the left bank of the Rositsa River. This is where the two main roads of the DanubianRoman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

(Ulpia) Nicopolis ad Istrum was first part of the Roman province of Thrace but after 193 AD it was made part of the province of Moesia Inferior. Nicopolis ad Istrum flourished in the 2nd-3rd century, during the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96-192 AD) and the Severan Dynasty (193-235 AD). It further developed as major urban center after the reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Its organization was similar to that of Roman cities in Thrace and Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon. It was ruled by a council of archons, a city council and an assembly, with local priests worshipping Ancient Roman and Greek deities such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, Mithras. At the time, Nicopolis ad Istrum was inhabited by Thracians, Roman military veterans, and settlers from Asia Minor. Nicopolis ad Istrum is known to have minted 900 different emissions of bronze coins. The city had orthogonal planning, with an agora (city square), a cardo maximus and a decumanus maximus (main streets), a market place, other public buildings and residential areas, limestone-paved streets and underground sewerage, as well as three aqueducts and several water wells, many of which has been unearthed in archaeological excavations.

The fortress walls of Nicopolis ad Istrum were erected only after the city was ransacked by a barbarian attack of the Costoboci, an ancient people possibly linked to the Getae (Gets) inhabiting an area in today’s Western Ukraine. The city square (agora) featured a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on a horse, a number of other marble statues, a Ionic colonnade, a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion (a public building housing the boule – council of citizens), a building to the cult of goddess Cybele, a small odeon (theater), thermae (public baths) as well as a building which according to an inscription was a “termoperiatos” which can be likened to a modern-day shopping mall – a heated building with shops and closed space for walks and business meetings. A total of 121 stone and brick tombs and sarcophagi have been found by the Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the city’s necropolis. Some villas and other buildings in the residential parts of Nicopolis ad Istrum have also been excavated.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD. The Early Byzantine fort covered about one forth of the Ancient Roman city – 57.5 decares (app. 14.2 acres) out of a total of 215.5 decares (app. 53.2 decares), and was also the center of a bishopric. The Early Byzantine fort was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval cityin the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

Nicopolis ad Istrum was visited in 1871 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who found there a statue of the wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD). The city was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist J. Seur whose work, however, was not documented, and in 1906-1909 by Czech archaeologist B. Dobruski. In 1945 and 1966-1968, there were partial excavations led by T. Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Systematic excavations were started in 1970 and were led again by T. Ivanov. Between 1985 and 1992, Nicopolis ad Istrum was excavated by a joint Bulgarian-British expedition from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and a team of the University of Nottingham. The joint Bulgarian-British excavations were resumed in 1996. The Nicopolis ad Istrum archaeological preserve is managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. In 1984, the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was put on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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