3rd Century AD Marble Child Head, Ancient Chamber Pot Discovered in Roman City Novae near Bulgaria’s Svishtov

3rd Century AD Marble Child Head, Ancient Chamber Pot Discovered in Roman City Novae near Bulgaria’s Svishtov

The Ancient Roman marble child statue head has been discovered in the Danube city of Novae at the start of the 60th season of excavations carried out by Bulgarian and Polish archaeologists. Photo: Archaeologist Pavlina Vladkova via the Yantra Dnes daily

A marble from a small child statue from the 3rd century AD and an ancient chamber pots are some of the most interesting finds from the first days of the 2019 archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman military camp and city of Novae near todays Bulgarian Danube town of Svishtov.

The current archaeological season is the 60th consecutive year of research in Novae, which has been carried out jointly by archaeologists from Bulgaria and Poland ever since its start in 1959.

The military camp, fortress and later city of Novae, located at the southernmost point of the Danube River, was the headquarters of the Roman First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica) from 69 AD until at least the 430s.

It existed for about 600 years as was one of the major Roman and later Early Byzantine strongholds defending the so called Limes Moesiae, the Danubian frontier of the Roman Empire and later the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

The initial Roman military camp over the centuries became large Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine urban center and the seat of a bishopric. As a city, it survived until the beginning of the 7th century AD when it was destroyed by the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs.

In addition to the Roman city of Novae, Bulgaria’s Danube town of Svishtov has also made headlines with its other main archaeological and historical landmark, the Late Antiquity and medieval fortress Zishtova where archaeologists recently found culverin cannonballs from Wallachian Voivode Vlad Dracula’s victory over the Ottoman Turks there in 1461 – 1462 – as well as a partially preserved inscription mentioning one of the cohorts of the First Italian Legion.

The newly discovered child marble statue head dates back to the first half of the 3rd century AD, based on its characteristics and the archaeological layer in which it has been found.

The intriguing artifact has been found by the archaeological team led by Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, local daily Yantra Dnes reports.

Two more similar heads from small statues of children have been discovered in Novae so far in earlier years, and all of the were probably part of statuary groups depicting playing children, Vladkova explains.

In her words, the newly found marble child head as well as the earlier such finds from Novae remind of an Ancient Roman marble relief kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, which depicts children playing a ball game.

The marble children relief ended up in the Louvre Museum in Paris by accident, and the only think known about it is that it was discovered in 1861, the Bulgarian archaeologist notes.

Unfortunately, nobody can tell what province of the Roman Empire it originated in.

An Ancient Roman relief from the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris depicts a group of children playing a ball game. Photo: Archaeologist Pavlina Vladkova via Yantra Dnes

Another intriguing artifact discovered at the beginning of the 2019 archaeological excavations in the Roman military camp and city of Novae on the Danube River near Bulgaria’s Svishtov is a chamber pot.

The ancient chamber pot has been found in the southern part of a Roman villa, at a spot which most likely harbored the bedrooms of the rich home.

The Roman chamber pot is made of clay, and is about 50 centimeters (nearly 2 feet) deep. It has a stable bottom but lacks a handle, unlike chamber pots known from as recently as the 19th and early 20th century.

That is the fourth chamber pot to have been found in the Roman villa in question. Judging from the chamber pot’s diameter, it is more likely that the newly discovered one was used by children, rather than by adults, the lead archaeologist notes.

The Roman mansion where the chamber pots has been discovered also had a latrine (toilet) located in its southwestern corner, and connected to several canals and a clay water pipeline.

Since the archaeologists have found no traces of marble or limestone toilet seats, they conclude that its toilet seats must have been made of wood.

Vladkova points out that the most famous chamber pot, or potty known from the Antiquity Era has been found during the excavations of the Agora (main square) in Athens, and dates back to the 5th century BC.

The chamber pot with no handle is the fourth chamber pot so far to have been found in a Roman mansion in Novae. Photo: Archaeologist Pavlina Vladkova via Yantra Dnes

She explains that while a number of chamber pots must have been discovered in archaeological sites from the Roman Era, there are not that many papers mentioning then, which is likely due to the fact that many might not have been identified as such.

The lead archaeologist says the newly discovered chamber pot from Novae resembles the most a 2nd century AD chamber pot discovered in Nicopolis ad Istrum, another large Roman city in Central North Bulgaria but located to the south, and a chamber pot found in today’s Cologne in Germany, in the ancient city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium), one of the large urban centers in the Roman province of Germania Inferior.

The Ancient Roman marble child head and chamber pot will become part of the collection of the Svishtov Museum of History.

A wide range of household artifacts have been discovered in recent years during the excavations of a residence which existed outside the Roman military camp of Novae in the 2nd – 3rd century AD, and a home built on top of its ruins in the 4th century AD, Vladkova explains.

The most numerous finds have been pottery clay vessels used for cooking and serving, including pots, bowls, cups, jars, etc.

Inside a small pool situated in the inner yard of the Roman villa, the archaeologists have found flower pots with three holes in their bottoms each. The flower pots were used to decorate a stone bannister surrounding the pool.

The digs in the Roman villa which was a residence outside the military camp of Novae in the 2nd-3rd century AD. A home was built on top of its ruins in the 4th century AD. Photo: Archaeologist Pavlina Vladkova via Yantra Dnes

Several fragments from stone mortaria have been found. A mortarium was an Ancient Roman pottery kitchen vessel used for pounding and mixing foods.

On one amphora fragment the archaeologists have found an inscription in red stating the vessel in question contained wine from the Spanish, i.e. Iberian provinces of the Roman Empire.

Vladkova elaborates that the deliveries of wine, olive oil, fish sauces, and other foodstuffs reached Novae more often by water, with ships from the western Roman provinces sailing east down the Drava and Sava rivers, and then down the Danube to the port of the Roman military camp near today’s Svishtov.

The other water route for supplying Novae and the numerous other Roman cities on the Lower Danube, usually bringing in products from the East, was from the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and then upstream on the Danube.

Of course, the numerous Roman inland roads in the entire Balkan Peninsula were also used.

Another interesting artifact found in the mansion in question is an ivory box with a relief decoration featuring the images of a man and a woman as well as Eros / Cupid deities. It was used for storing cosmetic products, i.e. it served the role of a toiletries box.

Another notable find is a bone needle, one of a kind in the entire Roman Empire, used in the making of female hairstyles decorated with an azure depiction of a temple with a ball in its middle.

A map showing the location of Svishtov (with its Zishtova Fortress and the Roman city of Novae) at the southernmost point of the Danube River in Europe. Map: Port Svishtov

A map showing the locations of the Zishtova (Kaleto) Fortress and the Ancient Roman camp and city Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov. Map: Hartamea

Background Infonotes:

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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