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Novae - legionary headquarters (principia)

Novae is an archaeological site situated on the Danube in northern Bulgaria, about 4 kilometres east of the modern town Svishtov. It was a legionary base and late Roman town in the Roman province Moesia Inferior, later Moesia II.


  • Localisation and topography 1
  • History and archaeology 2
  • The nearby settlements and sites 3
  • Name of the site 4
  • References 5
  • Literature 6
  • External links 7

Localisation and topography

The site of Novae is situated on the southern bank of the Danube, in Bulgaria, at the place called Pametnicite near Svishtov (memorial site where the Russian army entered the territory of Bulgaria during the Turkish-Russian war in 1877) or Stǎklen (a place rich in glass – Bulg. stǎklo), as many ancient glass fragments are visible on the site (the production of glass is attested in late Roman Novae). The castra legionis covering the area of 17.99 hectares are situated on the slope with its lowest point at the river-bank (40 m a.s.l.) and the highest point in the southern part of the site (70 m a.s.l.). Such topography resulted in terrace-constructed buildings within the defensive walls. At present, the northern part of the site (praetentura), and central (headquarters) have been excavated, but its southern part is in major part covered by the recreational land.

History and archaeology

Roman military presence in the Lower Danubian region started in the middle of the 1st century AD. Around AD 45 legio VIII Augusta, which took part in the suppression of the Thracian uprising,[1] founded its castra, probably at the place where the Danube has its southernmost bend. At that time the province of Moesia was created. During the Principate, the legio with its detachments controlled the section of the Danube from the mouth of the Osum River (Asamus) up to the mouth of the Yantra River, near Iatrus.

After the death of Nero, the dislocation of many legions within the Empire resulted in replacement of legio VIII Augusta by legio I Italica, which stayed in Novae at least to the 430s. During the Claudio-Neronian and Flavian periods the fortress was built from dried brick and wood – such building phases were confirmed in excavations of the headquarters (principia), defensive walls and the officers’ houses at scamna tribunorum. In AD 86 the province was divided and Novae, together with Durostorum, became one of two legionary bases within the borders of Moesia Inferior. During the Dacian wars of Domitian (85-89) Novae did not suffer significant damage, which may indicate that the main operations took place in the western and eastern part of the province. Far more significant change took place during the campaigns of Trajan, when the old constructions of wood and dried brick were replaced by stone. Apart from the new defensive walls, the monumental building of headquarters (principia) with the new Trajanic basilica, and the new building of a hospital (valetudinarium) was built at the place of the former Flavian baths (thermae). It is possible that during the Antonine period the legio controlled the area beyond the Yantra River. The most prosperous times for Novae, as well as for the province, were the reigns of Severan dynasty. The splendid villa constructed to the west of the defensive walls, within the area of the canabae, could have been a legate's residence.

In AD 250 Novae was attacked by the Goths of Kniva. In the second half of the 3rd century Novae was systematically attacked and destroyed by barbarians. The eastern line of the new defensive walls enclosed the additional area of more than 10 hectares, possibly creating a refuge for the civilians. From the 4th century onwards when the legion were divided into detachments occupying small forts and fortlets, civil buildings constitute the main part of internal buildings of Novae. The canabae and the legionary base become one, late Roman urban complex. The new streets with pavements were built from the secondary-used stone, often bearing inscriptions. One of the villae situated at the place of the former hospital has been excavated. Many glass workshops were established, both in the town, as well as in its surroundings. The existence of the villa was probably ended by the Gothic invasions in 376-378. The new settlement was very poor, using dried brick constructions. After the Hunnic invasion in 441, Novae was left by the legion.

In the late 5th and 6th centuries Novae was a bishopric. The cathedral and neighbouring buildings were built west of the former legionary headquarters. The last period of prosperity was during the reign of Justinian (527-565) when the defensive walls were rebuilt and reinforced, but the attacks of Slavs and Avars eventually end the existence of the ancient town. In 9th – 11th centuries the church and a cemetery existed in the western part of the town. Novae is supposed to be the home of the saint named LUPUS (saint in Greek and Romanian traditions).

The nearby settlements and sites

The civil canabae[2] were situated in the nearest surroundings of the legionary base – mainly west and south-west of the fortress, covering the area of 70-80 hectares during the time of the Principate. During the late Roman period the town covered 18 hectares of the former legionary base, 20-30 hectares of the former canabae and probably additional 10 hectares of the eastern enclosure. Another civil vicus was localised over 2 km east of the camp, at the place called Ostrite Mogili.[3] Field surveys attested the settlement covering the area of ca. 15 hectares, existing during the time of the Principate. In the late Roman period glass workshops were localised there. Along the roads going out of the legionary base some cemeteries were discovered (west, east and south of the site). Around 2 km south of the fortress a temple of Liber Pater has been excavated, and outside the eastern defensive walls – a temple of the eastern gods.

Name of the site

At present we use the name of Novae (Nouae), although the toponym might have referred to the canabae (canabae legionis I Italicae Novae), when the castra itself had the name of castra legionis I Italicae. The literary sources give the name of Novae or in Accusative form Novas (Itin. Ant. 221, 4; Jord., Get., 101, Tab. Peut. VIII, 1; Not. Dign. Or. XL, 30, 31; Eugipp., 44, 4) and the Greek transcription – Nόβας given by Procopius (De aed. IV, 11), Theophanes Confessor (Chron., p. 423, 426, 436, ed. J. Classen) and Anonymous Ravennatis (IV, 7). The Greek form Nόβαι appears rather rare (Hierocl. Synecd. 636, 6; Theoph. Sim. VII, 2.16; VIII, 4.3-4); earlier form mentioned by Ptolemy is Nooῦαι (Ptol. III, 10.10).


  1. ^ J. KOLENDO, Claude et l’annexion de la Thrace, in: Claude de Lyon empereur romain. Actes du Colloque Paris-Nancy-Lyon. Novembre 1992, Paris 1998.
  2. ^ More details are presented on the websites of the "Canabae Project" realized by the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw. and
  3. ^ A. TOMAS, Municipium Novensium? Report on the Field Survey at Ostrite Mogili, Veliko Turnovo District, Światowit 47, fasc. A, 2004 (2007), 11-116; A. TOMAS, Inter Moesos et Thraces. A Contribution To The Studies On The Rural Hinterland Of Novae In Lower Moesia, Archeologia (Warszawa) 58, 2007 (2009), 31-47; S. CONRAD, Archaeological Survey on the Lower Danube: Results and Perspectives, in: Surveying the Greek Chora. The Black Sea Region in a Comparative Perspective. International Conference, Sandbjerg, Denmark (31 August – 3 September 2003), Aarhus 2006 [= Black Sea Studies, IV], 309-331.


E. GENČEVA, P”rviât voenen lager v Novae (Dolna Miziâ), Sofia-Warszawa 2002.
L. PRESS, T. SARNOWSKI, Novae. Römisches Legionslager und frühbyzantinische Stadt an der unteren Donau, Antike Welt 21, 1990, 22.
T. SARNOWSKI, Fortress of the Legio I Italica at Novae, Akten des XI. Intern. Limeskongresses (Szekesfehervar, 30.8.-6.9.1976), 415-424.
T. SARNOWSKI, La fortresse de la legion I Italica et le limes du sud-est de la Dacie, Eos 71, 1983, p. 265-276.
T. SARNOWSKI, Novae in the Notitia Dignitatum, Archeologia (Warszawa) 57, 2007(2008).
T. SARNOWSKI, The Name of Novae in Lower Moesia, Archeologia (Warszawa) 57, 2007(2008).
IGLNov Inscriptions grecques et latines de Novae (Mésie inférieure), J. Kolendo, V. Božilova [red.], Bordeaux 1997.

External links

  • Research of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw
  • Non-destructive surveys in the extramural area
  • Bulgaria Travel - Novae Roman Town
  • Archaeological Discoveries in Novae Continue
  • Ancient Rome Festival Recreates Legionnaires' Fights in Bulgaria's Svishtov
  • Mending bodies, saving souls: a history of hospitals
  • BULGARIA: Heritage in Danger
  • Festival of Ancient Heritage, Svishtov 2009
  • Festival of Ancient Heritage and Hrubieszow Museum

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