The legionary fortress

The Legionary Camp

The site of Novae is situated on the southern bank of the Danube, in Bulgaria, near the modern town Svishtov, at the place called Pametnitsite (memorial site where the Russian army entered the territory of Bulgaria during the Turkish-Russian War in 1877) or Stuklen (a place rich in glass – Bulg. stuklo), 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 were built on the wide gentle 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 forced the Roman architects to create three wide terraces within the legionary fortifications to enable building monumental architecture (such as the headquarters building, military hospital and baths). At present, the northern part of the site (praetentura), and central (principia) has been excavated.

The more permanent Roman military presence in this part of Moesia started around the middle of the 1st century AD. In AD 45 legio VIII Augusta took part in the suppression of the Thracian uprising and later its detachments founded the castra in Novae. After the defeat near Cremona, the First Italic Legion was sent to Novae, and in AD 72 replaced its predecessor. The earliest remains discovered in Novae are dated to the pre-Flavian period and are supposedly related to the soldiers of the legio VIII Augusta, as this is testified by the epigraphic evidence.

In the Flavian period when the legio I Italica replaced its predecessor, the fortress was built partly from stone and partly from dried brick and wood. In AD 86 Moesia was divided into two provinces (Lower and Upper), and Novae, together with Durostorum, became part of Moesia Inferior. During the Dacian Wars of Domitian (85-89) Novae did not suffer significant damage, which may indicate that the main military operations took place in the western and eastern part of the province. Far more significant changes took place during the campaigns of Trajan, when the legionary base received the new outline and new monumental stone buildings. The headquarters building (principia) received new basilica and the new military hospital (valetudinarium) replaced the former military baths (thermae).

Novae early Roman 2012
Novae in the 2nd century (by T. Sarnowski ©)

It is possible that during the Antonine period the Legion controlled the area to the east of the Yantra River. The most prosperous times for Novae, as well as for the province, were the reigns of Severan dynasty. In AD 250 Novae was besieged by the Goths of Cniva. In the second half of the 3rd century Novae was systematically attacked by barbarians. Possibly by the end of the 3rd century the eastern defensive wall of the legionary base were dismantled and the new massive defensive walls enclosing the area to the east of the fortress were built, forming a kind of the annex. After the reforms of Diocletian when the legions were divided into detachments occupying small forts and fortlets, the military base at Novae must have been reduced. The new civil buildings (villae) and churches were built in the central part of Novae. The  former legionary fortress with its changed outline and internal planning became a late Roman town.

Now, the heart of Novae has been recreated. In May 2014, the site was opened to the visitors.


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