The legionary camp

The Legionary Camp

The site of Novae is situated on the southern bank of the Danube, in Bulgaria, at the place called Pametnitsite near Svishtov (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 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.

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, founded its castra in Moesia. Around AD 70, after the defeat near Cremona, the legion was sent to Novae, where replaced its predecessor. The earlierst remains are dated to the pre-Flavian period and are supposedly related to the legio VIII Augusta, though the epigraphic testimony of this unit are very few. Traces of wooden constructions were detected mainly along the defences.

In the Flavian period when the legio I Italica replaced its predecessor, 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).

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

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. 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.

Now, the heart of Novae has been reconstructed. Soon, in May 2014, this extraordinary site will be opened to visitors.

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