Antiquity of Southeastern Europe
Research Centre
University of Warsaw


Research history
      Late Roman town
Everyday life

    PhD studies






















Life and labour in ancient Novae

The buildings and courtyards at Novae were equipped with statues made of bronze, silver and marble, sponsored by the entire legion: his legatus, the highest centurios, the doctors and soldiers. On the headquarters courtyard, several statues of emperors were placed: Marc Anthony, Septimius Severus, Alexander Severus. Some were gilded. Silver statues of Asklepios and Hygia adorned the courtyard in the valetudinarium. The statues of Jupiter, Mars, Fortuna , Victoria , Luna, Dionysos, the genii legionis, the capitolian she-wolf, Roma, Bonus eventus and many others brought to mind the shifts of fate and guaranteed the Gods' protection. There were also decorative statues, one of them is the marble Nymph statue found in the Thermae legionis. The statue from the 2 nd half of the first century AD was situated next to a fountain that supplied the baths with water. It was made from white, close grained marble with wide, grey stripes, which point at Prokonessos as the origin of the raw material. There is a number of more or less close analogies, among them a statue from a polish collection: the Bachantka from the Th. Jansen collection, which is now in the palace at Wilanów, Warsaw . In the valetudinarium a head of Asklepios from the beginning of the 3 rd century AD was found. Also, lifesize statues of the emperors Maximinus Thrax (made in 235 AD) and Carinus (made in 285 AD) had been placed at Novae, but only their head were found. 

The Romans cremated their dead, thus usually leaving only grave steles and chapels as evidence of a burial. The stones from the latter were frequently used as secondary building material in later times. Based on preserved inscriptions and the decoration, we can learn more about the life of Novae's inhabitants.
Iulius Nero was a wine merchant, as we can see both from the inscription and the two barrels depicted on the grave stele.


The inscriptions from other grave steles at Novae inform us about relationships, the origins of the deceased, their life span and career. Some display the refined techniques of merging letters: the ligature. Others are adorned with motives unclear to us, such as a stele with a sanctuary, trees and grapevine plants. Among the leaves, several species of birds were placed, which can be interpreted in spite of the schematic fashion of their depiction.



Starting with the 4th century AD, the burial fashion changes, skeletal inhumations become popular. They are devoid of grave goods. The dead are all ‘looking' towards the east (the sunrise) and their burials are concentrated around a small church. This leads us to the conclusion that these were the first Christians at Novae.

Multicoloured layers hold the history of every archaeological site. The finds retrieved from them, often heavily damaged, allow us to take a glimpse at the daily life of ancient societies, also at Novae. Fragments of wine amphorae from Spain , Greece , Asia Minor and Northern Africa are not only proof of intensive trading, but also of a rather sophisticated taste of at least some inhabitants. Cosmetic and lamp oil was imported from the Istria Peninsula and Northern Africa . For culinary purposes the famous spanish olive oil was used. Various fish sauces (garum) were imported (also for healing purposes) from Spain and the north-east coast of the Black Sea .

For feasts, luxury terra sigillata pottery from Italy , southern Gallia and Germania was used. Glass vessels were produced in italian and Aquilean workshops and, starting with the 3 rd century also in Novae itself. Here, also various types of window glass was made.

Cooking pottery and lamps of various sorts was produced at Novae and its surroundings.

Pottery kilns with products found in situ are a source of information regarding the types of pottery, while other archaeological remains inform us about the way the production was organized.

Animal bones are proof that the people of Novae ate pigs, sheep, poultry and fish. Marks preserveed on the bones show us, which parts were preferred as food. Bones and horn were used as weights, knife handles, parts of furniture, pendants, combs and occasionally musical instruments.

Quite possibly from some kitchens at Novae the smell of chicken, prepared after a recipe by Apicius, the author of an antique cookbook, emerged: Grind the pepper, meat and brains, and an egg, stir to achieve a even consistency, add some oil, pepper corns and nuts. Stuff the chicken with this and bake it.

The Romans used various types of bricks and roof tiles. Constructions made from these required special techniques and measuring equipment, usually made of bronze. Some of the latter were found at Novae, too.

On the surfaces of the bricks made by the legionnaires, the lateres , and roof tiles, the stamp of the legion, or a private producer, is placed. At Novae, this is usually the sign of the first Italic Legion, put down as: LEG I ITAL, but stamps from the I Minerva Legion from Bonna were also found. Probably only a few units from Bonna helped to build the structures at Novae. Sometimes accidental traces made by animals (birds, dogs, cats, donkeys) or the soldiers themselves (shoeprints) can be seen. The rooftiles had two basic forms: the tegulae were rectangular, the imbrices semi-circular. Putting them together on the wooden roof guaranteed it to be water proof.


Wooden constructions were joined with nails of different shapes, adjusted to the given situation. The sizes of the bricks were based on a foot-measure, a foot (pedes) being about 30cm. The bricks, based on their purpose, could have half, one and two foot measures. For walls usually flat, square bricks were used. Floor tiles could resemble a contemporary parquet (opus spicatum) or small rectangles or squares. Special ceramic elements were produced for the central heating of a building. Small square bricks were formed to pillars (pile), which held up the floor.

When the walls were also supposed to be heated, tubuli were utilized, hollow bricks that formed the heating channel, or the table-shaped tegulae mammatae.



The inner walls in Novae were covered with several layers of plaster and then painted. The predominant colour was Pompeian red. In representational rooms and baths, colourful paintings adorned the walls. For these mineral colours from various forms of ochre were employed. White was obtained from burned calcium, black from carbon, bleu from azurite (lapis lazuli). The use of the al fresco painting technique as well as protecting wax layers assured their perseverance.



Ośrodek Badań nad Antykiem Europy Południowo Wschodniej UW
Krakowskie Przedmieście 32
00-927 Warszawa