Antiquity of Southeastern Europe
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University of Warsaw



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Novae

Novae lies on the Danube in northern Bulgaria, near the modern town of Svištov.
Novae was from the middle of the 1st century AD a fortress of the Eight Augustan Legion, and later of the First Italic Legion. Suetonius reports that Nero formed the legion of inhabitants of Italy with the intention of creating a strong backbone for the Roman expeditionary forces to the Caspian Gates and farther on to India.

The emperor was also planning an expedition to the Caspiae portae. He had enlisted a new legion from among the Italics: all the recruits six feet in height (1.78 m). This legion he called the phalanx of Alexander the Great....
After the emperor’s death the legion was transferred around AD 70 to this part of Moesia, which after the division of the province in AD 86 was designated as Moesia Inferior. The legion participated in many wars and battles, in which it was invariably victorious; the most important of these were Traian’s Dacian wars and the military expeditions of the Severan emperors to the East.

Novae is mentioned in 17 ancient literary sources starting with Claudius Ptolemy (ca. AD 100-178) and including the Notitia Dignitatum (4th/5th century AD) and Notitia Episcopatuum (9th/10th century AD). It is quite possible that it was depicted on the column of Traian, which commemorates the military supremacy of this emperor over the Dacians. It is also to be seen on the oldest preserved map of the Roman Empire, the Tabula Peutingeriana. In 250 Novae survived a raid by the Goths under Kniva. Jordanes (6th century AD) thus reports on this incident... After Ostrogoth’s death Kniva divided his armies into two and sent some of his troops to ravage Moesia. He was aware that due to imperial neglect the province was devoid of defenders. Taking seventy thousand men with him he made for Euscia, as well as Novae...In the reign of the emperor Zeno (5th century AD), kindred tribes conquered the town and Theoderic the Great, ruler of the Ostrogoths, established the capital of his kingdom here. In 441 Novae was overrun once again, this time by the Huns. Under Justinian (527-565) the town was refurbished and fortification works were undertaken, warranting the designation “Ravenna of the East” for the city, which had also become an important river port on the Danube. In the 5th and 6th centuries there was a bishopric there. In the 7th century it served as a fort and headquarters for the Byzantine army battling the Avars and Slavs

Over the course of its long history Novae was visited by some of the best known Roman emperors: Traian (AD 98-117), Hadrian (AD 117-138), Caracalla (AD 198-217). Emperor Maximin Thrax (AD 235-238), may have been born there.

The Center for Archaeological Research has been exploring Novae since 1960. Over the years, in association with scholars from the Institute of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Archaeological Expedition of the Mickiewicz University in Poznań, the Center has uncovered the fortifications, mainly the gates and the streets leading to them, legionary and civilian baths, the legion’s headquarters, an unique military hospital, legionary barracks. From a later period come several churches, including the biggest basilica known from the Balkans, villas and private residences.

Currently, the Center is focusing its investigations on four structures: the principia or legion command headquarters, the military hospital or valetudinarium with a cult precinct considered unique in all of the Roman Empire, legionary baths or thermae legionis and a villa designated conventionally as the Building of the Porticoes. The work is reported on regularly in the Center’s periodical “Novensia”, as well as in the Warsaw-published annual “Archeologia”.


 
 

Ośrodek Badań nad Antykiem Europy Południowo Wschodniej UW
Krakowskie Przedmieście 32
00-927 Warszawa
novae@uw.edu.pl