The legion's proud home
Novae near Svishtov was among the key defensive positions along the Roman Lower Danube limesAdelina Lozanova
Only four kilometres to the east of Svishtov and 80 kilometres to the north of Veliko Tarnovo, on the bank of the River Danube lie the remnants of an old Roman fortified military camp which subsequently developed into a city. Known as Novae, it was established in 69 AD by decree of Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian, but as early as 48 AD, the 8th Legio Augusta encamped at this place to safeguard the Danube border of the empire from the Barbarians.
Emperor Vespasian decided to replace this legion with the 1st Italic which established its own permanent camp and remained here for the next four centuries as the major combat unit guarding the Lower Danube limes (border line).
Originally the camp occupied an area of 17 hectares but later was expanded by another 10. By tradition, the camp had a rectangular layout as approximately in the centre of each side there was a gate. The camp was surrounded by thick walls but only their foundations are preserved to this day. In the centre of the camp was located the most important building - the Praetorium, or the legion's headquarters.
Its solid foundations are also preserved, as well as the main yard where the legionaries held their everyday drills. Right by the Praetorium were the house of the praetor, or the legion's commander, the legion's baths, barracks, hospital, small sanctuary of Asclepius and Hygeia, and the quarters of the auxiliary troops. Adjacent to the camp, there was a civilian settlement situated to the south and west of the fortification walls. Its inhabitants were the legion's civil support staff and the retired legionaries.
Novae has lived through several centuries and has seen periods of rise and fall. It was one of the base stations during the campaign waged by Emperor Trajan (98-117) in Dacia, and Trajan's son Emperor Hadrian (117-138) and Emperor Caracalla (198-217) visited it.
As of the middle of the 3rd century, Novae became a target of Goths attacks. In 250 AD, 70,000-strong army of Goths crossed the Danube but failed to capture the fortified camp. During the next decades the invasions did not stop. The Goths settled in the province of Moesia and in 376 set up their own state in the province - albeit under the official control of Rome - and Emperor Valens proclaims Novae its capital. It remained a capital under Alaric and Theodoric who later reach Italy with their troops.
After the Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western at the end of the 4th century, when the Western Empire finally collapsed following the barbaric invasions, the fate of Novae cannot be accurately traced. However, in the middle of the 6th century, it fell under the Byzantine rule which is evidenced by the reinforcement works completed during the time of Emperor Justinian.
The city was again raided by Barbarians in the 6th-7th centuries - this time by the Avars, while the synchronous invasions of Slavonic tribes finally razed it to the ground. For the last time, the city was mentioned in the middle of the 6th century and then it sank into oblivion for centuries. Only archaeological excavations during the last decades brought it again back into the spotlight.
Novae was declared an architectural monument of national importance in 1968. In the last several years a Festival of Antique Heritage is being held on the camp's grounds where the visitors can see reconstructions of gladiator games and legionaries' combat skills.