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Collision of civilizations or how Rome protected its borders

The Roman Legion camp Novae is situated 4 kilometers east of the town of Svishtov. Initially the fortification covers an area of 17 hectares and rises right above the high bank of the Danube river; later the citadel extends eastwards by 10 hectares more.

The Roman legion camp Novae is the most extensively explored and conserved military camp within the northwestern border provinces of the empire. During Emperor Augustus rule Marc Luscious Crast was sent to the areas of Lower Danube, where he succeeded to subdue the local Thracians in 30 B.C. The province Misia was founded in 15 A.D. and during the rule of Emperor Domician (85-86 A.D.) it was divided into Upper and Lower Misia, the border between them going along the stream of Tzibritza river. A Roman defense line was formed, which protected the empire interests along the banks of the Danube and the Black Sea. Novae was an important point of this line, consisting of watch-towers and fortresses, where military units were quartered cohorts, allies, legions. The Roman army used the route along the Danube, which at that time connected all the defenses along the river bank to its delta. The main reason for the military presence in this region were the newly conquered lands and natural resources, as well as the possibility to defend Thrace and Macedonia against the constant threat of the thronging eastern tribes.

The Roman legion camp Novae originated as the settlement of VIII Augustus Legion around 45 A.D. About 25 years later this military unit was substituted by I Italian Legion. The fortification had rectangular form 485m X 365m and it rose right above the high bank of the river. Initially the camp was fortified with a 4-meter wide adobe rampart. Wooden towers with size 6x3 meters were raised at intervals of 41 meters. Later on the outer face of the rampart was removed and a stone wall 1.5 meters wide was constructed. New stone towers were built inside the fortification. Every wall had a fortified gate, and the northern gate led to the port under the citadel. At the end of the III and the beginning of IV century A.D. the citadel was enlarged by 10 hectares, its walls were thickened and new outside towers were constructed. The headquarters of the legion, the military hospital, the officer houses, the legions bath, the soldiers sheds, the commanders house and the sheds of the supporting units were situated inside the walls of the citadel. Outside the fortified walls, westwards and south-west of the citadel there was a civil settlement (canabae), which was inhabited by war veterans, traders, craftsmen and their families. Most probably this settlement was fully dependent on the military authorities.

One of the most impressive buildings found within the walls of the citadel is the Principia the headquarters of the legion. It is situated in the middle of the legion camp, with rectangular form and size 105 x 59 meters. This is where many statue pedestals, inscriptions, parts of bronze statues, a coin treasure from the beginning of IV century and one of the very rare sculpture portraits of Emperor Karakala (211-217 A.D.) are found.

Valetudinariam (the military hospital) is situated in the front left part of the camp and its northern border is the inside street (Via Sagularis), which circles round the whole camp. The entrance of the hospital is at the eastern side of the street, which starts from the northern gate to the Principia (the legion headquarters). The entrance is constructed as a portico to the street. The hospital has almost square form: 81.90 meters east-west and 72.90 meters north-south. It consists of a row of chain premises, circling around the four walls, as well as of a second, smaller chain inside. The two chains are separated by a 5.40 meters wide passage. In the middle of the building there is a yard with size 42.40 x 32.60 meters, surrounded by a colonnade. Inside the yard there is a small sanctuary 4x4 meters, dedicated to the gods of health Asclepius and Hagias. The rows of premises consist of alternating groups of two big hospital rooms (5х5 meters) with a passage between them, which served as sanitary premises. Every pair of rooms could accommodate ten persons (2х5). The yard can be approached through north-western and south-western entrances. The building had its own water-supply and sewerage systems, and in the north-eastern corner a Latrina (bathroom) was discovered. The construction of the hospital took place during the rule of Trayan and ended in the middle of II century A.D. It is considered that this building was used until the time of the rule of Emperor Caracalla 211 -217 A.D.

The passage with the superior officers houses is located in the front western part of the camp. A big stone building of type “town villa” from the beginning of II century and area of 1600m2 is discovered. Some of the earliest dated finds in Novae have been found there coins, imported glass and ceramic vessels. Legions bathroom (Thermae legionis) is discovered on the west of the Principia. It almost covers the area of a whole residential district. The building has western exposure and according to the Roman custom the visits to the bathroom take place in the afternoon. In different parts of Thermae legionis the archaeologists discovered ovens, which were used for warming of the water (in big coppers) and feeding with hot air of the floor and wall heating. Other finds include: premises for hot and tepid water, sauna, gymnasium, as well as open air swimming pool with bathing cabins.

About one hundred meters away from the fortified wall the archaeologists discovered only one building, situated outside the citadel (villa extra muros). Its premises are situated around a yard with swimming pool. It was constructed in II century and burnt down in the middle of III century during the invasion of the Goths. It is considered that the villa served as a residence of the Legate (commander) of the legion. Among the multitude of finds discovered in this building, considerable attention should be paid to the two bronze statues of men in natural height, rising inside the vestibule. About two kilometers eastwardsfrom Novae, in Ostrite mogili site, another settlement was discovered. It is considered that at the end of II century this settlement received the status of town-municipium. This duplicity of the settlements is characteristic of the border areas and may be explained by the strict division between the civil and the military jurisdiction. As a result of the military and administrative reforms conducted by the emperors Dioklecianus and Constantine the Great (end of III and beginning of IV century) the military camp gradually turns into fortress-town with mixed military and civil population. These changes led to modification of the town planning and the architecture of the settlement the construction of new residential buildings, workshops and churches was commenced.

Evidence of mass baptizing, placing the foundations of Christianity in this area may be found in Novae. Posterior to the Milan Decree of Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D., Christianity becomes official religion of the Roman Empire. This moment is manifested by the abandonment of the old heathen temples and the construction of new religious buildings churches and basilicas. In V and VI century Novae becomes an Episcopal town, which leads to the construction of many churches. At present one of the biggest basilicas on the Balkan Peninsula dated to the second half of V century is being explored. Its marble pulpit was constructed to order and funded by the emperors court in Constantinople. North to the big basilica is situated the Episcopal palace with bathroom, premises and a small basilica.

Strong symbiosis and mutual benefit are characteristic to the relationships between Rome and its provinces. Rome stimulates the agriculture and trade, increases the welfare and encourages urbanization; introduces the Roman culture and arts. In return Misia provides the empire with grain; the local inhabitants secure it for soldiers, needed for the defense of the borders.

Rome loses control over Misia in 395 A.D. after the death of Emperor Theodosius, when the attacks of the Goths became a routine. The Empire lacks internal unity and military resources to defend its north-eastern border. It loses an important defense line and thus bit by bit begins to lose big territories. Until the beginning of the VII century, when the last records of Novae are dated, it remains an important military, commercial and religious center for Byzantines and Goths.
Svishtov on the map
Svishtov on the map

Events calendar

16.05.2014 old
Откриване на Нове
Осми фестивал на античното наследство "Орел на Дунав" и откриване на проект "Нове - сърцето на легиона"

22.09.2011 old
Програма на празниците на града "СВИЩОВСКИ ЛОЗНИЦИ 2011"

27.05.2011 old
Fourth Festival of Ancient Heritage

The Fourth Festival of Ancient Heritage Eagle On The Danube is going to be held in May, 27th to 29th, in Svishtov. More information about the event at

Events calendar
Tourism department
of Svishtov