Bulgaria’s Danube town of Svishtov is once again in exciting anticipation of the annual Ancient Heritage Festival “Eagle on the Danube”, a major international event designed to promote Antiquity history from the time of Ancient Rome and Ancient Thrace through historical reenactments, archaeological forums, and cultural tourism.
The tenth edition of the Festival of Ancient Heritage “Eagle on the Danube” is to be held on June 5th-7th, 2015, amidst the ruins of the Ancient Roman military camp and fortress of Novae, Svishtov Deputy Mayor Plamen Alexandrov has announced at a news conference together with Prof. Pavlina Vladkova, an archaeologist from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, as cited by local newspaper Yantra Dnes.
The 2015 edition of the Ancient Roman and Thracian heritage festival will feature participation by than 300 reenactors from Italy, France, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
In addition to Svishtov Municipality, the event is co-hosted by the Bulgarian historical reenactment groups “Legio I Italica” and “Cohors I Thracum c.R.” at the Svishtov Tourism Council.
The most numerous group of foreign reenactors on the 2015 spring festival in Svishtov will once again be from the world famous Gruppo Storico Romano from Rome, Italy.
For the second year in a row the “Eagle on the Danube” Festival is to be held in the Roman legionary fortress Novae near Svishtov which is the best researched, preserved, and exhibited in situ Roman military camp in the northeastern border provinces of the Roman Empire.
The first edition of the Ancient Heritage Festival was organized in 2008, and ever since it has been held every year in late May or early June with hundreds of reenactors from across Europe staging demonstrations and performances for the residents and guests of Bulgaria’s Svishtov. In 2013, the “Eagle on the Danube” Festival launched a fall edition entitled “The Vines of Novae”, which is held in September.
The unique international festival recreates the lifestyle, customs, culture, arms, and military campaigns of the Roman Empire, and their conflicts with the Ancient Thracians, including the tribe of the Dacians, and with the Goths. It has established itself as one of Europe’s most popular historical reenactment events.
Svishtov Deputy Mayor Plamen Alexandrov has pointed out that the 2014 spring edition of the Festival attracted over 6,000 visitors from across Europe, and that almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) was invested in the conservation, and restoration of the Ancient Roman military camp and fortress Novae, which was completed in 2013.
During the 2015 spring edition of the festival, Svishtov Mayor Stanislav Blagov will present the traditional awards “Eagle on the Danube” for contribution to the promotion of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage to His Excellency Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, Ambassador of France in Bulgaria, and for the preservation of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage to prominent Bulgarian archaeologists Prof. Pavlina Vladkova-Baycheva and Prof. Evgeniya Gencheva.
During the three days of the Festival, its visitors will be able to see a wide range of exciting events connected with Antiquity history, including a grand gladiator battle the night of June 6th. The Ancient Bulgar Survival School “Baga-Tur” will also participate in the Festival with reenactments of Ancient Thracian life and culture.
One of the events will be a reading of translated texts in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Old Bulgarian (Church Slavonic) from Codex Argenteus, “The Silver Book”, a 6th-century AD manuscript, originally containing bishop Ulfilas’s 4th century AD translation of the Bible into the Gothic language. This part of Antiquity history is connected with another major Roman city in Central North Bulgaria, Nicopolis ad Istrum, which is located not far away to the south of Novae.
In the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.
The Roman Military Camp and Late Antiquity City of Novae is located 4 km east of the Bulgarian Danube city of Svishtov in an area called Staklen (meaning “made of glass” – because of the Ancient Roman glass fragments on the site). It was a legionary base and a Late Roman city which formed around its canabae, a civilian settlement near a Roman military camp, housing dependents, in the Roman province Moesia Inferior, later Moesia II, set up after the Roman Empire conquered Ancient Thrace south of the Danube in 46 AD. It had a total area of 44 hectares (108 acres), according to a decree of Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD).
Novae is located near the southernmost point of the Danube where in 48 AD the 8th August Legion (Legio VIII Augusta) was stationed after participating in the suppression of a Thracian uprising. In 69 AD, it was replaced by the First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica), which was headquartered there for the next almost 4 centuries, at least until the 430s AD, and was a major force in the defense of the so called Lower Danube limes (frontier) against barbarian invasions together with other Roman strongholds such as Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Durostorum (today’s Silistra), and Ratiaria (today’s Archar). A testimony to the importance of Novae was that it was visited by three Roman Emperors: Trajan (r. 98-117 AD), Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD), and Caracalla (r. 198-217 AD). The most prosperous times for Novae was during the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD).
In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae; regardless of the siege, however, the fortress of Novea did not fall into the hands of the Goths. With the continuing Goth invasions and settlement in the Balkan provinces of the Roman Empire and East Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the 4th and the 5th century AD, in 418-451 AD Novae became the residence of Ostrogoth Chieftain Theodoric Strabo who was a rival of his kinsman, Theodoric the Great, King of the Germanic Ostrogoths (r. 475-526 AD).
The last traces of major construction at Novae date to the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). At the end of the 6th and the early 7th century Novae was attacked by the Avars and the Slavs which led the Ancient Roman and Byzantine city to decline. In the late 5th and 6th centuries Novae was the center of a bishopric. Novae was last mentioned as a city in written sources in the 7th century AD. In 2014, the local authorities in Svishtov unveiled the partial restoration of the ruins of Novae with almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) of EU funding.
Nicopolis ad Istrum (also known as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum) was an Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city (not to be confused with Nicopolis Ad Nestum in today’s Southwest Bulgaria).
Its ruins are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central Northern Bulgaria. Its name means “Victory City on the Danube River”. It was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) on a plateau on the left bank of the Rositsa River. This is where the two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.
(Ulpia) Nicopolis ad Istrum was first part of the Roman province of Thrace but after 193 AD it was made part of the province of Moesia Inferior. Nicopolis ad Istrum flourished in the 2nd-3rd century, during the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96-192 AD) and the Severan Dynasty (193-235 AD). It further developed as major urban center after the reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Its organization was similar to that of Roman cities in Thrace and Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon. It was ruled by a council of archons, a city council and an assembly, with local priests worshipping Ancient Roman and Greek deities such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, Mithras. At the time, Nicopolis ad Istrum was inhabited by Thracians, Roman military veterans, and settlers from Asia Minor. Nicopolis ad Istrum is known to have minted 900 different emissions of bronze coins. The city had orthogonal planning, with an agora (city square), a cardo maximus and a decumanus maximus (main streets), a market place, other public buildings and residential areas, limestone-paved streets and underground sewerage, as well as three aqueducts and several water wells, many of which has been unearthed in archaeological excavations.
The fortress walls of Nicopolis ad Istrum were erected only after the city was ransacked by a barbarian attack of the Costoboci, an ancient people possibly linked to the Getae (Gets) inhabiting an area in today’s Western Ukraine. The city square (agora) featured a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on a horse, a number of other marble statues, a Ionic colonnade, a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion (a public building housing the boule – council of citizens), a building to the cult of goddess Cybele, a small odeon (theater), thermae (public baths) as well as a building which according to an inscription was a “termoperiatos” which can be likened to a modern-day shopping mall – a heated building with shops and closed space for walks and business meetings. A total of 121 stone and brick tombs and sarcophagi have been found by the Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the city’s necropolis. Some villas and other buildings in the residential parts of Nicopolis ad Istrum have also been excavated.
Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.
The Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD. The Early Byzantine fort covered one about one forth of the Ancient Roman city – 57.5 decares (app. 14.2 acres) out of a total of 215.5 decares (app. 53.2 decares), and was also the center of a bishopric. The Early Byzantine fort was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval city in the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.
Nicopolis ad Istrum was visited in 1871 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who found there a statue of the wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD). The city was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist J. Seur whose work, however, was not documented, and in 1906-1909 by Czech archaeologist B. Dobruski. In 1945 and 1966-1968, there were partial excavations led by T. Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Systematic excavations were started in 1970 and were led again by T. Ivanov. Between 1985 and 1992, Nicopolis ad Istrum was excavated by a joint Bulgarian-British expedition from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and a team of the University of Nottingham. The joint Bulgarian-British excavations were resumed in 1996. The Nicopolis ad Istrum archaeological preserve is managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. In 1984, the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was put on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.