Excavations in the canabae legionis and Late Roman annex of Novae

The main part of the extramural settlement (canabae) at Novae was situated on the western side of the fortress, beyond the West Gate (porta principalis sinistra). The excavations in this area are very limited due to the existence of private properties. The only building explored so far is the spledid residence of an official character, the so-called villa extra muros, excavated by Bulgarian archaeologists. A part of the settlement, however, stretched out also to the south-east of the fortress, on an elevated terrain between the valley of the Dermendere river (the tributary of the Danube) and the southern part of the camp (retentura). North from this place, terrain goes downwards and it is possible that an amphitheatre was placed there. The entire area to the east of the fortress covers around 8 ha.

Novae LR

Possibly by the end of the 3rd century the eastern defensive wall of the legionary fortress was dismantled, and stones were reused to build new solid fortifications. These late fortifications were excavated by the Bulgarian Expedition in the 1960's and 1970s. Unearthed remains allowed to prepare the plan of the Late Roman town, which covered around 26 ha. Still, little we know about the buildings inside these annex, as well as about the changes which took place during the existence of the canabae and later, until the end of habitation.


One of the results of the Bulgarian excavations was a discovery of burials dated to the Bronze Age and some finds dated to the Early Iron Age. Based on these discoveries, we know, that this area was inhabited before the arrival of the Romans. We expect to find out whether settlement in this part of the sited existed still at the moment of the Roman conquest, or not.


In 2017 we started a new three-year project aimed at reconstructing the fate of this part of the extramural settlement and a part of the late Roman town. The project, realized by the Insytutute of Archaeology University of Warsaw under supervision of Agnieszka Tomas, received financial support of the Polish National Science Centre. We will try to establish more detailed chronology of this area, its function and role as a part of the extramural settlement, as well as the reasons why this part of Novae was surrounded by fortifications in Late Antiquity. We will try to find out what conditions of living had its inhabitants, and what were their professions, and whether in the Late Antiquity this part of Novae changed its function.

Analogical annexes (i.e. additional lines of fortifications), appear also on other Roman sites. These areas which usually were parts of town’s suburbs (suburbia) or civil settlements near legionary bases (canabae), at a certain moment were surrounded by defensive walls and included into the main part of the fortress. This kind of annexes we find particularly often in Lower Danubian provinces of the Roman Empire. In almost all cases the exact moment of their emergence, as well as their function is not established. Modern literature tried to present several explanations to the phenomenon of annexes. The first one draws attention to the permanent danger caused by the barbarian raids and the necessity of protection the inhabitants of the suburbs and people migrating from the rural surroundings (A. Poulter). The annexes in such case would have played the role of refuges during attacks. The reforms made in the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century had significant consequences concerning the detachment of troops and military administration of the Roman frontiers. The reduced, or rather divided legions were dispatched in various forts, and their original ‘mother’ bases received the new, military-civilian character. The enclosed areas provided with new fortifications could have garrisoned the reduced unit or barbarian allies (T. Sarnowski). The third explanation presented very clearly recently, links the annexes (or at least some of them) with the evacuation of Dacia (M. Zahariade). The annexes are seen in this case as hosting places for immigrants replaced to the south by the Roman authorities. This idea meets today particular interest among the scholars, but also among those who deal with social sciences or refugee and asylum policy. An attempt to answer the question of role and function of the annexes with regard to the problems of migrations recently received particular attention.

Agnieszka Tomas

 Excavations in 2017

Based on the non-intrusive investigations which were taking place between 2012-2014 we have chosen three places where we expected to uncover some remains of buildings within the area of the annex. The fourth place, located closer to the defensive walls, was chosen as a stratigraphical trench where we expect to find undisturbed sequence of layers, therefore to establish the chronological record of the history of this place - from the earliest moments of human presence until modern times. In two trenches we have unearthed fragments of buildings (two large rooms), most probably private dwellings. The finds discovered there indicate civil settlement. Among them we found fragments of children's toys or finger rings.

Large part of the site is damaged by illegal trenches made by treasure hunters. One of our goals is to document as much as possible of the remains which may disappear.

The excavations were preceded by non-destructive investigations within the area of the canabae and more distant settlements around Novae. SEE MORE
Agnieszka Tomas, Tomasz Dziurdzik, Emil J�czmienowski, Anna Mech



A. Tomas (with P. Vladkova), Extramural area [in] Novae. An archaeological Guide (T. Sarnowski ed., A.B. Biernacki, P. Vladkova, M. Lemke), Warszawa 2012, 77-92.

A. Tomas, Canabae legionis I Italicae: state of research on civil settlements accompanying the legionary camp in Novae (Lower Moesia) compared to relevant Lower Danubian sites, Swiatowit L/A, 2011-2012 (2013), 155-168.

The project is financed by the Polish National Science Centre (Number
No. 2015/19/B/HS3/01790

© Zak�ad Archeologii Prowincji Rzymskich