A first-century Roman refrigerator has been found
In the last few decades, archaeologists from Bulgaria and Poland have been excavating the site where the Roman legionary fortress Nove once stood. The ruins of the fortress are located 4 km from the modern town of Svishtov – Bulgaria, along the Danube, where the Roman invaders settled and defended a territorial border 2,000 years ago. Ongoing excavations there have produced a number of remarkable finds, and the list of these unearthed wonders now includes an ancient example of a technology still popular today – the refrigerator.
A team of archaeologists led by Prof. Peter Dycek from the Research Center for Southeast European Antiquity at the University of Warsaw were exploring the fortress when they came across an area of thick reddish ceramic slabs. Archaeologists identified it as an ancient version of a refrigerator, which then, as now, was used to store perishable products, “Science in Poland” reports.
Roman ingenuity on display
The Roman refrigerator was discovered in a military barracks. It was dug into the stone floor of the building, meaning it could only be opened from above. This ensured that it would be well enough insulated from the cold stone that surrounded it on three sides.
Since temperatures in Bulgaria fell below freezing for up to five months each year, Roman soldiers could collect ice or snow and put it in the refrigerator to keep their food cold and fresh.
The researchers were happy to discover that the ceramic storage box was not empty. In the refrigerator, they found fragments of ceramic vessels along with several baked bone fragments, possibly the remains of a cooked meal. They also found a bowl containing charcoal, which they believe was used to repel insects.
The fortress of Nove was built in the first century. It seems likely that the refrigerator was built at this time as a natural feature in a fully equipped barracks building.
The cleverly designed refrigerator is not the only remarkable find discovered by Bulgarian and Polish archaeologists during the last season of excavations. They also discovered a cache of several dozen coins, again from the Roman era. The coins were found in a layer that has been traced back to the third and fourth centuries AD, a period known for invasions by the Goths in the third century and the accession of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 306. Another interesting discovery was the remains of a Roman dwelling, located inside the fortress. Archaeologists found several artifacts, including grinding stones, fishing weights, and pottery shards. This was probably a civilian home, not a building occupied by soldiers.
Defense of the Empire: The Story of Nove
The fortress of Nove is located in an area that was once part of the Roman province of Mysia. Envoys of the first Roman emperor Augustus invaded and conquered these Balkan territories at the end of the 1st century BC. In AD 6 it was officially included in the Roman Empire and received its provincial name.
In 69 the Roman authorities became increasingly concerned about a possible encroachment on their lands by the Dacians based in present-day Wallachia. Sometime around this time the construction of the fortress of Nove began, and when Mysia was divided in 86, Nove became the main defensive post for the new province of Lower Mysia.
According to the researchers, Nove was built to be the permanent home of the First Italian Legion, which consisted exclusively of Roman soldiers and was created specifically to protect the territory of Mysia from the Dacian invasion. The fears of the Roman authorities seem to have been justified, as war broke out between the Dacians and the forces of the Roman emperor Trajan at the beginning of the second century. Nove served as a base camp for the successful defense of the territory, proving its value and importance to the empire’s ambitions in the region.
To ensure that the Nove fortress was suitable for long-term habitation, its builders constructed a complex water supply system of ceramic and lead pipes that brought clean water to the fortress and its associated settlement (the so-called kanabe). Since the water quality of the Danube River was not satisfactory, it was necessary to connect the water supply system with the Dermen River, which necessitated the construction of an aqueduct about 10 kilometers long. The incoming water was stored in two large reservoirs on site, from where it was distributed throughout the territory of the fortress through a network of canals and water pipes.
There are no estimates of how many people lived within the walls of Nove. But the population must have been relatively substantial, especially since the ramparts were moved outwards and rebuilt to enclose the nearby civilian settlement in the fourth century.
“During this time, Nove has slowly turned into a civilian town – says Prof. Dycek. “Thanks to the latest finds, we have received enough data to be able to recreate this fragment of the history of the ancient settlement, which until now has been shrouded in mystery for us.”
The professor notes that the ancient refrigerator from the first century is a particularly rare find, as structures of this type often do not survive the ravages of time.
Photo: Prof. Peter Dycek, Nauka w Polsce