Nicopolis ad Istrum

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Nicopolis ad Istrum
Νικόπολις ἡ πρὸς Ἴστρον
Nikopolis ad Istrum overview Klearchos.jpg
Nicopolis ad Istrum is located in Bulgaria
Nicopolis ad Istrum
Shown within Bulgaria
Coordinates43°13′02″N 25°36′40″E / 43.21722°N 25.61111°E / 43.21722; 25.61111Coordinates: 43°13′02″N 25°36′40″E / 43.21722°N 25.61111°E / 43.21722; 25.61111
Founded101–106 A.D.
Abandoned447 A.D.

Nicopolis ad Istrum (Greek: Νικόπολις ἡ πρὸς Ἴστρον) or Nicopolis ad Iatrum[1][2] was a Roman and Early Byzantine town.

Its ruins are located at the village of Nikyup,[3] 20 km north of Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria; the town reached its zenith during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, the Antonines and the Severan dynasty.

Archaeological excavations are continuing to reveal more of the city.


Plan of Nicopolis showing excavated area and later city to the southeast

The city was founded by Emperor Trajan around 101–106 as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum in memory of his victory over the Dacians and in his honour using his family name, or nomen, he chose the site at the junction of the Iatrus (Yantra) and the Rositsa rivers as supposedly the site of the battle.[4] He clearly intended it to become a magnificent city which is gradually being verified; the monumental character of the city however dates mainly to Antoninus Pius (138-161) and inscriptions found are no earlier than 136.

Nicopolis issued coins bearing images of its public buildings.[5]

The city was ransacked by the Costoboci in 170-1,[6] a tribe from today’s Western Ukraine, shortly after which the city walls were built. Many buildings were excluded from the walled area from this time.

From about 212 the honorary title Ulpia was no longer used in public inscriptions which is believed to be a result of Caracalla's displeasure with the city[7] after his visit there in 211-212.[8] Caracalla closed the mint and it lost its status of civitas stipendaria as well as its economic prosperity. After his death the city organised games for the new emperor and as a result it seems that the city regained its civic status, though not its full name, and re-opened the mint.[9][10]

The city prospered in the 2nd and 3rd centuries under the Severan dynasty (193-235) and grew more as a major urban centre under Emperor Diocletian's (284-305) reforms.

In 250 near the city, emperor Decius defeated the Goths under Cniva.[11]

In 447, the town was destroyed by Attila's Huns.[12] Perhaps it was already abandoned before the early 5th century.[13]

In about the middle of 5th century after the Huns' invasion, new high and strong walls were built adjoining the southern wall of the old city,[13] it seems that by then the old walls were in poor condition and repairing them was not viable. Moreover, their considerable length of 1.8km required more defenders than were available. The new city had an area of 1/4 of the original city enclosing little more than military buildings and churches, following a very common trend for the cities of that century in the Danube area;[14] the larger area of the extensive ruins (21.55 hectares) of the classical Nicopolis was not reoccupied. The south wall of the old city was reconstructed as the north wall of the new one, its towers were built upon destroyed and abandoned buildings, and ornamented stone blocks from their facades were used in the new structures. The towers were about 15m in front of the 10m high wall; the outside of the wall was rendered with mortar with incised grooves imitating massive stone blocks. The old south gate later also underwent a major reconstruction to compensate for higher surrounding terrain as the gate was situated in a hollow.[15]

The town became an episcopal centre during the early Byzantine period, it was finally destroyed by the Avar invasions at the end of the 6th century. A Bulgarian medieval settlement arose upon its ruins later (10th-14th century).[5]

Nicopolis ad Istrum can be said to have been the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition. In the 4th century, the Gothic bishop, missionary and translator Ulfilas (Wulfila) obtained permission from Emperor Constantius II to immigrate with his flock of converts to Moesia and settle near Nicopolis ad Istrum in 347-8.[16] There, he devised the Gothic alphabet and oversaw the translation of the Bible from Greek to Gothic, which was performed by a group of scholars.[17], [18]

The names of two of the early bishops of the city are known: Marcellus (in 451) and Amantius (in 518).[19]

The site was placed on the Tentative List for consideration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.


The classical town was planned according to the orthogonal system; the network of streets, the forum surrounded by an Ionic colonnade and many buildings, a two-nave room later turned into a basilica and other public buildings have been uncovered. The rich architectures and sculptures show a similarity with those of the ancient towns in Asia Minor.

The agora contained a statue of Trajan on horseback as well as other marble statues and an Ionic colonnade; the city also had a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion, a temple of Cybele, a small odeon, thermae (public baths) as well as a unique Roman building inscribed with termoperiatos, a heated building with shops and enclosed space for walks and business meetings. Some town houses and buildings have also been excavated.

The city was supplied by three aqueducts and had several water wells, many of which have been unearthed in archaeological excavations; the western aqueduct of 25km length had a bridge of almost 3km long and almost 20m tall carrying water over the entire valley of the Rositsa River.[20] Its 2nd century AD water catchment reservoir is located near the town of Musina in Pavlikeni municipality, to the west of the Roman city, where it still collects water from the karst springs inside the Musina Cave. A large castellum aquae of this aqueduct stands to the west of the city.

In 2015 remains of a huge building were revealed which was probably the residence of the agoranomus or curule aedile, a public officer in charge of trade and market operations in Ancient Greek and Roman cities.[21]

The obelisk of Quintus Julius, an aristocrat from Nicopolis, still stands to a height of 14m in the countryside near Lesicheri, about 12km west of the city.[22]

Many finds are on display in the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.

In 2018, archaeologists found an altar dedicated to the goddess Tyche at a small square in the southwestern corner of the Forum complex, with an inscription in Ancient Greek which is a modified epigram by Demosthenes.[23]



  1. ^ Nikopol - variant names
  2. ^ James Playfair, A System of Geography, Ancient and Modern (Hill 1812), vol. 4, p. 542
  3. ^ See bg:Никюп and de:Nikjup
  4. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus. 3.5.16
  5. ^ a b UNESCO.ORG
  6. ^ Archaeologists Impressed with Ancient Water Catchment Reservoir Which Fed 20-km-Long Aqueduct of Major Roman City Nicopolis ad Istrum in North Bulgaria:
  7. ^ Topalilov, Ivo. (2007). Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum and Claudia Leucas: two examples with drawn peregrine city-titles.
  8. ^ Boteva, D. 1997. Lower Moesia and Thrace in the Roman Imperial System (A.D. 193-217/218). Sofia, pp 281-82
  9. ^ Mouchmov, N. 1912. The Ancient Coins of the Balkan Peninsula and the Coins of the Bulgarian Kings. Sofia, 1281.
  10. ^ Vagalinski. L. 1994. “Donnés numismatiques pour des compétitions sportives en Thrace romaine.” Arheologija 3-4: 6-18, 16
  11. ^ The Cambridge Medieval History, Joan Mervyn Hussey p 204, CUP Archive, 1957
  12. ^ Burns (1994), 38
  13. ^ a b Curta (2001), 158
  14. ^ Liebeschuetz (2001), 77
  15. ^ Ivan Tsarov: "Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum ~ Cultural and Historical Heritage Library" Slavena Publishing House, Varna, 2009, ISBN 978-954-579-779-8
  16. ^ Burns (1994), 37
  17. ^ Peter Heather, J. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, Oxford University Press, 2005, 78. ISBN 0-19-515954-3
  18. ^ Ratkus, Artūras (2018). "Greek ἀρχιερεύς in Gothic translation: Linguistics and theology at a crossroads". NOWELE. 71 (1): 3–34. doi:10.1075/nowele.00002.rat.
  19. ^ Daniele Farlati and Jacopo Coleti, Illyricum Sacrum (Venice 1819), vol. VIII, pp. 106-107
  20. ^ Ivan Tsarov: “The Aqueducts in the Bulgarian Lands, 2nd-4th century AD” ISBN 9786191681907
  21. ^ ‘Condemned’ Bronze Head of Roman Emperor Gordian III from Nicopolis ad Istrum to Be Showcased by Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo:
  22. ^


Further reading[edit]

Poulter, Andrew. Nicopolis ad Istrum: A Roman, Late Roman and Early Byzantine City (Excavations 1985-1992), Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, London, 1995. ISBN 0-907764-20-7

External links[edit]