Εικονική αναπαράσταση της ρωμαϊκής πόλης


Nicopolis was built on the neck of the peninsula between the Ambracian Gulf and the Ionian Sea. It was founded as a symbol of the great victory gained by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius –later Roman emperor Augustus‒ against Marcus Antonius and Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, in the naval battle of Actium (31 B.C.).

Following his great victory, that ended the Roman civil war, Augustus decided to found Nicopolis, not only as a reminder of his victory but also as a control center of Western Greece along the city of Patras. The new city was formed by the relocation –in some cases by force‒ of residents of other cities (Cassope, Ambracia, Leucas etc.)

The emperor dedicated Nicopolis to god Apollo Actius or Actiacus. The Actian games –old local games of the Acarnanias‒ were re-founded and devoted to the god. Apollo was worshiped here with the epithets Leycadios (from Leycas), and Agyieus. In his sanctuary, cults of other gods were also established, i.e. of Poseidon and Ares, as an inscription found on the spot informs us. Among the cults of the city were those of Zeus, Dionysus, Hermes, Hephaestus, Asclepius, Hecate, Pan, Hercules and Attis. Dominant was the cult of Artemis, worshipped with the epithets Lafria, Soteira, Efesia. Two eastern cults are also known: the cults of Isis and of Cybele. The worship of the Roman emperor Octavian, founder of the city, was naturally prominent.

The city is mentioned in Roman written sources as ”Nicopolis romana colonia”, ”civitas libera Nicopolitana” (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 4,5; Tacitus, ann. 5,10) or ”colonia Augusta”.

Aerial photo of the Preveza peninsula

Nicopolis was founded as a symbol of the great victory gained by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius –later Roman emperor Augustus‒ against Marcus Antonius and Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, in the naval battle of Actium (31 B.C.).

The early campaigns

The first archaeological campaign in Nicopolis began in July 1913, under the direction of the Ephor of Antiquities of Argolidokorinthia Alexandros Filadelfeus. Unfortunately, the results of his research were never published, while his findings that were kept in a mosque were destroyed as the place was bombed by the Italian Air Force in 1941. All the finds that had been rescued were later looted.

From 1925 onwards the research was conducted by Ephor G. Meliades (sanctuary of Apollo) and Anastasios Orlandos, who excavated Basilica B and Basilica C. In 1940, Ephor of Antiquities John Papadimitriou started a research program with the purpose “to identify the Roman monuments of Nicopolis mentioned by Strabo 7.7.6”.  Due to the war and ensuing occupation of Greece, Papadimitriou did not continue excavations in Nicopolis.

The local Archaeological Service continues until today to excavate and restore the monuments of the ancient city. In 1987, the Scientific Committee of Nicopolis was formed with the purpose of protecting and enhancing the monuments.


The Victory Monument of Actium

The Victory Monument of Actium

Το Μνημείο όπως σώζεται σήμερα

The Victory Monument of Actium

The monument, which marked a watershed event in the history of the ancient world, is mentioned in only a few lines of the ancient authors Dio Cassius and Suetonius. The architectural composition of the Trophy-Victory Monument hints at divine intervention in the naval battle’s outcome and at the ruler’s piety.

The complex extended amphitheatrically on two artificial levels over the slopes of the hill, where Augustus camped during the naval battle of Actium. On the lower level rose two parallel retaining walls, today in a ruinous state. Above the wall’s euthynteria are preserved anchor-shaped carvings into which the brass rams from the captured ships of Antony and Cleopatra were wedged (it is estimated there were a total of 36 rams). Higher up on the wall was the votive inscription of the monument, parts of which were found scattered throughout the area south of the retaining wall. The length of the inscription is calculated at about 54 meters. The text of the inscription is restored approximately thus:

“The Emperor Caesar, son of the divine Julius, following the victorious outcome of the war he waged for democracy in this region when he was consul for the fifth time and general for the seventh, and after the establishment of peace on sea and land, dedicated to Ares and Poseidon the camp from which he stormed against the enemy, which is now adorned with the spoils of ships”.

The retaining wall of the front of the monument, together with the vertical walls lost in the slope of the hill, shaped and provided counter-support like a podium to the second level, on which there was a Π-shaped porticus triplex with two rows of columns. The outer colonnade was Doric and the inner one, Corinthian. The portico’s walls were decorated with frescoes, with linear and vegetal motifs visible today.

The roofing consisted of Corinthian tiles, and a significant number of terracotta architectural members with relief decoration. On the long sides, the roof carried gutters (simas) with a relief of a lioness nursing the twins Romulus and Remus on either side of a waterspout in the form of a lioness’s head, or a representation of dolphins flanking a waterspout in the form of a dolphin’s head.

The center of the open space on the upper level was taken up by a monumental oblong altar from which the foundation is preserved. Thousands of marble fragments from the superstructure have been found around the foundation. Study of these fragments has shown that the altar was richly decorated. A short distance north of the altar and in a perfectly symmetrical relationship with it, the foundations of two square pedestals were found. On one of the pedestals, it is possible that the bronze statuary group of the donkey named Nikon and his drive Eutychos were erected. Octavian took his encounter with them at dawn on the day of the battle as a good omen (Plutarch, Antony 65.3).

Around the circumference of the atrium, the fragments of about thirty small vases, perforated at their base, were found. In Roman times, plants rooted in such vases (called ollae perforatae) were sold and transplanted into the ground together with their vases. Their symmetrical placement near the colonnades indicates the presence of an organized garden. The precinct’s sacred garden, like its monumental altar, would have been dedicated to Apollo, Augustus’s patron god.

In the 1st century AD, after the death of Augustus, a rectangular addition was built to the north side of the porticus. This area was in all probability devoted to the imperial cult (Aedes Augustalium).

“The Emperor Caesar, son of the divine Julius, following the victorious outcome of the war he waged for democracy in this region when he was consul for the fifth time and general for the seventh, and after the establishment of peace on sea and land, dedicated to Ares and Poseidon the camp from which he stormed against the enemy, which is now adorned with the spoils of ships”.

Relief altar depicting gods


The Stadium

The Stadium

The Stadium

The Stadium of Nicopolis was built at the foot of the sacred hill of Apollo south of the Victory Monument and between the Theater and Gymnasium. It was oval in plan, with an E-W orientation. The earthen embankments with sporadic remains of the substructure of seating, the ruins of the entrances, and the remains of the retaining walls that restrained the downward thrust of the embankments are preserved.

The unusual type of stadium with two sphendonai—a feature found in only a few stadia in Asia Minor—is referred to in the research as a “stadium-amphitheater” and considered to be a transitional type from the Greek stadium to the Roman amphitheater. According to one view, the Stadium of Nicopolis was the prototype of this type of stadiums.

The Stadium at its present condition

The Augustan Stadium

To configure the slopes on the north side of the Stadium, the gentle ends of the hill were used; the slope of the east sphendone and the south side were the result of fill held in place by retaining walls. During its first building phase, the Stadium had a horseshoe-shaped ground plan; in the same phase, there was an underground passage, a hidden entrance (κρυπτή είσοδος). The form of the Stadium in this first building phase, when it was built to host the Actian Games’ athletic competitions, recalls the architectural composition of Greek stadiums as this had developed in Hellenistic times.

In front of the west end of the Stadium at the main entrance, we suppose that one of the city streets (cardo) must have concluded after passing through the Northwest Gate of the wall and the North Cemetery. We assume that work to erect the Stadium must have been finished by September 27 BC, the year the first Actian Games were held. The length of the Stadium is calculated at 218 meters, and its width from the north retaining wall to the south at 58 meters. The length of the track is estimated to have been 200 meters, and its width, 23.50-24.00 meters.

Virtual reconstruction of the Augustan Stadium

Later Building Phases

A support wall has been identified, which was done to reinforce the original walls in vulnerable areas of the sphendone and south side of the monument where the original walls would have received maximum thrust from the slopes.

A series of extensive interventions gave the Stadium its characteristic ground plan with two semicircular ends. Specifically, a second sphendone was added on the west side, providing a triple passageway into the track, and three additional entranceways were built: two at about the center of the north and south slopes, and a third along the axis of the east sphendone at the location of the earlier passageway. In addition, a podium (height 2.60-2.80 m.) was built around the arena (konistra).

The renovation of the Stadium is dated to the late 1st – early 2nd century AD, and was probably owed to the emperor Domitian, to whom the construction of the stadium-amphitheater of Patra is attributed. The reconstruction of the Stadium with the addition of the second sphendone and surrounding podium turned the Stadium into a venue for gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. A relief  plaque with a representation of a gladiatorial combat—a chance find—in all probability belonged to the frieze of a grave monument, apparently that of a gladiator.

Virtual reconstruction of the Stadium with two seimi-circular ends


The Theater

The Theater

View of the cavea and orchestra

The Theater

Aerial photo of the Theater before the works

The Roman theater οf Nicopolis was in the southern foothills of the sacred hill of Apollo, a short distance northeast of the Stadium. Oddly enough, the Theater is not mentioned by Octavian’s contemporary Strabo, although he does refer to the Stadium and the Gymnasium. Excavation has demonstrated that the Theater belonged to the building program of Augustus. The renovation of the monument dates to the first half of the 2nd century AD and was probably done by Hadrian.

The Roman architect Vitruvius (death 15 B.C.) in his handbook of architecture De Architectura, describes the morphological characteristics of the “ideal” theater in the Roman manner and the characteristics of Greek theaters in comparison to Roman ones.

The auditorium (koilon) of the Greek theater always rested directly on natural slopes following corresponding removal of earth and adjustments to the ground level. In Roman theaters the innovation of supporting the auditorium (cavea) on vaulted substructures founded on level ground appeared. This technical solution facilitated the choice of location foe erecting theaters in urban centers, since it was no longer necessary to search out natural slopes.

The tripartite arrangement of Greek theater -stage, orchestra, koilon- became united in a single building in the Roman theater. This consolidation resulted in the creation of a semicircular orchestra which did not form part of the scenic action, as the actors performed on the proscenium (pulpitum).

Moreover, in the Roman theater there were vaulted passages (aditus maximi) leading to the orchestra-which correspond to the parodoi of the Greek theater- while other vaulted passageways (vomitoria) were used for entering or exiting the auditorium. Between the orchestra and the proscenium there was a channel for the mechanism of the stage curtain (aulaeum). The aulaeum fell into the channel when the performance began and was raised when it finished. For this reason, the expression “aulea premutur” i.e. the curtain is lowered, signified the beginning of the performance.

The Parts of a Roman Theater

Excavation has demonstrated that the Theater belonged to the building program of Augustus. The renovation of the monument dates to the first half of the 2nd century AD and was probably done by Hadrian.

From the early 1950s,  conservation and consolidation work has been carried out on various monuments, including the Theater, by the Archaeological Service. During the 1970’s and 1980’s consolidation and restoration of various parts of the theater were conducted due to serious risk of collapse.

In 1984, the First International Symposium on Nicopolis took place in Preveza, where in accordance with proposals made, the Scientific Committee of Nicopolis was formed in 1987. The Committee launched scientific excavations, rescue work on the antiquities, and the gradual configuration of the site into an archaeological park.  Two Honorary Ephors of Antiquities served as Presidents of the Scientific Committee; Dr Konstantinos Zachos (1987-2014) and Dr Eugenia Chalkia (2014-2015).

During the 1990s trial trenches were opened at various points in the monument to gather data for launching topographic work. During this work, the retaining wall south of the stage building known from Donaldson’s drawings was identified. In the early 2000’s an iron framework was constructed to buttress the perimeter wall of the auditorium, followed by consolidation work on the stage building.

The seriously-endangered state of the monument and the need to immediately deal with the risk of the collapse and erosion, led to an action plan to avert its further deterioration. Consequently, a study was prepared and the Theater was included in an NSRF program in two phases. During the program, excavation research took place that brought to light new data for the monument as well as various finds (inscriptions, sculpture and architectural parts etc.) that help the better understanding of the Theater. The project also involved extended conservation and restoration works, studies and preliminary reports for every phase of the works.

Map of the city. Thomas Leverton Donaldson, 1835

The Theater’s orientation does not follow that of the streets and most of the buildings of Nicopolis. This choice was apparently dictated by the need to adapt to the terrain, since the theater was not built on level ground. While it has suffered major damage due to factors (even in the recent past, when during the Greek-Italian war the cavea was used by the Italians as anti-aircraft machine gun emplacement), it remains one of the archaeological site’s most imposing monuments due to its prominent position and the fact that it remains preserved to a considerable height.

The Theater of Nicopolis embodies all those elements that make it a Roman-type theater: a surrounding retaining wall, the retaining walls flanking the stage building, the stage building itself, the upper auditorium (cavea) with the remaining parts of its substructure, the three vaulted entrances in the upper cavea, part of the proscenium (pulpitum) and orchestra, and the west parodos and lower cavea (ima cavea) with its stone seating. At least two building phases are recognizable on the basis of the position and construction method of architectural elements. The perimeter wall, retaining walls, aditus maximi and part of the auditorium and stage building belong to the first phase (late 1st c. BC/early 1st c. AD). During the second phase, parts of the auditorium and stage building underwent extensive alterations and additions.

The perimeter wall, retaining walls, and stoa: The lower cavea rested on the natural slope of the hill, while the upper cavea rested on a stone substructure, in accordance with the support system for the cavea in Roman theaters. The perimeter semicircular wall which supports the upper cavea, was reinforced at intervals by buttresses. In the upper part of the wall, vertical pairs of stones project at intervals to support the wooden poles to which the awning which shaded spectators was tied. The stones of the upper row have a circular through-and-through opening, and those of the lower row have a circular depression. Three symmetrically-disposed entrances (vomitoria) in the perimeter wall –a central and two side ones- concluded at the original praecinctio (a 2.5m. wide corridor) that divided the auditorium into zones. Audience access to the two end vomitoria was by means of staircases.

On the upper part of the cavea there was a surrounding stoa (porticus in summa cavea). Three entrances gave access to the audience; the central one is situated above the central vomitorium.

The retaining walls on the façade of the theater, on either side of the stage building, were built using large stone blocks that came from older buildings in the region and frequently had sockets of clamps or other elements from their first use. Two vaulted parodoi (aditus maximi) on either side of the stage building led to the orchestra. Above the west parodos three levels of box seats (tribunalium) were uncovered. Evidence for corresponding box seats was found in the ruins of the east parodos.

The auditorium (cavea): The auditorium is divided in two zones: the upper auditorium (summa cavea) and the lower auditorium (ima cavea). The stone seats of the upper caeva rested on the substructure, which was composed of three successive vaulted passageways. In the upper cavea, with a very few exceptions the seats had been looted in the past. Some of them have inscriptions with the name of the person who “owned” the seat. A significant number of seats in the lower cavea, which were built on natural bedrock, are preserved in situ.

The orchestra: The orchestra was semicircular (diam. 22m.) with its floor paved in rectangular stone and marble slabs. The center of alignment of the semicircle was in the center of the imaginary diameter defined by the retaining walls.

The stage building (scaenea): The stage building of the first construction phase was demolished and replaced with a newer one which preserved the original design of the building. The newer structure (44x6m.), which is preserved at some points to a height 9 meters above today’s ground level, was entirely built of brick in the opus testaceum construction system.

The façade (scaenae frons) was straight; on its ground floor it had three arched entrances, of which the central one (valva regia) was formed within a niche, while the other two (valvae hospitaliae) are smaller.

The stage building’s two walls, its inner one (façade or scaenae frons) and its outer one, were 2.70 meters apart from each other, thus creating a long and narrow intervening space, the postscaenium. The covering of the postscaenium, at least up to the height of the first floor, was vaulted and consisted of seven transverse vaults supported on six transverse walls, with an opening in each to pass from space to space. The scaenae fons (length 37m.) was decorated with a two-story projecting porch consisting of a colonnade and a straight entablature.

The proscenium (pulpitum) extended along the length of the scaenae frons. The action in theatrical performances took place on it, in contrast with the Greek theater were the actors performed on the orchestra. On its façade, the proscenium had alternating semicircular and rectangular niches faced in marble. Behind these niches was the “curtain channel”.

The proscenium was framed by the versurae (backstages), two rectangular, multi-story buildings with wide doors to the proscenium.

From the building of the first construction phase there remain preserved some sections of the wall of the stage building’s façade, incorporated into more recent walls, as well as these walls’ foundations wherever they were deemed adequate. The fragmentary building materials from the demolition of the building dating to the first phase were used as aggregate in the concrete foundations of the new construction.

The Actian Games in honor of Apollo were held in the sanctuary of Apollo Actius, which was under the jurisdiction of Anaktorion (Anactorium), a Corinthian colony on the Ambracian Gulf (Strabo 7.7.6). Augustus reorganized the Acarnanians’ local games and made them more brilliant, on the one hand to perpetuate his epochal victory and on the other to honor the god Apollo, to whose assistance the victorious outcome of the naval battle was attributed.

The new Actian Games are referred to in the sources as Άκτια, Άκτια εν Νικοπόλει, Άκτια μεγάλα Καισάρεια, and τα Αυγούστου Άκτια (Aktia, Aktia en Niopolei, Aktia megala Kaisareia, and ta Avgoustou Aktia). Our evidence indicates that the first new Actian Games must have been held in September 27 BC. The games soon became renowned, as may be inferred from the large number of agonistic inscriptions that have survived in the Roman world, on which are recorded the games, the (specific) event, and the name of the victor. According to the inscriptions, the Actian Games were held continuously, except perhaps for an interruption in the age of Caligula, until the 3rd century AD. When Christianity became predominant, the Actian Games followed the fortunes of other athletic games in antiquity.

The contests

The new Actian Games were held every four years, and included athletic contests (games), contests of artistic skill, and horse races. It is certain that during the Imperial age the Actian Games were added to the cycle (periodos) of Panhellenic games as a fifth event. Sacred games like the Aktia had as their prize a wreath (στεφανίτες αγώνες). The illustrations show various types of wreaths, the commonest being a type of reed, followed by laurel wreaths, and then most likely by ivy wreaths.

Three categories of athletes took part in the Actian Games as concerns age: boys (13-16 years old), “beardless youths” (i.e. adolescents) (17-20), and men (21+). The athletic contests included light and heavy competitions. Of the former, the Actian Games included the stadion (short distance, i.e. one stade), the diavlos (middle distance), the dolichos (long distance), and the oplites dromos (race in armor). Of the heavy sports, there is mention of wrestling, boxing, and the pankration, in which all three age groups took part. However, only men and adolescents competed in the pentathlon, which in addition to its light sports (long-jump, running, javelin-throwing) also included discus-throwing and wrestling. As for horse races, though these are mentioned in the literary sources there is no corresponding testimony in the agonistic inscriptions. The Actian Games presented an impressive variety in terms of artistic events. The lists of Actian victors mention poets, sophists, tragedians, comedians, heralds, trumpeters (salpinktes), lyre-players, voice teachers (phonaskoi) (teachers of singing and recitation), flute-players, and pantomimists.

The site and administration of the Actian Games

As the site for holding the new Actian Games, the slope of the hill where Octavian had set up his headquarters on the eve of battle was chosen. The choice of location was chiefly determined by reasons of political expediency aimed at promoting the region as a sacred site, and was in full agreement with the narrative of the regime, which viewed Octavian’s victory as the will of the gods.

Octavian entrusted the oversight of the Actian Games to the Spatans, because they were the only Greeks who had sided with him under Eurycles, hegemon of Sparta and a close friend of Octavian who took part in the battle of Actium with his own ships. Later, the administration of the games passed to the Nicopolitans themselves, because the sources mention the Sacred Actian Council (Ιερά Ακτιακή Βουλή) which, like the corresponding Council of Olympia, was responsible for the religious rituals and overall organization of the games.

Following the abandonment of Nicopolis and the gradual accumulation of its ruins, the archaeological site became a boundless reserve for building material. A significant quantity of building material from the monuments of Nicopolis, including column capitals, epistyles, coffers, bricks from the Roman wall and others, has been found on monuments in Arta and its environs from the era of the Despotate of Epirus. The plundering of building material continued during the period of Venetian and Ottoman rule through the modern periods.

As Byzantium was dying, the spirit of the Renaissance arose in Europe with Florence at its center. Nostalgia for Classical antiquity and interest on the part of humanists in visiting Greece prevailed in the Renaissance.

Antiquarian investigation of the ancient city was inaugurated with the visit of Cyriacus of Ancona to Nicopolis in 1435 and 1436. Ciriaco de’ Pizzicolli, who is considered the forerunner of traveling of this antiquarian type, starting from Arta, made excursions to various areas, including Nicopolis, which he characterized as “a major city in Epirus”. Impressed by the many buildings built of brick with marble decoration, he identified it as Dodona.

In the late 18th century and initial decades of the 19th, the number of travelers in Epirus increased dramatically. The French General Consul at the court of Ali Pasha, François Pouqueville noted: “… all the travelers who disembarked on the coast of Epirus visited, drew, and described Nicopolis”. There is a long list of travelers who visited Nicopolis and several engraved their names on the walls of the theater.

The visits by the English colonel William Martin Leake to Nicopolis in 1804 and considerably later, in 1809, were milestones in the Nicopolis of the travelers. As he noted in Travels in Northern Greece (published in 1835), the ruins of Nicopolis were called Old Preveza (Palaiopreveza), and its Early Christian walls were called (the) Palaiokastro. Among other things, on the basis of Strabo’s passages, Leake identified the site of Octavian’s camp, the location of the Gymnasium, and that of the inner harbor at Vathi (Vathy). He pointed out that the theater was one of the best-preserved of Roman theaters, and remarked on its construction system, i.e. the use of brick versus the Greek construction system, which he considered superior. He also noted that he found fragments of statues from the sculptural decoration of the façade of the stage building on which letters of the names of Aphrodite and Athens were preserved: ΑΦΡΩ, -ΘΗΝΑΙ.

In 1813 the theologician Thomas Smart Hughes visited Nicopolis, the first traveler who recognized the infrastructure for supporting the shading system. He also found the three lime kilns in the auditorium which he incorrectly identified as water reservoirs.

A few years later, in 1820, the prominent English architect Thomas Leverton Donaldson (1795-1885) visited Nicopolis, preparing its first topographic plan and drawings of important monuments such as the Theater and Odeum. Leake included Donaldson’s drawings in the publication of his travels. Donaldson’s drawing of the theater is distinguished for its reliable depiction of the ground plan of the ruins, even though it was not preceded by excavation.

The conservation and reconstruction of the Nicopolis Theater begun systematically in 2012 and it is an ongoing project to this day. On November 25, 2011 with a signed Programmatic Agreement, the Epirus Prefecture offered 100,000.00 euros to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. This fund was used for the completion of excavation works and photographic documentation.

The project Protection, conservation and reconstruction of the Nicopolis Theater (First Phase) was funded by NSRF 2007-2013 with the sum of 1,500,180.00 euros. Through this programme a series of works were completed; stabilisation and preventive conservation of brick walls in the Proscaenium and Porticus, excavation works on summa cavea and various exploration trenches that determined the monuments’ condition, removal of huge fallen wall-parts in order to avoid danger of injury. A fence was constructed around the monument along with a walk path with information displays for visitors (including texts in Braille).

A number of technical studies were undertaken either by third parties, or by the personnel of the Preveza Ephorate of Antiquities or other organisations (DIAZOMA). These were approved by the Central Archaeological Council and helped the integration of the project in the next Business Plan.

In December 2016 the second phase of the project Protection, conservation and reconstruction of the Nicopolis Theater was approved, funded with the sum of 2,800,000.00 euros. Since the summer of 2017 when the project was initiated, various works were completed; excavation of the ima Cavea, the Orchestra and the Pulpitum, the west Versura and Aditus Maximus as well as works on the west retaining wall. The excavation also unearthed the staircase west of the Postscaenium and the channel for the stage curtain between the Pulpitum and the Orchestra. Still ongoing are preventive conservation and reconstruction works of the ima Cavea and the Porticus. A great number of artefacts are being conservated such as bronze and silver coins, marble sculptures, reliefs and architectural parts.

Today, the (already) completed part of the project allows the visitor to comprehend the form, the dimensions and the monumentality of the Theater. After the completion of the restoration project, the Nicopolis Theater will stand as an exceptional Roman architectural work, and as another step towards the realisation of the Nicopolis archaeological park.

The Nicopolis Theater as part of an archaeological park

The Nicopolis archaeological site is the most extensive Roman site in Greece, covering an area of 13,500 acres. Its monuments present aspects of the historical course of the city that were not disturbed by earlier or later settlements. The ruins that sometimes survive in a remarkable height above the ground, offer us a complete picture of a great ancient civic center.

The antiquities of Nicopolis are protected by the Hellenic and international law and since 1980 -when the Scientific Committee for Nicopolis was founded- the efforts for the protection, conservation and promotion of the monuments were intensified. The Committee organised conventions, studies and research projects that lead to a Master Plan for the creation of an extended archaeological park.

The restoration of the cultural environment wishes to promote selected monuments that could offer a better view of the ancient city. Eight groups of such monuments are created, one of which is the Suburb that includes the Stadium, the Gymnasium and the Theater.

The completion of the Master Plan will offer to the Greek and international public the greatest archaeological park of Roman period in Greece. The visitor will be able to walk on the ancient streets and see the monuments of an important ancient city, fully integrated in its natural environment.

Virtual Tour


Burial Monuments

Burial Monuments

Αεροφωτογραφία των ταφικών μνημείων κοντά στο Στάδιο

Burial Monuments

A few meters from the east sphendone of the Stadium, excavation uncovered two grave monuments-mausoleums which formed part of a group of tomb monuments, the total number of which remains unknown. This was an important cemetery, since it was set in a prominent location inside the precinct where the sacred games were held. The two mausoleums lay approximately parallel to one another.

The northern one was temple-form and stood on a podium like Roman temples. Only its podium survives: it had a concrete core and stone facing, from which the euthynteria, a base with a concave-convex molding, and orthostates survive. On the west side of the building steps led to the pronaos, which on the basis of a column capital found in excavation is thought to have been Ionic. In the monument’s burial chamber there must have been stone sarcophagi on a platform around the perimeter, as is observed in similar funerary monuments in the north cemetery of Nicopolis. The mausoleum dates to about the second half of the 2nd century AD.

The second mortuary building, which is only a meter south of the first one, was rectangular in plan and built of brick. Its north wall had buttresses, among which three brick cist tombs have been found. Of the graves inside the burial chamber, four undecorated stone sarcophagi and a brick-built cist tomb survive.

Between the two mausoleums, five fragments of a marble sarcophagus with relief decoration were found. On three sides of the sarcophagus, the labors of Heracles are depicted in high relief. The sarcophagus contained at least three disturbed burials, the earliest of which dates to the second half of the 2nd century AD, i.e. it was contemporary with the construction of the sarcophagus.

A few meters northeast of the temple-form mausoleum, the wall of a third, brick-built mausoleum was identified. It is considered certain that in this same direction (towards the Theater) there are other grave monuments still covered by fill. These luxurious funerary monuments must have belonged to prominent members of the local community who were directly connected with the organization and administration of the Actian Games.

Aerial Photo of the burial monuments next to the Stadium


The Gymnasium

The Gymnasium

Dedicatory inscription probably from the Gymnasium

The Gymnasium

The ruins of wall masonry, primarily brickwork (opus testaceum) southwest of the Stadium are identified as the Gymnasium in the Suburb (Proasteion) mentioned by Strabo. Their proximity to the Stadium and two inscribed agonistic stelae dedicated to young athletes would argue for a fairly secure identification of these ruins the Gymnasium. A place for the athletes to exercise and prepare, the Gymnasium would have included an outdoor space with surrounding portico (the xystos), a series of rooms, a palaestra, and the requisite baths. The remains of buildings with a semicircular ground plan which may be made out at the west end of the field probably belonged to the Gymnasium’s baths.

At the site of the ruins, excavation revealed the rectangular podium (11.10 x 11.94 m.) of a mortuary building-mausoleum. Inside the podium, two brickwork chambers/chests (θήκες) were created. On the exterior, it carried a stone revetment of cornerstones in the pseudo-isodomic system (opus quadratum). In I. Papadimitriou’s 1940 excavations, many fragments of marble statues and architectural members with moldings (today lost) came to light. They included a large bifacial marble relief depicting a ship’s ram. While the place of the sculpture on the monument remains unknown, the reference to the battle of Actium is clear. Apparently the tomb belonged to some distinguished citizen of Nicopolis connected to the events at Actium either directly or through his ancestors.

Dedicatory inscription probably from the Gymnasium


The North Baths

The North Baths

The North Baths; the semi-circular exedra seen from the east

The North Baths

About 570 meters south of the Stadium and west of the cemetery road, which after crossing the North Cemetery led to the Suburb (Proasteion), stood the ruins of an extensive bath complex, known in the past by the name “Bedenia”.

Various spaces were arrayed in a radial fashion around the imaginary axis of a large semicircular exedra. The central entrance to the exedra led to a rectangular hall with two facing apses. Two additional entrances on either side of the central one each led to respective rectangular halls. At the ends of the semicircular exedra, two vaulted corridors allowed passage to rooms with more complex plans where apses predominated.

The building was connected with the Aqueduct of the city through a branch that started from the central channel in the northwest at the foot of the hills of Michalitsi and then headed for the Gymnasium and the Baths.

Although the date of the Baths cannot be precisely determined without excavation, we are led to conclude that they belong to the Hadrianic age (117-138 AD), judging from the similarities of the complex at Nicopolis to the buildings of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli both in terms of plan as well as building techniques.

The North Baths; the semi-circular exedra seen from the east




Virtual plan of the Civic and Sacred Landscape of roman Nicopolis


Roman surveyors (agrimensores or gromatici) implemented at Nicopolis the design principles that characterize the Roman cities of dividing the space into rectangular building blocks (insulae). This roman tradition had been subject to influences from the Greek colonies of South Italy. Before the building of a camp or city, the surveyors, using a topographic instrument called the groma, laid out two perpendicular streets, the N-S cardo maximus and the E-W decumanus maximus, which divided the site into four sections of approximately equal size (centuriae). Streets of smaller width (cardines-decumani) lying parallel to the main streets delimited the building blocks themselves. The buildings associated with the political Agora (i.e., the Forum) were normally at the intersection of the two main streets.

Plan of the city with the identified streets

Excavations in Nicopolis have brought to light the start of the decumanus maximus at the West Gate, and a significant part of it between the House of the ekdikos Georgios and the south side of the Early Christian wall at the height of the so-called “Beautiful Gate”. Its extension towards the west outside the walls led to the port of Komaros. On the east it is not certain that it concluded at a gate, because before it drew near the wall, it diagonally encountered the road that passed through the Southeast Gate and ended at the large port at Vathi (Vathy). The road was paved with large rectangular limestone slabs, as evidenced by the part of it uncovered south of the House of the ekdikos Georgios, and it had sidewalks and a gutter carved into their slabs. Its width including sidewalks was 14.80 meters, while its length from the West Gate to the east wall is estimated at 1500 meters. The first parallel street (decumanus) to the north, which was narrower, ended at the East Gate.

Part of the central cardo (cardo maximus), which was 14.80 meters wide, has been uncovered 200 meters north of the Odeum. Excavations have identified the street’s sewer and a brick manhole.

Cardines bounded two houses, the House of Manius Antoninus and the House of the ekdikos Georgios, defining the width of the building block as 56.30 meters. At the House of Manius Antoninus, the east street was 7.40 meters wide and made of large limestone slabs, many of which had been removed and used in the construction of cist tombs. Investigation below the road surface revealed a large arched sewer (cloaca) where the drainage pipes from the house concluded. The sewer was built of stones of variable size, and had manholes for cleaning and checking on sewage. Two of the manholes revealed were covered with limestone paving slabs. At the west road, which also had a sewer, no paving was found due to contemporary interventions. The street that passed between the east side of the House of the ekdikos Georgios and Basilica A was 7.40 meters wide. The sewer and a manhole cover were found on this street, though almost no traces of its paving have survived.

The city had at least eleven cardines east of the central cardo and six to its west. It is calculated that there were six (6) decumani perpendicular to these, symmetrically placed north and south of the central decumanus. It thus appears possible that the city was divided into rectangular building islands measuring 56 x 165 meters.

Excavation has shown that creating the rural land registry and laying out the urban plan of Nicopolis belonged to the same plan, because the deviation from the N-S axis of alignment for surveying rural lands coincided with the deviation found for the urban plan.

View of the Decumanus Maximus near the south gate known as “Oraia Pyli”

Roman surveyors implemented at Nicopolis the design principles that characterize the Roman cities of dividing the space into rectangular building blocks (insulae). Using a topographic instrument called the groma, they laid out two perpendicular streets, the N-S cardo maximus and the E-W decumanus maximus, which divided the site into four sections of approximately equal size (centuriae).

Virtual plan of the Civic and Sacred Landscape of roman Nicopolis

The Roman walls

The Roman walls

The NW gate and the burial monuments of the North cemetery

The Roman walls

The walls of Nicopolis belonged to the Augustan-era building program and present a uniform image in terms of building technique and materials. They were made with a poured concrete core and faced in large bricks of two sizes in successive courses. The walls are 2.50 meters thick throughout their length, apart from at points where corners and the gates were formed, whose thickness increased to 4.60 meters. They have a polygonal plan and enclose an area of 14,000 stremmata (1400 hectares). Their perimeter is estimated at 5000 meters.

The wall’s course may be followed with precision along its north and south sides. Remains of the south part of the west wall (i.e. south of the main West Gate) are preserved from the west side, while north of this gate no traces of it have been found. In all probability, this part was never completed, and for this reason later the intervals between the piers of the Aqueduct, which ran parallel to the imaginary course of the wall, were later sealed shut with makeshift walls. This intervention between the piers was apparently imposed by some emergency—probably, an enemy invasion—as showed also by the building material employed, which included spolia  (architectural members from various buildings, fragments of statues, even fragments of inscriptions). From the east wall of the Roman fortifications, only the north part of the East Gate, atop which the Early Christian wall was late built, survives. South of the East Gate the wall’s course is unclear.

Although they represented a major and expensive project, the rules of fortification architecture were not consistently applied to the Augustan walls (e.g., the towers were sparsely-set), which lends them more of a decorative than defensive character. Augustus’s reorganization of the army and the peace that prevailed throughout the vast empire after the battle of Actium—the vaunted Pax Romana—ensured Nicopolis’s protection and made a fortification wall superfluous. The building of the walls aimed at promoting Roman rule and inspiring the city’s residents, who had come from walled urban centers and smaller settlements from the greater area, with a sense of safety and social cohesion.

Throughout the entire length of the wall, five gates have been identified until now: the Northwest, the West, the Southwest, the Southeast, and the East. Two postern gates have been found, one in the west part of the north wall (no. 10)and a second one in the north part of the east wall (no.?), and there must have been gates at other points, e.g. the end of the cardo that passed in front of Basilica B (no. 58). With the exception of the monumental triple West Gate, the other gates were similarly configured: an arched opening framed by two semicircle towers.

The West Gate, whose (partially-buried) ruins may be made out today, was the city’s main—and most impressive—entrance. It was here that the road beginning from the port on the Ionian coast concluded, and it was here that the city’s main avenue (decumanus maximus) began, passing through the city along its transverse axis and bringing visitors to its center. The gate, which had three arched openings (a center one for wheeled vehicles and two side ones for pedestrian traffic) was flanked by two semicircle towers, of which that on the north remains preserved to an appreciable height. Based on excavations in the area, the pipe of the Aqueduct, which then continued to the south on piers, passed above this gate. The triple gate depicted on coin issues of the Hadrianic age has been identified as the West Gate. The West Cemetery extended out beyond this gate.

The Northwest Gate was the starting-point for an important paved N-S road which crossed the adjacent North Cemetery and then the Suburb (Proasteion) before in all likelihood ending up at the Victory Monument. The gate, which is 4.60 meters wide, is reinforced on either side by two semicircle towers. Small, offset postern gates ensured access to their interior. To the right and left of the gate, and with a length equal to that of its opening, two very sturdy piers, rectangular in plan and with limestone blocks at their base were formed. The blocks came from older buildings in the greater area. The North Cemetery extended outside this gate.

Another decumanus passed though the East Gate, which after traversing the East Cemetery came to an end on the coast of the Ambracian Gulf. In its initial form, the gate was reinforced by two semicircle towers, which following their destruction were replaced by new rectangular ones, constructed from reused material. Reconstruction was also carried out on the opening of the gate. The East Gate’s proximity to the Ambracian coast and the level ground outside it made it especially useful—as well as very vulnerable, as shown by its complete destruction and reconstruction.

The road that led to the main port at Vathy (Vathi) started from the Southeast Gate, at which one of the city’s cardines concluded (it partly coincided with the contemporary Via Egnatia from Ioannina-Preveza). This gate too was flanked by two semicircle towers. The better-preserved east tower preserves an offset arched postern that led to its interior. A built staircase in contact with its east wall secured access to the rampart-walk. Annexes north of the tower are interpreted as a guardhouse and quarters for the staff. Most of the tower is now destroyed. Inside both towers there were found many terracotta plaques that had been used in paving the floors in a herringbone pattern (opus spicatum). Excavation in the gate area has revealed part of the South Cemetery.

The construction features of the other gates are recognizable at the Southwest Gate, which is fragmentarily preserved. Of the west tower, part of the west wall, the genesis of the arch, and three steps from the brick staircase at its northwest corner survive. A postern gate led to its interior. The tower was later rebuilt of material in second use, and acquired a rectangular ground plan. Repairs and alterations were also found on the east tower. On the interior and parallel to the wall in the gate area, the piers of the Aqueduct can be made out.

The walls of Nicopolis belonged to the Augustan-era building program and present a uniform image in terms of building technique and materials.

The SE gate with the burial monuments nearby


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