Nicopolis ad Istrum

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Nicopolis ad Istrum
Никополис ад Иструм
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Nicopolis ad Istrum Никополис ад Иструм (Bulgaria)
Nicopolis ad Istrum Никополис ад Иструм
Nicopolis ad Istrum
Никополис ад Иструм
Basic data
State : BulgariaBulgaria Bulgaria
Coordinates : 43 ° 13 '  N , 25 ° 37'  E Coordinates: 43 ° 13 '2 "  N , 25 ° 36' 40"  E
The near vicinity of Nicopolis ad Istrum in the present
Underground aqueduct in Nicopolis ad Istrum

Nicopolis ad Istrum (completely Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum ) was an ancient Roman and early Byzantine city ​​in the Roman province of Thracia , later Moesia inferior (Lower Moesia ), which was founded by Emperor Trajan in 102 and until the invasion of the Avars and Slavs in the 7th century. Century existed. The ruins of this city are now in northern Bulgaria , 18 km north of Veliko Tarnovo , 3 km southeast of the village of Nikjup .

Name and location

In ancient times there were several cities with the name Nikopolis ( Greek  Νικόπολις , from νίκη nike "victory" and πόλις polis "city"; Latin form: Nicopolis ). The name Nicopolis ad Istrum means "City of Victory on the Danube". Ister is the old name for the lower course of the Danube . However, the city is only located on a tributary of the Danube ( Jantra ), about 30 km south of the Danube. However, it is possible that at the time of its founding its extensive territory extended as far as the Danube, where the city council and people erected a statue of the emperor Septimius Severus in Sexaginta Prista ( Russian ).

Officially the name of the city had the prefix Ulpia, which is derived from Trajan's gentile name Ulpius. The city was initially called Nicopolis ad H (a) emum , as Claudius Ptolemy wrote in his Geographike Hyphegesis from 150. Hemus or Haemus was the Latin name for the Balkan Mountains . Later, however, the addition ad Istrum became more popular. Another synonym is Nicopolis ad Iatrum (Nikopilis an der Jantra), from which the name of the titular diocese Nicopolis ad Iaterum is derived. The city ​​was also mentioned under the name Nicopolis ad Danubium urbs .

The official language was Greek. The Greek name for the city's inhabitants was Nikopolitai (also Nikopoleitai ) pros Istron . In the Tabula Peutingeriana , which was compiled in the second half of the 2nd century or the first half of the 3rd century and underwent a final revision during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284 to 305), the name Nicopolis ad Istrum is merged to Nicopolistro .

The Turkish name was Eski Nikup ("old Nicopolis"); the territory belonged to the Ottoman Empire for 500 years . The medieval Turkish transcription for the ancient name Nicopolis ad Istrum is Nikjup. The neighboring village of Nikjup still bears this name today.

Nicopolis ad Istrum must not be confused with the Bulgarian city of Nikopol (directly on the Danube, and much further west).

The city lay on a terrace on the left bank of the Rossitsa , 6 km before the confluence of the Rossitsa into the Jantra River . Today the ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum are on the road from Veliko Tanowo to Russe (E85). Immediately after the road crosses the Rossitsa river over a bridge, the area with an area of ​​21.55 hectares is on the left, on the left bank of the Rossitsa. The site is an archaeological reserve and is open to visitors from spring to autumn.


Nicopolis ad Istrum, on the Tabula Peutingeriana in the 4th century.
Nicopolis ad Istrum

During the reign of Emperor Trajan (98–117), the Roman Empire experienced its greatest territorial expansion. The areas south of the lower course of the Danube were assimilated into the Roman Empire. During this time the city was founded by Emperor Trajan in honor of his victories over the Dacians during the first and second Dacian wars . The Dacian Wars did not serve for further expansion, but to secure the border on the Danube. The first Dacian war (101 to 102) ended with a partial victory of the Romans and a degrading peace treaty for the Dacians, which a few years later led to the second Dacian war (105 to 106), with the annihilation of the Dacian kingdom and the suicide of its leader Decebalus ended. In honor of the victory in the first Dacian war, which secured the border on the lower Danube, Trajan 102 ordered the construction of the city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

In order to secure the expansion of the Roman Empire to the north to the lower reaches of the Danube and to guarantee external and internal security, the area was subjected to thorough territorial planning. The province of Thracia was urbanized through the establishment of numerous cities (including Nicopolis ad Istrum), the province of Moesia inferior expanded to include territories north of the Danube. Some metropolitan areas have been revitalized and new trading centers have been established. Road construction created an infrastructure that was used for troop relocation, communication and supply. Numerous military camps and urban settlements were built on the Danube . The establishment of Nicopolis ad Istrum can also be seen in this context.

The city reached its zenith during the reign of Emperor Trajan (Emperor 98-117), Hadrian (Emperor 117-138) during the reign of the Antonine dynasty (138-192) and the dynasty of the Severi (193-235).

From the end of the 2nd century (between 187 and 197) Nicopolis belonged to the province of Moesia inferior. Until the middle of the 4th century it was the most important city in the interior of Moesien between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains . In late antiquity , the city was affected by the first and second invasions of the Goths . In the 5th and 6th centuries it and other destroyed fortresses and cities in the region were rebuilt.

Theophylactus Simokates was the last ancient author to mention the city in connection with the campaign of the Eastern Roman military leader Komentiolus against the Avars in 598.

Archaeological digs

So far only a third of the area on which the ancient city stood has been explored. Interesting finds have been made from different eras.

The Austrian archaeologist Felix Kanitz visited the ruins at Nukjup in 1871 during his trip through the Danube Province ( Danube Vilayet ) of the Ottoman Empire. He carried out a small dig and was lucky enough to discover the base of a bronze statue of Julia Domna , the wife of Septimius Severus (reigned 193-211). The inscription indicated that the statue was erected by the city council and the people's assembly “the Nikopolitans on the Ister” (Greek: Nikopoliton pros Istron ). So the city was rediscovered and clearly localized.

The area has been explored through archaeological excavations since 1900 (initially by the French archaeologist J. Seur and the Czech archaeologist Václav Dobruský ; since 1996 by the team under Andrew Poulter from the University of Nottingham ). Nicopolis ad Istrum is one of the best explored Roman cities in present-day Bulgaria. The fortifications, the road network, the sewer system and the water supply network were exposed. Over 100 tombstones have been preserved in the vicinity. The most interesting finds are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Veliko Tarnovo .

In the area there were many wealthy settlements ( vici ) , country houses ( villae ) , latifundia (saltus) and trading establishments (emporia) .


The city consisted of two parts, a larger, fortified part in the north and a much smaller, also fortified part in the southeast.

City walls

City gate of Nicopolis on coin z. Currently Emperor Elagabalus

The town planning was carried out according to the Hippodamian system. The city had the typical square plan of a Roman city . The main roads ran in north-south and east-west directions.

The city was protected by high walls with trenches in front, which were later extended to accommodate the city's extensions. The walls enclosed a square city area, on each side there was a city gate (porta). Of the four gates, the west gate was the main one. The west gate again had a square floor plan (built using the technique of opus quadratum ) and was equipped with two gates one behind the other - the outer gate had a double-winged wooden door and the inner gate was designed as a cataracta.

Ceramic workshops were found north of the city walls.


The central assembly area ( agora ) consists of two connected parts, a western and an eastern part. The east side of the square is in the open air (area), on which there are pedestals with bronze statues. The western part is surrounded on four sides by the remains of a circumferential portico (colonnade) in the Ionian style and is higher than the rest of the street level, which is why it was only entered on foot.

There were buildings around the square, including probably the city council building ( Buleuterion ) in the northwest of the agora . In the southwest there was a small theater ( Odeon ) for chamber plays with 400 seats. It was rectangular in shape, the auditorium was divided into radially arranged sectors. There were also public street toilets .

The ancient streets, paved with huge stone slabs and with their sidewalks, are still visible today. There was a central street sewer system with inspection shafts and an outdoor paved path that was heated with steam. Exotic plants were probably grown along this path.

In Nicopolis ad Istrum, the only pillars in Bulgaria with a heart-shaped cross-section were discovered.

For entertainment there were gladiator fights and mock hunts for wild animals.

The city was the seat of a Christian bishop.


A large public bath ( thermal baths ) and the cemetery (necropolis) were located near the north gate . The diverse ethnic and social composition of the population (large landowners, veterans, traders, craftsmen, from Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt) was reflected in the different burial customs; the dead were cremated or buried in sarcophagi or in shallow graves. Richly decorated family graves with colonnades , exedra , frontons and statues indicate wealthy families. The diverse ethnic composition is also reflected in the names. Many had Roman names, but a large number of these people came from Thrace. A large part of the population had Greek roots. There were also many settled Roman and Thracian veterans.

The population of the Black Sea region of Thrace and the interior of Thrace was divided into different phyls . In Nicopolis ad Istrum there was evidence of the following phyls: Apollonias, Athenias, Capitoline, Arthemisias.

Statue of Aesculapius

The statue of Aesculapius is well known . It was stolen in 1985 (?) But was recovered while trying to sell it. The statue of Aesculapius is now in the historical museum in Veliko Tarnovo.


Several ancient fountains have been preserved in the town. Remains of the water reservoir, which was filled by the feeding water pipe, have been preserved 200 m west of the city.

There was a water pipe ( aqueduct ) that carried the water from the Musina caves (Musina village) to the city from a distance of 25 km. The line crossed the Mariza valley at a height of 18 m. The capacity of the water pipe was 16,000 liters / day.


Nicopolis ad Istrum was one of the largest trading centers in Moesia inferior. The bronze coins minted there depict gods, fortress walls, public and religious buildings. The lettering on the coins is Greek, as the official language in the city was Greek.


The city was administered by the Council of Archons . The two most important administrative bodies were the council assembly ( Bule ) and the people's assembly ( demos ). There was also a council of elders ( gerusia ).

A group of priests was responsible for the cult of the respective ruling Roman emperor and the main gods: Zeus , Hera , Athene , Heracles , Asklepios , Mithras , Cybele, etc. For the worship of the Thracian horseman (a Thracian god) there is almost everywhere in the city and surrounding evidence.

Neighboring cities

In ancient times two important paths crossed at Nicopolis. One led from Odessos (today Varna ) via Marcianapolis (today Dewnja ), Nicopolis ad Istrum, Melta (today Lovetsch ) and Serdica (today Sofia ) to Via Magna and from there to the western provinces of the Roman Empire. The second route began in the Novae military camp and led via Nicopolis ad Istrum, the passes in the Haemus (now the Balkan Mountains ), Kabile (near Jambol ), Hadrianapolis (now Edirne ) to Byzantion ( Constantinople , now Istanbul ) and across the Bosporus to the Roman one Provinces to Asia Minor.

Although these routes were of secondary importance in the overall scale of the Roman Empire, they were of exceptional importance for the economic development and military defense of the Danube provinces. That is why the central Roman administration took care of the maintenance of these streets.

Nicopolis ad Istrum was on the important provincial road ( via vicinalis ), which came from Odessos (today Varna ) and Marcianapolis (today Dewnja ) and via Melta (today Lovetsch ) probably continued to Montana .

The distance to the Roman cities and fortresses in the neighborhood was:

Note: A Roman mile (mille passus; thousand double steps) was 1.482 km.

Germanic languages

Nicopolis ad Istrum was, so to speak, the birthplace of Germanic literary traditions. In the 4th century the Gothic bishop, missionary and translator Wulfila developed a script for Gothic (the Gothic alphabet ), which until then had been a largely scriptless language. During his stay in Nicopolis ad Istrum, he translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic. This Bible was later named the Wulfilabibel after him .


Also by Emperor Trajan in honor of his victories over the Dacians during the Dacian Wars, Nicopolis ad Nestum was founded - “City of Victory on Nestos ” - 7 km from Goze Deltschew .


  • Antonio FrovaNicopolis ad Istrum (Nikup) N Bulgaria . In: Richard Stillwell et al. a. (Ed.): The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976, ISBN 0-691-03542-3 .
  • Jan Burian: Nicopolis [2]. In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 8, Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01478-9 .
  • Andrew Poulter: 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 .
  • Rumen Ivanov: Nicopolis ad Istrum. A Roman and early Byzantine city in Thrace and Lower Mossia . In: Antike Welt 29 (1998) pp. 143–153.
  • Mark Whittow: Nicopolis ad Istrum: Backward and Balkan? . In: Proceedings of the British Academy 141 (2007), pp. 375-389.

Web links

Commons : Nicopolis ad Istrum  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. So the assumption of Ligia Cristina Ruscu, On Nicopolis ad Istrum and her territory , in: Historia 56 (2007), pp. 214-229.
  2. ^ Encyclopédie théologique. Volume 28, Paris 1848, Col. 1176 ( online in the Google book search).