Heraclea Lyncestis

Coordinates: 41°00′39″N 21°20′33″E / 41.01083°N 21.34250°E / 41.01083; 21.34250
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Heraclea Lyncestis
Хераклеја Линкестис / Ἡράκλεια Λυγκηστίς / Ἡράκλεια Λύγκου
The Byzantine "small basilica" at Heraclea Lyncestis
Heraclea Lyncestis is located in North Macedonia
Heraclea Lyncestis
Shown within North Macedonia
Alternative nameHerakleia Lynkestis
LocationBitola, Pelagonia Statistical Region, North Macedonia
Coordinates41°00′39″N 21°20′33″E / 41.01083°N 21.34250°E / 41.01083; 21.34250
BuilderPhilip II of Macedon
FoundedMiddle of the 4th century BC
PeriodsHellenistic to Byzantine
CulturesAncient Greek, Roman

Heraclea Lyncestis, also transliterated Herakleia Lynkestis (Ancient Greek: Ἡράκλεια Λυγκηστίς; Latin: Heraclea Lyncestis; Macedonian: Хераклеја Линкестис[1]), was an ancient Greek city[2][3][4] in Macedon, ruled later by the Romans. Its ruins are situated 2 km (1.2 mi) south of the present-day town of Bitola, North Macedonia.[5] In the early Christian period, Heraclea was an important Episcopal seat and a waypoint on the Via Egnatia that once linked Byzantium with Rome through the Adriatic seaport of Dyrrachium. Some of its bishops are mentioned in synods in Serdica and other nearby towns. The city was gradually abandoned in the 6th century AD following an earthquake and Slavic invasions.

Foundation by Philip II[edit]

Heraclea Lycestis on the Via Egnatia.

It was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the middle of the 4th century BC. The city was named in honor of the mythological hero Heracles. The name Lynkestis originates from the name of the ancient kingdom, conquered by Philip, where the city was built.

Heraclea was a strategically important town in classical antiquity, as it controlled one of the major east-west routes between Illyria and Macedonia.[6] Philip' s founding of Heraclea prevented Illyrian incursions from the west into Macedon.[6] The city was involved in the Macedonian Wars until the middle of the 2nd century BC, when the Romans conquered Macedon and destroyed its political power. The Romans divided Macedonia into 4 regions and Heraclea became part of Macedonia Prima. The Via Egnatia, the main Roman road in the Southern Balkans, passed through Heraclea. The city became a significant stop and was consequently able to maintain its wealth. Objects discovered from the time of Roman rule in Heraclea are votive monuments, a portico, thermae (baths), a theatre and town walls.

Roman period[edit]

Marble bust of Aeschines from Heraclea Lyncestis dating from the Roman period (120-130 AD), donated to the British Museum by the English explorer William Martin Leake

The Roman emperor Hadrian built a theatre in the center of the town, on a hill, when many buildings in the Roman province of Macedonia were being restored. It began being used during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Discovered in 1931, a small bone ticket for a seat in the 14th (out of 20) row is the earliest known proof of the theatre's existence. The theatre itself was not discovered until 1968. Inside the theatre there were three animal cages and in the western part a tunnel. The theatre went out of use during the late 4th century AD, when gladiator fights in the Roman Empire were banned, due to the spread of Christianity, the formulation of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the abandonment of, what was then perceived as, pagan rituals and entertainment.

Late Antiquity and Byzantine periods[edit]

In the early Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an important episcopal centre. Some of its bishops have been noted in the acts of the Church Councils as bishop Evagrius of Heraclea in the Acts of the Sardica Council from 343 AD. A small and a great basilica, the bishop's residence, and a funerary basilica and the necropolis are some of the remains of this period. Three naves in the Great Basilica are covered with mosaics of very rich floral and figurative iconography; these well preserved mosaics are often regarded as fine examples of the early Christian art period. Other bishops from Heraclea are known between 4th and 6th century AD as bishop Quintilinus mentioned in the Acts of the Second Council of Ephesus, from 449 AD. The city was sacked by Ostrogoth/Visigoth forces, commanded by Theodoric the Great in 472 AD and, despite a large gift to him from the city's bishop, it was sacked again in 479 AD. It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century. When an earthquake struck in 518 AD, the inhabitants of Heraclea gradually abandoned the city.[7] Subsequently, at the eve of the 7th century, the Dragovites, a Slavic tribe pushed down from the north by the Avars, settled in the area. The last coin issue dates from ca. 585, which suggests that the city was finally captured by the Slavs. As result, in place of the deserted city theatre several huts were built.[8]

Mosaics in the basilicas[edit]

Great Basilica, narthex mosaic - detail
Ruins at Heraclea

The so-called Small Basilica was discovered in excavations made before the outbreak of World War II between 1936 and 1938. At first it was thought to be an ancient palace, but in the later research from 1960 to 1964, it became clear that it was an early Christian basilica. There is a decorated floor mosaic laid in the technique of "opus sectile" within the basilica and several rooms have been unearthed. The first room was used for baptizing, and the second room has a floor mosaic made in "opus tessellatum" technique. After the creation of the complex Great Basilica, the function of these rooms was changed. By discovering the walls, architectonic plastic and floors were reconstructed electronically.

Great Basilica, narthex mosaic - pomegranate tree

The Great Basilica is a monumental building with a room of open porch colonnades, a room of exonarthex, one of narthex, two north annexes, and a room of three south annexes. The floors of these rooms have mosaics with geometric and floral designs. The mosaic in the narthex is of early Byzantine art, a big composition at a size of 100 m (328 ft). There are birds, trees, bushes, a red dog, which is a symbol of paradise, and animals beasts as a domain of the earth. This mosaic dates from the end of the 6th century. The Great Basilica is built on top of another pre-existing one and it is believed to have been built sometime between the 4th and 6th century.

The Great Basilica's mosaic floor is depicted on the reverse of the Macedonian 5000 denars banknote, issued in 1996.[9]

The Episcopacy Residence was excavated between 1970 and 1975. The western part was discovered first and the southern side is near the town wall. The luxury rooms are located in the eastern part. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th rooms all have mosaic floors. Between the 3rd and 4th rooms there is a hole that led to the eastern entrance of the residence. The hole was purposefully created between the 4th and 6th century.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The name for the site in the modern Macedonian language, not to be confused with the Ancient Macedonian language.
  2. ^ Fergus Millar, "Rome, the Greek World, and the East: Volume 1: The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution", The University of North Carolina Press, 2001, p. 225: "...the king took him as confidant and sent him as an ambassador to Pompey, encamped at Heraclea Lyncestis in northern Greece."
  3. ^ Michael Avi Yonab, Israel Shatzman (1976), Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Classical World, Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Publishing House Ltd. SNB 562 000372 Page 230
  4. ^ H. B. Walters (editor), (1916), A Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Biography, Geography and Mythology pp 480-481
  5. ^ Hammond, NGL, (1972), A History of Macedonia, Volume I: Historical geography and prehistory, Oxford:At the Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, p. 59
  6. ^ a b Morton, Jacob Nathan (2017). "Shifting Landscapes, Policies, And Morals: A Topographically Driven Analysis Of The Roman Wars In Greece From 200 Bc To 168 Bc". Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2484. University of Pennsylvania: 91.
  7. ^ Macedonia, Bradt Guides, Thammy Evans, Bradt Travel Guides, 2007, ISBN 1841621862, p. 182.
  8. ^ Echos Du Monde Classique, Classical Association of Canada, 1988, p. 368.
  9. ^ National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia. Macedonian currency. Banknotes in circulation: 5000 Denars Archived 2009-04-27 at the Wayback Machine. – Retrieved on 30 March 2009.