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
Coordinates 43°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
Founded 101–106 A.D.
Abandoned 447 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 continuimg to reveal more of the city.


The city was founded by Emperor Trajan around 101–106 in memory of his victory over the Dacians. He chose the site at the junction of the Iatrus (Yantra) and the Rositsa rivers. He clearly intended it to become a magnificent city which is gradually being verified.

The city was ransacked by the Costoboci in 170-1,[4] a tribe from today’s Western Ukraine after which the city walls were built.

The city prospered in the 2nd and 3rd centuries 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.[5]

Nicopolis ad Istrum issued coins bearing images of its own public buildings.[6]

In 447, the town was destroyed by Attila's Huns.[7] Perhaps it was already abandoned before the early 5th century.[8] In the 6th century, it was rebuilt as a powerful fortress enclosing little more than military buildings and churches, following a very common trend for the cities of that century in the Danube area.[9] The largest area of the extensive ruins (21.55 hectares) of the classical Nicopolis was not reoccupied since the fort covered only one fourth of it (5.75 hectares), in the southeastern corner.[8] 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).[6]

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.[10] 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.[11], [12]

The names of two of the early bishops of the city are known: Marcellus (in 451) and Amantius (in 518).[13]

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 had a bridge of almost 3km long and almost 20m tall carrying water over the entire valley of the Rositsa River.[14] Its 2nd century AD water catchment reservoir is located near the town of Musina in Pavlikeni municipality, to the west of the Roman city. It used to collect the water from the karst springs inside the Musina Cave.

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.[15]

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.[16]

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



  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. ^ Archaeologists Impressed with Ancient Water Catchment Reservoir Which Fed 20-km-Long Aqueduct of Major Roman City Nicopolis ad Istrum in North Bulgaria:
  5. ^ The Cambridge Medieval History, Joan Mervyn Hussey p 204, CUP Archive, 1957
  6. ^ a b UNESCO.ORG
  7. ^ Burns (1994), 38
  8. ^ a b Curta (2001), 158
  9. ^ Liebeschuetz (2001), 77
  10. ^ Burns (1994), 37
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Daniele Farlati and Jacopo Coleti, Illyricum Sacrum (Venice 1819), vol. VIII, pp. 106-107
  14. ^ Ivan Tsarov: “The Aqueducts in the Bulgarian Lands, 2nd-4th century AD” ISBN 9786191681907
  15. ^ ‘Condemned’ Bronze Head of Roman Emperor Gordian III from Nicopolis ad Istrum to Be Showcased by Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo:
  16. ^


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]