Ancient Nikopoli

11/12/2015

Eight km north of Preveza, in a lush green landscape extending 900 hectares, lies Nicopolis, which was founded after the momentous naval battle that took place on 2 September 31 BC at Aktium.

The consequence of this battle was the collapse of the last Hellenistic kingdom (the Ptolemeans of Egypt) and the beginning of the Roman Age under the monocracy (autocracy) of the victor, Octavian Augustus. In memory of his glorious victory, Octavian founded Nicopolis (the City of Victory) to the southern most end of Epirus by forcing the inhabitants from around twenty cities of Etolia, Acarnania and Epirus to resettle there, in addition to bringing new settlers from Italy. Endowed with exceptional privileges and tax exemptions, as a “free city”, Nicopolis did not take long to develop into a large thriving city. Its harbours (Komaros and Vathy), its excellent geographical position at a junction between Epirus and Acarnania as well as between Greece and Italy, the re-establishment of the Aktia Games as an “equivalent to the Olympic gymnastic games along with musical competitions, horse races that were held every four full years”, turned it into a pole of attraction in the wider Mediterranean area. ‘Nicopolis is populous, and its numbers are increasing daily’, mentions Strabo. Its inhabitance continued on into the Byzantine times as well.

Since its founding, it was adorned with splendid public buildings and works of art. These were preserved and some examples which have so far been recovered are the Aqueduct, which drew water from the Louros River from its springs at Agios Georgios of Philippiada (a distance of c. 50 km), the Nymphaeum, the walls, the Odeon, the Theatre, the Thermes, not to mention the Monument of Augustus, which incorporates the rams taken from the defeated warships of Cleopatra from the battle at Aktium. At a time when the Romans had conquered the entire then known world, Nicopolis, thanks to its strategic position, developed into one of the largest major transit and commercial centres. During the Early Christian period (fourth-seventh century AD), Nicopolis became the target of invasions; consequently its commercial activities diminished, its population turned to the agricultural sector and the city shrank. Nevertheless, it continued to be the capital of a vast province which was called “Old Epirus” (Epirus Vetus). In 540 AD Justinian refurbished the already existing Early Christian walls for protection against enemy attacks; these walls may still be seen today along the Preveza-Ioannina national road.

During this period also, the six big basilicas were erected, with exceptional mosaics, attesting to how the city thrived even in this period. The arrival of Apostle Paul must be indicative of its intense Christian character. Earthquakes, raids and fires gradually led to the decline of the renowned city which was finally abandoned in the eleventh century just before the emergence of the nearby city of Preveza.

Author Editor: Archaeologist Nikolaos V. Pappas, M.A.

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