Archaeologists Unearth Huge Agoranomus’s Building in Ancient Roman City Nicopolis ad Istrum near Bulgaria’s Nikyup

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum near Bulgaria's Nikyup. Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis from Paleo Faliro, Greece/ Wikipedia

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum near Bulgaria’s Nikyup. Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis from Paleo Faliro, Greece/ Wikipedia

The ruins of a huge Antiquity building which was probably the residence of the agoranomus / curule aedile, a public officer in charge of trade and market operations in Ancient Greek and Roman cities, have been unearthed in the large Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum nears Bulgaria’s Nikyup.

The building of the agoranomus / curule aedile of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose name means “Victory City on the Danube River”, has been found near the Forum of the major Ancient Roman city located 18 km the northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.

The building excavated during the 2015 archaeological digs was enormous – it was 70 meters long and 40 meters, lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History has told Radio Focus Veliko Tarnovo.

Nicopolis ad Isturm was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) at the intersection of the two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was partly rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD which in turn was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval city in the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum located in Central North Bulgaria. Photo: Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture

Part of the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum located in Central North Bulgaria. Photo: Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture

Lead archaeologist Vladkova has explained that inside the newly excavated residence of the trade and market magistrate of Nicopolis ad Istrum her team has discovered a number of intriguing artifacts.

“Inside it, we have found small finds, among which the most interesting are weights made of marble, limestone, lead, and bronze. Some of them were used to measure the weight of coins or artifacts made of noble metals,” she says.

The archaeologists have hypothesized that the huge building was inhabited by the agoranomus / curule aedile of Nicopolis ad Istrum based on epigraphic evidence that the city did employ a magistrate with such responsibilities, and on the structure’s architecture.

According to Vladkova, the building has a very complex layout, with a number of rooms. The archaeologists have excavated two rooms with water supply and a pool.

“I think we have come across a small bathroom. Probably the agoranomus of Nicopolis lived in this building, and that was the bathroom of the residence,” she says.

In her words, the archaeologists will need several more seasons to complete in full the research of the building.

Once they achieve that, their plan is to conserve and exhibit its ruins in situ so that it can be viewed by tourists visiting Nicopolis ad Istrum.

Since the excavations of the once powerful Roman city have been constantly underfunded by the Bulgarian government, the town of Nikyup in Central North Bulgaria and the Regional Museum of History in the city of Veliko Tarnovo recently issued a call for volunteers to aid with the 2016 summer excavations.

Unfortunately, the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum remains a largely unknown destination for cultural tourism. Recent data has shown that in 2015, it was visited by fewer than 4,000 tourists, a number which is nonetheless an increase compared with previous years.

The archaeological exploration of Nicopolis ad Istrum first started in 1900, while the presently ongoing excavation efforts were restarted in 2007. Read more about the Roman city in the Background Infonotes below!

Anyone seeking to join the 2016 summer excavations of Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria as a volunteer should email lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova, who is in charge of the applicants’ selection, at pavlina_v[@]hotmail.com by the end of May 2016!

A painting showing what the Forum (central square) of Nicopolis ad Istrum probably looked like. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

A painting showing what the Forum (central square) of Nicopolis ad Istrum probably looked like. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

Nicopolis ad Istrum (also known as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum) was an Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city (not to be confused with Nicopolis Ad Nestum in today’s Southwest Bulgaria).

Its ruins are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central Northern Bulgaria. Its name means “Victory City on the Danube River”. It was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) on a plateau on the left bank of the Rositsa River. This is where the two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

(Ulpia) Nicopolis ad Istrum was first part of the Roman province of Thrace but after 193 AD it was made part of the province of Moesia Inferior. Nicopolis ad Istrum flourished in the 2nd-3rd century, during the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96-192 AD) and the Severan Dynasty (193-235 AD). It further developed as major urban center after the reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Its organization was similar to that of Roman cities in Thrace and Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon. It was ruled by a council of archons, a city council and an assembly, with local priests worshipping Ancient Roman and Greek deities such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, Mithras. At the time, Nicopolis ad Istrum was inhabited by Thracians, Roman military veterans, and settlers from Asia Minor. Nicopolis ad Istrum is known to have minted 900 different emissions of bronze coins. The city had orthogonal planning, with an agora (city square), a cardo maximus and a decumanus maximus (main streets), a market place, other public buildings and residential areas, limestone-paved streets and underground sewerage, as well as three aqueducts and several water wells, many of which has been unearthed in archaeological excavations.

The fortress walls of Nicopolis ad Istrum were erected only after the city was ransacked by a barbarian attack of the Costoboci, an ancient people possibly linked to the Getae (Gets) inhabiting an area in today’s Western Ukraine. The city square (agora) featured a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on a horse, a number of other marble statues, a Ionic colonnade, a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion (a public building housing the boule – council of citizens), a building to the cult of goddess Cybele, a small odeon (theater), thermae (public baths) as well as a building which according to an inscription was a “termoperiatos” which can be likened to a modern-day shopping mall – a heated building with shops and closed space for walks and business meetings. A total of 121 stone and brick tombs and sarcophagi have been found by the Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the city’s necropolis. Some villas and other buildings in the residential parts of Nicopolis ad Istrum have also been excavated.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD. The Early Byzantine fort covered about one forth of the Ancient Roman city – 57.5 decares (app. 14.2 acres) out of a total of 215.5 decares (app. 53.2 decares), and was also the center of a bishopric. The Early Byzantine fort was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval city in the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

Nicopolis ad Istrum was visited in 1871 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who found there a statue of the wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD). The city was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist J. Seur whose work, however, was not documented, and in 1906-1909 by Czech archaeologist B. Dobruski. In 1945 and 1966-1968, there were partial excavations led by T. Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Systematic excavations were started in 1970 and were led again by T. Ivanov. Between 1985 and 1992, Nicopolis ad Istrum was excavated by a joint Bulgarian-British expedition from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and a team of the University of Nottingham. The joint Bulgarian-British excavations were resumed in 1996. The Nicopolis ad Istrum archaeological preserve is managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. In 1984, the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was put on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.