Altar of Destiny Goddess Tyche with Demosthenes Epigram Inscription Found in Ancient Roman City Nicopolis ad Istrum in Bulgaria

The altar of goddess Tyche with its inscription in Ancient Greek found in Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria probably dates to the reign of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193 – 211 AD). Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

An altar dedicated to ancient goddess Tyche, a deity of city fortune and destiny, with an inscription in Ancient Greek which is a modified epigram by Demosthenes, has been discovered by archaeologists in the huge Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum near Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.

The inscribed altar of goddess Tyche has been found at a small square in the southwestern corner of the Forum complex of Nicpolis ad Istrum, in a deeper layer underneath the spot where a well preserved gladiator fight relief was discovered earlier in September 2018.

The researchers have stumbled upon the Tyche altar with its inscription in Ancient Greek about 1.5 meters (5 feet) below the layer of the gladiator relief from the first half of the 3rd century, or the time of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193 – 235 AD).

Tyche, an Ancient Greek goddess whose Roman equivalent was Fortuna, was the deity of governing a city’s destiny and fortune.

According to Ancient Greek mythology, she was a daughter of Aphrodite and Zeus, or Aphrodite and Hermes.

The altar of Tyche found in the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum is a cubic stone block weighing about 1 metric ton, with dimensions of 80 x 80 x 80 centimeters (approx. 3 x 3 x 3 feet).

The Ancient Greek inscription on the altar of goddess Tyche, which is said to be based on a classical epigram attributed to Athenian politician and orator Demosthenes, reads,

“To the good Fortune! This wonderful altar [was] dedicated to the goddess – [of the] city Tyche, Concordianos, steward of the city."

The Tyche altar inscription has been read by Bulgaria’s best epigraphist, Assist. Prof. Nikolay Sharankov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski".

“The inscription is under a classical epigram by Demosthenes but here it was slightly altered in a poetic style and [in order to] rhyme," lead archaeologist Ivan Tsarov, who is the Director of the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, is quoted as saying by local daily Yantra Dnes.

“Epigraphic research is yet to be carried out. What is more interesting, however, is that this position of Concordianos – steward of the city, or city “butler" – has been encountered for the first time in Nicopolis ad Istrum," he emphasizes.

The archaeologists points out he is unaware of another mentioning of the same position, a city steward, in any of the numerous Ancient Roman cities found in today’s Bulgaria.

In his words, the city steward seems to have been in charge of managing the public property belonging to the city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

According to epigraphist Sharankov, the inscribed altar of goddess Tyche dates back to the end of the 2nd – beginning of the 3rd century, possibly to the reign of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193 – 211 AD).

“Tyche was a goddess of destiny from the ancient pantheon of gods… If she helped a person to make something good happen to them, they would dedicate to her some kind of a gift or votive offering, just as Concordianos seems to have done some 18 centuries ago," Tsarov says, as cited by BTA.

The Tyche altar is to be extracted using a crane at the end of the 2018 archaeological excavations in the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum, which will continue till the end of September.

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The ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose name means “Victory City on the Danube River", are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo.

The major city was founded by Roman Emperor Trajan (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) north of the Danube.

The altar of goddess Tyche with its Ancient Greek, inscription, a modification of an epigram by Demosthenes, is the second major find of the 2018 summer excavations in Nicopolis ad Istrum, after the discovery of the gladiator fight relief.

The gladiator fight relief found recently in Nicopolis ad Istrum depicts a “classic" battle between a secutor and a retiarius. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

The gladiator relief depicts a “classic fight" between two of the most popular types of gladiators: a secutor armed with a short sword and protected with a helmet and a shield, and a retiarius, the lightly armed gladiator equipped with a trident, a net, an arm guard and a shoulder guard.

Both the inscribed altar of Tyche and the gladiator relief have been found underneath the pavement of the small square in the southwestern part of the Forum complex of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

The small square was surrounded with a colonnade on three sides. It was later demolished, after in the 5th – 6th century AD, in the Early Byzantine period, the administration of Nicopolis ad Istrum moved to the Tsarevets Hill (later the site of the Tsarevets Fortress in today’s Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages (1185 – 1393)), the local residents who remained in Nicopolis ad Istrum revamped the place by burying many of the columns and other collapsed architectural fragments, and leveling the spot.

The archaeological team has now been excavating precisely these Late Antiquity pits containing architectural details underneath the pavement.

Many of the architectural structures will be restored through anastylosis, the archaeological technique which uses original material as much as possible.

The 2018 digs in the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum are funded with BGN 20,000 (appr. EUR 10,000) by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

Nicopolis ad Istrum stood at the intersection of the two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces – 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.

The ruins of the huge Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History

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.

The archaeological exploration of Nicopolis ad Istrum first started in 1900, while the presently ongoing excavation efforts were restarted in 2007.

In 2017, archaeologist Kalin Chakarov from the Pavlikeni Museum of History initiated the first ever archaeological exploration of the water catchment reservoir which fed water to the 20-kilometer-long (12.4 miles) aqueduct of the large Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

The city’s aqueduct, including its 3 kilometer-long bridge is also explored in detail in Ivan Tsarov’s recent book on Roman aqueducts in Bulgaria in the 2nd – 4th century AD.

In August 2018, the local authorities organized the 3rd annual Antiquity Festival dedicated to the heritage of the huge Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

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 Daciantribes 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 DanubianRoman 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 cityin 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.

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