Nicopolis or Actia Nicopolis was the capital city of the Roman province of Epirus Vetus. It was located in the western part of the modern state of Greece. The city was founded in 29 BC by Caesar Augustus in commemoration of his victory in 31 BC over Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium nearby. It was soon made the major city of the wider region of Epirus region. Many impressive ruins of the ancient city may be visited today.
In 28 BC, 3 years after his victory in the naval battle of Actium, Octavian founded a new city which he called Nicopolis (the City of Victory), located on the southernmost promontory of Epirus, and across the mouth of the harbour from the ancient town of Actium. This foundation echoed a tradition dating back to Alexander the Great, and more recently illustrated by Pompey, founder of Nicopolis in Little Armenia (63 BC). Symbolically, the new city represented one example of his successful unification of the Roman Empire under one administration. Geographically, it constituted a major transportation and communications link between the eastern and western halves of the Mediterranean. Economically, it served to reorganise and revitalise the region, which had never recovered from its destruction by Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus in the Third Macedonian War (171–167 BC), or the further destruction under Sulla in 87–86 BC. It also established an important commercial centre and port at this strategic position on the Mediterranean sea routes.
On a hill north of Nicopolis where his own tent had been pitched, and north of the present village of Smyrtoula, Octavian also built a monument and sanctuary to Apollo, considered his patron god, and trophies to two other gods, Neptune and Mars for their contribution to its victory. This monument was adorned with the rams of captured galleys. In further celebration of his victory he instituted the quadrennial Actian games in honour of Apollo Actius.
In 27 BC, Octavian implemented an Empire-wide administrative reform. The new polis was considered capital of the territories of southern Epirus including Ambracia, most of Akarnania, and western Aetolia. Many inhabitants of the surrounding areas – Kassopaia, Ambracia, parts of Acarnania (including Leukas, Palairos, Amphilochian Argos, Calydon, and Lysimachia) and western Aetolia – were forced to relocate to the new city. Among other things, it obtained the right to send five representatives to the Amphictyonic Council. As a city in a senatorial province, Nicopolis began minting its own copper coins (until 268).
During the first five years or so of the city's foundation, local authorities supervised the construction of the city walls, the majority of the public buildings, including the theatre, stadium, gymnasium, odeion, and the aqueduct. The city's western gate was connected by a road to the Ionian harbour Komaros. The city eventually occupied a site of around 375 acres.
Although the exact legal status of Nicopolis is the subject of some dispute, unlike other Roman foundations in Greece contemporary with Nicopolis such as Patras, Philippi and, also in Epirus, Buthrotum and Epidamnus, the city was not, or was not only, a Roman colony (implying that Roman military veterans also settled there) but also a free city (civitas libera Nicopolitana) i.e. a polis (Greek city), free and autonomous, having the characteristics of civitas libera and civitas foederata, linked to Rome by a treaty (foedus).
1. Roman Fortification
The Roman walls as well as other public buildings which covered a great area were built by bricks around 30 BC, after the city was established. The circumference is exceeding 5 km. Outside the city walls stayed the suburbs with the temple of Apollo, the sacred grove and public buildings, such as theater, the stage, the Gymnasium and Baths. After the invasion of the Herulians and Goths in the Roman Empire, the walls were repaired and reinforced to resist attacks of the barbarians.
2. Roman Τheatre
The theatre of Nikopolis is the first monument observed by the visitor coming from the north. It lies in Proasteio, at the north of the fortified city, to the southeast of the monument of Augustus and to the east of the stadion. An impressive construction erected in the early first century AD together with other city buildings, it operated mainly during the religious celebration of Nea Aktia in honour of Apollo. Lists of winners in the Nea Aktia contests found in the temple of Apollo inform of competing poets, sophists, comedians, heralds, trumpeters, guitarists, announcers, pipers and mimes.
The theatre was built on the slope of a hill. In an effort to increase protection from earthquakes, a high buttressed wall was curved around the cavea. A wide corridor called diazoma divided the cavea into two sections, the main theatre and the epitheatro. At the corridor's ends were two large vaulted entrances. The outer protective wall had two stairways permitting spectators coming from the sanctuary of Apollo to access their seats. The cavea supported a peripheral portico probably sheltering spectators in case of a sudden storm. Only the pillars that propped up the roof remain of this gallery. The brick seats of the cavea were destroyed; the proedria (the first row of honour seats) was made of stone. Both the orchestra and the cavea were shaped as a regular semi-circle. There was a high, probably two-storey scene (characteristic of the Roman architecture) with three arched entrances at the fa?ade, communicating with the logeio (the platform between the scene proper and the orchestra where actors performed).
In recent years, works of fixing were undertaken at the monument, concerning particularly the scene walls and the pillars of the portico over the epitheatro.
3. Roman Odeion
The Roman Odeon, among the more important and best preserved monuments in Nikopolis, is a true architectural masterpiece by some unknown but great architect. It lies at the centre of the town, on the west side of the Early Christian wall, adjacent to the Roman agora (forum). It was used for lectures, literary and musical contests and theatrical performances during the Nea Aktia religious games honouring Apollo. Being adjacent to the agora, it probably operated as a bouleuterion (council chamber) for the remaining months of the year. It was built during the reign of Augustus (early first century AD) and frequently repaired and remodelled in the late second century - early third century AD.
The odeon consisted of the cavea, the orchestra and the scene. The cavea contained 19 rows of seats and was divided into two sections by a small horizontal central corridor. The seats were encrusted with limestone; the first row, which has not been preserved, seated the officials. On the tenth row were small openings in favour of acoustics. Three semicircular porticos support the cavea and ensure its sloping tendency. These porticos are of different heights: the inner one is the lowest and the outer is the highest. At the centre of the cavea there is one more entrance with paved floor and walls, directly linking the underground galleries of the cavea to the orchestra. At the Late Roman period, this passage narrowed due to the construction of an altar. Spectators accessed the tiers through a double stairway at the middle of the south facade of the cavea, while two smaller stairways at the lateral sides were leading to the inner part of the cavea. The semicircular orchestra was adorned with multicoloured marble works, parts of which are preserved up to our days.
The parodoi (passageways) on both sides of the cavea were vaulted and had a paved floor. The scene disposed of three entrances giving access to the road on the north of the odeon. Between the scene proper and the proscenium (front of scene), a 0.90m wide and 2.82m deep and narrow corridor called "flute of the setting" served to rise the curtain at every theatrical performance. The findings, including coins, lead to the conclusion that the odeon was probably active until the second half of the third century AD.
The excavation of the monument is completed and extensive works were undertaken for the completion of the tiers, the cavea, the proscenium and the scene.
The Nymphaion (sanctuary of the Nymphs) is situated to the west of the city of Nikopolis, near the western gate of the Roman wall. It consists of two buildings serving as reservoirs (cisterns) that provided the city with water. The local residents know the monument under the name of "Boufi". Though dated to the time of Emperor Augustus, recent investigations in the area date the edifices to a much posterior period, i.e. in the second half and the early third century AD.
The Nymphaion is constituted of two opposite buildings that are 23m apart. Their facade is simple and unadorned, they are made of bricks and they both have niches on the interior. They do not stand on the same axis, which attests that they were not erected in the same construction phase. The reason for their construction is to shelter the two large water reservoirs that were filled with water coming through an aqueduct from the sources of Louros River, in Nikopolis. The external walls of the buildings were not decorated, whereas the interior (each wall about 17m in length) features alternating rectangular and semicircular niches. The niches situated 1.85m above the reservoir, were incrusted with marble. They were ornate with marble statues relating to water and nature, while the wall under the niches had a limestone revetment. Low parapets shut off both sides of the edifices that were open. Consequently, the statues were visible for those who came by the western gate. The water that overflowed out of the reservoirs was channelled into earthen aqueducts, probably placed at the facades of the buildings.
5. Roman Τhermae
The northern thermae (baths) of the Roman city of Nikopolis constitute one of the most important public complexes within the town of Octavian Augustus. They are located to the south of Proastio, a settlement that was lying about 400m to the north of the ancient fortified city and was used as a sacred wood due to its proximity to the sanctuary of Apollo. The impressive monument served mainly athletes participating to the Nea Aktia Games, which were organized in honour of Apollo. The thermae were constructed immediately after the foundation of the town, in the late first century BC, and stayed in use for a long time. Today, the monument is conserved in good condition; the local residents know it under the name of "Bedenia".
The complex of buildings consists of curvilinear and rectangular spaces, linked to each other through a multitude of openings; they count many semicircular niches and rows of piers. The best preserved part is the western wing consisting of three vaulted rooms. The east wing was of the same structure, yet only the foundations survive to date. The rooms of the complex are interconnected and roofed by arches, apses and vaults, a significant characteristic for this type of Roman buildings. The floors of the rooms were adorned with marble and mosaics. The wall revetment was also ornate with colourful marble patterns (opus sectile). The bathing complex of Nikopolis disposed of a large swimming pool (natatio), a bathroom with cold bath (frigidarium) and bathrooms with gradually warming-up pools for warm and hot bath respectively (tepidarium, caldarium). The spaces were heated thanks to a hypocaust furnace where fire burnt incessantly and heated the hypocausts and the air that circulated through walled-in earthen pipes.
During the years 1973-1974, extensive fixing works and efforts for restoration of the walls were undertaken in the complex of the thermae at the Proastio settlement. Furthermore was initiated the conservation of lintels at the extant entrances of the edifice.
6. The Roman House of Antoninus
Antonino's Roman house is the only excavated private house in the Roman city. It is located outside the western part of the Byzantine wall and northeast of the Roman Conservatory and is about 200 m from the wall and 300 m from the Conservatory. It is a monument of residence, the residence of Manios Antoninos.
7. The Monument of Augustus
It was erected by Octavianus Augustus in 31 BC, after his victory at the battle of Actium and was dedicated to Ares (Mars), Poseidon and Apollo of Actium. It has a stone, Π-shaped podium, on which the bronze beaks from Antonius' ships were attached. The rest of the trophies from the battle were housed in a stoa above the podium.
8. Roman Aqueduct
The aqueduct, 50 km. long, carried the water from the springs of Louros to two cisterns in the Nymphaeum of Nikopolis. It actually consists of three parts, each constucted in a different manner:
- a channel with a vaulted, water-proof roof and ventilation shafts
- a tunnel quarried out in the Kokkinopelos valley and
- arcaded bridges that carried the water across the hills