Nicopolis (Greek: Νικόπολις, "City of Victory") — or Actia Nicopolis — was an ancient city of Epirus, founded 31 BC by Octavian in memory of his victory over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium the previous year. It was later the capital of Epirus Vetus. It is on the west coast of Greece.
In the aftermath of the battle of Actium in the Ambracian Gulf in 31 BC, Octavian himself founded Nicopolis, the city of victory, in 28 BC, symbolically representing his successful unification of the Roman Empire under one administration and, geographically, a major transportation and communications point linking the eastern and western halves of the Mediterranean.
On the spot where Octavian's own tent had been pitched he built a monument adorned with the beaks of the captured galleys; and in further celebration of his victory he instituted the so-called Aktian games in honor of Apollo Aktios.
The city proved highly successful, and it was considered the capital of southern Epirus and Akarnania. Among other things, it obtained the right to send five representatives to the Amphictyonic Council.
The new polis was given the territories of southern Epiros including Ambrakia, most of Akarnania, and western Aetolia. Many inhabitants of the surrounding areas – Kassopaia, Ambrakia, parts of Akarnania (including Leukas, Palairos, Amphilochikon, Calydon, and Lysimachia) and western Aetolia – were forced to relocate to the new city.
The exact legal status of Nikopolis is the subject of some dispute, having the characteristics of civitas libera, civitas foederata, and as colonia, implying that Roman military veterans also settled there.
In 27 BC, Octavian implemented an Empire-wide administrative reform. Achaia – including Thessalia, Arkanania and the territory of what later became the province of Epirus – was detached from Macedonia and made into a province in its own right. The Imperial government assigned the administration of both Macedonia and Achaia to senatorial praetor-rank proconsules, with capitals at Thessalonica and Corinth, respectively. Achaia included Euboea, Attica, the Cyclades, Thessaly, Peloponnesos, Aitolia, Akarnania, the Ionian islands, and the southern part of Epirus.
At that time, 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 odeion and the aqueduct. The city's south gate was connected by a road to the Ionian harbor Komaros (the modern Nikopolis-Mytikas road leading to the gulf of Mytikas).
In 30-31, the Roman consul Poppaeus Sabinus visited Nikopolis.
In 66, in the wake of a terror campaign and financial constraints in Rome, Emperor Nero made a more modest trip to Greece in lieu of a planned great journey to the east. He visited Nicopolis during his tour of Greece to take part in the Aktian games.
Around 110, under Emperor Trajan (98-117), the Roman government carved out the province of Epiros from parts of Makedonia and Achaia, making it a separate province in its own right. A procurator Augusti headquartered at Nicopolis governed Epirus. The new province of Epirus included Arkanania to the south as far as the Achelous, but not Apollonia to the north, plus the Ionian islands – Kerkyra, Leukas, Ithaca, Cephalonia, and Zakynthos. The reason for the reform was that the territory needed a stricter government to yield higher revenues. The new province was put under the control of an Imperial procurator, together with other special procuratores, including a procurator of the purple fisheries whose sphere of office, however, extended to Achaia and Thessalia. This administrative set up appears to have remained intact through the reforms of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211) and up until Emperor Diocletian (284-305).
In 128, Emperor Hadrian (117-138) visited Nicopolis and Corinth.
Around this time the so-called western gate was constructed, several hundred meters north of the south gate, becoming the main gate of Nicopolis.
Around 180, the next mention of Nicopolis with respect to Church history is actually a bishop of Rome, Pope Eleutherius, who reigned from around 174-189. He was born in Nicopolis, according to the Liber Pontificalis, and served as a deacon in Rome. During his term in office as Bishop of Rome, the Church was involved in the Montanist controversy.
Around 193-198, Emperor Severus (193-211), based in Syria, campaigned in Mesopotamia, with indirect consequences for Achaia and Epirus: to help pay for these campaigns, Emperor Severus apparently required several cities to mint special coins, including Nicopolis, Patrae, Epidaurus, Apollonia, Thuria, Plautilla, and the Thessalia koinon.
Later Roman and Byzantine Period
In 268, the Goths launched a combined land-sea invasion against the Roman Empire, assisted by Heruli sailors and other tribesmen. Their naval forces ravaged Byzantium and Chrysopolis, though the Imperial fleet successfully counter-attacked on the Propontis. Meanwhile the land forces overran Thrace and continued into Achaia as far south as Sparta; the invading Goths and Heruli sacked Athens, crossed the isthmus, sacked and burned the lower part of Corinth, and advanced to Argos and Sparta, ravaging the countryside along the way and burning the two cities. Here Imperial land and sea forces counter-attacked, and the invaders wandered their way through Boeotia, Akarnania, Epiros, Macedonia, and Thrace on their way back to Moesia.
Not long after the catastrophe, the Athenians built a wall to enclose the Acropolis and a small area to the north. In Epiros, while the inhabitants of Nicopolis made hasty repairs to fortifications and managed to avert the danger, the leaders of Kerkyra organized their own army, crossed over into Epiros and defeated the Goths on land.
Nikopolis ceased to mint its own copper coins.
The Imperial army chased the Goths and their allies and defeated them at Naissus.
In 293, as part of Diocletian's reforms, the province of Epiros became known as Epirus Vetus (including Adrianopolis, Phoiniki, Ogchismos, and Bouthroton as the most northerly major cities, and Akarnania and the islands of Kerkyra, Ithaca, and probably Leukas to the south). The capital was Nicopolis.
Meanwhile, the territory of northern Epiros (including, Apollonia, Byllis and Amantia on its southern borders) became known as Epirus Nova, capital at Dyrrachion. Both provinces, along with Makedonia, Thessalia and Achaia, are included in the dioceses of Moesia which also included four provinces in the northwest Balkans. The islands of Cephalonia, Zakynthos, and Kythira were included in the province of Achaia.
Both Epirus Vetus and Epirus Nova were governed by a praeses.
Writing around 300, one Arnobius of Numidia mentioned the existence of Christian communities in Achaia, Macedonia, and Epirus.
This implies that bishoprics and an episcopal administrative system had been set up some time before 325. Until the time of Constantine, it is supposed that the bishopric of Nicopolis came under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan of Corinth, but with the administrative reforms under Emperor Diocletain and Constantine (306-337), Nicopolis itself became the metropolitan city of Epirus Vetus.
In 327, Emperor Constantine split the diocese of Moesia into Dacia and Macedonia. The two provinces of Epirus, along with the provinces of Macedonia, Thessaly, and Achaia, became part of the diocese of Macedonia (capital Thessalonica).
In 343, in the Acts of the Council of Serdica, we have for the first time mention of a bishop of Nicopolis, one Isidoros.
Based on the record of Julian's close ties with certain leading men from Epirus involved in the Empire-wide cultural circuit led by Libanios and Themistios, it appears that Christianity was not widespread in Epirus in the mid-Fourth Century, but after his death it spread far and wide in the region, judging from legislation issued by Valentinian in 371 and 372, trying to offset some of the negative effects its rapid spread, and the fact that there is no written record of the bishops of the cities of Epiros until the Fifth Century, except for the Bishop of Nicopolis in 343.
In 381, the Acts of the Council of Constantinople – as well as the Third (431), and Fourth (451) Ecumenical Councils – recognized the see of Thessalonica as holding sixth place in the Church administrative hierarchy, after the five patriarchs. Among the sees of Illyricum, Thessalonica held the first position in the hierarchy, followed by Corinth and Nicopolis.
In 431, the Acts of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus list the bishops of Epirus, including metropolitan Bishop St. Donatos of Nikopolis (c. 425-432).
The majority of the bishops from Epiros and Illyricum and other representatives sustained the Orthodox theological position of the Bishop Celestine I of Rome (422-432) and Bishop Cyril of Alexandria against the Patriarch of Constantinople. During this time, Bishop Donatos of Nikopolis maintained a correspondence with Bishop Cyril of Alexandria concerning Nestorianism.
In 451, six Epirote bishops attended the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon, including Bishop Attikos of Nikopolis. All these bishops without exception undersigned the Council’s decisions in favor of the Orthodox position of Dyophysitism, also backed by the bishop of Rome.
In 457-458 the bishops of Epirus then held a provincial synod to ratify the validity of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. We have a list of as many as nine bishops signing a letter written by Bishop Eugenios of Nikopolis to Bishop Leo of Rome.
This was also the time of Bishop Diadochos of Photiki (c. 450-458), a saint and Father of the Church. Not only was he the bishop of what was the major city of an Epiros sub-region called Thresprotia, he was also the author of important theological treatises, three of which are extant.
In combination with the notice of the correspondence between the bishop of Nikopolis and the bishop of Alexandria mentioned previously, from the writings of Diadochos we can infer that learned texts, along with amphorae, traveled between the eastern Mediterranean and Epirus in the 400s.
Diadochos’ texts also show us that both theoretical and practical ideas about theology and the organization of monastic life also spread from the eastern Mediterranean to Epiros. In fact, a reference in one of Diadochos’ own writings suggests he was also igoumenos of a monastery in Photiki and that Epiros in the 450s at least had both anachoritic and koinobitic monastic communities.
From around 460 in Nikopolis, construction of a series of six basilicas, beginning with the five-aisled metropolitan basilica B.
Artisans of Nikopolis decorated many of the city's basilicas with some high-quality mosaics, developing their own workshop, operating until the 550s, whose influence extended to the rest of Epirus and perhaps further afield in eastern Illyricum.
Basilica B was the largest of the Nicopolis basilicas and probably served as the metropolitan bishop’s main church. An inscription informs us that Bishop Alkison (491-516) sponsored some additions to the southern annex of Basilica B, possibly around 500.
In 474, Eastern Emperor Zeno (474-491) initiated peace negotiations with the Vandals. But during the negotiations, in order to strengthen their position, the Vandals again devastated the coast of Greece during which they captured Nicopolis and took prisoners who had to be ransomed to secure their release.
Evidently the walls of Nikopolis built in the time of Augustus were not for defensive purposes, or at least were not functioning in 474, since the Vandals took the city apparently without being equipped with siege weapons, in view of the fact that they failed to take the walled city of Tainaros. If this is true, then the so-called Justinian walls of Nikopolis, enclosing only one-sixth of the city founded by Augustus, were erected not before 474. In any case, the Nikopolis walls, probably built sometime in the 480s-510s period (like the walls of Dyrrachion), were made of bricks, mortar, and rubble.
The Vandals may also have raided Photiki and taken prisoners there. In any case, this raid and prisoner-taking probably had a devastating effect on the infrastructure of Nikopolis and the psychology of the citizens, affecting the city's social and economic life. It is probably directly related to the inhabitants' reduction of the city to one-sixth of its previous extension, confining it to the north-east section, the area where the citadel stood, and fortifying it with thick walls to provide better defence.
Around 500, as mentioned, Bishop Alkison of Nikopolis (491-516) supervised the addition of annexes to five-aisled metropolitan basilica B, which has taken his name.
Around 515, in Nikopolis, construction of the three-aisled basilica Δ, with fragments of floor mosaics.
In 516, all eight bishops of Vetus Epirus held a synod to elect Ioannis as successor to the martyred Bishop Alkison of Nikopolis. Bishop Ioannis of Nikopolis sent a deacon, Rufinus, with a letter to Pope Hormisdas, reaffirming their steadfastness in the Orthodox faith. The synod appears to be the seventh local episcopal synod for Epirus Vetus.
In 551, King Totila of the Ostrogoths, in response to reports of an east Roman military build-up in the eastern side of the Adriatic, sent a 300-strong fleet to Kerkyra. The Ostrogoths sacked it and nearby islands. They sacked the area around Dodoni inland and Kekyra and Nikopolis off the coasts, and captured several east Roman ships on their way to bringing supplies to Narses.
Around 555, according to Procopius, Emperor Justinian (527-565) renovated the fortifications of Nikopolis, as part of his huge program involving the renewal of city fortifications and the erection of new defences.
Also the beginning of construction of the three-aisled Basilica Α decorated with an extensive series of extant floor mosaics. Bishop Doumetios I of Nikopolis also made some additions (the pastophoria) to Basilica B. Also construction of the three-aisled basilica Ε, near the southern harbor Magaronas.
Around 575, in Nikopolis, construction of the three-aisled basilica Γ and completion of Basilica Α under Bishop Doumetios II.
In 587, Slavic tribes invaded Thrace, Macedonia and Achaia, including Thessaly, Attica, Euboia, and Peloponnesos, as well as Epirus Vetus where the Slavic invasion seems to have reached as far as Euroia, but not Kassopi and Nikopolis.
In 625, a letter from Pope Honorius I to Metropolitan Hypatios of Nikopolis was sent with reference to the difficult travel conditions, preventing the bishop from reaching Rome.
In the course of the Middle Ages Nikopolis was supplanted by the town of Preveza. The ruins of Nikopolis, now known as Palaia Preveza ("Old Preveza") lie about 3 miles north of that city, on a small bay of the Gulf of Arta (Sinus Ambracius) at the narrowest part of the isthmus of the peninsula which separates the Gulf from the Ionian Sea. Besides the Acropolis, the most conspicuous features are two theatres (the larger with 77 rows of seats) and an aqueduct which brought water to the town from a distance of 27 miles. It continued under Roman and later Byzantine rule, experiencing three brief periods of Bulgarian rule in the 10th century (in 920-922, 977-983, and 996-997).
In 1798 French Revolutionary troops, stationed in Preveza by Napoleon, dug into the graves and ruins of ancient Nicopolis and looted various treasures. These were later taken by the troops of Ali Pasha who defeated the French and their Greek allies.
Various battles fought in this area, the latest one in 1912 when it was captured by the Greek Army during the First Balkan War, were named "Battle of Nicopolis" rather than "Battle of Preveza".
- List of cities in ancient Epirus
- List of traditional Greek place names
- Nicopolis (titular see, Epirus)
- Early centers of Christianity#Greece
- Preveza Weather Station SV6GMQ - Live Weather Conditions (in English and Greek)
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