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Agora of Nicopolis

Temple of the Emperors Uncovered in the Roman Agora at Nicopolis

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In the autumn of 2023, archaeologists began an exciting project to uncover the ancient marketplace, or ‘Agora’ of Nicopolis in Greece. What they uncovered far surpassed what they had anticipated. The building has been designated ‘The temple of the Emperors’, due to an intriguing inscription found on one of its marble floor slabs. 

Roman Urban Life at Nicopolis 

The Roman town at Nicopolis was founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 29 BC and is located in the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece. This ancient town was established to commemorate Augustus' victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC

Over the centuries, Nicopolis flourished as a cultural, economic, and religious hub, attracting settlers and traders from across the Mediterranean. Today, the extensive ruins of Nicopolis offer a fascinating glimpse into its past, with remnants of theaters, baths, and basilicas that tell the story of its once-grandiose urban landscape. Visitors to Nicopolis can explore its archaeological sites, walk along the ancient roads, and imagine the vibrant life that once animated this remarkable town. 

According to a recent release by the Greek Ministry of Culture, the excavations are led by archaeologist Konstantinos L. Zachos and funded by the Hellenic Parliament. This five-year project aims to reveal the secrets of this once-thriving hub of Roman life. The project is also supported by the "Citizens' Initiative 'Happiness'," which helps manage and provide technical support for the excavation. 

The first season of excavation has already provided a fascinating glimpse into the Roman city’s layout and architecture. Archaeologists focused their efforts on a square building located to the west of the Roman Conservatory. They uncovered parts of a paved floor, believed to be part of the outdoor square of the Agora. Additionally, they discovered new sections of the building, hinting at a complex structure with different levels, much like other Roman markets in cities such as Corinth and Philippi. 

 The newly excavated building at Nicopolis.

The newly excavated building at Nicopolis. (Greek Ministry of Education) 

A Grand Entrance 

One of the most exciting finds was a grand entrance gate, or propylon, to the building, showcasing impressive craftsmanship despite its fragmented state. The building's exterior was beautifully decorated with multi-colored marble slabs, indicating it was an important structure. 

Inside, a stunning mosaic floor was revealed, covering about 3,800 square feet (350 square meters) with intricate black-and-white patterns. This mosaic was in excellent condition, providing a direct connection to the past. Surprisingly, an embankment was found on top of the mosaic, covered by a second floor made from reused architectural pieces. These overlapping floors suggest two major construction phases, both from the Roman imperial period between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. 

 The area where the Agora of Nicopolis is located. In the foreground, the Conservatory and to its left on the slope, the remains of the building before the start of the excavations.

The area where the Agora of Nicopolis is located. In the foreground, the Conservatory and to its left on the slope, the remains of the building before the start of the excavations. (Greek Ministry of Education) 

Inscriptions and Clues to the Past 

Among the artifacts discovered were nine sections of inscriptions. One marble inscription, likely from the 2nd century, mentions an unidentified emperor. Another marble slab, embedded in the floor, contains a votive inscription honoring emperors, dedicated by a local official who financed them. 

These discoveries suggest the building was a central public structure in the Agora, possibly linked to the worship of emperors, highlighting its significant role in the city’s political and religious life during Roman times. 

The (Roman) Road Ahead 

The findings from the 2023 excavation are just the beginning. As the project continues, archaeologists expect to uncover more about the layout and history of the Agora and its surrounding buildings. This will not only complete our picture of Nicopolis’s social and economic center during Roman times but also enhance our understanding of how ancient Greek cities evolved under Roman influence. 

This excavation not only brings the history of Nicopolis to life but also ensures that the stories of this ancient city are preserved for future generations. With each layer uncovered, we gain more insight into the bustling life of this Roman marketplace and its role in the ancient world. 

Top image: View from above of the Agora of Nicopolis that has just been excavated. Source: Greek Ministry of Education 

 
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Gary

Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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