A Lurking City: Nicopolis ad Nestum between Mark Antony and Trajan


  • Ivaylo Lozanov Department of Archaeology, Faculty of History, Sofia University St. Kl. Ohridski, 15 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd., 1504 Sofia




Nicopolis ad Nestum, foundation, Mark Antony, Trajan, military diplomas


Despite longstanding archaeological research in Nicopolis ad Nestum in Roman Thracia, the site still has not yielded any conclusive evidence on its foundation date. Instead, the debate has long been focused on scanty numismatic and ancient literary sources, pointing largely to city’s Trajanic origins. Latest attempts to re-evaluate the situation in favour of an earlier enterprise taken by the triumvir Mark Antony in the last years of the Roman Republic are much disputable. Along with many arguments denying Nicopolis’s Antonian foundation, the present paper discusses several neglected documents – military diplomas, issued to veteran-sailors from the Ravenna fleet in the summer of AD 142 after 26 years of service. Three copies speak of “Nicopolis ex Bessia” as sailors’ home, which is to be identified with Nicopolis ad Nestum. Peculiar expression “ex Bessia” is not to be understood strictly formulaic as “city ex province” (i.e. “ex Thracia”), as is the case with the majority of later documents, but rather as a residual practice from the 1st century in designating the tribal home of the veterans. In a larger sense it is the territory (or at least part of it) of the Thracian Bessi. The evidence is met by Pliny (NH 4.11.40), and his “Bessorumque multa nomina” inhabiting the Middle Mesta (Nestus) region. Thus “Nicopolis ex Bessia” has entered military records upon soldiers’ recruitment in AD 116, marking a new-born civic foundation and the still incipient phase of organizing the urban territory within the larger tribal area of the Bessi. Therefore, the discharge documents in question can only confirm the information from other sources and in the same time to narrow the foundation date of Nicopolis ad Nestum under Trajan somewhere between AD 107, after the Dacian wars, and the emperor’s Parthian campaign of AD 116.


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How to Cite

Lozanov, I. (2020) “A Lurking City: Nicopolis ad Nestum between Mark Antony and Trajan”, Bulgarian e-Journal of Archaeology | Българско е-Списание за Археология, 10(1), pp. 55–73. doi: 10.57573/be-ja.10.55-73.