It all began in 31 BC. To celebrate his victory in the naval battle of Actium at the mouth of the Ambracian Gulf, Octavian, subsequently Caesar Augustus, decided to found an entire new city. This was not an unusual occurrence at the time—Alexander the Great had been a frequent city founder! He named the new city Nikopolis, the City of Victory, so that everyone would remember his triumph.
Octavian did not stop at that. He claimed Apollo as his patron god and, for political and religious reasons, revived the local games that used to take place in the god’s honor a long time ago. At the Proasteion, Nikopolis’ sacred grove, Octavian provided for the construction of all the facilities needed for the new Actian games: a stadium, a gymnasium, two bathing complexes and a theater, as the games featured both athletic and musical contests.
The imposing Roman theater of Nikopolis was in continuous use between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD. Artists, spectators, the famous and the unknown, entire generations attended—even the notorious Roman emperor Nero himself, who “tried his hand” at music and tragedy and, naturally, won!
Then, the theater fell silent for centuries. Small-scale excavation began in the 1960s. More followed in the subsequent decades, reaching their peak in the early 21st century. Large-scale modern interventions and systematic archaeological research have multiple aims: to discover archaeological and historic aspects of the monument thus far unknown, protect it from further damage, as well as inaugurate a new era of use and fruitful interaction with the local and global community.
“Imagine the low hum growing louder as you approach: flute players and poets, music and recitation instructors anxiously rehearsing, the noise of the crowd milling about. Cheerful faces, laughter, conversations, speculation, as they wait for the spectacle to begin. Imagine the emperor approaching with his retinue.
Aulea Prementur, as a Roman might say. Raise the curtain!”