Perinthos/Herakleia, the capital of Roman Province Thrace and late Roman Province Europe
Perinthos was founded on the northern coast of Propontis peninsula as a colony of Samos in the 7th century BC. After the peace of Apameia in 188 BC, Perinthos remained under the sovereignty of the Pergamon kingdom and from 129 BC on, it was under the control of Roman governor in Macedonia. In 46 AD, it was organized as the capital of Thracia founded by Emperor Claudius. In 286, the city was renamed Heracleia by Diocletian, and in 293 one of the imperial mints established under the new monetary reform was opened. Heracleia became the capital of the newly founded province of Europa, starting from 297, until Byzantium became the capital of the Roman state with the name Constantinople in 330. The climate of Thracia, where the city is located, was suitable for growing wheat and grazing animals. For this reason, Perinthos / Heracleia has maintained its position as an important port city where wheat and other cereal products are transported from Anatolia’s northern coast to Anatolia. The ports in the east and west of the peninsula where the city was founded were used not only for civilian purposes but also for military purposes. The Roman fleet named Classis Perinthia, responsible for the Propontis and the Straits, was stationed here. Starting from the end of the 2nd century AD and during the 3rd century, the port of Perinthos was used extensively to send troops to the Euphrates front or the Danube and Rhine fronts from the Euphrates front. In addition to this important maritime transport possibilities, Perinthos was connected over Via Militaris to Philippopolis-Serdica – Naissus and Viminacium and over Via Egnatia to Thessaloniki – Dyrrachium – Brindisium. With these strategic road connections, it sided with Septimius Severus during the battle at the end of 2nd century between Pescennius Niger and Septimius Severus and after Severus’ victory, it received the title of neokoros and the privilege of organizing the games of Aktia, Pythia, Severeia and Philadelphia. It is estimated that the first temple of neokorate was built in that period. The second neokoros temple was once again given during the reign of Elagabal and then Severus Alexander. Perinthos / Herakleia, which was influenced by all historical events in the late antiquity due to its proximity to the new capital of Rome, Constantinopolis, was a station frequently visited by emperors. In 275 Aurelian was killed soon after he has left Perinthos and the main reason for the arrival of Diocletian in 286 and 297 AD was the strategically important location on his itinerary. While Perinthos was of great importance because of its harbor before it became a state capital, it was the richest and most important city of Thrace after Constantinople as it was located at the junction of both the port and two major roads during the Roman Empire.
Until the Roman period, a city life was developed towards Anatolia and the Aegean Region to the south but during the Roman period, it became a city not only connected to Anatolia and the Aegean, but also to the political and economic developments on the east-west line. The fact that almost all emperors from Thedosius II to Justinian arrived and stayed in Heracleia was in order to become a partner to the power in Constantinople or to follow closely the events in the capital and it shows that the strategic importance of the city continued in the late antiquity and later in the middle and late Byzantine periods.
It is not known since when the residence of provincial governors was in Perinthos. Inscriptions starting from the second half of the 2nd century AD prove that the provincial governors of Thracia had their residence in Perinthos. Even though Perinthos was not geographically located in the inner parts of the province, such as Serdica or Philippopolis, where the provincial assembly was convened, it was able to successfully fulfill its mission as a state capital for centuries because of its strategic location at the junction of the sea and land routes to the southeast of Thracia. Coins and inscriptions document that the concilium and the finance procurator’s office are located in Philippopolis.
Starting from the 1st century AD, it is seen that the Perinthos phylai were numbered. When the name of the city was changed to Herakleia in 286, it was seen that those who stated that they belonged to the phylai started to use the expression of “citizen of Herakleia” by identifying themselves with the new name of the city.
When all the available data were evaluated, all the changes that took place throughout the history of Perinthos / Herakleia was due to the connections of the city with the Black Sea, Aegean, Mediterranean Seas and Anatolia, Egypt via the port and the roads passing through the city. Because of this position, a multicultural environment was formed in the city, where groups speaking different languages came from different regions. In this environment, a large number of associations and guild organizations that form the basis of trade life can be identified. It is possible to learn about the trade life of the city during the Roman period thanks to the inscriptions of professional organizations such as Butchers’ guild, stoners’ guild or porters’ guild.
Thanks to the amount of fines to be paid by those who damage the graves mentioned in the grave inscriptions and the unit where the money will be paid, the economic turmoil in the process extending from Perinthos to Heracleia and the devaluation of the money in the face of inflation and its reflection on the view of the city can be observed.
Before the city of Heracleia became the capital of the Roman province, it was a settlement concentrated only on the peninsula. In the Roman period, the infrastructural constructions such as waterways and port buildings developed due to the connection of the city to the land transportation network which enables the trade with remote regions, spread to the old isthmus region which was previously sea and now turned into a land, extending to the north from the Diocletian’s to the Justinian’s period and these can be determined by researches in the area.
Particularly in the area close to the western harbor, a monumental structure whose remains can be traced partially on the ground can be thought to be identical to the palace built in Heracleia as the pendant of Diocletian’s palace at Nicomedia. We find clues related to this structure in Book 4 of Procopius de aedificiis. According to Procopius, Justinian had the old imperial palace in Heracleia and he has the city’s waterways repaired.
M. H. Sayar,
Istanbul University – Faculty of Letters, Department of History