Nicaea or Nicea (/naɪˈsiːə/; Greek: Νίκαια, Níkaia;
Turkish: İznik) was an ancient city in northwestern Anatolia, and is
primarily known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea
(the first and seventh Ecumenical councils in the early history of the
Christian Church), the
Nicene Creed (which comes from the First
Council), and as the capital city of the
Empire of Nicaea
Empire of Nicaea following
Fourth Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of
the Byzantines in 1261.
The ancient city is located within the modern Turkish city of İznik
(whose modern name derives from Nicaea's), and is situated in a
fertile basin at the eastern end of Lake Ascanius, bounded by ranges
of hills to the north and south. It is situated with its west wall
rising from the lake itself, providing both protection from siege from
that direction, as well as a source of supplies which would be
difficult to cut off. The lake is large enough that it could not be
blockaded from the land easily, and the city was large enough to make
any attempt to reach the harbour from shore-based siege weapons very
The ancient city is surrounded on all sides by 5 kilometres
(3 mi) of walls about 10 metres (33 ft) high. These are in
turn surrounded by a double ditch on the land portions, and also
included over 100 towers in various locations. Large gates on the
three landbound sides of the walls provided the only entrance to the
Today the walls have been pierced in many places for roads, but much
of the early work survives and, as a result, it is a major tourist
1.1 Early history
1.2 Roman period
1.3 Byzantine period
1.4 Ottoman Empire
3 See of Nicaea
4 Notable people
7 External links
Istanbul Gate, photo by Paolo Monti, 1962.
The Lefke Gate, part of Nicaea's city walls.
The place is said to have been colonized by Bottiaeans, and to have
originally borne the name of Ancore (Ἀγκόρη) or Helicore
(Ἑλικόρη), or by soldiers of Alexander the Great's army who
Nicaea in Locris, near Thermopylae. The later version
however was not widespread even in Antiquity. Whatever the truth,
the first Greek colony on the site was probably destroyed by the
Mysians, and it fell to Antigonus I Monophthalmus, one of Alexander's
successors (Diadochi) to refound the city ca. 315 BC as Antigoneia
(Ἀντιγονεία) after himself. Antigonus is also known to have
established Bottiaean soldiers in the vicinity, lending credence to
the tradition about the city's founding by Bottiaeans. Following
Antigonus' defeat and death at the
Battle of Ipsus
Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, the city
was captured by Lysimachus, who renamed it
Nicaea (Νίκαια, also
transliterated as Nikaia or Nicæa; see also List of traditional Greek
place names), in tribute to his wife Nicaea, who had recently died.
Sometime before 280 BC, the city came under the control of the local
dynasty of the kings of Bithynia. This marks the beginning of its rise
to prominence as a seat of the royal court, as well as of its rivalry
with Nicomedia. The two cities' dispute over which one was the
pre-eminent city (signified by the appellation metropolis) of Bithynia
continued for centuries, and the 38th oration of
Dio Chrysostom was
expressly composed to settle the dispute.
The theatre, restored by Pliny the Younger.
Along with the rest of Bithynia,
Nicaea came under the rule of the
Roman Republic in 72 BC. The city remained one of the most important
urban centres of
Asia Minor throughout the Roman period, and continued
its old competition with
Nicomedia over pre-eminence and the location
of the seat of the
Roman governor of
Bithynia et Pontus. The
Strabo (XII.565 ff.) described the city as built in the
Hellenistic fashion with great regularity, in the form of a
square, measuring 16 stadia in circumference, i.e. approx. 700 m
× 700 m (2,297 ft × 2,297 ft) or
0.7 km × 0.7 km (0.43 mi × 0.43 mi)
covering an area of some 50 ha (124 acres) or 0.5 km2
(0.2 sq mi); it had four gates, and all its streets
intersected one another at right angles in accordance with the
Hippodamian plan, so that from a monument in the centre all the four
gates could be seen. This monument stood in the gymnasium, which
was destroyed by fire but was restored with increased magnificence by
Pliny the Younger, when he was governor there in the early 2nd century
AD. In his writings Pliny makes frequent mention of
Nicaea and its
Hadrian visited the city in 123 AD after it had been severely
damaged by an earthquake and began to rebuild it. The new city was
enclosed by a polygonal wall of some 5 kilometres in length.
Reconstruction was not completed until the 3rd century, and the new
set of walls failed to save
Nicaea from being sacked by the
258 AD. The numerous coins of
Nicaea which still exist attest
the interest taken in the city by the Roman emperors, as well as its
attachment to the rulers; many of them commemorate great festivals
celebrated there in honour of gods and emperors, as Olympia, Isthmia,
Dionysia, Pythia, Commodia, Severia, Philadelphia, etc.
By the 4th century,
Nicaea was a large and prosperous city, and a
major military and administrative centre. Emperor Constantine the
Great convened the
First Ecumenical Council
First Ecumenical Council there, and the city gave
its name to the Nicene Creed. The city remained important in the
4th century, seeing the proclamation of Emperor
Valens (364) and the
failed rebellion of Procopius (365). During the same period, the See
Nicaea became independent of
Nicomedia and was raised to the status
of a metropolitan bishopric. However, the city was hit by two major
earthquakes in 363 and 368, and coupled with competition from the
newly established capital of the Eastern Empire, Constantinople, it
began to decline thereafter. Many of its grand civic buildings began
to fall into ruin, and had to be restored in the 6th century by
Emperor Justinian I.
The city disappears from sources thereafter and is mentioned again in
the early 8th century: in 715, the deposed emperor
Anastasios II fled
there, and the city successfully resisted attacks by the Umayyad
Caliphate in 716 and 727. The city was again damaged by an
earthquake in 740, served as the base of the rebellion of Artabasdos
in 741/2, and served as the meeting-place of the Seventh Ecumenical
Council, which condemned Byzantine Iconoclasm, in 787 (the council
probably met in the basilica of Hagia Sophia).
Nicaea became the
capital of the
Opsician Theme in the 8th century and remained "a
center of administration and trade" (C. Foss). A Jewish community is
attested in the city in the 10th century. Due to its proximity to
Constantinople, the city was contested in the rebellions of the 10th
and 11th centuries as a base from which to threaten the capital. It
was in the wake of such a rebellion, that of Nikephoros Melissenos,
that it fell into the hands of Melissenos' Turkish allies in 1081.
Seljuk Turks made
Nicaea the capital of their possessions in Asia
Minor until 1097, when it returned to Byzantine control with the aid
First Crusade after a long siege.
The 12th century saw a period of relative stability and prosperity at
Nicaea. The Komnenian emperors Alexios, John and Manuel campaigned
extensively to strengthen the Byzantine presence in Asia Minor. Major
fortifications were constructed across the region, especially by John
and Manuel, which helped to protect the city and its fertile
hinterland. There were also several military bases and colonies in the
area, for example the one at
Rhyndakos in Bithynia, where the emperor
John spent a year training his troops in preparation for campaigns in
southern Asia Minor.
After the fall of
Constantinople to the
Fourth Crusade in 1204, and
the establishment of the Latin Empire,
Nicaea escaped Latin occupation
and maintained an autonomous stance. From 1206 on, it became the base
of Theodore Laskaris, who in 1208 was crowned emperor there and
founded the Empire of Nicaea. The Patriarchate of Constantinople,
exiled from Constantinople, also took up residence in the city until
the recapture of
Constantinople in 1261. Although
Nicaea was soon
abandoned as the primary residence of the Nicaean emperors, who
favoured Nymphaion and Magnesia on the Maeander, the period was a
lively one in the city's history, with "frequent synods, embassies,
and imperial weddings and funerals", while the influx of scholars from
other parts of the Greek world made it a centre of learning as
After the restoration of the Byzantine Empire in 1261, the city once
again declined in importance. The neglect of the Asian frontier by
Michael VIII Palaiologos
Michael VIII Palaiologos provoked a major uprising in 1262, and in
1265, panic broke out when rumours circulated of an imminent Mongol
Andronikos II Palaiologos
Andronikos II Palaiologos visited the city in 1290
and took care to restore its defences, but Byzantium proved unable to
halt the rise of the nascent
Ottoman emirate in the region. After
Andronikos III Palaiologos
Andronikos III Palaiologos and John Kantakouzenos were
defeated at Pelekanon on 11 June 1329, the Byzantine government could
no longer defend Nicaea.
Nicaea finally surrendered to the Ottomans
after a long siege 2 March 1331.
Main article: Iznik
In 1331, the city was conquered and incorporated into the Ottoman
Empire by Orhan I. Many of its public buildings were destroyed, and
the materials were used by the Ottomans in erecting their mosques and
other edifices. With the fall of
Constantinople in 1453, the town lost
a great degree of its importance, but later became a major centre with
the creation of a local faïence pottery-making industry in the 17th
The ancient walls, with their towers and gates, are relatively well
preserved. Their circumference is 3,100 m (10,171 ft), being
at the base from 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 ft) in thickness, and
from 10 to 13 m (33 to 43 ft) in height; they contain four
large and two small gates. In most places they are formed of alternate
courses of Roman tiles and large square stones, joined by a cement of
great thickness. In some places columns and other architectural
fragments from the ruins of more ancient edifices have been inserted.
As with those of Constantinople, the walls seem to have been built in
the 4th century. Some of the towers have Greek inscriptions.
The ruins of mosques, baths, and houses, dispersed among the gardens
and apartment buildings that now occupy a great part of the space
within the Roman and Byzantine fortifications, show that the
Ottoman-era town center, though now less considerable, was once a
place of importance; but it never was as large as the Byzantine city.
It seems to have been almost entirely constructed of the remains of
the Byzantine-era Nicaea, the walls of the ruined mosques and baths
being full of the fragments of ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine
temples and churches. In the northwestern parts of the town, two moles
extend into the lake and form a harbour; but the lake in this part has
much retreated, and left a marshy plain. Outside the walls are the
remnants of an ancient aqueduct.
The Church of the Dormition, the principal Greek Orthodox church in
Nicaea, was one of the most architecturally important Byzantine
churches in Asia Minor. A domed church with a cross-shaped nave and
elongated apse, and dating from the perhaps as early as the end of the
6th century, its bema was decorated with very fine mosaics that had
been restored in the 9th century. The Church of the Dormition was
destroyed in 1922; only the lower portions of some of its walls
Nicaea's Hagia Sophia church in 2008
Excavations are underway in the Ottoman kilns where the historic
Nycean tileware were made. The Hagia Sophia is also undergoing
See of Nicaea
Main article: See of Nicaea
The bishopric of
Nicaea remains as a titular see of the Roman Catholic
Church, which has left the seat vacant since the death of its last
titular bishop in 1976. It is also a titular metropolitan see of
the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The incumbent
2001–2010 was the former Archbishop of Karelia and All Finland,
Metropolitan Johannes (Rinne).
Hipparchus (2nd century BC) Greek astronomer, geographer, and
Sporus of Nicaea (c. 240 – c. 300) Greek mathematician and
Georgius Pachymeres (1242 – c. 1310), Byzantine historian
Cassius Dio (AD c.165–c.229), Roman historian
^ a b Stefanidou 2003, 2. Foundation, other names.
^ a b c Stefanidou 2003, 3. History.
^ a b c d e DGRG, Nicaea
^ a b Stefanidou 2003, 5. Culture - architecture.
^ a b c Foss 1991, p. 1463.
^ Foss 1991, pp. 1463–1464.
^ a b c d e Foss 1991, p. 1464.
^ Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, second
edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), pp. 169f
^ a b Comp. William Martin Leake, Asia Minor, pp. 10, foll.; Von
Prokesch-Osten, Erinnerungen, iii. pp. 321,foll.; Richard Pococke,
Journey in Asia Minor, iii. pp. 181, foll.; Walpole,'Turkey'[', ii. p.
146; Eckhel, Doctr. Num. i. pp. 423, foll.; Rasche, Lexic. Rei Num.
iii. l. pp. 1374, foll.
^ Cyril Mango, "Byzantine Architecture", p90.
^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013,
ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 939
^ "Biography of Metropolitan Johannes (Rinne) of Nicea" (in Greek).
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
Foss, Clive (1991). "Nicaea". In Kazhdan, Alexander. Oxford Dictionary
of Byzantium. London and New York: Oxford University Press.
pp. 1463–1464. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
Stefanidou, Vera (2003). "
Nicaea (Antiquity)". Encyclopaedia of the
Hellenic World, Asia Minor. Foundation of the Hellenic World.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "Nicaea".
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nicaea.
Hazlitt, Classical Gazetteer, "Nicæa"
T. Bekker-Nielsen, Urban Life and Local Politics in Roman Bithynia:
The Small World of Dion Chrysostomos Aarhus, 2008.
Alexandria on the Caucasus
Alexandria on the Indus
Alexandria on the Oxus