Asia Minor, Bithynia, Epigraphy, Hadrian1900, Turkey

11 November AD 117 – Hadrian reaches Juliopolis in Bithynia (#Hadrian1900)

After spending a few days in Ancyra, the Galatian capital (see previous post here), Hadrian continued to travel westward towards the Danube provinces. He reached the little town of Juliopolis just inside Bithynia on the 11th of November.

Epigraphic evidence has revealed that Hadrian addressed a missive to Pergamum from Juliopolis, a formal letter of thanks to an association of Pergamene young men (Synod of neoi) who had sent a congratulatory embassy to the emperor (IGR IV 349). The envoy sent by the college of the neoi was Claudius Cyrus. He met Hadrian at the road station of Juliopolis to offer congratulations on his accession to the throne. The emperor dictated a quick reply (Lafoscade De Epistulis 17):


When I learned from your letter and from your ambassador Claudius Cyrus that you have expressed yourselves as sharing feelings of joy on our behalf, I thought it a proof of your being good men. Farewell. On the 3rd, before the ides of November, from Juliopolis.

A copy of Hadrian’s reply letter was subsequently engraved on white marble and displayed in a public place at Pergamum or maybe in the neoi’s gymnasium on the lower Acropolis. Although there is no explicit evidence, it is generally assumed that Hadrian visited Pergamum in AD 124 and/or 129, where he probably saw his letter displayed.

Juliopolis was located on the borders of Galatia and Bithynia, about 77 Roman miles (114 km) west of Ancyra, on the road to Nicaea. The town was originally known as Gordioukome (village of Gordion). According to Strabo (Str. 12.8.9), Cleon of Gordioukome, a robber chieftain and a native of the town, raised its status to a city and renamed it Juliopolis in honour of Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) with whom he sided following the naval battle of Actium. The city changed its name again in the later Byzantine period to Basilaion in honour of Emperor Basil I (867-886 AD).

Pliny the Younger, writing to Trajan as governor of Pontus-Bithynia, refers to Juliopolis as “a small border town with a lot of traffic”. Indeed, Juliopolis was situated on the major route extending from Byzantium to Ancyra (later called “Pilgrim’s Road”), which was of importance for military and commercial purposes to the Roman Empire. As such, the city was recorded in the ancient itineraries; The Itinerarium Antonini, the Tabula Peutingeriana, and the Itinerarium Burdigalense all mention Juliopolis and the distances between Juliopolis and the next city, Dadastana.

The road from Ancyra to Nicaea on the Peutinger Table with Juliopolis in the middle.

Juliopolis was securely identified by David French thanks to the discovery of a group of milestones from the Roman road connecting Nicaea with Ancyra with the inscription Iuliopoli (including a few dedicated to Hadrian). French’s identification was later confirmed in 2009 with the finding of coins carrying the city’s name.

Milestone from the Ancyra – Juliopolis road with a dedication to Hadrian, initiated by the Governor of the province of Galatia Aulus Larcius Macedo, AD 122-123.
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara.

Today, the ruins of Juliopolis are located near the town of Çayırhan in Ankara’s Nallihan district, 125 km west of the Turkish capital. Unfortunately, the construction of the Sarıyar Dam reservoir on the Sakarya River (the ancient Sangarius) in the 1950s resulted in the flooding of the valley, so most of the ancient city now lies submerged beneath the waters. The necropolis of Juliopolis, however, lies on the limestone rocks on the north coast of the dam reservoir. A team from the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations at Ankara has been conducting regular excavations since 2009.

The eastern necropolis of Juliopolis and the excavation house.

The modern reservoir divides the necropolis into two slopes; the western and eastern necropolis areas. The analysis of the excavated graves indicates that the necropolis was used from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. Four burial traditions have been identified due to the excavations; rock-cut graves, simple earth burials, rock-cut tomb chambers and stone sarcophagi. Inhumation was the preferred form of burial, but cremations are also known to have taken place. To date, sixteen graves of doctors with their medical implements have been uncovered, indicating that Juliopolis was an important centre for medicine.

Rock-cut chamber tombs.
Rock-cut tomb chambers in the Juliopolis eastern necropolis.
Gold necklace pendulum with cameo depicting Elagabalus and Julia Paula.

The excavations have yielded many artefacts that were deposited as burial gifts for the deceased, including golden earrings and bracelets, stone and glass necklaces, bronze and bone medical instruments, lamps and various ceramic vessels, as well as silver and bronze coins. These artefacts can be seen in the Roman section of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.

In 2012 part of the fortification system of Juliopolis was unearthed, lying directly to the west of the eastern necropolis.

The lower part of the defensive wall was built in opus mixtum.

Juliopolis was a small settlement located on an important road, and communities situated near these major roads suffered more than most because of the passage of officials and soldiers. As reported by Pliny the Younger a few years before Hadrian’s visit, Juliopolis struggled to cope with the demands of accommodating. This is why Pliny, as provincial governor, tried to persuade Trajan for a detachment of legionaries to be posted at Juliopolis to assist the civil authorities.

You acted with your usual prudence, Sir, in instructing that eminent man, Calpurnius Macer, to send a legionary centurion to Byzantium. Consider, I pray, whether for similar reasons one should be sent to Juliopolis also, which, though one of the tiniest of free cities, has very heavy burdens to bear, and if any wrong is done to it, it is the more serious owing to its weakness. Moreover, whatever favours you confer on the people of Juliopolis will benefit the whole province, for the city lies at the extremity of Bithynia, and through it the large number of persons who travel through the province have to pass. (Pliny Ep. 10.77)

However, Pliny’s request was denied by Trajan. Juliopolis was not the only town located on a well-trafficked road, and the emperor thought that by giving Juliopolis military support, many other cities would demand the same. Instead, Trajan entrusted the protection of Juliopolis to Pliny.

If I were to decide to assist the people of Juliopolis in the same way I should be burdening myself with a new precedent. For more and more cities would want the same favour, just in proportion to their weakness, and I have sufficient confidence in your diligence to feel certain that you will do your very best to protect them from harm. (Pliny Ep. 10.78)

Whether this situation changed at the time of Hadrian’s visit and how the city coped with the emperor and the army is not known. From Juliopolis, Hadrian would continue to travel westward towards Nicaea and spend the winter of 117 at Nicomedia and/or Byzantium.

Hadrian’s journey back to Rome 117-118 (part 1).
Map created by Simeon Netchev for Following Hadrian (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Click to enlarge.

Sources & references:

  • A. Birley, Hadrian, the Restless Emperor, Londres-New York 1997. pp. 83-84.
  • Alexander, Paul J. Letters and Speeches of the Emperor Hadrian. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 49, 1938, pp. 141–177
  • Onur, Fatih. (2014). Epigraphic Research around Juliopolis I: A Historical and Geographical Overview
  • Ramsay, W. M. The Historical Geography of Asia Minor, 1890, pp. 244–245.

3 thoughts on “11 November AD 117 – Hadrian reaches Juliopolis in Bithynia (#Hadrian1900)”

  1. I find it interesting and reassuring that Roman-era infrastructure and artifacts, such as road markers, are left in place for everyone to appreciate just as 2nd C. travelers might. In America or Europe they could very possibly be covered with graffiti or damaged more woefully. I suppose the fate of Syrian antiquities, not far from your current position, Carole, is even worse. Let’s hope for maximum preservation in centuries to come.

  2. Hi Carole
    I need more hrs each day to fully appreciate your travel details!!. Tomorrow I will be in Rome for 10 days and will dedicate this last of 5 visits to your enthusiasm.
    Anthony Pulle

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