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Heraclea Lyncestis, also spelled Herakleia Lynkestis, was a town founded by Philip II of Macedon in the middle of the 4th century BC in what was once the north-western region of the ancient kingdom of Macedon. The town was named in honor of the mythological Greek hero Heracles. The epithet Lyncestis is the Greek meaning "the Land of the Lynx". Today its ruins fall within the borders of the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) , near the modern town of Bitola.

It was an important strategical town during the Hellenistic period as it was at the edge of Macedon's border with Epirus to the west, and to the non-Greek world to the north, until the middle of the 2nd century BC, when the Romans conquered Macedon and destroyed its political power. The Romans divided Macedonia into 4 regions and Heraclea was in the fourth region. The main Roman road in the area, Via Egnatia went through Heraclea, and Heraclea was an important stop. The prosperity of the city was maintained mainly due to this road. Objects discovered from the time of Roman rule in Heraclea are: Votive monuments, a portico, thermae (baths), an amphitheatre and town walls. In the early Christian period, Heraclea was an important Episcopal seat. Some of its bishops are mentioned in synods in Serdica and other nearby towns. From this period are the ensembles of the Small and Great (Large, Big) basilica. The Grave (Funeral) basilica with a necropolis is located east of the theatre.

Roman Theater

The Roman emperor Hadrian built the theater in the center of the town, on a hill, when many buildings in the roman province of Macedonia were being restored. It began being used during the reign of Antoninus Pius. Discovered in 1931, a small bone ticket for a seat in the 14th (out of 20) row is the earliest known proof of the theater’s existence. The theatre itself wasn’t discovered until 1968. Inside the theater there were three animal cages and in the western part a tunnel. The theater went out of use during the late 4th century AD, when gladiator fights in the Roman Empire were banned, due to the spread of Christianity, the formulation of the Eastern Roman Empire, and the abandoment of, what was then perceived as, pagan rituals and entertainment.


Late Antiquity and Byzantine periods

In the early Byzantine period (4th to 6th centuries AD) Heraclea was an important episcopal centre. Some of its bishops have been noted in the acts of the Church Councils as bishop Evagrius of Heraclea in the Acts of the Sardica Council from 343 AD. A Small and a Great (Large) basilica, the bishop's residence, a Funeral (grave) basilica near the necropolis are some of the remains of this period. Three naves in the Great Basilica are covered with mosaics of very rich floral and figurative iconography; these well preserved mosaics are often regarded as fine examples of the early Christian art period. Other bishops from Heraclea are known between 4th and 6th century AD as bishop Quintilinus mentioned in the Acts of the Second Council of Ephesus, from 449 AD. The city was sacked by Ostrogoth / Visigoth forces, commanded by Theodoric the Great in 472 AD and, despite a large gift to him from the city's bishop, it was sacked again in 479 AD. It was restored in the late 5th and early 6th century.

One of the Basilica's mosaics

Mosaics in the Basilicas

A small Basilica was discovered in excavations made before the World War II between 1936-1938. At first it was thought to be an ancient palace, but in the later research from 1960-1964, it became clear that it was an early Christian basilica. There is a decorated floor mosaic made by the technique "opus sectile" within the basilica and several rooms have been unearthed. The first room was used for baptizing and the second room in has a floor mosaic made by the technique "opus tessalatum". After creation of the complex Great Basilica, the function of these rooms was changed. By discovering the walls, architectonic plastic and floors were reconstructed electronically.

The Great Basilica is a monumental building with a room of open porch colonnades, a room of egzonarteks, one of narteks, two north annexes, and a room of three south annexes. The floors of these rooms are mosaic with geometric and floral designs. The mosaic in the narthex is of early Byzantine art, a big composition at a size of 100 m. There are birds, trees, bushes, a red dog, which is a symbol of paradise, and animals beasts as a domain of the earth. This mosaic dates from the end of the 6th century. The Great Basilica is built on top of another one and was made sometime between the 4th to 6th century.

The Episcopacy Residence was excavated between 1970-1975. The western part was discovered first and the southern side is near the town wall. The luxury rooms are located in the eastern part. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th room all have mosaic floors. Between the 3rd and 4th room there is a hole that led to the eastern entrance of the residence. The hole was purposefully created between the 4th and 6th century.


Arrival of the Slavs

In the late 6th century the city suffered successive attacks by Slavic tribes. In place of the deserted theater several houses were built between the 6th century and the 7th century AD, when Slavs settled throughout the Balkans.

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