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An ancient stone relief from the 2nd – 3rd century AD depicting a gladiator fight has been discovered by archaeologists in the huge Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose ruins are located near the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria.
The reliefs showing the gladiator fight is deemed to be extremely valuable because only a handful of such depictions have been discovered in Bulgaria so far in spite of the fact that the Balkan country boasts dozens of major ancient cities either built by the Roman Empire, or upgraded by the Romans after they conquered Ancient Thrace.
The ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose name means “Victory City on the Danube River", are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo.
The major city was founded by Roman Emperor Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus) (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) north of the Danube.
The gladiator fight relief has been discovered by the team of archaeologist Ivan Tsarov, who is the Director of the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, during excavations of a small square in the southwestern corner of the Forum complex of Nicpolis ad Istrum.
The stone relief with the fighting Roman gladiators has been found underneath the square’s pavement, and it dates to 2nd – 3rd century AD, possibly to the first half of the 3rd century, or the time of the Severan Dynasty (r. 193 – 235 AD).
The researchers hypothesize that it was either part of a frieze that decorated a trading table for measuring the weight of olive oil and grains, or that it was part of a sacrificial altar used for rituals before gladiator fights.
The newly discovered gladiator fight relief from Nicopolis ad Istrum depicts a “classic fight" between two of the most popular types of gladiators: a secutor armed with a short sword and protected with a helmet and a shield, and a retiarius, the lightly armed gladiator equipped with a trident, a net, an arm guard and a shoulder guard.