Ambracia was founded in 625 BC by Corinthian colonists at the western foothills of the Peranthi hill, on the bank of the floatable river of Arachthos.

Set in a position with considerable strategic and commercial advantages on the main land and sea (via the Ambracian gulf) route that connects Southern Greece to the hinterland of Epirus, the city shortly developed into the most important city–state of the region.

It consisted of the asty [town] and the hinterland and its borders were bounded by the tribes of Mollossoi on the north, Athamanes on the east, Amfilochoi on the south and Kassopeans on the west.

From its foundation and for 500 years onward until the Roman conquest, the city was under various forms of government, ranging from tyranny and democracy to the rule of King Pyrrhus.

As is the case with every organized city-state, Ambracia struck its own coins which facilitated the close financial and trade ties of its citizens with the other Greek and Mediterranean cities.


Protected by a strong fortification wall, the city is built following a strict geometric urban plan. The administrative, political and religious hub, adorned with several public buildings and temples, around which the private residences are regularly ordered, while the cemeteries extend beyond the city walls.

It reached its greatest power in the 3rd c. BC, when king of Epirus, Pyrrhos, chose Ambracia as his capital (295 BC). Pyrrhos adorned Ambracia with temples, public buildings and artworks..

His ancestors ruled till 232 BC, when the city became part of the Aetolian League.

In 189 BC, the Roman consul Marcus Fulvius Nobilior laid siege to Ambracia with a large army. The Ambracians resisted vigorously and countered the Roman catapults by employing cunning ruses. Finally, they capitulated, though not by force, and accepted a Roman garrison. Marcus Fulvius Nobilior ordered the plundering of the artistic wealth of the city and its dispatch to Rome.

 The city lived under Roman rule although it enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. One and a half centuries later, the largest part of its population was relocated to Nicopolis, founded by Octavian Augustus, to commemorate his victory in the naval battle of Actium, in 31 BC. The city continued to be inhabited sparsely until the early Christian centuries. The foundation of medieval Arta marks the rekindling of life in the area.

Nowadays, parts of the ancient city remain visible, co-existing with the modern city of Arta: parts of the wall, the temple of Apollo, the small Thatre, part of the NW cemeteries.

1. Wall

A robust wall, 4.55km long, enclosed the “asty” of the ancient city.


It was built in order to further strengthen its naturally fortified location which was surrounded by Peranthi Hill to the southeast and by the navigable, yet fast-flowing, river Arachthos on all other sides. The meticulously constructed wall was reinforced in places with rectangular and semi-circular towers and had gates that enabled communication with the countryside, but also the inhabitants’ movement to the city’s cemeteries extending outside the walls.


The enclosure was immediately adjacent to the urban fabric of the city, as indicated by sections of streets excavated within the fortification, laid out along the walls.


Parts of the fortification date back to the late 5th and the mid-4th c. BC, whereas, in certain spots, the remains of a roughly built defensive structure dating from the Archaic period were found.


Today, scattered parts of the ancient walls that came to light over the last decades are visible within the modern urban fabric (nos. 1α - 1γ, 1ε-στ) or are embedded in the lower part of the enclosure of the medieval fortress of Arta (1δ).

2. Temple of Apollo

The foundations of the imposing temple of Apollo Pythios Soter, tutelary deity of Ambracia, are located near the centre of the modern town, in the area identified with the administrative centre of the ancient city.


The edifice was a peripteral Doric temple dating back to the Late Archaic period. It measured 20.75x44m and consisted of the pronaos and the cella, in the interior of which is preserved a stepped pedestal supporting the statue or the symbol of the worshipped god.



Members of the temple’s superstructure


From the superstructure of the temple are preserved only a Doric column capital made of poros stone and fragments of roof tiles, some of which bear stamps suggesting the building’s public character. This tile is inscribed with the word “ΠΟΛIΟΣ” on either side of a baetylus, Apollo’s sacred symbol.

3. Small Theatre

Within short distance of the temple of Apollo and the city’s Prytaneion, was found a building in the form of a theatre which, based on the account of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, was identified by excavators with the Small Theatre of Ambracia.


Erected in the late 4th-early 3rd c. BC on an artificial terrace, the edifice was built over the foundations of a bath-house complex of the mid-4th c. BC that was decorated with elaborate pebble mosaic floors.


Due to the exceptionally small size of the building and its location within the ancient urban fabric, the structure may have functioned as a Bouleuterion. Contrastingly, near the fortification wall of Ambracia, a little further to the north of the area identified with the centre of the ancient city, part of the main (large) theatre of Ambracia was excavated.


The pebble mosaic floors of the bath-house (mid-4thc. BC)

The foundations of the bath-house complex located underneath the Small Theatre of Ambracia constitute a hitherto unique find of the city.


Of the complex, two bathing chambers and individual ancillary spaces have been exposed. These round chambers, also known as “tholoi”, because of the shape of their roof, were decorated with exquisite pebble mosaic floors with representations of Erotes and aquatic animals.

4. Great Theatre

Parts of the Great Theatre of Ambracia have been revealed in the north of the Prytaneion and in a small distance from the so called Small Theatre (n. 3). 


Its a misfortune that only a small part of the orchestra, the cavea and the scene are nowadays preserved, covered under the neighbouring modern buildings

5. Prytaneion

Spaces of the Prytaneion complex of Ambracia, whose presence attests to the city’s democratic form of government, were recovered next to the byzantine church of Aghia Theodora, while part of it most likely remains buried under the church.


Here were held the meetings of the prytaneis, while simultaneously, lodging and food were provided at public expense to the prytaneis, but also to honoured people or ambassadors from other cities.


In the building, where the city’s sacred fire burned, were unearthed during excavation pedestals dedicated to its gods, a marble statuette of Aphrodite, and a large number of impressive architectural members.


Symposium room


In the building complex of the Prytaneion, spaces designed for symposia with carefully rendered floors in the centre and an elevated zone for placing benches or couches around them came to light. The walls of these rooms were coated with mortar and were executed particularly well. In these rooms officials dinned and engaged in conversation.

6. A house

The city’s layout was based on the grid plan. Paved thoroughfares intersected at right angles with narrower streets forming urban units. In them, two rows were arranged, each consisting of ten houses, similar in size (15x15m), with an entry point to the street.


The main type of house in Ambracia measured 14.50x14.50m approximately, had south orientation, an upper storey, and its main entrance faced the street. From the street, a single- or double-leaf wooden door led to the interior, to the inner courtyard, around which revolved the rest of the dwelling’s spaces.


Originally, the houses had 2 or 3 rooms, but after the 4th c. BC their number increased. On the ground floor, arranged around the courtyard were the adron (room reserved for men), the oikos, the storeroom and the bath. The upper storey was occupied by the gynaeconitis, a space designed for women and children.


7. NW Cemetery - Polyandrion

There were two cemeteries in Ambracia extending on the west and east edges of Peranthi Hill, right outside the city walls. They were established shortly after the city’s foundation in the late 7th c. BC, while they remained in use throughout its history.


The northwest cemetery is a larger and better organized burial site that stretched along an impressive thoroughfare, nowadays along Kommenou Str (visible at nos 7, 8, 9).


Considering the current archaeological data, the most significant burial precinct recovered in the 1980s during rescue excavation carried out in a private land plot in the town of Arta that formed part of Ambracia’s west cemetery is the so-called Polyandrion. It is essentially a well-built monumental public cenotaph set up by the city to honour its warriors who lost their lives in a conflict during the 6th c. BC at the mouth of Arachthos River.


The inscription on its facade written in the archaic Corinthian alphabet contains the earliest reference to the city’s name “Anprakia”.

" Ἄνδρας [τ]ούσδ’ ἐσλοὺςὀλοφύρομαι hοῖσι πυραὶ βον.Παῖδεςἐμὲτίσαν τ’ ἄ[ν] κινοἐν τάφο νον. ἄνγε[νε]ὰν
μ’ ἐπιόνταςἀπ’ εὐρυχόροι[ο----]
πατρίδ’ ἄνἱμερτὰν πένθος ἔθαλλε τότε. Τοδε δ’ ἀπ’ Ἀνπρακίαςναυσὶστρατὸςαὐτὰπαθον τε. Καλλίταν τ’ Ἀίδα
δο-μα μέλαν κατέχει .
Κα εἶμὰνἈρραθίονα κα εἶεὔξενονἴστεπολιτάει .hὸςμετὰτονδ’ ἀνδρον παρέκιχεν θανάτου"


“I grieve over these glorious men, for whomox-slayings were undertaken. Children shall honour me and our generation in a cenotaph; which, those who came against me from the commodious […]

8 - 9. NW Cemetery

There were two cemeteries in Ambracia extending on the west and east edges of Peranthi Hill, right outside the city walls. They were established shortly after the city’s foundation in the late 7th c. BC, while they remained in use throughout its history.


The northwest cemetery is a larger and better organized burial site that stretched along an impressive thoroughfare, nowadays along Kommenou Str (visible at nos 7, 8, 9).


The east section of the thoroughfare, 10-12m wide, was paved featuring a raised sidewalk, while its west part was built of soil, stone-chip and shingles.


On either side of the thoroughfare, were erected meticulously built grave precincts that contained a significant number of burials, at different levels, dating from the 6th c. BC to the Early Roman period.


The simplest interment involved the placement of the deceased in a plain pit. The type of grave most frequently encountered in both cemeteries of Ambracia was the cist grave, built of local limestone, whereas it often served as a family tomb, used for more than one burial. Poros sarcophagi but also jar burials were less common.


Aside from the burial practice of the interment, cremation was also common. Urns that contained the cremated remains of the deceased were rigorously placed inside square funerary cases made of local limestone, in the interior of cist graves together with interments, or in a plain pit.


The deceased were often accompanied by clay or metal grave goods, namely their favourite objects when they were alive, that were carefully deposited in the grave by their family and formed indispensable part of the funeral ritual.


Stelae made of local limestone served as semata (grave markers) and were placed above or next to the tombs. They are inscribed with the names and the patronym of the deceased and decorated with intricate decorative vegetal or other motifs. The stelae from the cemeteries of Ambracia constitute an exquisite example of the highly advanced art of stone-carving in the ancient city, mainly during the Hellenistic period.

10. West Cemetery (on the Arachthos)

Over the last decades, it was found out that great archaeological treasures are “hidden” in the waters of Arachthos River surrounding the town of Arta. A large number of important finds that enrich our knowledge about the archaeology and topography of ancient Ambracia have been located and recorded.


Among them are included remains of funerary monuments and burial precincts, Hellenistic and Roman tombs, grave stelae, etc.


On the river’s right bank, near the Archaeological Museum of Arta, a large, inscribed funerary monument was recovered consisting of two burial enclosures, furnished with a stone stairway. The monument’s masonry was particularly well built, composed of large carved limestone orthostates. On the facade of one enclosure, an inscription written in majuscule script that contains names helped us establish the monument’s date to the 3rd-2nd c. BC.


From this site was collected an impressive pedestal of a grave stele decorated with lion’s paw feet, which is now displayed in the forecourt of the Archaeological Museum of Arta.


In the burial precinct of one of the other two excavated funerary monuments, of similar architecture, a cist grave was found behind two elaborate stone pedestals of grave stelae, decorated with lion’s paw feet.


In trial trenches dug near the afore mentioned funerary structures, parts of other enclosures have been spotted that confirm the presence of a burial road, 12m wide, with N/S orientation. Aside from these enclosures and to the west of the burial road, the remains of buildings and a well were unearthed that possibly point to ancillary installations.


These remains have changed the impression we have had so far about the size of the ancient city, and corroborate that, in antiquity, Arachthos River had a different course. These remarkable finds indicate a hitherto unknown cemetery of ancient Ambracia and lead to the assumption that these meticulous funerary structures were intended for deceased belonging to the upper class of the ancient city’s inhabitants.

11. Archaeological Museum of Arta
Το Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο Άρτας (ΑΜΑ) στεγάζεται σε ένα σύγχρονο καλαίσθητο κτήριο, που βρίσκεται στο νότιο άκρο της Άρτας, δίπλα στην ανατολική όχθη του Αράχθου, σε μικρή απόσταση από το ιστορικό Γεφύρι. Είναι αφιερωμένο αποκλειστικά στην Αμβρακία, την αποικία που ίδρυσαν οι Κορίνθιοι το 625 π.Χ. στα βόρεια πρανή του λόφου της Περάνθης, κοντά στον άλλοτε πλωτό ποταμό, και βρίσκεται σήμερα θαμμένη κάτω από τη σύγχρονη πόλη. Σύντομα, η Αμβρακία αναδείχθηκε και παρέμεινε σε όλη σχεδόν την πορεία της, το αστικό, οικονομικό και πολιτικό κέντρο της Ηπείρου. Η έκθεση του ΑΜΑ, που εστιάζει στην παρουσίαση της αστικής ζωής, οργανώνεται σε τρεις κύριες θεματικές ενότητες, «Τα εν δήμω», «Τα εν τάφω» και «Τα εν οίκω», αφιερωμένες αντίστοιχα στη δημόσια ζωή, τα νεκροταφεία και τις οικίες και την καθημερινή ζωή στην Αμβρακία. Δύο μικρές ενότητες, στην αρχή και στο τέλος της έκθεσης, λειτουργούν ως εισαγωγή και επίλογος, αντίστοιχα, της περιήγησης. Η συλλογή του ΑΜΑ περιλαμβάνει πολυάριθμα ευρήματα, από τα νεκροταφεία, τα δημόσια κτήρια και τον οικιστικό ιστό της Αμβρακίας, που καλύπτουν μία μακρά χρονική περίοδο από τους αρχαϊκούς μέχρι τους ρωμαϊκούς χρόνους. More: Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο Άρτας

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