About 91 km E-SE
of Istanbul at the head of the Gulf of Nicomedia; the
modern İsmit. Nicomedia was founded about 264 B.C.
by Nicomedes I of Bithynia (Strab. 12.4.2
) on the site
of the Greek colony of Olbia. First the capital of the
Bithynian kingdom (Memnon 20.1), and later of the
Roman province of Bithynia, Nicomedia was astride the
great highroad connecting Europe and the East, and was
a port as well; Nicaea was its rival. It is mentioned frequently in the Letters
of the younger Pliny (esp. Book 10) and by Dio Cassius (esp. in Books 73, 78, and 79).
Sextus Pompeius, in flight, halted there in 36 B.C. (Dio
Cass. 49.18.3); a few years later Octavian allowed the
Bithynians to consecrate a precinct to his name in the
town (Dio Cass. 51.20.7). Passages in Dio Chrysostom
. 38, and 47.16) evoke a prosperous and growing
metropolis, and the city's buildings and water supply
came repeatedly to the attention of Trajan and Pliny
when the latter was governor of Bithynia. Emperors
visited and wintered there (Dio Cass. 78.18-19, and 79.8
and 35), a garrison existed (Plin. Ep
. 10.74), and the
city, a major one in later antiquity, housed a statio of the
imperial post and a fleet headquarters. Sacked by the
Goths in A.D. 256, Nicomedia became, in Diocletian's
time, the much adorned E capital of the Empire (Lactant.
De mort. pers
. 17.2-9), but the foundation of Constantinople and severe earthquakes in the 4th and 5th c.
greatly reduced its importance (Amm. Marc. 22.9.3).
Something of a renaissance resulted from the care of
Theodosius II (A.D. 408-50). There is a varied and important coinage.
Little excavation has taken place, and much that could
be seen in the last century is no longer visible. Vestiges
of a Hellenistic building of unknown function have come
to light. Along the contours of Nicomedia's hilly site exist stretches of the Roman walls (with Byzantine and
Turkish restorations and additions); they are of late
antique construction—rows of brick alternating with
rows of stone. At their NE limit are the remains of a
high tower, and beside this is the gate to the road leading
N to the Euxine. Parts of the harbor wall, which could
be seen until a generation ago, were of typically Roman
brickwork. Marble elements of a very large nymphaeum
of the 2d c. A.D. have been found (İstanbul street), and E
of the city there are the remains of two if not three aqueducts (Plin. Ep
. 10.37), one of which appears to rest on
foundations of Hellenistic date (Libanius, Or
speaks of the copious supply of water to Nicomedia in the
4th c. A.D.). In the E district of the city, at the old Jewish cemetery, there are the ruins of a late Roman cistern of considerable size, built of reduplicated bays roofed with saucer domes of brick carried on piers. Major ancient drains were in use in İsmit until 1933.
Inscriptions, coins, and texts record, among others: a
Temple of Roma (29 B.C., the meeting place of the provincial assembly); a Temple of Demeter, and satellite
structures, in a large rectangular precinct on the hill
visible from the harbor; a theater nearby; a colonnaded
street (a few bits were once seen) probably leading
from Demeter's precinct to the harbor; a forum (Plin.
. 10.49); a Temple of Isis and a hall for the Gerusia
(10.33); a Temple of Commodus (Dio Cass. 73.12.2);
and, for Diocletian, a palace, an armory, a mint, and
new shipyards were built. Evidence of necropoleis
abounds, and about 8 km N of the city are tumuli which
may be the tombs of the Bithynian kings. One coin hails
Hadrian as Restitutor Nicomedine.
Pliny (and Justinian and Suleiman the Magnificent
after him) hoped to finish the canal, long proposed, between the Propontis and the Euxine via Nicomedia, the
Sabanja Göl (Lake Sunonensis in Amm. Marc. 26.8.3)
and the Sangarios system (E
p. 41 and 61); the project
was never realized. There is a modest museum in the
town, and objects from Nicomedia can be seen in the
archaeological museums of Istanbul and Izmir.
XVII (1937) 468-92; D. Magie,
Roman Rule in Asia Minor
(1950, repr. 1966); F. G.
Moore, “Three Canal Projects, Roman and Byzantine,”
54.2 (1950) 97-111MPI
; M. Firlati, İzmit rehberi
(1959; shorter French version 1964)PI
5 (1963) 455-57I
; A. M. Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny
(1966) refs. on p. 798.
W. L. MAC DONALD