Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Milion of Constantinople


Constantinople  -  Capital of the Western World

The Milion was a mile-marker monument erected in the early 4th century AD in Constantinople. It was the starting-place for measurement of distances for all the roads leading to the cities of the Byzantine Empire and had the same function as the Milliarium Aureum of Rome.

The domed building of the Milion rested on 4 large arches, and it was expanded and decorated with several statues and paintings. It had survived intact, following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453), for about the next 50 years, but disappeared at the start of the 16th century. During excavations in the 1960s, some partial fragments of it were discovered under houses in the area.

The remains of the monument are located in Istanbul, in the district of Eminönü, in the neighborhood of Cağaloğlu, at the northern corner of the square of Hagia Sophia, and close to the Basilica Cistern

A fragment of the Milion has been
re-erected as a pillar.

History and description

When Emperor Constantine I the Great rebuilt the city of Byzantium to make it his new imperial capital, which he named Nova Roma ("New Rome"), he consciously emulated many of the features of "Old Rome".

Among these was the Milion: it was a tetrapylon surmounted by a dome, built in the first Region of the city, near the old Walls of Constantinople, at the very beginning of the main thoroughfare of the new city, the Mese, which at that point formed a bend.

The new building fulfilled the same role as the Milliarium Aureum in Rome: it was considered as the origin of all the roads leading to the European cities of the Byzantine Empire, and on its base were inscribed the distances of all the main cities of the Empire from Constantinople.

The monument was just west of the Augustaeum, and was much more complex than its Roman counterpart. It can be described as a double triumphal arch surmounted by a dome, which was carried by four arches. It was crowned by the statues of Constantine and his mother Helena with a cross, looking towards the east, between them.

A statue of the Tyche of the City stood behind them.

From the beginning of the sixth century, the building became an increasingly important station of the imperial ceremonial. Justinian I added to it a Sundial, while Justin II adorned the lower part with the statues of his wife Sophia, his daughter Arabia and his niece Helena . The monument was also adorned with equestrian sculptures of Trajan, Hadrian, Theodosius II and a bronze Quadriga of Helios.

During the first half of the eighth century, the vaults of the building were adorned by Emperors Philippikos and Anastasios II with paintings of past ecumenical councils, but during the Iconoclastic Age, Emperor Constantine V replaced them with scenes from the Hippodrome.

During the Comnenian Age, the Milion, due to its strategic position, witnessed fights in the city, like those between Nikephoros III and Alexios I, or those between imperial troops and Empress Maria of Antioch, who from this position was controlling the Augustaeum.

In the period 1268 to 1271, after the end of the Latin Empire, the Milion — together with the Augustaeum — became property of the church of Hagia Sophia.

After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453), the building remained intact up to the end of the fifteenth century. It disappeared possibly at the beginning of the sixteenth century because of the enlargement of the nearby aqueduct and the subsequent erection of the nearby suterazi (Turkish: "water tower", lit. "water scale").

In the years 1967 and 1968, following theoretical studies about the location of the monument and after the demolition of the houses placed above it, excavations revealed some foundations and a fragment (now re-erected as a pillar) belonging to the building. These remains could be positively identified as belonging to the Milion thanks to their vicinity to a part of bent Byzantine canalization. This seems to indicate the angle of the disappeared Mese, as reported by the literary sources.

Computer Re-Construction of the Milion.
This image used under FAIR USE from Byzantium1200.
Review for comment, criticism and scholarship as allowed under FAIR USE section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
The Milion was the Golden Milestone in the center of the city, close to the Basilica, the Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia, on which the distances to the important cities of the empire were inscribed. Built shortly after the foundation, it was restored in the time of Justinian and is last mentioned in 1268. According to the texts it was a tetrapylon, i. e. a square of four pillars connected by arches and covered by a domical vault.
The historians and artists at Byzantium 1200 did an respectable job recreating a building but not much more than that.  Not a lot of thought went into this project.  Still it is always worth the effort to review their website. 
(Milion of Constantinople)

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