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

Friday, January 6, 2017

The missing Byzantine column of Venice

A gift to Venice from the Eastern Empire.
The famous bronze winged lion atop the column on Piazzetta San Marco, where the piazza opens onto the end of the Grand Canal and the bacino—probably a Hellenistic work of the 4th or 3rd century BC, taken from a tomb in Tarsus or Cilicia. (Photo by Jakub Hałun)  

Venice and the Empire

There are no surviving historical records dealing directly with the founding of Venice, but the area itself had been under Roman control for centuries.

Some late Roman sources reveal the existence of fishermen on the islands in the original marshy lagoons. They were referred to as incolae lacunae ("lagoon dwellers"). The traditional founding is identified with the dedication of the first church, that of San Giacomo on the islet of Rialto (Rivoalto, "High Shore") — said to have taken place at the stroke of noon on 25 March 421.

Roman defenses were overthrown in the early 5th century by the Visigoths and, some 50 years later, by the Huns led by Attila. The last and most enduring immigration into the north of the Italian peninsula, that of the Lombards in 568, left the Eastern Roman Empire a small strip of coast in the current Veneto, including Venice.

The Roman/Byzantine territory was organized as the Exarchate of Ravenna, administered from that ancient port and overseen by a viceroy (the Exarch) appointed by the Emperor in Constantinople, but Ravenna and Venice were connected only by sea routes; and with the Venetians' isolated position came increasing autonomy. New ports were built, including those at Malamocco and Torcello in the Venetian lagoon. The tribuni maiores, the earliest central standing governing committee of the islands in the Lagoon, dated from c. 568.

Flag of the Republic of Venice
The coat of arms of the Region is set in a square in the 
center of the flag: the Lion of Saint Mark.

The traditional first doge of VenicePaolo Lucio Anafesto, was actually Exarch Paul, and his successor, Marcello Tegalliano, was Paul's magister militum (General: literally, "Master of Soldiers"). In 726 the soldiers and citizens of the Exarchate rose in a rebellion over the iconoclastic controversy at the urging of Pope Gregory II. The Exarch was murdered and many officials put to flight in the chaos.

An agreement between the Western Emperor Charlemagne and the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus in 814 recognized Venice as Byzantine territory and granted the city trading rights along the Adriatic coast.

In 828 the new city's prestige increased with the acquisition of the claimed relics of St Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, which were placed in the new basilica. (Winged lions, visible throughout Venice, symbolize St Mark.) 

As the community continued to develop and as Byzantine power waned, its autonomy grew, leading to eventual independence.

The Mystery of the Missing
Byzantine Column
The lost Byzantine column may be at the 
bottom of the Venetian lagoon.

(London Telegraph)  -  A group of explorers hopes to solve one of Venice’s most enduring mysteries – the fate of a giant triumphal column that is believed to have disappeared nearly 1,000 years ago.

The huge granite column was one of three that were delivered to Venice by boat in 1172.

Brought from Constantinople, they were a gift from the Byzantine Empire in recognition of Venice’s help in the Second Crusade. 

But, according to historical accounts, during the difficult process of transferring them from the boats to dry land, the pillar toppled overboard, sinking beneath the waves of the Venetian lagoon.

The two surviving columns were eventually erected and still stand at one end of St Mark’s Square, which Napoleon famously described as “the drawing room of Europe”.

On top of one of them is a winged lion – the symbol of Venice – while on top of the other is a statue of St Theodore, who was once the city’s patron saint until being supplanted by St Mark, holding a spear and with a crocodile at his feet – a representation of the dragon that he is said to have vanquished.

Now a team of researchers plans to embark on a search for the missing third column, which if recovered could one day take its place between the two existing columns.

They believe it is lies on the lagoon floor, a few hundred yards from the banks of St Mark’s Square.

Europe in 814 AD at the 
death of Charles the Great.
At this point Venice and the coastal zone is still part of the Eastern Roman Empire.
As Roman power faded in Italy we see the new Republic of Venice 

break off and become independent.
(Read More)

Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square.

“If the lagoon floor had been muddy, the column would have sunk without trace and would be impossible to recover,” said Roberto Padoan, a diver and mariner who leads the project. “But in the area in front of St Mark’s the lagoon floor is made of clay. I’m convinced the column is down there.” 

He believes that the column may rest at a comparatively shallow depth – perhaps 30ft beneath the surface of the water. 

According to contemporary accounts, it was topped with a statue of a nobleman wearing a “corno ducale” or doge’s cap, a tribute to Venice’s rulers. 

Venice’s cultural heritage department is expected to give the green light to a non-invasive search of the lagoon floor this week. 

A network of 20 electronic sensors, to be installed on the canal banks, will emit sonar waves to try to detect the column beneath the mud. 

Mr Padoan has teamed up with two Italian companies that specialise in underwater exploration, ground-penetrating radar and seismic studies.

The area to be searched is relatively small – a stretch of water between the Marciana Library and the Ponte della Paglia, which looks onto the more famous Bridge of Sighs. 

A Venetian War Galley 
The galley above had 186 oars, 62 tri-stations. Venice became a major military power and often helped the Eastern Empire in its wars against Islam. As early as the mid-500s Venice twice sent its fleet to help Constantinople.

“Finding the column would be an incredible discovery,” Mr Padoan told La Repubblica newspaper. “If we manage it, we’d have to do everything possible to raise it from the lagoon.”

Raising the column would be a very costly operation, involving barges, cranes and steel cables, and the researchers are seeking funds from private sponsors. 

The recovery operation would affect a stretch of the canal bank that is used by gondolas and water taxis.

The surviving two columns frame the grand entrance to St Mark’s Square and provided an imposing first sight of the city for visitors arriving by boat. 

Although they were delivered to Venice in the 12th century, it was not until decades later that they were erected, such were the technical challenges of the job. 

In the end the task was achieved by an Italian engineer, Niccolo Barattieri, who, in return, asked for the right to set up gambling tables between them. 

The doge agreed, but the gambling soon got out of control, and to put a dampener on proceedings Venice’s rulers decided to use the pillars to string up local criminals. 

Superstitious Venetians still avoid walking between the two columns.

The story of the lost column is one of Venice’s oldest legends, but is almost certainly based on fact, a historian said.

“It is cited by all the sources, including the very oldest, which were written shortly after the disembarkation of the columns in 1172,” said Alberto Toso Fei, an author and journalist.

“I’m convinced that it’s based on a historical event because when a story is repeated down the centuries, it always contains some truth.

“What is not possible to know with any certainty is whether the third column was as large as the other and whether it, like them, had a symbol of Venice on top. And we don’t know from the sources if it sank near St Mark’s or in another part of the lagoon. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it really is there, lying under the mud.”

The column of St. Theodore in Venice.
The column was a gift to Venice in the 12th century from the Eastern Roman Emperor for the Republic's help in the Second Crusade.

Also in Venice
The Horses of Saint Mark, also known as the Triumphal Quadriga, is a set of Roman bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing).

The horses, along with the quadriga with which they were depicted, were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. They were still there in 1204, when they were looted by Venetian forces as part of the sack of the capital of the Byzantine Empire in the Fourth Crusade

(Telegraph)      (Horses of Saint Mark)      (modelshipmaster)      (Venice)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice piece .If they found and take that column out of the water , it will be fantastic for Venice .