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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

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Constantinople - Capital of the Roman Empire

 

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Constantinople - Capital of Western Civilization.

A friend emailed me some recreations of Constantinople off the internet. My favorite is the photo above. This one photo displays the glory of the Eastern Empire: the Hippodrome, the Great Palace and Hagia Sophia.

Many historians look down on Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire. Many look down because they are snobs. Many others out of ignorance.

To compare you need to look at European life outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire. For example, take Paris around the year 500 AD. It was an overgrown village of perhaps 20,000 mostly illiterate people basically living in their own filth.

In the same year of 500 AD Constantinople had a sophisticated urban population of about 500,000 people. The city was served by a strong government, a professional military, libraries, schools, hospitals, entertainment, aqueducts and more. It was also capital of a Roman Empire that stretched from North Africa to Persia to the Balkans.

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Eastern Roman Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453).

In founding the new city the Emperor Constantine stimulated private building by promising householders gifts of land from the imperial estates in Asiana and Pontica and on 18 May 332 he announced that, as in Rome, free distributions of food would be made to the citizens. At the time, the amount is said to have been 80,000 rations a day, doled out from 117 distribution points around the city.

From the mid-5th century to the early 13th century, Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe.

These photos help us understand a vanished civilization.

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The Imperial University of Constantinople, sometimes known as the University of the Palace Hall of Magnaura, was an Eastern Roman educational institution that could trace its corporate origins to 425 AD, when it was founded by the Emperor Theodosius II.

The original school was founded in 425 by Emperor Theodosius II with 31 chairs for lawphilosophymedicinearithmeticgeometryastronomymusicrhetoric and other subjects, 15 to Latin and 16 to Greek. The university existed until the 15th century.

Eastern Roman society on the whole was an educated one. Primary education was widely available, sometimes even at village level and uniquely in that era for both sexes. Female participation in culture was high. Scholarship was fostered not only in Constantinople but also in institutions operated in such major cities as Antioch and Alexandria.


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The Imperial Library of Constantinople, in the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire, was the last of the great libraries of the ancient world. Long after the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria and the other ancient libraries, it preserved the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans for almost 1,000 years.

The majority of Greek classics known today are known through copies originating from the Imperial Library of Constantinople. The library is estimated to have contained well over 100,000 volumes of ancient text.


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Sir Steven Runciman, historian of the Crusades, wrote that the sack of Constantinople is "unparalleled in history".

For nine centuries, [...] the great city had been the capital of Christian civilisation. It was filled with works of art that had survived from ancient Greece and with the masterpieces of its own exquisite craftsmen. The Venetians [...] seized treasures and carried them off to adorn [...] their town. But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder or to rape, or to break open the wine-cellars [...] . Neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared. In Hagia Sophia itself, drunken soldiers could be seen tearing down the silken hangings and pulling the great silver iconostasis to pieces, while sacred books and icons were trampled under foot. While they drank merrily from the altar-vessels a prostitute set herself on the Patriarch's throne and began to sing a ribald French song. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes [...] continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles. [...] When [...] order was restored, [...] citizens were tortured to make them reveal the goods that they had contrived to hide.



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The Wondrous Waters of Constantinople

This computer recreation of Constantinople gives us a stunning visual of what the city looked like.

Click on the YouTube link to watch.


(Constantinople)


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Senate's Election of Emperor Justin

 

The Sword Behind The Throne


The threat of violence. The photo above of Commodus twirling his sword during a meeting of the Senate really says it all. The Senate has the right to vote - but only if it votes for the "correct" candidate or law.

It was no different with the Senate of Constantinople than the Senate in Rome.

At best the Senate's "election" of an Emperor was a fig leaf to hide from the people the naked power of the military selecting and perhaps controlling the next leader.

In this case the Emperor Anastasius died childless in Constantinople on 9 July 518. A new Emperor would have to be legally chosen or a violent civil war might happen.

"Magically" Justin, who had risen through the ranks of the army to become commander of the Imperial Guard, was selected as Emperor.

As a young man Justin joined the palace guard, the excubitors. He served in various positions, campaigning against the Isaurians and the Sassanian Persians and was noticed for his bravery. Because of his ability he was successively appointed a tribune, a comes, a senator and, under the Emperor Anastasius I, the influential position of comes excubitorum, commander of the palace guard.

Justin's approval by the Senate was not automatic. This implies a certain amount of power in the Senate and/or tradition requiring the support of that body.


The Election of Justin


History of the Later Roman Empire

by J. B. Bury

published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,
1923

Anastasius had made no provision for a successor to the throne, and there was no Augusta to influence the election. Everything turned out in a way that no one could have foreseen. The most natural solution might have seemed to be the choice of one of the late Emperor's three nephews, Probus, Pompeius, or Hypatius. They were men of average ability, and one of them, at least, Pompeius, did not share his uncle's sympathy with the Monophysitic creed. But they were not ambitious, and perhaps their claims were not seriously urged.

The High Chamberlain Amantius hoped to play the part which Urbicius had played on the death of Zeno, and he attempted to secure the throne for a certain Theocritus, otherwise unknown, who had probably no qualification but personal devotion to himself. As the attitude of the Palace guards would probably decide the election, he gave money to Justin, the Count of the Excubitors, to bribe the troops.

In the morning (July 9) the people assembled in the Hippodrome and acclaimed the Senate. "Long live the Senate! Senate of the Romans, tu vincas! We demand our Emperor, given by God, for the army; we demand our Emperor, given by God, for the world!" The high officials, the senators, and   the Patriarch had gathered in the Palace, clad most of them in mouse-coloured garments, and sat in the great hall, the Triklinos of the Nineteen Akkubita. Celer, the Master of Offices, urged them to decide quickly on a name and to act promptly before others (the army or the people) could wrest the initiative from their hands. 

But they were unable to agree, and in the meantime the Excubitors and the Scholarians   were acting in the Hippodrome. The Excubitors proclaimed John, a tribune and a friend of Justin, and raised him on a shield. But the Blues would not have him; they threw stones and some of them were killed by the Excubitors. Then the Scholarians put forward an unnamed patrician and Master of Soldiers, but the Excubitors would not accept him and he was in danger of his life. He was rescued by the efforts of Justin's nephew, the candidatus Justinian. The Excubitors then wished to proclaim Justinian himself, but he refused to accept the diadem. As each of these persons was proposed, their advocates knocked at the Ivory Gate, which communicated between the Palace and the Hippodrome, and called upon the chamberlains to deliver the Imperial robes. But on the announcement of the name, the chamberlains refused.


At length, the Senate ended their deliberations by the election of Justin, and constrained him to accept the purple. He appeared in the Kathisma of the Hippodrome and was favourably received by the people; the Scholarians alone, jealous of the Excubitors, resented the choice. The coronation rite was immediately performed in the Kathisma. Arrayed in the Imperial robes, which the chamberlains at last delivered, he was crowned by the Patriarch John; he took the lance and shield, and was acclaimed Basileus by the assembly. 

To the troops he promised a donation of five nomismata (£3: 7: 6) and one pound of silver for each man.

Such is the official description of the circumstances of the election of Justin. If it is true so far as it goes, it is easy to see that there was much behind that has been suppressed. The intrigue of Amantius is ignored. Not a word is said of the candidature of Theocritus which Justin had undertaken to support. 

If Justin had really used his influence with the   Excubitors and the money which had been entrusted to him in the interest of Theocritus, it is hardly credible that the name of Theocritus would not have been proposed in the Hippodrome. If, on the other hand, he had worked in his own interest, as was naturally alleged after the event, how was it that other names, but not his, were put forward by the Excubitors? 

The data seem to point to the conclusion that the whole mise en scène was elaborately planned by Justin and his friends. They knew that he could not count on the support of the Scholarians, and, if he were proclaimed by his own troops alone, the success of his cause would be doubtful. The problem therefore was to manage that the initiation should proceed from the Senate, whose authority, supported by the Excubitors, would rally general consent and overpower the resistance of the Scholarian guards. It was therefore arranged that the Excubitors should propose candidates who had no chance of being chosen, with the design of working on the fears of the Senate. 

The ultimate power behind all thrones

Justin's friends in the Senate could argue with force: "Hasten to agree, or you will be forestalled, and some wholly unsuitable person will be thrust upon us. But you must choose one who will be acceptable to the Excubitors. Justin fulfils this condition. He may not be an ideal candidate for the throne, but he is old and moderate." But, however the affair may have been managed by the wirepullers, Justin ascended the throne with the prestige of having been regularly nominated by the Senate, and he could announce to the Pope that "We have been elected to the Empire by the favour of the indivisible Trinity, by the choice of the highest ministers of the sacred Palace, and of the Senate, and finally by the election of the army."

The new Emperor, who was about sixty-six years of age, was an Illyrian peasant. He was born in the village of Bederiana in the province of Dardania, not far from Scupi, of which the name survives in the town of Üsküb, and his native language was Latin. Like hundreds of other country youths, he set forth   with a bag of bread on his back and walked to Constantinople to better his fortune by enlisting in the army. Two friends accompanied him, and all three, recommended by their physical qualities, were enrolled in the Palace guards. 

Justin served in the Isaurian and Persian wars of Anastasius, rose to be Count of the Excubitors, distinguished himself in the repulse of Vitalian, and received senatorial rank. He had no qualifications for the government of a province, not to say of an Empire; for he had no knowledge except of military matters, and he was uneducated. It is even said that he could not write and was obliged, like Theoderic the Ostrogoth, to use a mechanical device for signing documents.

He had married a captive whom he had purchased and who was at first his concubine. Her name was Lupicina, but she was crowned Augusta under the more decorous name of Euphemia. In his successful career the peasant of Bederiana had not forgotten his humble relatives or his native place. His sister, wife of Sabbatius, lived at the neighbouring village of Tauresium and had two children, Petrus Sabbatius and Vigilantia. He adopted his elder nephew, brought him to Constantinople, and took care that he enjoyed the advantages of an excellent education. The young man discarded the un-Roman names of Peter and Sabbatius and was known by the adoptive name of Justinianus. He was enrolled among the candidati. Justin had other nephews and seems to have cared also for their fortunes. They were liberally educated and were destined to  play parts of varying distinction and importance on the political scene.

The first care of Justin was to remove the disaffected; Amantius and Theocritus were executed, and three others were punished by death or exile. His next was to call to Constantinople the influential leader who had shaken the throne of Anastasius. Before he came to the city, Vitalian must have been assured of the religious orthodoxy of the new Emperor, and he came prepared to take part in the reconciliation of Rome with the Eastern Churches. He was immediately created Master of Soldiers in praesenti, and in A.D. 520 he was consul for the year. The throne of Justin seemed to be firmly established. The relatives of Anastasius were loyal; Pompeius co-operated with Justinian and Vitalian in the restoration of ecclesiastical unity. Marinus, the trusted counseller of the late sovran, was Praetorian Prefect of the East in A.D. 519.

In the spring of A.D. 527 Justin was stricken down by a dangerous illness, and he yielded to the solicitations of the Senate to co-opt Justinian as his colleague. The act of coronation was performed in the great Triklinos in the Palace (on April 4), and it seems that the Patriarch, in the absence of the Emperor, placed the diadem on the head of the new Augustus. The subsequent ceremonies were carried out in the Delphax, where the Imperial guards were assembled, and not, as was usual, in the Hippodrome. Justin recovered, but only to survive for a few months. He died on August 1, from an ulcer in the foot where, in one of his old campaigns, he had been wounded by an arrow.

The gold Solidus of Emperor Justin I


(J.B. Bury)    (Justin I)


Monday, December 21, 2020

The Constantinople Riots Of 532 AD - The Blues and the Greens


Chariot races and games at Constantinople's Hippodrome
were the center of social and political life in the city.



"Bread and circuses,” the poet Juvenal wrote scathingly. “That’s all the common people want.” 

Food and entertainment. Or to put it another way, basic sustenance and bloodshed, because the most popular entertainments offered by the circuses of Rome were the gladiators and chariot racing, the latter often as deadly as the former. 

As many as 12 four-horse teams raced one another seven times around the confines of the greatest arenas—the Circus Maximus in Rome was 2,000 feet long, but its track was not more than 150 feet wide—and rules were few, collisions all but inevitable, and hideous injuries to the charioteers extremely commonplace. Ancient inscriptions frequently record the deaths of famous racers in their early 20s, crushed against the stone spina that ran down the center of the race track or dragged behind their horses after their chariots were smashed.

Charioteers, who generally started out as slaves, took these risks because there were fortunes to be won. Successful racers who survived could grow enormously wealthy—another Roman poet, Martial, grumbled in the first century A.D. that it was possible to make as much as 15 bags of gold for winning a single race. 

Diocles, the most successful charioteer of them all, earned an estimated 36 million sesterces in the course of his glittering career, a sum sufficient to feed the whole city of Rome for a year. Spectators, too, wagered and won substantial sums, enough for the races to be plagued by all manner of dirty tricks; there is evidence that the fans sometimes hurled nail-studded curse tablets onto the track in an attempt to disable their rivals.

In the days of the Roman republic, the races featured four color-themed teams, the Reds, the Whites, the Greens and the Blues, each of which attracted fanatical support. By the sixth century A.D., after the western half of the empire fell, only two of these survived—the Greens had incorporated the Reds, and the Whites had been absorbed into the Blues. But the two remaining teams were wildly popular in the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, which had its capital at Constantinople, and their supporters were as passionate as ever—so much so that they were frequently responsible for bloody riots.

Exactly what the Blues and the Greens stood for remains a matter of dispute among historians. For a long time it was thought that the two groups gradually evolved into what were essentially early political parties, the Blues representing the ruling classes and standing for religious orthodoxy, and the Greens being the party of the people. The Greens were also depicted as proponents of the highly divisive theology of Monophysitism, an influential heresy which held that Christ was not simultaneously divine and human but had only a single nature. (In the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., it threatened to tear the Byzantine Empire apart.) 

After about 500 the rivalry between the Greens and the Blues escalated and spread well outside Constantinople’s chariot racing track, the Hippodrome–a slightly smaller version of the Circus Maximus whose central importance to the capital is illustrated by its position directly adjacent to the main imperial palace. (Byzantine emperors had their own entrance to the arena, a passageway that led directly from the palace to their private box.) This friction came to a head during the reign of Justinian (c. 482-565), one of Byzantium’s greatest but most controversial emperors.

The Bloody Riots of the Empire
The races held in cities around the Empire sometimes became a focal point for religion and politics as well as simple football hooliganismIn 501, for example, the Greens ambushed the Blues in Constantinople’s amphitheater and massacred 3,000 of them. Four years later, in Antioch, there was a riot caused by the triumph of a Green charioteer who had defected from the Blues. 

In 507 AD a faction led an attack on the Jewish synagogue in Antioch. "They set fire to it, plundered everything that was in the synagogue and massacred many people," setting up a cross there and turning the site into a martyrium. One faction leader helped rally support for the Emperor Anastasius during the revolt of Vitalian in AD 515 (cf. Epigram 350, where the emperor, "with the Greens to assist him, warred with the furiously raging enemy of the throne"). In appreciation, Anastasius, who, himself, favored the Reds, restored the privileges of the Greens. 


Image from Istanbul Life.org
Like the Colosseum in Rome, the Hippodrome
was the social center of Constantinople


The great weakness in the Empire was the decline of the different Roman assemblies so the people had no way of peacefully changing their government. By the time of Justinian the eastern Senate had become a rubber stamp institution with little power. The Emperor of the moment could trample on the rights of the people at will.

We see in Procopius' Secret History a true account of the massive corruption, insane spending, lawlessness, attacks on religious minorities and the savage dictatorship of the royal family.

All of the above helped set off the riots.  But these two threads—the fast-growing importance of the circus factions and the ever-increasing burden of taxation—combined in 532 to spark the flame. By this time, John of Cappadocia had been appointed Praetorian Prefect of the East, he had introduced no fewer than 26 new taxes, many of which fell, for the first time, on Rome’s wealthiest citizens. 

This discontent sent shock waves through the imperial city, which were only magnified when Justinian reacted harshly to an outbreak of fighting between the Greens and the Blues at the races of January 10. Sensing the disorder had the potential to spread, and eschewing his allegiance to the Blues, the emperor sent in his troops. Seven of the ringleaders in the rioting were condemned to death.

But on January 10, 532, two of them, a Blue and a Green, escaped and were taking refuge in the sanctuary of a church surrounded by an angry mobThe Blues and the Greens responded by demanding that the two men be pardoned entirely.

Adding fuel to this tinder box was Justinian's policy to try and make his power completely independent of the Senate and the Imperial Council. That caused deep animosity in the senatorial class, and the disaffected senators seized the opportunity to direct the rising against the throne.

The plan was to set on the throne one of the nephews of the former Emperor Anastasius - either Pompeius or Hypatius.

On January 13, 532, a tense and angry populace arrived at the Hippodrome for the races. The Hippodrome was next to the palace complex, and thus Justinian could watch from the safety of his box in the palace and preside over the races. 

From the start, the crowd had been hurling insults at Justinian. By the end of the day, at race 22, the partisan chants had changed from "Blue" or "Green" to a unified Nίκα ("Nika", meaning "Win!" "Victory!" or "Conquer!"), and the crowds broke out and began to assault the palace. For the next five days, the palace was under siege. The fires that started during the tumult resulted in the destruction of much of the city, including the city's foremost church, the Hagia Sophia. 


Belisarius and his Staff
Flavius Belisarius (c. 500 – 565) He was instrumental in the reconquest of much of the Mediterranean territory belonging to the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost less than a century prior.


A map of the palace quarter, with the 
Hippodrome and the Hagia Sophia



The city was burning and the Imperial Palace under siege. 

It was assuredly high time for the Emperor to employ military force to restore order. But Justinian's hold on power was so weak that the Palace guards, the Scholarians and Excubitors, were unwilling to do anything to defend the throne. They had no feeling of personal devotion to Justinian, and they decided to do nothing and await events.

Fortunately for Justinian there happened to be troops of a more irregular kind in the city, and two loyal and experienced commanders.   Belisarius, who as Master of Soldiers in the East had been conducting the war against Persia, had recently been recalled, and he had in his service a considerable body of armed retainers, chiefly of Gothic race. Mundus, a general who had done good service in the defense of the Danube, was also in the capital with a force of Heruls. But all the soldiers on whom the Emperor could count can hardly have reached the number of 1500.

It was perhaps on Thursday (January 15) that Belisarius rode forth at the head of Goths and Heruls to suppress the revolution. There was a battle, possibly in the Augusteum; many were killed; but the soldiers were too few to win a decisive victory, and the attack only exasperated the people.

During the two following days there was desultory street fighting, and another series of conflagrations. On Friday the mob again set fire to the Praetorium, which had only been partly damaged, and also set fire to the baths of Alexander.

The people thronged to the house of Hypatius, and in spite of his own reluctance and the entreaties of his wife Maria, who cried that he was being taken to his death, carried him to the Forum of Constantine, where he was crowned with a golden chain wreathed like a diadem.

Justinian sent out a trusted eunuch, named Narses, to the Hippodrome with a well-filled purse to sow dissensions and attempt to detach the Blue faction from the rebellion. He could insinuate that Hypatius, like his uncle, would be sure to protect their rivals the Greens, and remind them of the favor which Justinian had shown them in time past and of the unwavering goodwill of Theodora.

While Narses fulfilled this mission, Belisarius and Mundus prepared to attack.

Belisarius drew his sword and gave the word to charge the crowd. Though many of the populace had arms, there was no room in the dense throng to attempt an orderly resistance, and confronted by the band of disciplined soldiers the mob was intimidated and gave way. Moreover there were dissensions among them, for the bribes of Narses had not been fruitless. 

They were cut down without mercy, and then Mundus appeared with his Heruls to help Belisarius in the work of slaughter. Mundus had left the Palace by another way, and he now entered the Hippodrome by a gate known as Nekra. The insurgents were between two fires, and there was a great carnage. 

It was said that the number of the slain exceeded 30,000.

Two nephews of Justinian, Boraides and Justus, then entered the Kathisma without meeting resistance. They seized Hypatius, who had witnessed the battle from his throne, and secured Pompeius, who was with him. The brothers were taken into the Palace, and, notwithstanding the tears of Pompeius and the pleadings of Hypatius that he had acted under compulsion, they were executed on the following day and their bodies were cast into the sea.

This gave the Emperor the opportunity of taking vigorous measures to break down the opposition of the senatorial nobles to his autocracy. There were no more executions, but eighteen senators who had taken a leading part in the conspiracy were punished by the confiscation of their property and banishment. 

At a later time, when he felt quite secure, Justinian pardoned them and restored to them any of their possessions which he had not already bestowed on others, and a similar restitution was even made to the children of Hypatius and Pompeius.

Emperor Justinian

The list of people angry with Justinian was very long. Only through the mass slaughter of his own people could he hold on to power.

The Historian Procopius wrote in his Secret History:   "Of the plundering of property or the murder of men, no weariness ever overtook him. As soon as he had looted all the houses of the wealthy, he looked around for others; meanwhile throwing away the spoils of his previous robberies in subsidies to barbarians or senseless building extravagances. And when he had ruined perhaps myriads in this mad looting, he immediately sat down to plan how he could do likewise to others in even greater number."

____________________



Accompanying the Roman general Belisarius in Emperor Justinian's wars, Procopius became the principal Roman historian of the 6th century, writing the History of the Wars, the Buildings, and the Secret History. He is commonly classified as the last major historian of the ancient Western world.


By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The History of the Wars, Book One



At this same time an insurrection broke out unexpectedly in Byzantium among the populace, and, contrary to expectation, it proved to be a very serious affair, and ended in great harm to the people and to the senate, as the following account will shew. 

In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowing not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy in the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straightway to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. 

So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives
 place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. 

They care neither for things divine nor human in comparison with conquering in these struggles; and it matters not whether a sacrilege is committed by anyone at all against God, or whether the laws and the constitution are violated by friend or by foe; nay even when they are perhaps ill supplied with the necessities of life, and when their fatherland is in the most pressing need and suffering unjustly, they pay no heed if only it is likely to go well with their "faction"; for so they name the bands of partisans. And even women join with them in this unholy strife, and they not only follow the men, but even resist them if opportunity offers, although they neither go to the public exhibitions at all, nor are they impelled by any other cause; so that I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul. This, then, is pretty well how matters stand among the people of each and every city.

But at this time the officers of the city administration in Byzantium were leading away to death some of the rioters. But the members of the two factions, conspiring together and declaring a truce with each other, seized the prisoners and then straightway entered the prison and released all those who were in confinement there, whether they had been condemned on a charge of stirring up sedition, or for any other unlawful act. And all the attendants in the service of the city government were killed indiscriminately; meanwhile, all of the citizens who were

 sane-minded were fleeing to the opposite mainland, and fire was applied to the city as if it had fallen under the hand of an enemy. 

The sanctuary of Sophia and the baths of Zeuxippus, and the portion of the imperial residence from the propylaea as far as the so-called House of Ares were destroyed by fire, and besides these both the great colonnades which extended as far as the market place which bears the name of Constantine, in addition to many houses of wealthy men and a vast amount of treasure. During this time the emperor and his consort with a few members of the senate shut themselves up in the palace and remained quietly there. Now the watch-word which the populace passed around to one another was Nika, and the insurrection has been called by this name up to the present time.


The Obelisk of Theodosius in  what is left of the Hippodrome. Theodosius the Great, who in 390 brought an obelisk from Egypt and erected it inside the racing track. Carved from pink granite, it was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Thutmose III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople.

Computer recreations by Byzantium 1200 of the obelisk and the Hippodrome as it may have looked in the year 1200.




The praetorian prefect at that time was John the Cappadocian, and Tribunianus, a Pamphylian by birth, was counsellor to the emperor; this person the Romans call "quaestor." One of these two men, John, was entirely without the advantages of a liberal education; for he learned nothing while attending the elementary school except his letters, and these, too, poorly enough; but by his natural ability he became the most powerful man of whom we know. For he was most capable in deciding upon what was needful and in finding a solution for difficulties. But he became the basest of all men and employed his natural power to further his low designs; neither consideration for God nor any shame before man entered into his mind, but to destroy the lives of many men for the sake of gain and to wreck whole cities was his

 constant concern. 

So within a short time indeed he had acquired vast sums of money, and he flung himself completely into the sordid life of a drunken scoundrel; for up to the time of lunch each day he would plunder the property of his subjects, and for the rest of the day occupy himself with drinking and with wanton deeds of lust. And he was utterly unable to control himself, for he ate food until he vomited, and he was always ready to steal money and more ready to bring it out and spend it. Such a man then was John. 

Tribunianus, on the other hand, both possessed natural ability and in educational attainments was inferior to none of his contemporaries; but he was extraordinarily fond of the pursuit of money and always ready to sell justice for gain; therefore every day, as a rule, he was repealing some laws and proposing others, selling off to those who requested it either favour according to their need.

Now as long as the people were waging this war with each other in behalf of the names of the colours, no attention was paid to the offences of these men against the constitution; but when the factions came to a mutual understanding, as has been said, and so began the sedition, then openly throughout the whole city they began to abuse the two and went about seeking them to kill. Accordingly the emperor, wishing to win the people to his side, instantly dismissed both these men from office. 

And Phocas, a patrician, he appointed praetorian prefect, a man of the greatest discretion and fitted by nature to be a guardian of justice; Basilides he commanded to fill the office of quaestor, a man known among the patricians for his agreeable qualities and a notable besides. However,
 the insurrection continued no less violently under them. 

Now on the fifth day of the insurrection in the late afternoon the Emperor Justinian gave orders to Hypatius and Pompeius, nephews of the late emperor, Anastasius, to go home as quickly as possible, either because he suspected that some plot was being matured by them against his own person, or, it may be, because destiny brought them to this. But they feared that the people would force them to the throne (as in fact fell out), and they said that they would be doing wrong if they should abandon their sovereign when he found himself in such danger. 

When the Emperor Justinian heard this, he inclined still more to his suspicion, and he bade them quit the palace instantly. Thus, then, these two men betook themselves to their homes, and, as long as it was night, they remained there quietly.

But on the following day at sunrise it became known to the people that both men had quit the palace where they had been staying. So the whole population ran to them, and they declared Hypatius emperor and prepared to lead him to the market-place to assume the power. But the wife of Hypatius, Mary, a discreet woman, who had the greatest reputation for prudence, laid hold of her husband and would not let go, but cried out with loud lamentation and with entreaties to all her kinsmen that the people were leading him on the road to death. 

But since the throng overpowered her, she unwillingly released her husband, and he by no will of his own came to the Forum of Constantine, where they summoned him to the throne; then since they
 had neither diadem nor anything else with which it is customary for a king to be clothed, they placed a golden necklace upon his head and proclaimed him Emperor of the Romans. 

By this time the members of the senate were assembling,—as many of them as had not been left in the emperor's residence,—and many expressed the opinion that they should go to the palace to fight. But Origenes, a man of the senate, came forward and spoke as follows: 

"Fellow Romans, it is impossible that the situation which is upon us be solved in any way except by war. Now war and royal power are agreed to be the greatest of all things in the world. But when action involves great issues, it refuses to be brought to a successful conclusion by the brief crisis of a moment, but this is accomplished only by wisdom of thought and energy of action, which men display for a length of time. Therefore if we should go out against the enemy, our cause will hang in the balance, and we shall be taking a risk which will decide everything in a brief space of time; and, as regards the consequences of such action, we shall either fall down and worship Fortune or reproach her altogether. For those things whose issue is most quickly decided, fall, as a rule, under the sway of fortune. But if we handle the present situation more deliberately, not even if we wish shall we be able to take Justinian in the palace, but he will very speedily be thankful if he is allowed to flee; for authority which is ignored always loses its power, since its strength ebbs away with each day. Moreover we have other palaces, both Placillianae and the palace named from Helen, which this emperor should
 make his headquarters and from there he should carry on the war and attend to the ordering of all other matters in the best possible way." So spoke Origenes. 

Roman soldiers 6th and 7th century
Facebook.com/Numerus Invictorum


But the rest, as a crowd is accustomed to do, insisted more excitedly and thought that the present moment was opportune, and not least of all Hypatius (for it was fated that evil should befall him) bade them lead the way to the hippodrome. But some say that he came there purposely, being well-disposed toward the emperor.

Now the emperor and his court were deliberating as to whether it would be better for them if they remained or if they took to flight in the ships. And many opinions were expressed favouring either course. 

And the Empress Theodora also spoke to the following effect: "As to the belief that a woman ought not to be daring among men or to assert herself boldly among those who are holding back from fear, I consider that the present crisis most certainly does not permit us to discuss whether the matter should be regarded in this or in some other way. For in the case of those whose interests have come into the greatest danger nothing else seems best except to settle the issue immediately before them in the best possible way. My opinion then is that the present time, above all others, is inopportune for flight, even though it bring safety. For while it is impossible for a man who has seen the light not also to die, for one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress. If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty. For
 we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial-shroud."

 When the queen had spoken thus, all were filled with boldness, and, turning their thoughts towards resistance, they began to consider how they might be able to defend themselves if any hostile force should come against them. Now the soldiers as a body, including those who were stationed about the emperor's court, were neither well disposed to the emperor nor willing openly to take an active part in fighting, but were waiting for what the future would bring forth. 

All the hopes of the emperor were centred upon Belisarius and Mundus, of whom the former, Belisarius, had recently returned from the Persian war bringing with him a following which was both powerful and imposing, and in particular he had a great number of spearmen and guards who had received their training in battles and the perils of warfare. Mundus had been appointed general of the Illyrians, and by mere chance had happened to come under summons to Byzantium on some necessary errand, bringing with him Erulian barbarians.

When Hypatius reached the hippodrome, he went up immediately to where the emperor is accustomed to take his place and seated himself on the royal throne from which the emperor was always accustomed to view the equestrian and athletic contests. 

And from the palace Mundus went out through the gate which, from the circling descent, has been given 
the name of the Snail. Belisarius meanwhile began at first to go straight up toward Hypatius himself and the royal throne, and when he came to the adjoining structure where there has been a guard of soldiers from of old, he cried out to the soldiers commanding them to open the door for him as quickly as possible, in order that he might go against the tyrant. But since the soldiers had decided to support neither side, until one of them should be manifestly victorious, they pretended not to hear at all and thus put him off. 

So Belisarius returned to the emperor and declared that the day was lost for them, for the soldiers who guarded the palace were rebelling against him. The emperor therefore commanded him to go to the so-called Bronze Gate and the propylaea there. So Belisarius, with difficulty and not without danger and great exertion, made his way over ground covered by ruins and half-burned buildings, and ascended to the stadium. And when he had reached the Blue Colonnade which is on the right of the emperor's throne, he purposed to go against Hypatius himself first; but since there was a small door there which had been closed and was guarded by the soldiers of Hypatius who were inside, he feared lest while he was struggling in the narrow space the populace should fall upon him, and after destroying both himself and all his followers, should proceed with less trouble and difficulty against the emperor. 

Concluding, therefore, that he must go against the populace who had taken their stand in the hippodrome—a vast multitude crowding each other in great disorder—he drew his sword from its sheath and, commanding the others to do likewise, with a
 shout he advanced upon them at a run. But the populace, who were standing in a mass and not in order, at the sight of armoured soldiers who had a great reputation for bravery and experience in war, and seeing that they struck out with their swords unsparingly, beat a hasty retreat. 

Then a great outcry arose, as was natural, and Mundus, who was standing not far away, was eager to join in the fight,—for he was a daring and energetic fellow—but he was at a loss as to what he should do under the circumstances; when, however, he observed that Belisarius was in the struggle, he straightway made a sally into the hippodrome through the entrance which they call the Gate of Death. Then indeed from both sides the partisans of Hypatius were assailed with might and main and destroyed. 

When the rout had become complete and there had already been great slaughter of the populace, Boraedes and Justus, nephews of the Emperor Justinian, without anyone daring to lift a hand against them, dragged Hypatius down from the throne, and, leading him in, handed him over together with Pompeius to the emperor. 

And there perished among the populace on that day more than thirty thousand. But the emperor commanded the two prisoners to be kept in severe confinement. Then, while Pompeius was weeping and uttering pitiable words (for the man was wholly inexperienced in such misfortunes), Hypatius reproached him at length and said that those who were about to die unjustly should not lament. For in the beginning they had been forced by the people against their will, and afterwards they had come to the hippodrome with no thought of harming the emperor. 

And the soldiers killed both
 of them on the following day and threw their bodies into the sea. The emperor confiscated all their property for the public treasury, and also that of all the other members of the senate who had sided with them. Later, however, he restored to the children of Hypatius and Pompeius and to all others the titles which they had formerly held, and as much of their property as he had not happened to bestow upon his friends. 

This was the end of the insurrection in Byzantium.


Chariot Race at the Hippodrome


 


Empress Theodora 
by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1887)

Theodora’s mother was probably an acrobat. She was certainly married to the man who held the position of bear-keeper to the Greens. When he died unexpectedly, leaving her with three young daughters, the mother was left destitute. Desperate, she hastily remarried and went with her infant children to the arena, where she begged the Greens to find a job for her new husband. They pointedly ignored her, but the Blues—sensing the opportunity to paint themselves as more magnanimous—found work for him. 

Unsurprisingly, Theodora thereafter grew up to be a violent partisan of the Blues, and her unswerving support for the faction became a factor in Roman life after 527, when she was crowned as empress—not least because Justinian himself, before he became Emperor, had given 30 years of loud support to the same team.