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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Golden Gate of Constantinople

The Golden Gate in the early 20th century.

After 324, Constantine the Great expanded the old city of Byzantium to the west, naming the re-founded town Constantinople. It was a success and by 328, the emperor decided to make it his capital. By then, the mighty walls already surrounded an area of 6 km. Soon, the city expanded beyond these fortifications: during the reign of Theodosius the Great (378-395), the suburb known as Kainopolis stretched  forward along the Via Egnatia for almost 2½ km outside the walls of Constantine.

Solidus of Emperor Theodosius. The reverse depicts Theodosius
and Valentinian II seated, both holding a globe.

To mark the true beginning of the urban area, Theodosius built the triumphal arch that was soon known as Golden Gate. The occasion may have been his victory over the Visigoths in 386, which did much to restore Roman self-confidence after the disastrous battle of Adrianople (378).

Of course an isolated triumphal arch does not defend an entire suburb, and after Rome had been captured and sacked by Alaric's Visigoths, the emperor Theodosius II ordered his praetorian prefect, Anthemius, to build new walls: these Theodosian Land Walls, one of the greatest pieces of military architecture ever, was built between 412 and 414, and were in 447 further expanded by another praetorian prefect of Theodosius's, Cyrus of Panopolis. 

Porta Aurea - Golden Gate (Sunrise Version)
Click this video to full screen.  Beautiful.

The Golden Gate was the splendid entrance to the city for all visitors approaching the city from the west. Theodosius was not the last one to stage a triumphal entry of Constantinople over here; for example, on 14 September 628, the Emperor Heraclius, who had decisively defeated the Sasanians and had recovered the True Cross, entered the city over here in a chariot drawn by four elephants. The arch was indeed the perfect place for celebrations: part of the walls was covered with gilded plates of bronze and there were all kinds of colorful statues.

The gate was later included in a fort with five towers by the emperors John I Tzimiskes (969-976) and Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180). It was partly demolished when the Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204, but restored by John VI Palaeologus (1347-1454) and his regent and successor John V. The name Heptapyrgion, "the seven-towered bulwark", dates from this time. The fort was destroyed for the second time in 1391, when the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I ordered the emperor to do so, threatening with harsh measures against John V's captive son. After Mehmet II the Conqueror had become master of Constantinople in 1453, he rebuilt the Heptapyrgion; the Turkish name Yedikule is a translation of "seven towered bulwark". It was used as the Ottoman state treasury until 1789.

Modern view of the Golden Gate.

This image and the one below 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 historical website Byzantium 1200 published a beautiful computerized recreation of the Golden Gate.  Here are two samples.

A recreation of what the Golden Gate looked like in 1200 A.D.  The Golden Gate was the great ceremonial gate of the land walls of Byzantium through which the emperors left for their campaigns, and where they celebrated their triumphant return.  In contrast to the usual brick and limestone construction of the walls, it was built from white marble and had golden doors. On its top there was a monumental quadriga with elephants.
Despite its ceremonial role, the Golden Gate was one of the stronger positions along the walls of the city, withstanding several attacks during the various sieges. With the addition of transverse walls on the peribolos between the inner and outer walls, it formed a virtually separate fortress. Its military value was recognized by John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347–1354), who records that it was virtually impregnable, capable of holding provisions for three years and defying the whole city if need be.
Byzantium 1200 has done an outstanding job in their recreation.  It is well worth visiting that site to view all of their images.

Recreation of the land walls and defenses around the Golden Gate. 

(Golden Gate of Constantinople)



Anonymous said...

very nice, you did a great article and I am very fascinated by ancient history

Gary said...

Thank you so much. Please visit again.

Tim said...

I really enjoyed this.
The recreation is the best illustration of what the great Golden Gate must have looked like.
Well done.