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, March 5, 2013

Column of Justinian

The Column of Justinian was a Roman triumphal column erected in Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in honour of his victories in 543. It stood in the western side of the great square of the Augustaeum, between the Hagia Sophia and the Great Palace, and survived until the early 16th century, when it was demolished by the Ottomans.

The column of Justinian stood on the south-west of Hagia Sophia and was nearly as high as its dome. The column was built of brick and covered with a bronze sheating. On its top there was a statue of Emperor Justinian (527-565) on horseback, the left hand holding a globe, the right hand raised and pointing to the east.

The column was made of brick, and covered with brass plaques. The column stood on a marble pedestal of seven steps, and was topped by a colossal bronze equestrian statue of the emperor in triumphal attire (the "dress of Achilles" as Procopius calls it), wearing an antique-style muscle cuirass, a plumed helmet of peacock feathers (the toupha), holding a globus cruciger on his left hand and stretching his right hand to the East. There is some evidence from the inscriptions on the statue that it may actually have been a reused earlier statue of Theodosius I or Theodosius II.

Contemporary drawing of the equestrian
statue of Justinian (1430).

The column survived intact until late Byzantine times, when it was described by Nicephorus Gregoras, as well as by several Russian pilgrims to the city. The latter also mentioned the existence, before the column, of a group of three bronze statues of "pagan (or Saracen) emperors", placed on shorter columns or pedestals, who kneeled in submission before it. These apparently survived until the late 1420s, but were removed sometime before 1433.

The column itself is described as being of great height, 70 meters according to Cristoforo Buondelmonti. It was visible from the sea, and once, according to Gregoras, when the toupha fell off, its restoration required the services of an acrobat, who used a rope slung from the roof of the Hagia Sophia.

By the 15th century, the statue, by virtue of its prominent position, was actually believed to be that of the city's founder, Constantine the Great. Other associations were also current: the Italian antiquarian Cyriacus of Ancona was told that it represented Heraclius.

It was therefore widely held that the column, and in particular the large globus cruciger, or "apple", as it was popularly known, represented the city's genius loci. Consequently, its fall from the statue's hand, sometime between 1422 and 1427, was seen as a sign of the city's impending doom. Shortly after their conquest of the city in 1453, the Ottomans removed and dismantled the statue completely as a symbol of their dominion, while the column itself was destroyed around 1515. Pierre Gilles, a French scholar living in the city in the 1540s, gave an account of the statue's remaining fragments, which lay in the Topkapi Palace, before being melted to make cannons:

Among the fragments were the leg of Justinian, which exceeded my height, and his nose, which was over nine inches long. I dared not measure the horse's legs [...] but privately measured one of the hoofs and found it to be nine inches in height.

The appearance of the statue itself with its inscriptions is preserved, however, in a 1430s drawing (see left) made at the behest of Cyriacus of Ancona.

It was probably the only monumental statue of an emperor that survived until the late Byzantine times.

Computer recreation of the Column of Justinian
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.
Those who have not done so should visit the article and images published by the website Byzantium 1200 and view their article on the Column of Justinian in Constantinople.  The artists have done an exceptional and stunningly beautiful job in recreating the column as this sample image can attest.
We have drawings and eyewitness accounts of the Column making it a lot easier for us to reconstruct this monument and put in its proper place in the city.  But even so Byzantium 1200 mess up by not showing the carvings on the Column as drawn by eyewitnesses. 
With this information Byzantium 1200 has beautifully incorporated images of the Column into several different articles on building in Constantinople.
(Column of Justinian)


Anonymous said...

It must be mighty impressive .As they turn it down ...

Venkata Raghotham said...

Is there any truth in the story often credited to PROCOPIUS that Ignitius of Miletus the Mason was left high up on the column
as Justinian did not want him to build a other column equal in height and grandeur.

Gary said...

TRUTH???? What is that? It was so long ago.

What is history but a fable agreed upon?
Napoleon Bonaparte