Turkey Cultural Tour   
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Roman Horse Races Arena-Hippodrome in Istanbul
Egyptian Obelisk What is commonly referred to as the Egyptian obelisk, is actually an obelisk removed from the Temple of Karnak at Thebes (now Luxor).The obelisk was originally carved around 1500 BC in order to commemorate the great victories of Pharaoh Thutmosis III. In a self-congratulatory mood, the Emperor Theodosius had the obelisk moved to Constantinople in 390. This beautiful monument is probably only one third of its original height. It stands on a marble base, sculpted with scenes of Theodosius and his family enjoying a day at the races.Serpentine or Spiral Column.This strange column, originally called the Tripod of Plataea, seems to be coming up out of a hole in the ground. It commemorates the victory of the Greeks over the Persians in 480 BC. Constantine had the statue moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in the middle of the hippodrome. The golden bowl at the top, supported by three serpent heads, was stolen and/or destroyed. One detached head survived and is on display in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.The Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus and the Kaiser Wilhelm II fountain are the only other two structures in the hippodrome. The fountain was a gift from the German emperor to Sultan Abdül Hamit II as a token of their friendship.
Now a park in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, the Hippodrome ("Atmeidan" in Turkish) here is viewed from the northeast. In the foreground is the obelisk of Theodosius I, which he had erected on the spina in AD 390 (Marcellinus, 390). On all four sides of the marble base are reliefs of the emperor and his family in the kathisma of the Hippodrome watching the games, preparing to crown a victor, or accepting the homage of prisoners. Not so immediately apparent are two additional reliefs at the ground level of the track. One, above, depicts the column actually being raised. That only this section of the red granite monolith was erected can be discerned in the relief, where the hieroglyphs break at the same place as on the obelisk. itself. As it stands, the obelisk probably is about two thirds its original height.

On the opposite side of the base is a second relief, which shows four quadrigae racing around the spina, with a meta (turning post) at either end. A tableau above the spina shows the winner being crowned and, on both sides, a triumphal lap on horseback, complete with figures acclaiming his victory. On the other two faces are inscriptions, one in Latin declaring that "...since all things yield to Theodosius and his everlasting offspring, I was conquered and subdued in three times ten days and raised to high heaven on the advice of Proclus [the city prefect]" and, on the opposite side in Greek, "It was only the Emperor Theodosius who succeeded in raising the four-sided column which had ever lain as a burden to the earth. He committed the task to Proclus, and so a great column stood erect in thirty-two days."Bassett contends that the Theodosian obelisk was one of a pair erected by Thutmosis III in the Temple of Amon at Karnak (Thebes), both of which probably were taken by Constantine, one to adorn Rome, the other Constantinople. Ammianus Maracellinus speaks of a single obelisk being transported to Alexandria by Constantine, who intended to install it in Constantinople. But the emperor died in AD 337 and the monolith, the largest in the world, languished there (XVII.4). Twenty years later, when his son Constantius II visited Rome, he marvelled at its wonders and was "determined to add to the beauties of the city by setting up an obelisk in the Circus Maximus" (XVI.10). That same year, in AD 357, the red granite obelisk was transported to Rome on a huge barge and then dragged on a sledge into the city, where it was erected on the spina, to join the one brought from Heliopolis by Augustus in 10 BC.In the background is a second monument, that of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. Presumably, it was installed after the obelisk of Constantius had been erected in Rome, so that Constantinople, as successor to that city, would have a second monument as well. And, as the obelisk of Augustus occupied the center of the spina, so the obelisk of Theodosius marks the central position of the Hippodrome. That it does not appear to be so placed is because the curved end of the course (theSpendone) is yet farther down the track, now almost obscured by the buildings of the modern city.Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus also had De Cerimoniis (Book of Ceremonies) composed. A compilation of procedures and protocols, it is a primary source for the activities of the Hippodrome and has not yet been completely translated into English.

 In the fifth century AD, as the expense of festivals and spectacles increased, the circus factions began to take responsibility, not only for the races, but for other kinds of entertainment, including pantomimes and wild beast fights. The Blues and Greens came to predominate and, although this arrangement made organization easier, it also focused loyalty on these two factions alone, the Blues sitting opposite the imperial box (kathisma) near the starting gates of the Hippodrome and the Greens at the other end near the sphendone, a juxtaposition that no doubt contributed to a rivalry already made intense by the support of Justinian for the Blues. It was in the Hippodrome at Constantinople, as in the Circus at Rome, that the populace could express itself to the emperor and expect a response. And it was in the Hipodrome  that partisans acted out when their faction was defeated, as when Porphyrius the charioteer won at Antioch in AD 507.

The factions, too, were responsible for ensuring that the emperor was duly honored; indeed, the emperor could sponsor a faction and glorify its victories without having them reflect on any individual but himself. Like the gladiatorial and wild beast shows, chariot races were associated with the imperial cult and the munificence of the emperor, even though they may have been paid for by the praetor or consul. As these acclamations became more important, the anonymous crowd that chanted them became empowered, as well. By the end of the fifth century AD, beginning with the accession of Anastasius in AD 491, this new political power had become destabilizing. It further was aggravated when Anastasius abolished the venationes in AD 498 and pantomimes in AD 502, leaving the amphitheater and theaters empty. All the passions of the people now were directed to the races in the Hippodrome.

The Nika riot began on Tuesday, January 13, AD 532. Three days earlier, several members of the Blue and Green factions, who had been arrested for an earlier disturbance, were to be hanged. But the execution was botched and two men survived and found sanctuary in a church, which then was put under guard. During the races in the Hippodrome, the crowd called on Justinian to show them mercy, chanting until the twenty-second race (of twenty four). But there was no response. Then, unexpectedly, another exclamation was heard: "Long live the merciful Blues and Greens!" (Malalas, XVIII.474). That evening, with Nika ("conquer," an exclamation used to encourage the charioteer) as their watchword, the two united factions demanded that the city prefect release the prisoners, setting fire to the Praetorium when he did not. The fire spread and others were set the next day, even though Justinian had announced additional races, a gesture that only emboldened the rioters, who set fire to the Hippodrome itself.

Now the resignation of three unpopular ministers was demanded, those who were perceived to be responsible for Justinian's refusal to release the prisoners, to which the emperor conceded. When this did not mollify the crowd, a force of Goths was dispatched, but the insurrection could not be surpressed and there were more fires, which spread throughout the city, including the church of St. Sophia, which "collapsed entirely on all four sides" (Theopanes, 6024). On Thursday, Probus, the youngest nephew of the late Anastasius, was acclaimed emperor but he, prudently, was not to be found, his palace being burned down in his absence. The incendiarism continued for the next two days, aggravated during the fighting with Thracian troops. Finally, on Sunday, January 18, Justinian went to the imperial box, Gospels in hand, and acknowledged his errors, promising to redress the grievances of the populace and pardon the rioters. But they were not to be pacified and acclaimed Hypatius, another nephew of Anastasius, as ruler. As Justinian and his counselors deliberated over whether to leave the capital (if only to avoid the unpopularity of being present when the insurrection was put down), the empress Theodora counseled resolve, although the speech is likely a rhetorical set-piece.Two of the emperor's best generals, Belisarius and Mundus entered the Hippodrome through separate entrances, trapping the mob inside; "in the end not one of the citizens, either of the Greens or of the Blues, who were in the Hippodrome, survived" (Theopanes). Of the populace that day more than thirty thousand perished (Procopius, I.24.54; Theophanes and the Chronicon Paschale say thirty-five thousand). Hypatius was executed and the estates of others who had collaborated, confiscated. Peace was restored, although "the chariot races were not held for a long time" (Theopanes).

In this tenth-century mosaic in the lunette of the vestibule gate of Hagia Sophia, Justinian on the left presents a model of the church to Mary, while Constantine offers one of the city.The palace of Lausus, which still have may contained the statue of Olympian Zeus, was destroyed in the riot (Theopanes), as was the church of St. Sophia (Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia). Six weeks later, work began on rebuilding the church, which was consecrated five years later. It is described by Procopius in Buildings (I.1)."So the whole church at that time lay a charred mass of ruins. But the Emperor Justinian built not long afterwards a church so finely shaped, that if anyone had enquired of the Christians before the burning if it would be their wish that the church should be destroyed and one like this should take its place, shewing them some sort of model of the building we now see, it seems to me that they would have prayed that they might see their church destroyed forthwith, in order that the building might be converted into its present form (22).So the church has become a spectacle of marvellous beauty, overwhelming to those who see it, but to those who know it by hearsay altogether incredible. For it soars to a height to match the sky, and as if surging up from amongst the other buildings it stands on high and looks down upon the remainder of the city, adorning it, because it is a part of it, but glorying in its own beauty, because, though a part of the city and dominating it, it at the same time towers above it to such a height that the whole city is viewed from there as from a watch-tower. Both its breadth and its length have been so carefully proportioned, that it may not improperly be said to be exceedingly long and at the same time unusually broad. And its exults in an indescribable beauty (27-28).All these details, fitted together with incredible skill in mid-air and floating off from each other and resting only on the parts next to them, produce a single and most extraordinary harmony in the work, and yet do not permit the spectator to linger much over the study of any one of them, but each detail attracts the eye and draws it on irresistibly to itself. So the vision constantly shifts suddenly, for the beholder is utterly unable to select which particular detail he should admire more than all the others. But even so, though they turn their attention to every side and look with contracted brows upon every detail, observers are still unable to understand the skilful craftsmanship, but they always depart from there overwhelmed by the bewildering sight" (47-49).
Turkey Cultural Tour
Zincirlidere Cd.Sisli-Istanbul/Turkey
• Tel: +90 532 3163653 • Tel: +90 212 2893252 • Fax: +90 212 2893252
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Turkey Cultural Tour
Zincirlidere Cd.Sisli-Istanbul/Turkey
• Tel: +90 532 3163653 • Tel: +90 212 2893252 • Fax: +90 212 2893252
• tours@turkeyculturaltour.com, • http://www.turkeyculturaltour.com