Depictions of the column of Justinian in manuscripts of the Notitia Dignitatum

While reading Twitter I happened to see this item:

”Constantinopla Nova Roma” – Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, Spain -(15th. c. Manuscript)

What struck me at once was the prominent view of the column of Justinian, complete with the equestrian statue of the emperor pointing towards the east.  The column stood outside Hagia Sophia, and was destroyed by the Turks after they took the city.

But where does this come from?  A little searching revealed that it comes from the 15th century Madrid copy of the Notitia Dignitatum, Matritensis Reserva 36, Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, which is online here and in the catalogue as the “Descriptio orbis terrarum”.  The pages may be downloaded individually.

There are, indeed, quite a number of interesting texts in this manuscript.  This image is on folio 84r, which is page 185 in the online facsimile, at the start of a text labelled “Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae”.  The Notitia Dignitatum itself follows somewhat later.  So this is a collection of late Roman documentary texts describing the cities, and the late Roman military organisation.

Sadly the image online is not as high-resolution as one could wish, as an attempt to zoom in reveals.  This is a shame.  I’d have liked a clear view of the statue’s hat.

Other copies of the same text and indeed even the picture are around.  Google images gave me this one:

This comes from Bodleian Library, Ms. Canon. Misc. 378, fol. 84r., via Boeck, Imagining the Byzantine Past, “7.Constantinople: story spaces or storied imperial places” p.244.  It is really remarkably similar.

Fascinating to see, all the same.  These manuscripts were created at a time when the column and the statue still stood.


15 thoughts on “Depictions of the column of Justinian in manuscripts of the Notitia Dignitatum

  1. I applaud your perseverance , Roger, in the face of all difficulties, we bloggers, find, not least from the amout of indifference of many to what we spend huge efforts to bring to the attention of the public, some reaching a high level of scholarly work. Carry on the good work.

  2. Not meant to dissuade you, Roger, from writing. I just envy you and blame myself for sometimes giving up.

  3. Regarding the mosaic in southern Anatolia (six comments above), I cannot make out the top inscription either, but on the left I read ΑΙΑΡ (i.e. ἔαρ, spring), on the right ΧΕΙΜΩΝ (χειμών, winter), and below ΕΥΤΥΧΩΣ ΧΡΩ (εὐτυχῶς χρῶ, use fortunately). The last, it seems, is common in inscriptions (the equivalent of the Latin feliciter utere), and is obviously appropriate for the fruit of the vine, for which this seems to be the autumn illustration. The orthography casts doubt on the dating of the mosaic, as confusion of αι and ε is unlikely before c. 150 A.D.

  4. Interestingly no image shows a cross above the Church of Holy Wisdom. In fact the black and white image from the Bodleian manuscript shows the Muslim crescent while still displaying the Byzantine embelem! Not sure how that came to be.

  5. The learned comments on Justinian’s column and related topics prompts me to mention research being done by a friend in Europe, who is puzzled by the apparent 300-year disappearance of Justinian law. He writes… “The Roman legal culture ends during the time of Alexander Severus. The latest jurists who commented, in the Digestae and Pandectae, on Justinian’s collection of laws (Codex Justiniani), were the insignificant Modestin (*185) and, as the most important jurist of all (35-40 percent of comments), Domitius Ulpian, who was assassinated in 223 or 228. But Justinian (527-565) is dated into the 6th century after which his laws mysteriously disappeared until the end of the 9th or the beginning of the 10th century when an abbreviated Greek version, the Basilika, was published under Leo VI. (886-912 AD).”
    I’m wondering if readers of this page have any insights or comments regarding this aspect of Justinian law.

  6. Apparently Constantine had a thing for wearing a simple “diadem,” like Alexander did. It was basically a headband to keep a man or woman’s hair back, with a little more to it for men, because it absorbed sweat and kept it from falling in the eyes. So basically a sweatband for Macedonians and Greek athletes.

    The elaborate men’s and women’s crowns in Constantinople were all variations on the theme of the diadem sweatband. Most of them had dangly bits, like Theodora’s, which were hanging off the band. The diadem band could also be decorated with gems, metal, etc. Women wore a cap underneath the diadem, to keep their hair nice and avoid sweating on the (now stylized) sweatband.

    Museums have some of the diadem bits, and it’s interesting.

  7. I agree that it looks like a laurel wreath, but it could be a diadem styled to look like a laurel wreath (or other leaves, there were various ones with symbolism).

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