Ottoman drawings of the monuments of Constantinople

Few of us know anything about Turkish literature or manuscripts, and I am certainly not among that number.  But I was interested to discover that some illuminated Ottoman manuscripts contain pictures of Byzantine monuments.  (Presumably they also contain text as well).  Here are a couple that I have found online recently.

Here is the first.  The source is given as “Terceme-i Cifrü’l-câmi”, or maybe Tercume-i Miftah-i Cifr ul-Cami, which apparently translates to “The Translation of the Key to Esoteric Knowledge”.  This is an illustrated manuscript in Turkish, apparently dating to ca. 1600.

Note the heads on the serpent column, now alas vanished.  The church is Hagia Sophia, so this is the Hippodrome.

The next one (h/t @ByzantineLegacy) is from the “Hunername”, ca. 1530, which is another Ottoman illustrated manuscript.  It shows acrobats in the Hippodrome.

The Hunername is one of the more famous Ottoman illustrated manuscripts, written in 1584-88.  There is an article on it in French Wikipedia here.  It is held in the Topkapi Palace library, where its shelfmark is H.1523-1524 (i.e. in two volumes).

A further illustration, supposedly also in the Hunername, from here, via Wikimedia Commons, shows Mehmet II and the serpent column:

The Wikipedia commons page has the description,

“The text of the Hünername, written in the 1580s, claims that Patriarch Gennadios visited Mehmed II to tell him that if he damaged the Serpent Column the city would be infested with snakes, and a miniature was painted showing the patriarch giving this warning as the sultan throws his mace at a jaw.” Miniature from the Hünername”

The Turkish page does not say that this is from the Hunername, and only says that the heads of the serpent column were broken off by being used as targets during drills for horsemen, and adduces this picture as evidence of the Sultan doing just that.

The Wikipedia text seems in fact to derive from a 2013 page by Paul Stephenson, “The Serpent Column” which gives these fuller details:

The magical properties of the column were widely known and may have saved the column on two occasions: in 1204, Constantinople was sacked by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and much bronze statuary was destroyed or transplanted. Niketas Choniates composed a threnody for the city’s lost works of art, which did not include the Serpent Column. A reason for its survival is suggested on a later occasion, when Mehmed II “The Conqueror” captured Constantinople. The text of the Hünername, written in the 1580s, claims that Patriarch Gennadios visited Mehmed to tell him that if he damaged the column the city would be infested with snakes, and a miniature was painted showing the patriarch giving this warning as the sultan throws his mace at a jaw. Following Mehmed’s attack on a serpent head, there was a plague of snails. Mehmed, duly chastened, is said to have cauterised the roots of a mulberry tree that was growing within the column and threatening its integrity. the column, therefore, survived to be painted many more times by Ottoman miniaturists, notably the team of artists which produced the Surname-i Hümayun(fig. 4), also a product of the 1580s.

The Serpent Column was regarded as a talisman against snakes long before the 1580s. A version of the legend is reported by Kemal Pashazade, writing before 1512:[“Constantine son of Helena] caused to be made that bronze statue in the hippodrome which is the representation of three serpents twined together, and by making and designing that talisman he stopped up the source of the mischief of snakes whose poison is fatal to life.” Indeed, the column’s apotropaic powers were known to Russian travellers to Constantinople between c. 1390 and c. 1430, three of whom reported that “serpent venom is enclosed in the column.” This is also reported in 1403-6, by the Spanish ambassador Clavijo.

At a time when the Ottoman court had abandoned Constantinople (Kostantiniyye/Istanbul) for Edirne, the Serpent Column lost its heads. Various tales emerged, including one blaming an errant Pole, a member of a Polish ambassadorial delegation. Yet the most likely story is that related in a contemporary Ottoman chronicle: the metal which had supported the overhanging serpent heads for more than two millennia fractured on the evening of 20 October 1700. A head discovered a century and half later, during excavation and restoration work at Hagia Sophia, suggests that the heads were spirited away that night, but perhaps not so very far away. A close examination of the remaining head, in fact only an upper jaw, shows signs of hacking with a sharp object (fig. 5), suggesting that those who heard the heads fall with an almighty crash quickly set about it with axes, sharing the spoils as once crusaders had distributed other ancient works in bronze.

Stephenson in fact has since published a monograph on the subject.[1]

These images are interesting, but make me aware of the existence of a whole field of knowledge about which most of us know nothing.

  1. [1]Paul Stephenson, The Serpent Column: A Cultural Biography, Oxford University Press (2016).

The column of Arcadius – a detailed pre-1700 drawing

Yesterday I posted about the column of Arcadius in Constantinople, designed like Trajan’s column in Rome, but destroyed by an earthquake in 1719.  In the process, I came across something rather remarkable – a very detailed drawing of the column, produced shortly before the column fell!  Here it is:

This, I hope you will agree, is remarkable.

The item was published by A. Geoffroy, “La colonne d’Arcadius à Constantinople, d’après un dessin inédit”, in:  Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot, vol. 2, 1895, pp. 99-130, and online here.  Thankfully the site digitised the drawing properly.  His comments on the column may be summarised briefly, for those who don’t read French.

The first column with bas-reliefs like Trajan’s column was erected by Theodosius I in 386.  The column of Arcadius was erected in 403, on the seventh hill, known as Xerolophos or “the dry hill”, part of the 12th region of the city.  Geoffroy gives as sources Theophanes, Chronography[1], Cedrenus[2], and Codinus, De signis[3].

Theophanes the confessor:[4]

[AM 5895 / AD 402-3 (p.118)] …

In the same year Arkadios set up the column of Xerolophos [12] and founded Arkadioupolis in Thrace.  …

[AM 6041 /AD 548-9 (p.330)]

ln this year there was much terrifying thunder and lightning, so that many were struck by lightning while they slept. On St John’s day the thunder and lightning were so terrible that part of the column of the Xerolophos was sliced off, as was the carved capital of the same column. …[5]

[AM 6232 / AD 740 (p572)]

ln the same year a violent and fearful earthquake occurred at Constantinople on 26 October, indiction 9, a Wednesday, in the 8th hour. Many churches and monasteries collapsed and many people died. There also fell down the statue of Constantine the Great that stood above the gate of Atalos as well as that of Atalos himself, the statue of Arkadios that stood on the column of the Xerolophos, and the statue of Theodosios the Great above the Golden Gate; furthermore, the land walls of the City, many towns and villages in Thrace, Nicomedia in Bithynia, Prainetos, and Nicaea, where only one church was spared. In some places the sea withdrew from its proper boundaries. The quakes continued for twelve months.

Cedrenus has the baffling comment (in the Latin translation):

Xerolophus Arcadii opus est, tauro per omnia simile.

The Xerolophus is the work of Arcadius, with the image of the bull throughout.

But in fact the Forum Tauri was the Forum of Theodosius, not Arcadius.

The “Codinus, De signis” I was unable to locate, but it may be the same as the Patria of Constantinople, which has the following information:[6]

Book 2, 19 (p.63):

On the Xerolophos. -The Xerolophos was formerly called a spectacle. For sixteen spiral columns stood there, a composite statue of Artemis, one of the founder Severus, and a horoscope on three feet. Severus often sacrificed there, and many oracles happened at this place, where also a maiden was sacrificed. And there was an astronomical installation which encompasses thirty-six years. This same Xerolophos had, according to Diakrinomenos, a statue ofTheodosios the Younger, and of Valentinian and Marcianos below the column, but they fell down during an earthquake.

Book 2, 47 (p.83):

On the Tauros. – A statue of Theodosios the Great, which was formerly silver, stands in the Tauros where he used to receive those who came from the foreigners. … Similarly, both the huge, hollow column there and the Xerolophos have the story of the final days of the city and its conquests depicted as reliefs.

It’s rather thin, but that’s what we have.

A description of the column was made in the 16th century by Pierre Gilles, and published in 1561 by his nephew Antoine Gilles.  Extraordinarily Geoffroy does not even  give the titles of the two volumes – the description is in the second – instead referring vaguely to reprints.  I looked at Banduri, Imperium Orientale, vol. 1, online here.  Inspecting the title page (p.49 of the PDF) reveals “Petri Gyllii de topographia Constantinopoleos et de illius antiquitatibus libri iv”.  The description appears to be in book 4, chapter 7, “De septimo colle & duodecima regione, & de columna Arcadii, 416” which is p.711 of the PDF, there being no continuous page numbering.  Being two pages of Latin in archaic typeface, on this hot evening, I will not attempt to make a translation.  But Geoffroy tells us that Gilles had to sneak into the column in order to measure it, because the Turks didn’t want a foreigner to get access, and made his measurements in fear that his lead weight might bang into the sides and give him away!  It had 56 windows, and the stair wound around 223º.  He does not describe the exterior reliefs in any detail, however.

There is a large volume among the collections of Roger de Gaignieres, in the French National Library (BNF) in the prints department, number 6514 in the catalogue drawn up in 1891 by H. Bouchot, and it is headed Topographie de pays etrangers.  In it is found our drawing of the column of Arcadius, on several pieces of 17th century paper.  The original drawing is 2.42 metres long and 0.43m wide.

At the base of the drawing are the words Dessein de la Colomne historiale de coste de la Tramontane.  The sculptures seem damaged, especially where they are closer to the ground.  It is clearly badly cracked, and has been reinforced with iron bands.

The drawing seems to belong to the last decades of the 17th century, as Gaignieres collected between 1680-1711, and the increased damage to the reliefs is noted by travellers after 1650, when the area had acquired shops and a market around and against it.  The column of Theodosius had collapsed in the 16th century, and the Ottoman government, seeing the risk of collapse, had attempted to reinforce it with iron.

It is not clear what the reliefs represented, other than the military triumphs of Theodosius and his house, possibly from the campaigns of 386 against the Goths, which included naval actions by river.

It is wonderful to see what remains of these now vanished monuments.  Who knows what else slumbers, forgotten, in archives or in private hands?

  1. [1]Bonn edition vol. 1, pp.110, 121.
  2. [2]Bonn edition, vol. 1, pp.566-7.
  3. [3]Bonn ed., p.38, 42.
  4. [4]Cyril Mango & Roger Scott (tr.), The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Oxford, 1997, p.118.
  5. [5]This second part is apparently based on John Malalas, 483.22-484.3, p.289 of the Australian translation.
  6. [6]A. Berger, Accounts of medieval Constantinople: the Patria, 2013.  In the notes p.281 he says the Patria is known as pseudo-Codinus.

Some wonderful pictures from the Column of Arcadius in Istanbul, and notes on when it was destroyed

The column of Arcadius stood at the centre of a circular forum in Constantinople.  It was pattern on Trajan’s column in Rome.  Like Trajan’s column it was hollow, with a spiral staircase inside, and richly decorated.  But it is no longer standing.  It was badly damaged by earthquakes, and eventually taken down by the Ottoman state in the 18th century after it became notably unsafe.  Only the massive base remains, stuck between modern houses.

But today on Twitter a couple of wonderful photographs were posted here by @ByzantineLegacy.  They show inside the base, and the view of the staircase from above!  Here they are:

He says that the photos by Muzaffer Özgüleş (2009) @TimelineTravelP of, although I was unable to find them at that site.

Here is the column as it is today:

And finally a drawing of the column, as it stood in 1575, taken from the “Freshfield album”, a manuscript held at Trinity College Cambridge, and indeed online:

Queried about how one could see the inside, the author wrote:

It is always “open” but involves getting permission and then climbing on the nearby roof. It was possible to enter in the past, but it is really the case now. It would be amazing to enter the staircase one day.

I noticed that the Wikipedia article was uncertain about when the column was taken down:

 It was destroyed in either the 16th or the 18th century when, weakened by earthquakes, it threatened to topple and had to be taken down. Only its massive masonry base of red granite now survives, known as the Avret Tash in Turkish, located on Haseki Kadın Sokuk in the Fatih district of Istanbul.

(snipNot, I think red granite!)  So when was it?  A little googling led me to O.M. Dalton, Byzantine Art and Archaeology, Oxford, 1911, p.144, online at here, which said:

The column of Arcadius,[4] like the vanished column of Theodosius,[5] was on the triumphal way between the Golden Gate and the imperial palace, its actual site being the forum known as Xerolophos. It stood until the year 1719, when it was so damaged by an earthquake that the Government ordered its removal. What remains is called the Avret Tash, or Woman’s Stone, because there was formerly a woman’s market in the neighbourhood. It is in a side street; and though only the base and lowest part of the shaft still stand, it rises above the one-storied houses which surround it. The square base contains two chambers, on the roof of one of which is a design in relief with the sacred monogram between a and w, in a lozenge inscribed in a rectangle: the spandrels at the corners of the latter figure contain palmettos and scrolls. Of the exterior only the east side is visible, the other sides being concealed by the structures which crowd round it. The remaining reliefs have suffered severely from the effects of fire and neglect. Hardly a complete figure has survived,[6] and it is impossible to use these damaged remains as the basis for a study of contemporary sculpture.

The footnotes are also interesting:

4.  See J. Strzygowski, Jahrb. k. d. A. I., viii, 1898, pp. 230 ff. The sculpture at the upper end of the spiral was drawn by Melchior Lorch, who was in Constantinople in 1557-9 (A. Michaelis, Mittheilungen, as above, 1892 ; Strzygowski, p. 241, Fig. 7) : it shows a procession of warriors with their prisoners approaching Arcadius and Honorius. The column, as it was in the early seventeenth century, was published by Sandys in 1610 (reproduced by Strzygowski, as above, Fig. 1 on p. 232). Its appearance at the end of the same century is shown by other drawings (A. Geffroy, La colonne d’Arcadius a Constantinople d’après un dessin inédit, in Mon. Piot, 1899, pp. 99-130, and PL X-XIII (here). See also E. Muntz, Revue des études grecgues, 1888, p. 3181. A detail by the French artist Cassas (d. 1827) is reproduced by d’Agincourt, Sculpture, PI. XI, Fig. 3 (Strzygowski, p. 235).

5.  Ducange, Constantinopolis Christiana, i, p. 79 (Fig.), after an early drawing ; also reproduced by d’Agincourt (Sculpture, PI. XI), by Banduri (ii. 509), and by Strzygowski, as above, p. 243. On the shaft were the triumphs of Theodosius ; on the base, the emperor receiving homage. See also Unger in Repertorium, ii, 1879, pp. 118 ff. ; de Beylie, L’habitation byzantine, p. 28.

6. Strzygowski’s Fig. 6 on p. 237 shows some ornamental detail, one complete figure of a man, and fragments of other figures.

From this I infer that there are other early drawings of the column available, which would repay investigation another time.

The Strzygowski reference turns out to be Josef Strzygowski, “Die Säule des Arkadius in Konstantinopel,” In: Jahrbuchdes Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts vol. 8 (1893) p. 230-249, online at Heidelberg here.  This reads:

Die Statue des Arkadius verlor schon bei einem Erdbeben im Jahre 542 die rechte Hand, im Jahre 740 fiel sie, ebenfalls in Folge eines Erdbebens, ganz herab.12  Die Säule selbst litt unter einem starken Gewitter des Jahres 549, indem Teile des Schaftes und des Kapitells abgeblättert wurden13. So stand sie dann bis 1719, in welchem Jahre sie bei einem Erdbeben gröfstenteils zusammenfiel und auf Befehl der Regierung ganz abgetragen wurde14. Es blieben nur die Teile stehen, die auch heute nochden Bestand der im Volksmunde Awret Tasch, der Weiberstein, genannten Ruine bilden. Die Identität dieser letzteren mit der Arkadius-Säule ist ohne Schwierigkeit nachzuweisen; denn es gab in Konstantinopel nur zwei Säulen, die nach Art der römischen des Trajan und Marc Aurel mit spiralförmig um den Schaft gewundenen Figurenreliefs geschmückt waren: die total vom Erdboden verschwundene Säule des Theodosius am Taurus, d. i. auf dem dritten Hügel, …

The statue of Arcadius lost its right hand during an earthquake in 542, and in 740 it also fell down, also as a result of an earthquake. The column itself suffered from a severe storm in 549, with parts of the shaft and the capital were cracked.13. So it stood until 1719, in which year it was greatly damaged by an earthquake and was completely removed by order of the government.14. There remained only the parts that still today form the remains of the popularly named “Awret Tasch”. The identity of these latter with the Arcadius column can be proved without difficulty; for there were only two pillars in Constantinople, which were adorned in the manner of Roman figures of the Trajan and Marcus Aurelius with spiraling reliefs around the shaft: the column of Theodosius on the Taurus, which has disappeared completely from the ground; i.e. on the third hill, …

The description of the remains is very thorough, with illustrations, including this plan:

But let’s pursue instead the question of when the column was taken down.  Foot note 14 is given as Hammer, Constantinopolis und der Bosporos, 1822, vol. 1, p.182.  I was unable to find this using Google, but the Europeana site took me to it here.  Page 182 is here.  It states:

So stand dieselbe noch vor hundert Jahren, bis sie im grossen Erdbeben d. J. 1719 grössten Theils zusammenfiel, und dann auf Befehl der Regierung ganz abgetragen wurde 5), bis auf das Fussgestell, das noch heute von diesem vor vierzehn hundert Jahren errichteten Monumente des Sieges in Ruinen übrig ist.

So it stood for hundreds of years until in the great earthquake of 1719 most of it collapsed and it was then completely dismantled by order of the government 5), except for the pedestal, the ruins of which today are all that remain of this monument erected fourteen centuries ago.

5. Takwimot-tewarich.

The footnote is obscure, it must be said!  Searching for it brings up loads of copies of Hammer, all of which steadfastly refused to appear earlier today.

So who or what is this?  Looking at another work by Hammer, is Hadschi Chalfa, “Takwim et-tewarich”.  This Mustafa Hadschi Chalfa has an article here, from which we learn that he was also known as Kâtib Tschelebi, and was a Turkish scholar (1600-1658).  His main work was his “Keschf ez-zunûn”, a bibliography, encyclopedia and lexicon (a Latin translation exists  in 7 volumes, ed. Flügel, Leipzig and London, 1835-58; e.g. this volume).  His “Takwîmu’t-tawârîch”, printed in Constantinople in 1733, in Turkish and Persian, is a set of chronological tables of historical events.  His alternative name leads us to a Wikipedia article, under the name of Kâtip Çelebi, also as Haji Khalifa, which is probably how we would call him today.  This tells us that an Italian translation of his “Taqwīm at-Tawārikh” exists, printed in 1697, made by Gio. Rinaldo Carli and titled Cronologia Historica; and it can be found at Google Books here.

But of course he died before 1729!  The title is probably a generic one; so we are no further forward in locating the volume.

I went back to find some of the searchable copies of Hammer, such as this one.  A bit of experimenting shows that Hammer also spells it “Takwimet” and “Takwimot” (!).  Searching on “Takwimet” leads us to the same author’s Histoire de l’empire ottoman, 1844, page 501, which is a table of oriental authors used for the work.  We find there:

6. Takwimet-Tewarich, les Tables de l’histoire, contenant la chronologie d’Hadschi-Chalfa jusqu’à l’an 1058 [10481; ensuite celle de l’émir Buchari jusqua l’an 1144 | 1731], continuée par Ibrahim-Muteferrika jusqu’en 1146 [ 1733]; imprimée cette même année à Constantinople, petit in-folio de 247 p. ; traduite en italien sous ce titre : Cronologia historica scritta in linqua turca, persiana ed araba da Hazi-Halife-Mustapha, e tradottanell’idioma italiano da Gio. Rinaldo Carli, Venez. 1697.

This is the same chronicle; but there is talk of continuators, who printed in 1733 – just as  before.

Further googling reveals a new spelling again: “taqwim al-tawarikh” by Katib Chelebi / Haji Khalifa (via here).  This leads us to … a 1733 copy offered for sale online here!

Takvim ut tevarih (Taqwim ut Tawarikh)
by Katib Celebi (Chalabi) Haci Halife (Hajji Khalifa)
Condition: Very Good

Istanbul: Ibrahim Muteferrika, 1733 Book. Very Good. Hardcover. 1st Edition. 4to – over 9¾ – 12″ tall. the 12th book to be printed by Ibrahim Muteferrika in 1146 (1733). 6, 3, 247 p. in Modern fine Ottoman style binding ornamented in gilt. .

Only $20,000 – a snip!  In fact I find that even the Italian translation of part of it is more than $10,000.

But I think we’ve now ventured rather beyond my area of competence, into strange languages, none of which are accessible.

All the same, a book printed in 1733 should certainly know what happened in 1719, in the same city.  Hammer plainly had access to it.  I think we can conclude, even if we can’t look at Haji Khalifa’s book, or rather the continuation of it, that the column did indeed collapse in 1719.  I find a magazine article in the Daily Sabah here that says that the earthquake took place on May 25, 1719.


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.


The Studios monastery in Constantinople – lots of it still standing

Today I came across a new Twitter feed, @ConstantineCity, publishing additions to, “Cataloging the remnants of Roman Constantinople in Istanbul”.  This is a great idea, which I wonder nobody has had before.

The website doesn’t seem to have much on it, but the twitter feed does.  Here is a tweet on the Studios monastery:

Stoudios Monastery: Monastic complex founded in the 5th c. and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Its main basilica is still standing, albeit roofless, with elaborate flooring exposed to the elements.

The last image must be taken by a drone, which highlights how useful these things can be.

A Google search for “İmrahor İlyasbey Anıtı” or “Imrahor camii” – Camii is Turkish for mosque – will find more photos of the main basilica. 

The Studios monastery is immensely important in the transmission of Greek culture.  The Greek minuscule book hand was supposedly developed there in the 9th century, replacing the larger uncial hand.    The Wikipedia article (caution!) is here.


The amazing drawings of Constantinople by Antoine Helbert

Today I came across a series of drawings of Byzantium which were all made by French artist Antoine Helbert.  They may be found here.

The one that caught my attention was this one, showing columns with the statues of emperors atop them, in the Augustaion outside Hagia Sophia.

Augustaion. By Antoine Helbert.

It gives a very nice context to the famous statue of Justinian.  At first I thought it was an old photograph; but of course that would be impossible.  It is magnificent!

There are very many more.  Some will be familiar – often passed around the web without attribution.



Some photographs of seats in the Hippodrome of Istanbul from 1950

The Hippodrome of Constantinople remains a splendid place, even in modern Istanbul.  But I was unaware that in 1950 a Turkish archaeologist excavated on the west side of the hippodrome, and uncovered some of the seats.  This week I came across some photographs from the excavations online, here, here and here.  So I thought that I would share them with you!  (I gather from Wikipedia that further digging outside the Sultan Ahmet mosque in the 90’s uncovered more material, but this I know nothing about).  We must all be grateful to those who located and placed these photos online.

Also online I discovered photographs of two column capitals, today in the Istanbul museum.  It must have been really splendid!


A 1574 set of drawings from Constantinople in the Freshfield album

One of the great delights of our day is the digitisation of manuscript collections.  This brings to light treasures hardly seen before.

Trinity College Cambridge are the possessors of a collection of 20 colour drawings of monuments in Constantinople, made in 1574 by an unknown artist.  This item, known as the Freshfield album, came into the hands of the college a century ago, by means of a bequest from an old student.  Background information is on the college blog here.

Fortunate indeed is an institution whose old students both possess such treasures, and are well-disposed towards their old alma mater.

The college has digitised the manuscript, and it is online here.  And what a treasure it is!  For instance there is this view of the Hippodrome, before the heads of the serpent column were removed.

Sadly the images cannot be downloaded.  But there is a full-screen mode, which is something.

There is an image of the serpent column alone.  Here is the top, which once supported a tripod and dish:

Let’s zoom in on the heads:

And another:

For the upper portion of one of the heads is preserved in the museum in Istanbul, so these drawings make sense of it.  Here’s one of the images from the excellent collection at

There are many more photos of the head here.

So the Freshfield album gives us some very detailed ideas of the vanished portions.  Similarly there is this image of the porphyry column of Constantine, which still stands, but with an extra bit on the top:

Can anyone make out the Greek text of the inscription?

There are likewise in the album detailed drawings of the now vanished column of Arcadius, which resembled Trajan’s column, but was already cracking and perhaps ready to fall.



A few descriptions of Constantinople in the 15th century, none accessible to us

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks drew a line under the history of the eastern Roman empire.  The buildings and monuments of the city, already badly damaged by time and the Latin occupation of 1204, now suffered the fate of being irrelevant and inconvenient to the city rulers, and much was lost.

The most conspicuous example of this is the demolition of the church of the Holy Apostles, and the mausoleum of Constantine and the emperors who followed him.  But this was perhaps mainly an example of “marking your turf”, familiar to teenager gangs everywhere.  However much else that still survived vanished around the same time.

It would be very interesting to have a list of primary sources describing the city in the 15th century.  The dying empire still attracted visitors at the start of the century; and in the early years of Ottoman rule, there are descriptions of events that reflect the state of the city.

Sadly I do not know of such a list, nor any easy way to obtain one.  But today I came across a preview of a volume online which mentions a number of such items.

The work in question is Cigdem Kafescioglu’s Constantinopolis / Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital, Pennsylvania State University, 2009.

On page 136 we find the following fascinating statement (sadly Google blanked out the diagrams):

What remained of the ceremonial arteries of Byzantine Constantinople at the time the Ottomans captured the city is not known precisely (fig. 104). What is known suggests that fragments and traces of a former monumental layout remained, rather than an intact complex of streets and fora. In his “Comparison of Old and New Rome,” which he wrote in Rome in 1411, Manuel Chrysoloras, referring to the Golden Gate and the southern branch of the Mese, mentions the “former city gate which is on the same road.” His emphasis, however, is on what remained of the city’s monumental columns, statues and pedestals “wallowing in mud and mire, having fallen into ruin,” rather than the urban spaces that bore these.233 Early Ottoman land surveys suggest that colonnaded porticoes were partly standing on the eastern portion of the Mese. The “shops called kemer (arch)” near Hagia Sophia, recorded in 1489, were possibly the last remnants of the porticoed city streets aligned with shops. These were either shop/stoa combinations, as described by Marlia Mundell-Mango, or former porticoes transformed into shops by the Ottomans.234 Ceremonial use of the arteries had similarly declined. In a study of imperial and ecclesiastical processions in Byzantium, Albrecht Berger has noted that urban ceremonial in the last centuries of Byzantium used only fragments of the city’s former ceremonial map. Rather than traverse the whole expanse of the Mese, later Byzantine emperors, in their increasingly infrequent visits to the city center, more often used a sea route from the Blachernae to the Seraglio Point and only there disembarked for a land-bound procession to theHagia Sophia or the Hippodrome.235 Accounts such as Gilles’s description of the Hippodrome as overgrown with trees at the time of the conquest and Ottoman concerns with security in these spaces point in the same direction.

Sparse yet significant information on the Hippodrome through the early years of Ottoman rule in Constantinople survives. In the image by Vavassore published around 1530, based on an original dating to the late fifteenth century, the sphendone and the entrance complex, the latter to be spoliated in the construction of the Suleymaniye mosque and complex in the 1550s, are still intact. A hagiography completed in 1484, the Velayetname-i Otman Baba, indicates that the open space of the Hippodrome—or, in its translated name, the Atmeydani—was already a central spot in the city by the end of Mehmed’s rule. In this account, the heretic dervish Otman Baba and his followers rather narrowly escape being brought here to meet their end at the stakes and hooks awaiting them.236 An opposition between the city’s center and edge, a metaphor also for proximity and distance vis-a-vis the state, is articulated here through narration of the steps taken to convey the dervishes to a convent near the Silivrikapi/Pege Gate along the land walls, and not to the Hippodrome. The Velayetname, by an author at the margins of the emerging Ottoman order, does not grant a more precise view into the events regarding the dervish’s trial. It does nevertheless provide a glimpse of the Hippodrome as one of the sites where the conflict between the heretic leader and the palace was acted out within the capital city, foreshadowing its centuries-long use as the stage where palace and city would meet for the administration of justice…

233.  Chrysoloras, “Comparison of Old and New Rome”, 211, 214.
234.  BBA (Basbakanlik Arsivi = Archives of the Prime Ministry) MM19 (Ayasofya vakfitahrir defteri, A.H. 895), fols 24a-25a. On emboloi in the Byzantine city, see Mundell-Mango, “The Commercial Map of Constantinople,” 194-97, 203-4 (JSTOR).  Information on the Mese in the Palaeologan era suggests that commercial activity was focused on particular locations rather than stretching alongside it.
235. Berger, “Imperial and Ecclesiastical Processions in Constantinople,” 83-85; 86-87, for a map of processions in the Byzantine city.
236. Kucuk Abdal, Velayetname-i Sultan Otman, 94v-97r, 117v-118v.

It is sad to see that the Turkish sources are only listed in manuscript; that is, remain unpublished.

The work by Manuel Chrysoloras, the Byzantine diplomat who taught the world how to read Greek, during three short years in Florence at the end of the 14th century, ought to be accessible.  It may be found in PG156, cols.24-53.  But Kafescioglu indicates (p.267) that an obscure English translation does indeed exist:

Chrysoloras, Manuel. “Comparison of Old and New Rome.” Translated and edited by Christine Smith. In: Architecture in the Culture of Early Humanism: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Eloquence, 1400-1470,171-215. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

That it is obscure may readily be discovered by anyone searching Google for a translation.  Sadly the paper is inaccessible to me too!  But at least it is good to know that it exists.

Why doesn’t someone create a website dedicated to 15th century Constantinople?  It would be so very useful!


The serpent column in Constantinople in early printed books

More and more early printed books are becoming available online.  Fortunately the German libraries are scanning them at high resolution.  This includes the line-drawings, which have hitherto been difficult to access, and often only available under incredibly restrictive terms that meant only publishers could use them, and only a few.  But now, suddenly, a wealth of drawings is becoming available.

Among these are historically valuable records of now vanished classical monuments.  A couple of days ago there was an interesting series of tweets by @VeraCausa9, including old drawings of the serpent column in the Hippodrome in Constantinople.

This bronze column consists – for it still stands – of three serpent bodies twisted together.  Originally three serpent heads came out of the top, supporting a golden dish.  The column was made to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC, and originally stood at Delphi.  It was moved to Constantinople by Constantine; and there it has been ever since.  It is quite incredible that it still survives.

Sadly it is damaged.  But the old drawings show it before the heads were snapped off!  Twitter is a little ephemeral, and I think this series deserves a little more permanence and prominence.

Here are the pictures posted. As ever, click on them to see the full size picture.  Thankfully the author posted references.  I’ve not had the chance to look these up, sadly.  Nor is it clear to what extent these are contemporary truth, or antiquarian imagination.

Here’s the first:

Thevet - 1556
Thevet – 1556

The first is this one, from André Thevet, Cosmographie de Levant par F. André Thevet d’Angoulême. Revue et augmentée de plusieurs figures, Lyon, 1556.  It shows from the left the obelisk of Theodosius, the serpent column, and the column of Arcadius.

Schweigger, 1608.
Schweigger, 1608.

Salomon Schweigger, Ein newe Reiss Beschreibung auss Teutschland nach Constantinopel und Jerusalem, Nuremberg 1608.  This shows: A. column of Constantine I; Β. Obelisk of Theodosius I; C. Serpent Column; D. Column of Arcadius.

Wheler, 1682.
Wheler, 1682.

George Wheler, A Journey into Greece… In Company of Dr Spon of Lyons. In 6 books. William Cademan,Robert Kettlewell /Awnsham Churchill,1682.  Evidently from book 2.

La Mottraye, 1727
La Mottraye, 1727

Aubry de la Mottraye, Voyages du Sr. A. de La Motraye, en Europe, Asie & Afrique…Recherches géographiques, historiques & politiques, 1727.  Also on Wikimedia Commons.

By 1810 the heads were definitely gone:

Mayer, 1810.
Mayer, 1810.

Luigi Mayer, Views in the Ottoman Dominions…from the Original Drawings taken for Sir Robert Ainslie, London, P. Bowyee, 1810.

There is an interesting Wikipedia article, which reveals that – unknown to me – the column is actually inscribed with the names of the Greek cities that fought at Plataea.  It also contains some other pictures.  It also gives the literary sources for the column.

I hope that we will get yet more pictures made available to us.