Where to find remains of the Hippodrome seating today

A few days ago I posted some photographs of the 1950 excavations of the Hippodrome in Istanbul here.

Today I came across Eileen Stephenson’s Beginner’s Guide to the Hippdrome post, which includes photographs of various bits of the Hippodrome that I had not noticed on my own visit.  These include the seating that was excavated.

She writes:

Towards the end of our stay we visited the Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, which was built across the square from the Blue Mosque and over some of the stands of the Hippodrome. In the lowest level of this museum you can find these remnants of the Hippodrome. …  Then another passageway with the remains of the stands.

Clearly well worth visiting!

A June 1935 photograph of the Sphendone in Istanbul

Tourists who visit the Hippodrome in Istanbul are usually unaware that the far end is in fact supported by Byzantine masonry, as the land falls away on that side.  The construction is called the sphendone.  These days a Turkish official building sits on top of it.

Here’s a particularly nice photograph of the sphendone, as it appeared in June 1935.  I found it at DOAKS here, part of the Nicholas Artamonoff collection (Negative Number:  RA64; Reaccession Number: ICFA.NA.0021)

Very sharp, and very clear!  Lovely.  I must go and look at the sphendone if I can ever return to Istanbul!

Photos of archaeological work in the Hippodrome in Istanbul

A couple of photographs appeared on Twitter last year, from the @ByzantineLegacy account, of the 1950 excavations of the Hippodrome in Istanbul undertaken by Rüstem Duyuran.  Here’s the first:

That looks like some of the seating, today invisible, to my ignorant eyes.

This seems to be from the account of @Seda_Ozen, who also published two more:

Definitely the stadium steps!


I wonder if there is an account of the excavations in English or French anywhere?

UPDATE: A kind commenter points us to a summary of the research in English here, and with an additional picture:

PDFs can disappear, so let me record the salient bits here.  The article is by Meryem Arlette Cenani, “A summary of archaeological research in Turkey in 1950”, published by the Touring and Automobile Club of Turkey in 1952.  She writes:


Situated close to the Mesa or Middle Street, to St. Sophia and to the Emperors’ Great Palace, the Hippodrome was not only the meeting-place of chariot-racing enthusiasts, but also the starting-point of numerous political riots and revolutions.lt thus played an active and very important part in the history of Byzantium since the IVth century A.D.

Its axis, the «Spina», was decorated with rare works of art and monuments, some of which remained in situ to this day and can be seen on the Sultanahmet Meydam in Istanbul. The seats were built around the race-track, with the Imperial box in the place of honour.

North-West of the Great Palace and the Hippodrome, were the residences of high dignitaries of the Empire and, among these, the beautiful palaces of Lausos, patrician and governor under the Emperor Arcadius (395/408 A.D.) and of Antiochos who was councillor to young Theodosius II (408/450 A.D.). He later attained the highest honours but died a priest. His name was given to the quarter of Byzantium where he had lived and the Antiochos Gate was one of the main entrances to the Hippodrome.

Small churches and other monuments existed in the vicinity, but they disappeared in the course of time.

In 1950, while laying the foundations of a Court of Justice, so many valuable fragments were brought to light that the Museum of Antiquities at Istanbul intervened and began, with the support of the Ministry of education, the systematic excavation of the site, recording and preservating, whenever possible, important remains, under the supervision of Bay Rustem Duyuran, Assistant Director.

Two areas were excavated:

A) . Buildings grouped around the Martyrion of St. Euphemia (Vth century A.D.) excavated in 1942 by Dr. A. M. Schneider, of the German Archaeological Institute at Istanbul.

The church of St. Euphemia was adjacent to a «porticus semirotunda», a semi-circular portico, the axis of which was parallel to the Hippodrome. Excavations in 1950 showed that the building, which subsequently became the Martyrion, was originally the center of a complex of rooms disposed along this portico, the whole being part of a large palace. It is hoped that further excavations will enable the more exact designation of the ruins uncovered, as they coincide with the emplacement where the palaces of Lausos and Antiochos had once stood.

Traces of frescoes were discovered on the walls of a small church close to St. Euphemia. Both its floor and that of another building nearby were covered with «opus sectile» polychrome marble pavements of floral and geometric designs.

A IXth century frescoe of the Deisis (Adoration of Christ), already published by Dr. Schneider, was brought to light West of St. Euphemia, as well as another wall-painting representing a cross among flowers, which probably belongs to the period of the Latin conquest of Constantinople (XIIIth century A.D.).

B) . Archaeological remains connected with the Hippodrome.

This area is close to the Atmeydani and parallel to it. Six rows of seats «in situ» were first excavated. The lowest row is almost on level with the Atmeydani. A trench dug in front of the seats struck the Hippodrome pavement at a depth of 4 m, 46.

The thick sustaining wall back of the seats was cleared on a length of approximately 70 m. Behind it was a staircase leading to the highest row. Back of this staircase, a wide street appeared. It was paved with dark grey stones and a canal ran under it in a North to South direction.

According to the building technique and the materials used, the earliest structures belong to the period of Septimus Severus (beginning of the third century A.D.).

A bath ends the street on the West. Although rebuilt in early Turkish times, it was originally Byzantine. On either side of it was a marble staircase. The stairs on the right lead to a semi-circular gateway consisting of four steps: this probably was the famous Antiochos Gate.

A third area (C), lying between the Hippodrome and St. Euphemia, is to be excavated in 1951-52.

Soundings made in the «Earliest Level», the thickness of which is of 40/50 cm. over virgin soil, uncovered potsherds ranging from the IVth century B.C. to late Roman times. Although Byzantine and Islamic pottery was abundant all over the excavations, the disturbed state of the ground, into which so many foundations had been dug at all periods, prevents strati graphical study.

About 40 copper coins of the 9th/11th centuries and numerous stamped bricks were collected as well as bronze candelabra and clay lamps.

Archaeologists are indebted to the Turkish Government who enabled them to hold up the construction of the new Court of Justice in order to carry out these excavations which are of the highest importance for the historical and topographical study of Byzantium and have awakened a world-wide interest.

She adds:

Most of the information in this summary is extracted from the journals «Anatolian Studies», Vol. 1, 1951 and «Anadolu» No. 1, 1951.

Unfortunately Anatolian Studies (which is on JSTOR) does not refer to the Hippodrome excavations.  Anadolu is online here, but dates from 1956.

But all this is certainly more than we knew before! Thank you!

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!

The sack of Constantinople in 1453 (Part 2)

A commenter queried the outcome of an investigation that I began in The sack of Constantinople in 1453, and asked whether the “quote” with which I started was, or was not, found in Critobulous.

Here is the Riggs’ translation of the passage describing the sack of Constantinople, which must be the passage in question (p.71 f.):

§ 237. Then a great slaughter occurred of those who happened to be there: some of them were on the streets, for they had already left the houses and were running toward the tumult when they fell unexpectedly on the swords of the soldiers; others were in their own homes and fell victims to the violence of the Janissaries and other soldiers, without any rhyme or reason; others were resisting, relying on their own courage; still others were fleeing to the churches and making supplication – men, women, and children, everyone, for there was no quarter given.

§ 238. The soldiers fell on them with anger and great wrath. For one thing, they were actuated by the hardships of the siege. For another, some foolish people had hurled taunts and curses at them from the battlements all through the siege. Now, in general they killed so as to frighten all the City, and to terrorize and enslave all by the slaughter.

§ 239.  When they had had enough of murder, and the City was reduced to slavery, some of the troops turned to the mansions of the mighty, by bands and companies and divisions, for plunder and spoil. Others went to the robbing of churches, and others dispersed to the simple homes of the common people, stealing, robbing, plundering, killing, insulting, taking and enslaving men, women, and children, old and young, priests, monks-in short, every age and class.

§ 240. There was a further sight, terrible and pitiful beyond all tragedies: young and chaste women of noble birth and well to do, accustomed to remain at home and who had hardly ever left their own premises, and handsome and lovely maidens of splendid and renowned families, till then unsullied by male eyes-some of these were dragged by force from their chambers and hauled off pitilessly and dishonorably.

§ 241. Other women, sleeping in their beds, had to endure nightmares. Men with swords, their hands bloodstained with murder, breathing out rage, speaking out murder indiscriminate, flushed with all the worst things-this crowd, made up of men from every race and nation, brought together by chance, like wild and ferocious beasts, leaped into the houses, driving them out mercilessly, dragging, rending, forcing, hauling them disgracefully into the public highways, insulting them and doing every evil thing.

§ 242. They say that many of the maidens, even at the mere unaccustomed sight and sound of these men, were terror-stricken and came near losing their very lives. And there were also honorable old men who were dragged by their white hair, and some of them beaten unmercifully. And well-born and beautiful young boys were carried off.

§ 243. There were priests who were driven along, and consecrated virgins who were honorable and wholly unsullied, devoted to God alone and living for Him to whom they had consecrated themselves. Some of these were forced out of their cells and driven off, and others dragged out of the churches where they had taken refuge and driven off with insult and dishonor, their cheeks scratched, amid wailing and lamentation and bitter tears. Tender children were snatched pitilessly from their mothers, young brides separated ruthlessly from their newly-married husbands. And ten thousand other terrible deeds were done.

§ 244. And the desecrating and plundering and robbing of the churches – how can one describe it in words? Some things they threw in dishonor on the ground – ikons and reliquaries and other objects from the churches. The crowd snatched some of these, and some were given over to the fire while others were torn to shreds and scattered at the crossroads. The last resting-places of the blessed men of old were opened, and their remains were taken out and disgracefully torn to pieces, even to shreds, and made the sport of the wind while others were thrown on the streets.

§ 245. Chalices and goblets and vessels to hold the holy sacrifice, some of them were used for drinking and carousing, and others were broken up or melted down and sold. Holy vessels and costly robes richly embroidered with much gold or brilliant with precious stones and pearls were some of them given to the most wicked men for no good use, while others were consigned to the fire and melted down for the gold.

§ 246. And holy and divine books, and others mainly of profane literature and philosophy, were either given to the flames or dishonorably trampled under foot. Many of them were sold for two or three pieces of money, and sometimes for pennies only, not for gain so much as in contempt. Holy altars were torn from their foundations and overthrown. The walls of sanctuaries and cloisters were explored, and the holy places of the shrines were dug into and overthrown in the search for gold. Many other such things they dared to do.

§ 247. Those unfortunate Romans who had been assigned to other parts of the wall and were fighting there, on land and by the sea, supposed that the City was still safe and had not suffered reverses, and that their women and children were free-for they had no knowledge at all of what had happened. They kept on fighting lustily, powerfully resisting the attackers and brilliantly driving off those who were trying to scale the walls. But when they saw the enemy in their rear, attacking them from inside the City, and saw women and children being led away captives and shamefully treated, some were overwhelmed with hopelessness and threw themselves with their weapons over the wall and were killed, while others in utter despair dropped their weapons from hands already paralyzed, and surrendered to the enemy without a struggle, to be treated as the enemy chose.

The extremely vivid language of the original quotation is not, therefore, found in the original.  I suspect that it is a modern rewriting of Critobulos.  One would have to look at “Guerdan and Halliday” to see whether that text was theirs.[1]

UPDATE: I have ordered a copy of Guerdan, so we will find out.

  1. [1]Byzantium: its triumphs and tragedy, by R. Guerdan, trans. by D. L. B. Halliday, Allen and Unwin (1954).

A useful map of Constantinople

Van der Vin’s book[1] also contains a rather useful map of Constantinople, which I think worth sharing.  In particular it shows the location of the Church of the Holy Apostles.


UPDATE: I suppose this map will be more useful to more people, if I OCR the names at the bottom so that Google can find them. They are:
1. Wall of Theodosius II
2. Golden Gate
3. Pege Gate (Selymbria Gate)
4. Hagia Sophia
5. Hagii Apostoli
6. Monastery of St. John in Stoudion
7. Church of Mary Peribleptos
8. Monastery of St. Andrew in Krisei
9. Church of Mary of Blachernae
10. Monastery of St. John in Petra
11. Monastery of Pantocrator
12. Church of St. Stephen in Dafne
13. Church of Mary Hodegetria
14. Monastery of St. George of the Mangana
15. Column of Justinian I (Augusteion)
16. Column of Constantine (Forum of Constantine)
17. Column of Theodosius I (Forum Tauri)
18. Column of Arcadius (Forum of Arcadius)
19. Column of Michael VIII
20. Imperial Palace
21. Bucoleon palace
22. Blachernae palace
23. Hippodrome
24. Obelisk
25. Cistern of Philoxenos
26. Aqueduct of Valens
27. Forum Amastrianum
28. Forum of the Bous
29. Lycus Valley
30. Mese

  1. [1]J.P.A. van der Vin –   Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1. Online at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East site.

The church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople – already in ruins before 1453?

The church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople was the location of the mausoleum of the emperors.  It doesn’t exist any more, as it was demolished by the Turks after 1453 and a mosque built on the site, the mosque of “Mehmet the Conquerer”.

I’ve seen the statement online, made in such a way as to palliate the destruction, that the church was a ruin before the Turks demolished it.  But I did wonder what the evidence was.

Well, I’ve been working away at Van der Vin’s marvellous book on medieval travellers to Constantinople,[1] which I mentioned earlier.  The website on which it resides did a splendid job and scanned the missing half of the book and fixed the upload in a day!  And this gives us the answer.

From Cristoforo Buondelmonti (ca. 1414-1422), Liber insularum archipelagi:[2]

Next to the church of the Holy Apostles stands the fifth column, the top of which bears an angel of bronze and Constantine on his knees.

The aforesaid church, already ruined by time, contains the sumptuous tombs of the emperors, cut out of purple marble, notably the vast sarcophagus of Constantine.  The column to which Christ was attached for the flagellation may be seen there.

This statement, however, is our only such statement.  Buondelmonti refers to ruins all over the place in Constantinople.

In fact the city was largely in ruins and extensive areas within the walls were just fields and olive groves.  the population had shrunk to a mere 40,000, living in 13 villages scattered here and there over the immense area.

The population estimate comes from an anonymous account written in Munich in 1437.[3]

Ibn Battuta, an Arab traveller who visited the city in 1332 as part of the entourage of a Greek princess, says that the citadel and palace are “is surrounded by the city wall, which is a  formidable one and cannot be taken by assault on the side of the sea.  Within the wall are about thirteen inhabited villages.”[4]

Buondelmonti tells us that the Constantinoplitans are “very few”[5] and concerned with nothing but food.  In 1432 Bertrandon de la Broquiere, a Burgundian nobleman on pilgrimage, tells us that “the city is made up of villages and that there is much more open than built-up.”[6]  Pero Tafur, a Spanish nobleman on pilgrimage who visited around 1437-8, writes:[7]

The city is sparsely populated. It is divided into districts, that by the sea-shore having the largest population. The inhabitants are not well clad, but sad and poor, showing the hardship of their lot which is, however, not so bad as they deserve, for they are a  vicious people, steeped in sin. …

It must have been a sad place, full of ruins and poverty, and an impoverished emperor and his court.  Yet how we would love to see it!

  1. [1]J.P.A. van der Vin –   Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1. Online at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East site.
  2. [2]Van der Vin, p.688.
  3. [3]P.254, 443.  The text is Terre hodierne Grecorum et dominia secularia et spiritualia ipsorum; see “Neos hellenomnemon” 7 (1910), p.361.  It reads: “habitantes in ea, ut extimo, quadraginta milia hominum vix possunt interesse, qui in tempore guerrae de suis internis vineis, pratis et ceteris necessariis vivere possunt, prout frequenter probatur.”
  4. [4]P.569.
  5. [5]Van der Vin, p.669.
  6. [6]P.684: I am not entirely certain of the translation of the old French “Tout ainsi que les grosses carraques peuvent venir devant Pere, semblablement font à Constantinoble[sic]. Et est cette cite cy faicte par villaiges et y a beaucop plus de voide que de plain.”  Edition: Ch. Schefer, Le voyage d’Outremer de Bertrandon de la Broquiere, Paris, 1892.
  7. [7]P.703.

From my diary

Another chunk of the transcription of al-Makin has arrived, making 70 pages in all, or around a quarter of Erpenius’ edition.  This is going swimmingly!

One of the reasons why I wanted an electronic transcription of the text is so that I — as a non-Arabic speaker — can use Google Translate on it.  Today I pasted the first chunk into it, to see what happened.  Alas Google Translate for Arabic still has quite a way to go; but I got something.  One interesting bit was the use of “Peace be upon him” at various points.  This is, of course, the section of al-Makin devoted to Islamic rulers, and epitomised from al-Tabari; but it’s still unnerving.

A correspondent sent me a link to another collection of online books: the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East.  Most exciting of these — for me — was J.P.A. van der Vin –   Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1.

Unfortunately the PDF was incomplete.  It omitted the notes (all placed at the end — aargh!) and indeed about half the book.  I have written to the site, however, and already received a very kind reply, so I have hopes that it is merely a glitch.

Even so I found many statements of interest in it.  Most notably, after 1204, nobody describes Constantinople as a “rich” city any more.  The looting by the Latins clearly beggared the town.  Likewise the population declined so that wide areas of the city were turned into farmland.  I’d like to see the references for this; but I recall that Mesariotes in his very late Description of the Church of the Holy Apostles describes it as lying in the middle of farmland.  Doubtless it was so.  But I shall look into this once I can see the rest of the book.

UPDATE: The site fixed the book within 48 hours! Wow!

An old engraving of the Hippodrome at Constantinople, sabotaged by Google Books

This afternoon I was trying to find out what early engravings might exist of Constantinople.  The search was mainly vain; but I did learn that a certain Onofrio Panavinio in his Ludi et Circences (1600) had printed an engraving of the Hippodrome.

This may be found here at Flickr, and I have uploaded the original here since it took quite a long time to locate it.  You should be able to click through to the splendid full-size image.

Onufrio Panavinio, engraving of the Hippdrome at Constantinople. Published 1600.

I wondered if perhaps the book itself might exist at Google Books.  A reprint of 1642 has no plates in it; but the original does exist there, and may be found here.  The plate is between pages 60 and 61.  On page 61 Panavinio adds, after discussing the Circus here in Constantinople:

Eius Circi descriptionem, ex antiqua Constantinopolis topographica, quae paulo antequam Urbs in Turcorum potestatem venisset facta fuit, excerpta, sic adieci, parum his quae a Petro Gilio dicuntur quadrantem.  Fieri n. potest ut centum annorum intervallo, Circi sive Hippodromi Constantinopolitani aspectus mutatus sit, Turcis eum indies demolientibus, & vastantibus, ac ad suos usus praeclarissima marmora, & columnas vertentibus.

I have added opposite a drawing of this circus, picked out from the topography of old Constantinople, which was made a little before the city came into the power of the Turks, a quarter of these things which are discussed by Petrus Gyllius.  It has come about that,  as a hundred years has intervened, the appearance of the Circus or Hippodrome of Constantinople has been changed, the Turks from day to day demolishing and devastating it, and putting its most excellent marbles and columns to their own uses.

The absence of any mosques does indeed suggest a 15th century drawing.

The Google Books page for the right-hand side looks as follows:


I thought that I would keep a copy locally, so I downloaded the PDF. Imagine my shock to find that I didn’t get what was visible on-screen.  Instead I got this:


(I have included the full screen in both images because our software tools change so fast at the moment that these may be of interest in five or ten years time!)

I don’t think we need ask which we prefer.  The colour image is far better to work with.

In these early books, moreover, the paper is thin and the text often comes through.  It’s manageable enough in colour images; but in the monochrome ones, this makes the pages near unreadable.

Did Google always do this?  Why don’t they make the images shown onscreen accessible for download?  A bit worrying this, in a way: for the image I have above was something I couldn’t have got from the book.

One postscript to all this.  I found a wonderful site this afternoon, on the Sphendone, the supporting platform at the west end of the Hippodrome.  The site slopes down towards the sea, and the Roman architects built a platform of brick and mortar — known as the Sphendone — to support it.  It’s still there.  The website contains numerous photographs and drawings, as well as an aerial photograph showing the extent of the Hippdrome, superimposed on today’s buildings.  Marvellous, and very recommended.  The author of the page is an artist named Trici Venola.

More on the tombs of the emperors at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople

The now-vanished Church of the Holy Apostles stood on a high place in Constantinople with views of the sea to north and south.  It stood in the western part of the city, standing on the main street which connected the Forum of Theodosius with the Charisian gate (Edirnekapi), and which corresponds to the modern Fevzi Pasha cadi.  It was built by Constantine and substantially rebuilt by Justinian, after which it took the form of a cross with a central dome and subsidiary domes, plus a number of buildings in the grounds.  It was in poor repair by 1453, and some of the mausolea were roofless by this time.  The church and its ancillary buildings were entirely destroyed by the Turks after they took the city, and the mosque of Mehmet Fatih – Mehmet the Conquerer – built on its site.[1]  It is described by Procopius in De aedificiis i.4.9-24,[2] and also in flowery terms by Byzantine writer Nicholas Mesarites, sometime between 1198-1203.[3]

Porphyry sarcophagi of the emperors

Outside the archaeological museum in Istanbul stand four huge porphyry sarcophagi.[4]  These seem to have been found in the grounds of the Turkish Topkapi palace nearby, where they were brought, probably for use as building material, and then buried.[5]

That each early emperor was buried in a porphyry sarcophagus – larnax – is attested by the lists of tombs in the church given in the sources.  The first of these is contained in the Book of Ceremonies ii.42 by Constantine Porphyrogenitus.[6]  Mesarites describes the mausoleums – Heroons – in chapters 39-40.  Two other versions of the material appear in the Patria, texts about Constantinople of which I translated a portion last time, and in a manuscript printed by Du Cange.  There is also the Chronicon Altinate, which is included in the MGH but which for some reason I am entirely unable to find online at the MGH website.

Let’s have a look at the version in the Book of Ceremonies.


Heroon of the Holy and Great Constantine.

1. In the principal place, to the east, lies the sarcophagus of St. Constantine, [of] porphyry, or rather ‘Roman’ [stone], in which he himself lies with the blessed Helen his mother.
2. Another sarcophagus, [of] porphyry Roman [stone], in which lies Constantius the son of Constantine the Great.
3. Another sarcophagus, porphyry Roman, in which lies Theodosius the Great.
4. Another sarcophagus, green hieracites, in which lies Leo the Great.
5. Another sarcophagus, porphyry Roman, in which lies Marcianus with his wife Pulcheria.
6. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies the Emperor Zeno.
7. Another sarcophagus, Aquitanian, in which lies Anastasios Dikoros with Ariadne his wife.
8. Another sarcophagus, of green Thessalian stone, in which lies the Emperor Michael, the son of Theophilos. Note that this sarcophagus of Michael is that of the Emperor Justin the Great. It lay in the monastery of the Augusta, below the Apostle St. Thomas, in which the robes of the apostles were found. And Lord Leo the Emperor took it and placed it here for the burial of the body of this Michael.
9. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies Basil with Eudokia and Alexander his son.
10. Another sarcophagus, Sagarian or pneumonousiani, in which lies the renowned Leo with his son Constantine, who died later, the Porphyrogennetos.
11. Another sarcophagus, [of] white, so-called imperial, [stone], in which lies Constantine the son of Basil.
12. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies St. Theophano, the first wife of the blessed Leo, with Eudokia her daughter.
13. Another sarcophagus, Bithynian, in which lies Zoe the second wife of the same Leo.
14. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies Eudokia the third wife of the same Lord Leo, she who was surnamed Baine.
15. Another sarcophagus, Proconesian, in which lie Anna and Anna the daughters of the blessed Leo and Zoe.
16. Another small sarcophagus, Sagarian or pneumonousian, in which lies Basil the brother of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, and Bardas the son of Basil his grandfather.
17. Another small sarcophagus, of Sagarian stone, in which lies . . .

Heroon of the Great Justinian

18. At the apse itself, to the east, is the first sarcophagus, in which lies the body of Justinian, of unusual foreign stone, in colour between Bithynian and Chalcedonian, something like stone of Ostrite.
19. Another sarcophagus, of Hierapolitan stone, in which lies Theodora the wife of Justinian the Great.
20. Another sarcophagus lying to the west, on the right hand, of stone of Dokimion, of variegated rose colour, in which lies Eudokia the wife of Justinian the Younger.
21. Another sarcophagus, of white Proconesian stone, in which lies Justin the Younger.
22. Another sarcophagus, of Proconesian stone, in which lies Sophia the wife of Justin.
23. Another sarcophagus, of white stone of Dokimion, onyx, in which lies Heraklios the Great.
24. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies Fabia the wife of Heraklios.
25. Another sarcophagus, Proconesian, of Constantine Pogonatos.
26. Another sarcophagus, of green Thessalian stone, in which lies Fausta the wife of Constantine Pogonatos.
27. Another sarcophagus, Sagarian, in which lies Constantine, the descendant of Heraklios, the son of Constantine Pogonatos.
28. Another sarcophagus, of variegated Sagarian stone, in which lies Anastasios also called Artemios.
29. Another sarcophagus, of Hierapolitan stone, in which lies the wife of Anastasios also called Artemios.
30. Another sarcophagus, of Proconesian stone, in which lies Leo the Isaurian.
31. Another sarcophagus, of green Thessalian stone, in which lay Constantine, the son of the Isaurian, who was surnamed Kaballinos; but he was cast out by Michael and Theodora, and his cursed body was burned. Likewise his sarcophagus was cast out and broken up, and served for the foundations of the Pharos. And the great blocks which are in the Pharos belonged to this sarcophagus.
32. Another sarcophagus, of Proconesian stone, in which lies Eirene the wife of Constantine Kaballinos.
33. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies the wife of Kaballinos.
34. A small coffin of Proconesian stones, in which lie Kosmo and Eirene, sisters of Kaballinos.
35. Another sarcophagus, Proconesian, in which lies Leo the Chazar, son of Constantine Kaballinos.
36. Another sarcophagus, of Proconesian stone, in which lies Eirene the wife of Leo the Chazar.
37. Another sarcophagus, green Thessalian, in which lies Michael Travlos.
38. Another sarcophagus, of Sagarian stone, in which lies Thekla the wife of Michael Travlos.
39. Another sarcophagus, of green stone, in which lies Theophilos the Emperor.
40. Another small sarcophagus, green, in which lies Constantine the son of Theophilos.
41. Another small sarcophagus, of Sagarian stone, in which lies Maria the daughter of Theophilos.

The Stoa to the South of the Same Church

42. In this lie the sarcophagi of Arkadios, Theodosios, his son, and Eudoxia his mother. The tomb of Arkadios is to the south, that of Theodosios to the north, that of Eudoxia to the east, each of the two porphyry or Roman.

The Stoa to the North of the Same Church

43. In this stoa, which is to the north, lies a cylindrically-shaped sarcophagus, in which lies the cursed and wretched body of the apostate Julian, porphyry or Roman in colour.
44. Another sarcophagus, porphyry, or Roman, in which lies the body of Jovian, who ruled after Julian.

Islamic Sultan’s tombs in the grounds of Hagia Sophia

The stoa means only a room containing pillars by this period, so may refer to any building within the church or standing outside of it.[7]

I would speculate that perhaps there were a number of mausolea standing in the grounds of the church, rather like the Islamic tombs of the early Sultans now standing in the grounds of Hagia Sophia?

The shape of the Heroon of Constantine is said by Mesarites to be circular, with a dome.  Mesarites tells us that the mausoleum of Justinian had many “stoaed” (i.e. pillared) corners, so perhaps that was octagonal or hexagonal or something like that.

However the arrangement of the tombs within the Heroon, by 400 AD, schematically, was as follows:

heroon_of_constantineEntry to the building was from the west.  Mesarites tells us that, in the principal place, at the east end, was the tomb of Constantine the Great.  To the south was that of Constantius II, while the tomb of Theodosius the Great was to the north.[8]

Let’s hear from Mesarites:

XXXIX. But let us, if you please, go off to this church which lies toward the east, so that we may look at the things in it, in order to admire and describe them–this church whose founder our discourse has already declared to be Constantius.  2. This whole church is domical and circular, and because of the rather extensive area of the plan, I suppose, it is divided up on all sides by numerous stoaed angles, for it was built for the reception of his father’s body and of his own and of the bodies of those who should rule after them.

3. To the east, then, and in first place the body of Constantine,5 who first ruled the Christian Empire, is laid to rest within this purple-hued sarcophagus as though on some purple-blooming royal couch–he who was, after the twelve disciples, the thirteenth herald of the orthodox faith, and likewise the founder of this imperial city.  4. The sarcophagus has a four-sided shape, somewhat oblong but not with equal sides. The tradition is that Helen, his mother and his fellow-worker for the orthodox faith, is buried with her son.

5. The tomb toward the south is that of the famous Constantius, the founder of the Church. This too is of porphyry color but not in all respects similar to the tomb of his father, just as he who lies within it was not in all ways similar to his father, but was inferior to his father, and followed behind him, in piety and in mental endowment.

6. The tomb toward the north and opposite this, and similar to those which have been mentioned, holds the body of Theodosius the Great like an inexhaustible treasure of noble deeds.   7. The one toward the east, closest to this one, is that of Pulcheria. She is the honored and celebrated founder of the monastery of the Hodegon; see how she, a virgin herself, holds in her hands the likeness of the all-holy Virgin.  …

Additional tombs, after Theodosius, were inserted later around the walls.

The Chronicon Altinate gives a list of emperors and their lengths of reigns.  It is of interest to us for what it says about the emperors in the mausoleum.  Starting on p.62 of MGH supplement 14:

Constantine, son of Constantius, born in Britain from the concubine Helena – the city in his name is in Thrace – … died on the 20th of May, a great and most Christian emperor.  His remains were placed in the church of the Holy Apostles in the sacrarium, which he himself also built, in a porphyry “pila”. …

Constantius … son of Constantine reigned for 24 years.  Constantine [sic] died on 3rd November and his body was placed in the church of the Holy Apostles in a porphyry “pila”.

Julian the apostate … His body was brought to Constantinople and placed in the western part in the church of the Holy Apostles in a porphyry “labrum”. …

On the 27th September Juvian [sic] died, most religious emperor, in Thichera a city of Galicia, and his body was brought to Constantinople, in the church of the Holy Apostles, in the porphyry “labrum” of the great Constantine.  After this his wife was placed in the same “labrum”.  He reigned 8 months.

… (the body of Valens was not found) …

[Valentinian]’s body was brought in the time of Theodosius the Great and placed in the church of the Holy Apostles where Constantine the Great [was] in a porphyry “lanarx”. …

On the 7th of January died the emperor Theodosius the Great at Milan.  His remains were brought to Constantinople and placed in the church of all the holy Apostles, in the sacrarium of Constantine the Great, in a porphyry “pila”; where also his wife Pracilla had previously been placed.

On the 1st May died the emperor Arcadius and his body was placed in the church of all the Holy Apostles in a porphyry “pilla” [sic] in the middle portico with his wife Eudokia, who before she died [acted] to the injury of St. John Chrysostom.  …

And so it continues.

There seem to have been several places in and around the church where imperial bodies may have been laid.  Space was no doubt a consideration also.

It is a pity that the site was destroyed.  I think most of us would like to see at least the sarcophagus of Constantine!  When I next go to Istanbul, I shall make sure that I do; if one of those porphyry tombs is his!

  1. [1]P. Grierson, “The tombs and obits of the Byzantine emperors (337-1042)”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 16 (1962) 1+3-63.  JSTOR.  It contains an edition and English translation of the three main sources for the tombs.
  2. [2]Loeb edition: Procopius, Works, vii.48-54.
  3. [3]Glanville Downey, “Nikolaos Mesarites: Description of the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople”, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 47 (1957), 855-924.  JSTOR. Text and English translation from Ms. Milan Ambrosianus gr. 350, formerly F 93 sup. and Ambros. gr. 352, formerly F 96 sup.
  4. [4]Photograph by Giovanni Dall’Orto from Wikimedia Commons here.
  5. [5]Cyril Mango, “Three Imperial Byzantine Sarcophagi Discovered in 1750”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 16 (1962), 397-402.  JSTOR. P.398: “The early sultans accumulated a considerable amount of Byzantine sculpture in the grounds of the Seraglio presumably with a view to using it as building material; it is sufficient to recall that some of the imperial sarcophagi that are now exposed in front of the Archaeological Museum were discovered in 1847 in the second court of the Seraglio.  All authorities agree that these sarcophagi must have come from the church of the Holy Apostles.”
  6. [6]Given on p.642-6 of Reiske’s edition in the Bonn series, and reprinted by Downey in the article above.
  7. [7]Downey, p.45: “It should be recalled finally that stoa could well be applied to a building which we should call a mausoleum, since it was used not only to denote a colonnade or portico, but a building or part of a building which was enclosed by pillars or consisted basically of pillars supporting a roof.  Zonaras (xiii 4, 28) indeed calls the Mausoleum of Constantine a stoa.”
  8. [8]Diagram from Grierson, p.23.