Some ancient statues taken to Constantinople under Constantius and Theosodius II

Cyril Mango’s excellent article on the fate of ancient statues in Byzantium[1] tells us:

The importation of statues into Constantinople greatly diminished, but did not entirely cease, after the reign of Constantine. Individual statues were apparently brought in under Constantius II,[15] Valentinian,[16] and Theodosius II.[17]

The references given are to a publication, the Scriptores Originum Constantinopolitarum, published in two volumes in Leipzig, 1901 and 1907, ed. Preger.  These are to be found at, here and here, but … they are in Greek only.  Not even a Latin translation is given.

Fortunately a shy mention in the preface indicates that a great deal of the material may be found in the Patrologia Graeca 157, col. 615 f.  The volume has a useful list of contents on col. 1259, which helps with  navigation.

The statues brought in under Constantius II are noted as follows (col. 720-1):

Of the statue of Zeus set up in the Hippodrome.

Many statues were sent from Iconium to Constantinople, one of which number was the Zeus which is in the Hippodrome.

Of the four gilded horses in the Hippodrome.

The four gilded horses, located on the upper side of the Hippdrome, were brought from the island of Chios when Theodosius the Younger was reigning.

Of the statues of Perseus and Andromeda.

From the city of Iconium mentioned earlier, a statue of Perseus and of princess Andromeda, who, as legend has it, and is also given by some as history, … (there follows a version of the legend of Perseus) …  There (at Iconium) first Perseus and then Andromeda died, and their statues were erected above the gate of the city.  In that place there were many sacrifices peformed by Decius, Diocletian and Maximian, and in the same place many saints received martyrdom.  And so the statues of Perseus and Andromeda were brought, it is said, when Constantius was reigning, after the church of Antioch had been purified.

This includes the references to Constantius and Theodosius II. The four horses from Chios are those now in Venice on the roof of St. Mark’s.

However I have been unable to locate in the PG the reference give by Mango to a statue named Perichytes and one of a donkey, brought in under Valentinian:

A statue called Perichytes as well as one of a donkey, both in the Hippodrome: ibid., I, p. 64, # 64; II, p. 192f., # 82. The Perichytes was nude except for a loincloth, and wore a helmet; it was stolen by western merchants some time between 935 and 959: Vita S. Lucae Stylitae, ed. A. Vogt, Analecta Bollandiana, XXXVIII (1909), p. 39f.; ed. F. Vanderstuyf, Patrol. Orient., XI (1915), p. 1o7 ff. For other instances of the theft of statues, see Script. orig. CP. I, p. 50 (under Theodosius II); II. p. 253, # 112 (under Caesar Bardas)..

I don’t know how reliable this source is, tho, as a guide to the monuments of Constantinople.  I have seen it attributed to a George Codinus, who may have lived in the 15th century, but drew on some 9th century inventory; but even this is doubtful.  The text itself makes many references to earlier writers, used as sources.  It might be interesting to find out!

UPDATE: I find a Bonn edition of Codinus, which contains a similar (but not identical) text here.

UPDATE: A correspondent has kindly alerted me that Averil Cameron has translated and commented on the text given in the PG, the Parastaseis syntomoi Chronikai (lit. Brief historical notes, = Scriptores originum Constantinopolitarum I, ed. Preger, p. 19-73).  Cameron adds that Preger demonstrated that the text could not be by Codinus, but was 10th century.  She adds that Bekker’s edition in the Bonn corpus (CSHB, 1843) and the reprint in the PG 157 are both unreliable and should be avoided.[2]  Unfortunately Preger printed no translation of any sort, and Cameron’s translation is inaccessible, so, for the general public like myself, it is PG or nothing.  So be a little wary of what I have given above.

There is a cluster of related texts, all giving descriptions of Constantinople and collectively known as the Patria.  My correspondent also tells me that the main work in French on the Patria is Dagron, Constantinople imaginaire, Paris, 1984; and that, in the Parastaseis, the Perichytes (= one that pours round) may be found in the note at the foot of page 61 of Preger’s edition.   My thanks to him for these useful details.

  1. [1]Cyril Mango, “Antique Statuary and the Byzantine Beholder.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 17 (1963), pp. 53+55-75. Online here.
  2. [2]Averil Cameron, Constantinople in the Early Eighth Century, Leiden:Brill, 1984. Google Preview. See p.4, n.15.

When the emperor Constans looted Rome of all its statues in 663

Cyril Mango’s article on the fate of ancient statues in the middle ages continues:

It is, however, recorded that Constans II, during his infamous residence in Rome (663), despoiled that city of its ancient bronze ornaments, including even the copper roof tiles of the Pantheon, with a view to having them transferred to Constantinople. The loot was conveyed to Syracuse, but never reached its destination: it fell instead into the hands of the Arabs.

He adds in the note that “We are not told specifically what the ancient ornaments of bronze were, but it is reasonable to assume that they included statues.”

The reference for these events is to Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards, book 5, chapters 11-13 (PL95, cols 602 and 604):

XI.  But the emperor Constans, when he found that he could accomplish nothing against the Langobards, directed all the threats of his cruelty against his own followers, that is, the Romans. He left Naples and proceeded to Rome.  At the sixth mile-stone from the city, pope Vitalian came to meet him with his priests and the Roman people. And when the emperor had come to the threshold of St. Peter he offered there a pallium woven with gold; and remaining at Rome twelve days he pulled down everything that in ancient times had been made of metal for the ornament of the city, to such an extent that he even stripped off the roof of the church of the blessed Mary which at one time was called the Pantheon, and had been founded in honor of all the gods and was now by the consent of the former rulers the place of all the martyrs; and he took away from there the bronze tiles and sent them with all the other ornaments to Constantinople. Then the emperor returned to Naples, and proceeded by the land route to the city of Regium (Reggio) ; and having entered Sicily during the seventh indiction he dwelt in Syracuse and put such afflictions upon the people—the inhabitants and land owners of Calabria, Sicily, Africa, and Sardinia – as were never heard of before, so that even wives were separated from their husbands and children from their parents. The people of these regions also endured many other and unheard of things so that the hope of life did not remain to any one. For even the sacred vessels and the treasures of the holy churches of God were carried away by the imperial command and by the avarice of the Greeks. And the emperor remained in Sicily from the seventh to the twelfth indiction, but at last he suffered the punishment of such great iniquities and while he was in the bath he was put to death by his own servants.

XII.  When the emperor Constantine was killed at Syracuse, Mecetius (Mezezius) seized the sovereignty in Sicily, but without the consent of the army of the East.  The soldiers of Italy, others throughout Istria, others through the territories of Campania and others from the regions of Africa and Sardinia came to Syracuse against him and deprived him of life. And many of his judges were brought to Constantinople beheaded and with them in like manner the head of the false emperor was also carried off.

XIII. The nation of the Saracens that had already spread through Alexandria and Egypt, hearing these things, came suddenly with many ships, invaded Sicily, entered Syracuse and made a great slaughter of the people – a few only escaping with difficulty who had fled to the strongest fortresses and the mountain ranges – and they carried off also great booty and all that art work in brass and different materials which the emperor Constantine had taken away from Rome; and thus they returned to Alexandria.

I had always understand that the loot had been lost in a shipwreck, so it is interesting to learn different.  No doubt they were all melted down by the barbarous Arabs for their metal value.

The translator adds a note about the mention that wives were separated by the tax-gatherers from their families; to the effect that they were sold into slavery by the former, in order to pay the taxes demanded.


More from Mango on ancient statues in Byzantium

I’m still looking at Cyril Mango’s marvellous paper on the fate of ancient statues in medieval Byzantium[1], and looking up references from it.  I learn something from every one of these.

The last few posts concerned references to Christians smashing pagan statues:

The deliberate assembling of ancient statues in Constantinople constitutes something of a paradox. We must not forget that paganism was very much of a live issue, not only in the fourth century, but until about the year 600.  Statues of pagan divinities were, of course, an essential part in the celebration of pagan rites. The lives of the saints are full of references to the destruction of pagan statues. A few examples must suffice.

After which Mango (my first post is here) gives the three examples we have already looked at: the Life of S. Porphyry of Gaza, the Life of Severus of Antioch, the Acts of S. Abramius, and the Life of S. Symeon Stylites the Younger (on which I shall have more to say in a future post).

Mango then goes on to say:

These are a few examples chosen at random. We must also remember that, whereas some Christian thinkers rightly believed that the idols were inanimate, the general opinion prevalent at the time-as we have seen from the incident at Gaza-was that they were inhabited by maleficent demons.[7]

7. Conversely, in the eyes of fourth-century Neoplatonists, idols were animated with divine presence: see E. R. Dodds, “Theurgy and its Relationship to Neoplatonism,” Journal of Roman Studies, XXXVII (1947), p.63 f.

The Dodds article is in JSTOR and is itself a fascinating work, although full of untranslated Greek.  I’m not quite certain that it entirely endorses Mango’s view: for, rather than the “general opinion”, Dodds discusses magical statues and statuettes.  The context of this is theurgy — magic designed to compel the gods to grant favours by rituals — so some of the statues are indeed of pagan deities.  But we’re not really discussing the same thing.

The details given about the infection of Neo-Platonism by theurgy are fascinating, all the same.  Plotinus may have stoutly rejected all the hocus-pocus of magic and theurgy; but his disciple, Porphyry, admitted some of it, and Iamblichus far more, to the point of rejecting reason.  Dodds quotes a fascinating passage from the latter’s De mysteriis, introducing it thus:

The de mysteriis is a manifesto of irrationalism, an assertion that the road to salvation is found not in reason but in ritual:

‘It is not thought that links the theurgists with the gods: else what should hinder theoretical philosophers from enjoying theurgic union with them? The case is not so. Theurgic union is attained only by the efficacy of the unspeakable acts performed in the appropriate manner, acts which are beyond all comprehension, and by the potency of the unutterable symbols which are comprehended only by the gods . . . Without intellectual effort on our part the tokens by their own virtue accomplish their proper work.’ (de myst. 96, 13 Parthey).

To the discouraged minds of fourth-century pagans such a message offered a seductive comfort. The ‘theoretical philosophers’ had now been arguing for some nine centuries, and what had come of it? Only a visibly declining culture, and the creeping growth of that Christian atheotes which was too plainly sucking the life-blood of Hellenism.

Such an attitude among such pagans would explain much of the fate of the later Neo-Platonists in Athens.  In the 5th century Proclus himself saw ‘Hecatic’ visions and was “great at rain-making”.  No wonder Justinian felt a strong urge to close down the philosophical schools, if they were training magicians!

But let’s return to what Dodds says about statues.

Of these two branches of theurgy, the first appears to have been known as telestikh/, and to have been concerned mainly with the consecrating (telei=n, Procl. in Tim. III, 6, 13), and animating of magic statues in order to obtain oracles from them.

Then follows a quote from Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus III, 155, 18, referencing symbola; and further references given but not quoted from the Theol. Plat. I, 28, p.70; and In Tim. I, 51, 25; III, 6, 12 f.; In Crat. 19, 12.

Proclus gives a list of magical herbs, stones, animals and scents which are usable for various purposes.  Each god has  a “sympathetic” representative in the animal, vegetable and mineral world, which either is or contains a symbolon of its divine cause, and is therefore connected to it by sympatheia (references to Proclus in the CMAG VI, 148 f. and 151 f. is given).  Indeed the same idea underlies the practice of making effigies of people as a way to cast spells upon them, or indeed to stick pins in them, in voodoo.  The symbola were placed inside the hollow statue, so that they were known only to the spell-caster.

The 3rd century theurgists do not originate this idea, of course.  The idea is instead based on Egyptian religion, diffusing ideas into the syncretic Graeco-Roman world.

This contained the idea of producing statues, inside which the souls of demons might be trapped by means of these kinds of gems, herbs, etc.

The late Hermetic dialogue, To Asclepius III, 24, may be referenced here:

Trismegistos: [I mean their] statues, O Asclepius, … statues, ensouled with sense, and filled with spirit, which work such mighty and such [strange] results,—statues which can foresee what is to come, and which perchance can prophesy, foretelling things by dreams and many other ways,—[statues] that take their strength away from men, or cure their sorrow, if they do so deserve.

And 37:

2. Since, then, our earliest progenitors were in great error,—seeing they had no rational faith about the Gods, and that they paid no heed unto their cult and holy worship,—they chanced upon an art whereby they made Gods [for themselves].

To this invention they conjoined a power that suited it, [derived] from cosmic nature; and blending these together, since souls they could not make, [they set about] evoking daimons’ souls or those of angels; [and thus] attached them to their sacred images and holy mysteries, so that the statues should, by means of these, possess the powers of doing good and the reverse.

Apparently receipes for constructing such statues are to be found among the magical papyri.  They appear in the Roman world in the 1st century AD and onwards.

But the real promoter of the idea is Iamblichus, who perhaps saw a way to defuse the Christian argument that idols are merely lumps of wood and stone.  He asserts ‘that idols are divine and filled with divine presence’.  His disciples did more, so Dodds tells us:

His disciples habitually sought omens from the statues, and were not slow to contribute apithana of their own: Maximus makes a statue of Hecate laugh and causes the torches in her hands to light up automatically;[95] Heraiscus has so sensitive an intuition that he can at once distinguish the ‘animate’ from the ‘inanimate’ statue by the sensations it gives him.[96]

95. Eunapius, Vit. Soph. 475.
96. The Suda under that name.

All this degenerate paganism must have shaped the attitude of the Christians of the same period towards statuary.  It is likely enough that a statue by Phidias or Praxiteles could be readily distinguished even by the simplest from a magical statue or talisman.

But then again you didn’t have to be a pagan to create a magical statue.  Magic outlived paganism.  Statues standing in the streets of Antioch and Constantinople in the middle ages were sometimes supposed to be talismans, protecting the city against snakes and the like.  Often they were supposed to be the work of Apollonius of Tyana, or some other ancient magician, by then legendary.

It is in this way, perhaps, through the activities of the theurgists in late antiquity, that statues of the pagan gods can be thought of as containing demons; or of being magical in nature; and eventually of becoming protective talismans, rather than pagan idols.

  1. [1]Cyril Mango, Antique statuary and the Byzantine beholder, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 17, 1963, p.53+55-75.  Online here.

Idols “subjected to popular derision” at Antioch?

The next statement by Cyril Mango on the subject of the destruction of pagan statues in the lives of the saints is as follows:

At about the same time idols were subjected to popular derision by being hung in the streets of Antioch.

The reference is to the Vita S. Symeonis junioris, the Life of Simeon Stylites the Younger, d. 592, BHG 1689,[1] in the Acta Sanctorum, May, vol. 5, p.371B.  The work is very long, in 259 chapters.  Anyway, let’s have a look at this text in the Acta version also.

That item is online, and may be found here.  It all concerns the actions of a certain Amantius, “judex severus” (=”a severe judge”), who was sent to the East by Justinian to administer punishment to various groups.

And so it was predicted by Symeon; they had not interceded for four months when a certain man named Amantius [b], greatly concerned in the rule of the East, came to Antioch.  He was a literary man, capable in government, strong in reasoning, constant in mind, liberal in mind, and primarily most studious of justice.  He acted as much on behalf of virtue as against iniquity, and in both cases with the utmost zeal.  Previously when he came to Antioch, he both put down iniquity in the East as much as he could in a similar way, and also more acutely with an sharp sword among those who held positions of authority.  So that fear and trembling invaded everyone, when he was approaching: not only men who were nothing and malevolent, but also those for whom life had conjoined probity and good morals might feel dread, so terrible was his presence.

174.  Here he arrested and imprisoned many of the pagans and atheists and those dedicated to observing the aspects and conjunctions of the stars,  and indeed many standing against the divine providence, and especially carefully sought out the most illustrious.  Moreover he collected all their books, from which they drew out false wisdom and novel ideas contrary to the truth; nor those alone, but likewise all the idols, in which they trusted as in the gods.  They had made for themselves idols of silver, obviously, and of gold, and they had worshipped those which they had made with their own fingers, as was spoken by Hosea and Isaiah the prophets (Hos. 8:4, Is.2:8).  And from the books he started a not inconsiderable fire, throwing them in the flames in the middle of the forum.  But he openly demonstrated the impotence and imbecillity of the idols, hanging them up at the cross-roads and in the main streets, proving that they were no more significant than they seemed to be, i.e. works of hand and art; nothing more than the artificers had wanted them to be, so again I shall make use of the words of the prophets.  Also a man, whom some time previously had appeared to Simeon in a vision,  was standing in the presence of the Governor, called in for investigation; but a certain monk, very like Simeon, seized him from the threat of a justice made mild, when the Governor was called away.

The events recounted belong to 555-6, when Justinian sent Amantius to suppress the Samaritan revolt in Palestine, and then to suppress non-conformists in Antioch, some of whom were labelled as “pagans”.[2]

Update: I have just discovered a long translation from the Life online!  It’s somewhat different, but probably from a better text than that of the Latin translation in the Acta Sanctorum — I have no details on the transmission of the text.  It may be found in A.D. Lee, Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook, Routledge, 2013, 135-136:

7.2 Persecution of pagans in sixth-century Antioch: Life of the Younger St Symeon the Stylite 161, 164

The younger Symeon was a holy man who lived on one of the mountains near Antioch (521—92), and the modern editor of his biography considers it to have been written by one of Symeon’s disciples. Although this episode, probably from 555, is couched in high-flown language, the official at the centre of the investigations, Amantius, is known from an independent source which describes his involvement in the suppression of a Samaritan revolt (John Malalas Chronicle p. 487), and suppression of paganism is certainly a general feature of the emperor Justinian’s religious policies, as is book-burning (Maas 1992: ch. 5). Further reading: Trombley 1994: 182-95.

(161) Within a four month period of the holy man predicting all these events, that official arrived. His name was Amantius, and before coming to the city of Antioch, he destroyed many of the unrighteous found en route, so that men shuddered with fear at his countenance. For everywhere he suppressed all evil-doing whether in word or deed, inflicting punishment, including death, on those who had gone astray, so that from then on even those living a blameless life feared his presence. For he removed, as much as was possible throughout the east, all quarrelling, all injustice, all violence, and all wrongdoing. When this had happened, God showed his servant another vision, which he reported to us: ‘A decision has come from God against the pagans (Hellenes) and heretics (heterodoxoi), that this official will reveal the idolatrous errors of the atheists and gather together all their books and burn them.’ When he had foreseen these things and reported them, zeal for God took a hold of that official and after investigating, he found that the majority of the leaders of the city and many of its inhabitants were preoccupied with paganism (hellenismos), Manichaeism, astrological practices, automatism, and other hateful heresies. He arrested them and pur them in prison, and after gathering together all of their books — a huge number — he burned them in the middle of the stadium. He brought our their idols with their polluted accoutrements and hung them along the streets of the city, and their wealth was expended on numerous fines. … (164) … Then the judge took his seat on the tribunal and subjected to special punishments some of them, who had confessed to having committed many terrible crimes on account of their ungodliness; some he ordered to do service in the hospices, while others, who called themselves clerics, he sent to receive instruction in monasteries; still others he sent off into exile, while some he condemned to death. But by imperial command, the majority of them, who pleaded ignorance as an excuse and promised to repent, he released without further investigation. And so it came about that after being corrected, everyone was dispersed and none of them remained in prison, with the exception of one who had caused many disturbances during times of public unrest, on account of which he deserved punishment. So it was an appropriate time to recall the judgements of God and to sing the praises of his inexpressible benevolence towards us.

Few of us will read this account without a shudder.  Such trials and punishments for wrong thinking are a sign of a decaying state.  The fondness of the Byzantines for religious persecution was a feature of their state as long as they retained any vestige of power.  Nothing in the account above is inconsistent with the policies of Justinian towards paganism or heresy.

I don’t know how historical this life is; but on the face of it, we do have clear evidence of Mango’s “derision”; although, if they were made of silver and gold, I suspect that they were not left unattended!


More idols overthrown, this time by St Abramius

The next reference in Mango’s article to idol-smashing is the following:

In the middle of the sixth century we hear of St. Abramius destroying pagan idols near Lampsacus on the Hellespont, in a village that was totally pagan.

The reference is to the Acta Sanctorum, the Acts SS, Abramii et Mariae, March, vol. 2, p.933.  This is online here.

The reference appears to be to chapter 8.  I’m afraid my Greek isn’t up to doing this in the brief time that I have available, but I see from the marginal Latin that he comes to a pagan village, builds a church, “idola evertiti” — overturns the idols, and… does something that the online text does not make clear, as I can’t read the text.

Anyone like to translate chapter 8 for us?

UPDATE: It is actually chapter 1 part 8.  From the Latin (see comments below) it reads:

8.  Where, when the blessed Abramius gathered them, he prayed in the way of the Lord, saying: “Most blessed and best Lord, have mercy on my imbecility, and send your grace to my help, so that it may glorify your holy name.” But coming to the town, he saw everyone there to be passionately held prisoner by the insanity of idolatry.  So he wept bitterly, sighing, and raising his eyes to heaven said, “You, Lord, who alone are free from all sin, likewise alone are full of mercy, and alone are clement and benevolent, may you not despise the works of your hands.” And quickly he sent a proclamation to the city to some of his dearest friends, to send money to him from their remaining patrimony.  When he had received it, within a few days he built a church, in which assiduously he offered prayer to God, and so prayed with many tears and said, “Gather, o Lord, your scattered people and lead them to this temple: illuminate their eyes and minds, let them know that you alone are God so that the worship of images may be repudiated. When he had finished this prayer, he immediately went out of the church, rushed to the pagan temple, where he destroyed their abominations and dragged down the images with his own hands and overthrew them.  When those pagans found out, like so many wild beasts the bumpkins attacked him, and having been injured with many blows he fled from the town.

I don’t feel any great faith that this is a historical account.  What part of it could not have been written by any monk at any time during the middle ages?