Friday, November 27, 2015

Obelisks at the Hippodrome, Constantinople

The Hippodrome in the Byzantine capital does not exist today; however, its location is known to us from past descriptions of it, from maps and from a number of surviving columns and obelisks. Today we find the Serpent Column there, together with The Obelisks of Theodosius (erected in 390 AD) and the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitos, also known as the Walled Obelisk (10th century AD).
The Obelisk of Theodosios was originally set up by Tutmoses III of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, about 1450 BC, in front of the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak. Inscribed on the obelisk is an Egyptian hieroglyph script, still clearly distinguishable. The script reads that it was in his father’s honour that Tutmoses erected an obelisk at Karnak and a monument in Mesopotamia. Depictions of the Pharaoh and Amun-Re are also featured on it.

A number of obelisks were transported from Egypt to Rome. Constantine the Great, when he moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople, he took with him a number of monuments and artefacts in order to decorate his new city. However, some of these took a long time to move. Therefore, this obelisk reached the Imperial City during the reign of Theodosios I. The obelisk is placed on a marble pedestal. On two sides of the main part are inscriptions in Ancient Greek and Latin. Featuring on all four faces are hieroglyphs.
The Walled Obelisk is about 32 metres high and is not a real obelisk from Egypt, made out of stones, hence its name. It was decorated with plates of gilded bronze, embossed with representations of the victories of the Byzantine Emperor Vasilios I the Macedonian (867-886 AD).

It is believed that the monument was erected by Vasilios’ grandson, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (913-959 AD). Additionally, there was a sphere at the top of the obelisk. However, it is reported that these gilded bronze plaques were stolen and melted down during the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD), where Constantinople was sacked by the Roman Catholic West. 

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