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Constantinople (İstanbul): Column of Arcadius


Sixteenth-century etching of the Column of Arcadius.
Sixteenth-century etching of the Column of Arcadius.
The Column of Arcadius in Constantinople was in 402 erected to honor Arcadius, the son of the emperor Theodosius I. The young ruler had ascended the throne in 395 and was to reign until 408.

During his reign, an old marketplace, known as the Forum of the Cow, was redecorated and renamed Forum of Arcadius. Because on the Forum of Constantine and the Forum of Theodosius the emperors were commemorated with honorific columns, Arcadius also received such a monument, about fifty meters tall, and there was statue stood on top of it. It fell off during an earthquake in 704.

If we can believe a sixteenth-century drawing, the shaft was decorated with spiral bands of sculpture, representing scenes from a war. This frieze wound itself around the column fourteen times. Inside was a spiral staircase, which enabled people to climb to the top. (The war scenes must have been fairly stereotypical, because the emperor never went to the front.) On the pedestal, one could see Arcadius and his brother Honorius, united and triumphing over the barbarians; above them, two angels carry the sign of the cross, suggesting that the two rulers had received their power from God.

The Column of Arcadius was intentionally destroyed in 1715, because, after an earthquake, it had become unstable and it was likely to collapse. The ivy-clad, sad remains of this momument -that is: the inner core of the pedestal- can be found near the corner of the Cerra Pașa Caddesi and Haseki Kadın Sokagi (map).
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The Column of Arcadius today. Photo Jona Lendering. The Column of Arcadius today. Photo Jona Lendering. The Pedestal of the Column of Arcadius, on a seventeenth-century etching.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2008
Revision: 27 August 2008
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