Porphyry Column, once crowned by colossal statue of Constantine I. Constantinople, Forum of Constantine. 328

It is not known whether there was ever a dedicatory inscription carved on the pedestal of this column; if there was, it was no longer visible when scholars in the 16th century began to be interested in it. Several inscriptions recorded by Byzantine writers are considered fictional by modern scholarship (Constantinus Rhodius v. 71 ff.; Georgius Cedrenus I, 565; Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulus, Hist. Eccl. VII 49 (Migne PG 145) 1325). These are discussed by: Berger 1988, 299; Dagron 1974, 38-9; Jordan-Ruwe 1995, 130 with n. 66. Bauer 1996, 177 argues that the following text, recorded by Leo Grammaticus in the early 11th century, might represent the original dedicatory inscription:

Κωνσταντίνῳ λάμποντι ἡλίου δίκην

'To Constantine, who shines equal to the sun.'

A much later inscription, to the emperor Manuel Comnenus (1143-80), runs around the top of the column (Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum 8790; Mango 1951, 62): see below, 'Description' no. (7).

DESCRIPTION (from the authors cited below, and from the published images)
Porphyry column on a pedestal of white marble. The overall height in Antiquity was 37 m, of which 34.80 m are standing above modern street level (Mango 1965, 313). The pedestal and the Attic base, together with the two lowest drums of the shaft were encased in masonry after the great fire of 1779 and remain covered today (for the coating, often mistakenly dated to 1701, see Mango 1965, 308). The iron rings which gave the column its modern Turkish name‚ 'Cemberlitaş' ('hooped stone') were added to support the shaft at an unknown time, but probably before the 16th century; they could be as old as 416, when sources report that the shaft was reinforced with iron rings after being struck by lightning (Müller-Wiener 1977, 255; Bassett 2004, 200).

Excavations around the base of the column were carried out in 1929-30, with the main target to find the sacred relics believed to have been placed under the column (see below, no. (1)). The results of these excavations were only ever published in summarily accounts (Mamboury 1936; Mamboury 1955).

The whole structure was made up of eight elements, as listed here from the bottom upwards:

(1) Under the socle there is a massive square foundation from the rock to the ground level of the Forum of Constantine, about 11.25 m wide and 2.70 m high (Mamboury 1955, 277). This substructure is cut into an earlier cemetery located on an arterial road outside the old city of Byzantium.

Later Byzantine sources mentioned relics of outstanding importance, both Christian and pagan, preserved under the column: the Palladium which Constantine took from Rome; the twelve baskets from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, complete with the remains of seven loaves; the axe with which Noah built his arch; the crosses of the two thieves crucified alongside Christ; the alabaster vase with the perfume with which Mary Magdalene anointed Christ (Ebersolt 1951, 71-3; Karamouzi 1986, 222-3 n. 19). No trace of these relics has been found, and there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever for their deposition under the column (Mamboury 1955).

(2) Socle, square in plan, made up of 5 steps: H (overall) c.2 m; W of lowest platform c.11.25 m; of upper platform c.8.35 m. The Freshfield drawing from 1574, which is the most reliable representation of the column before its base was concealed, shows a flight of only four steps, the lowest being already below ground at the time (Mango 1965, 307). Nowadays the top of the socle is about 55 cm below modern street-level to the West, and at modern street-level to the East (Schede, AA 1929, 340).

When he excavated the socle in 1929/30, E. Mamboury found that the corners of the upper platform were cut out in a symmetrical fashion. These probably supported the piers of four arches, which, according to Nicephorus Callistus (in the early 14th century), once surrounded the column's pedestal. Mamboury believed that these arches formed the chapel of St Constantine, which is mentioned from the 9th century onwards (Mango 1981, 107). Mango 1981, 108, however, reconstructed this as a small chapel on the north side of the platform, and attributed the arches to measures taken by Manuel Comnenus to protect the column and its environs after the statue fell in 1106 (see below, no. (7)).

(3) Pedestal of white marble centred on the uppermost step of the socle, but now entirely encased in the masonry added after 1779. Its height has been calculated as c.5.40 m (by Stichel 1994, 319), W 3.80, D 3.80 m. The Freshfield drawing of 1574 shows that the pedestal has a simple fillet at the bottom (decorated with fleurons, each contained within a square panel) and a moulding at the top.

The question of whether the pedestal was decorated with reliefs on any of its four sides has been much discussed, and, in the absence of conclusive evidence either way, must remain open. When European travellers first described the monument in the 16th century, one or more sides were already obscured by structures built up against them (Mango 1993, III, 1; Stichel 1994, 324 pl. 64). However, in 1561 Melchior Lorichs drew a pedestal somewhere in Istanbul, with an elaborate relief on one side. Some of the details shown on that drawing also appear on the Freshfield drawing of 1574 (which is unquestionably of Constantine's column): fleurons in the lower fillet; medallions and laurel-wreaths on the shaft; a prominent gash in the column-base; and a double plinth. These similarities have led Mango and others to attribute Lorichs' drawing to Constantine's column (Mango 1965; Mango 1993, III; Stichel 1994), although no known literary sources mention this relief decoration and modern investigations of the pedestal have so far not found traces of them (Mango 1965, 309-10; Stichel 1994, 324-5). The silence of the literary sources could be due to the reliefs being almost continuously obscured, and perhaps badly damaged by fires from Late Antiquity onwards (Stichel 1994, 327). Engemann 1989, however, attributes Lorich’s drawing to the column-monument of Leo I in the Pittakia (LSA-2462), while Jordan-Ruwe 1995, 132-4 assumes that the drawing represents yet another (unidentified) column in Constantinople.

The relief in Lorichs' drawing shows two trophy-bearing and winged Victories flanking a small seated female figure in the centre; between the heads of the Victories is the crowned bust of an emperor within a wreath. The Victories receive bowed barbarian boys offering tribute (perhaps vessels filled with gold); the boys are encouraged forward by two adult barbarians who frame the entire scene. One of these wears a Persian cap, so these almost certainly represent the two traditional enemies of Rome: Persia to the East, and the Germanic peoples to the North.

(4) A plinth made up of two tiers of porphyry is visible on the Freshfield drawing of 1574 (Mango 1965, 307). This was lost to view within the masonry added after 1779. Stichel 1994, 319 n. 18 estimates its height as around 140 cm.

(5) Attic base, according to the Freshfield drawing of porphyry, today concealed within the post-1779 masonry. A prominent gash in this base, shown on the Freshfield drawing, has been one reason for attributing Lorich's 1561 drawing of an elaborately decorated pedestal to our monumnet (see above, no. (3)).

(6) Shaft of porphyry, made up of seven drums: H (overall) 23.40 m; diameter of lowest drum 290 cm. Of the seven drums, the lowest is today concealed by the masonry added after 1779. The number of drums was securely calculated by Mango 1965, 310-13 (see also Stichel 1994, 318). Larger numbers of drums are, however, still given by modern scholars (e.g. Müller-Wiener 1977, 255; Berger 1988, 297; Restle 1990, 401), and are sometimes mistakenly shown on drawings from the 16th century onwards (Stichel 1994, 321-4). The joints of the 7 drums are marked by rings in the form of laurel wreaths. These wreaths are decorated with medaillons in the centre of one side, and bands on the opposite side. A wreath and medallion is one of the features that reocurs in the drawing by Melchior Lorichs (see above, (2), pediment).

(7) On top of the porphyry shaft there was originally a capital, possibly of the Corinthian order (Janin 1964, 77-80). The column is today topped by masonry in ten courses of marble blocks, with a further large marble block on top. This is a repair by Manuel I Comnenus (1143-80), after the statue had fallen in 1106 (Mango 1965, 312). An inscription to Comnenus runs around the third course of marble blocks (counted from the bottom). At this time, the place of the statue was taken by a cross.

(8) The column was topped by a colossal gilded bronze statue of Constantine I, with a crown of seven rays, a lance, and a globe (Bauer 1996, 175-6; Bassett 2004, 200-2). The lost statue is described by several literary sources (Mango 1993, III, 2-3). An image of it appears on the Tabula Peutingeriana (a 12th-century copy of a road map originally of the 5th century), showing a nude, holding a spear in the left hand and a globe in the right, but without headgear. A very approximate representation, of what was probably our statue, also appears in a drawing of 1574, showing the lost reliefs of the column of Arcadius (LSA-2459). This drawing suggests that the statue wore a long robe (perhaps a chlamys) (Bauer 1996 pl. 20, 2). L'Orange 1962 and 1984 associated a 4th-century bronze statuette in Copenhagen with the statue; the statuette wears a long belted tunic over a sleeved tunic, a chlamys with a round fibula, and a radiate crown. A 4th-century cameo, today lost, has also been associated with the statue; it shows Constantine in a short aegis-like chlamys and military boots, with a radiate crown, a lance in his right and the palladion in his left hand (Bassett 2004, 196 pl. 22). Mango 1993, III, 3 believes that the statue was dressed in military garb. Although the details of the iconography of the statue are uncertain (and will remain disputed), it was certainly a grandiose imperial image in the tradition of Hellenistic ruler portraits, displaying the above human status of the ruler (through attributes such as the lance), and, very possibly, associations with the god Sol-Helios, through a radiate crown (Bassett 2004, 202-4).

The globe fell in 480; the lance in 554 (and was replaced by a sceptre). The whole statue fell in 1106 (Mango 1965, 312 with n. 27), and has disappeared without trace.

The rays of the radiate crown were later re-interpreted as the nails of the Crucifixion; furthermore a legend reported that Constantine had a piece of the Holy Cross deposited within his statue, which had been sent to him by his mother Helena from Jerusalem.

The column was set up in the centre of the Forum of Constantine, a circular plaza outside the Severan city walls of ancient Byzantium, over a former necropolis (Bauer 1996, 167-87). According to later Byzantine sources the column was brought to Constantinople from Rome, and this theory was accepted by some modern scholars who argued that it was part of a monument to Diocletian which was never realized (Delbrueck 1932, 144; Fowden 1991, 124). As Mango points out, however, it is just as likely that the porphyry drums were ordered directly from the quarries at Mons Porphyrites in Egypt, which still were fully operational at that time (Mango 1993, III, 5). The statue, according to some sources, was allegedly brought from Ilion, ancient Troy (Mango 1993, III, 4), other sources claimed Athenian provenance and an attribution to Pheidias (Bauer 1996, 176). The column is still standing in situ on the modern Divanyolu Road, in the quarter of Atik Paşa Camii in modern Istanbul.

Constantine I was Augustus 306-37. The column was erected in 328 (Chronikon Paschale I, p. 528).

The Forum of Constantine was the centre of urban life in Constantine's newly founded capital (Bauer 1996, 177-87). The square was lavishly decorated with statues and porticoes, one of the two buildings of the Senate of Constantinople was situated here, and the square and column played a central role as a station in the celebration of triumphs and liturgical processions. As we have seen above in the stories of relics kept within the statue and its pedestal, the monument acquired a legendary status far above that of any other secular monument in Constantinople; it became a magical guarantee of the city's survival (Stichel 1994, 317).

Ulrich Gehn

Main Reference

Delbrueck, R., Antike Porphyrwerke. Studien zur spätantiken Kunstgeschichte, vol. 6, Berlin 1932, pp.140-5 pl. 68

Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls, Tübingen 1977, pp. 255-7

Discussion References

Bassett, S., The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople, Cambridge 2004, pp.200-4

Bauer, F. A., Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike, Mainz 1996,

Berger, A., Untersuchungen zu den Patria Konstantinupoleos: Poikila Byzantina 8, Bonn 1988,

Dagron, G., Naissance d'une capitale : Constantinople et ses institutions de 330 à 451 , Paris 1974,

Delbrueck, R., Antike Porphyrwerke. Studien zur spätantiken Kunstgeschichte, vol. 6, Berlin 1932,

Ebersolt, J., Constantinople; recueil d'études, d'archéologie et d'histoire, Paris 1951,

Engemann, J., Melchior Lorichs Zeichnung eines Säulensockels in Konstantinopel, Quaeritur inventus colitur. Miscellanea in onore di padre Umberto Maria Fasola, B., 249-65, Città del Vaticano 1989,

Fowden, G., Constantine's Porphyry Column: The earliest literary allusion, Journal of Roman Studies 81, 1991, 119-31,

Janin, R., Constantinople byzantine : développement urbain et répertoire topographique, Paris 1964,

Jordan-Ruwe, M., Das Säulenmonument. Zur Geschichte der erhöhten Aufstellung antiker Porträtstatuen (Asia Minor Studien Band 19), Bonn 1995,

Karamouzi, M., Das Forum und die Säule Constantini in Konstantinopel: Gegebenheiten und Probleme, Balkan Studies 27, 1986, no. 2, 219-36, Thessaloniki 1986,

L'Orange, H. P., Das spätantike Herrscherbild von Diokletian bis zu den Konstantin-Söhnen, 284-361 n. Chr. Das Römische Herrscherbild. III. Abteilung ; Bd. 4 , Berlin 1984,

L'Orange, H. P., Kleine Beiträge zur Ikonographie Konstantins des Großen, Opuscula Romana 4, 1962, 101-05, Stockholm,

Mamboury, E., Le forum de Constantin; la Chapelle de St Constantin et les mystères de la Colonne Brulée, Pepragmena tou 9. Diethnous Vyzantologikou Synedriou, Thessalonikē, 12-19 Apriliou 1953, vol. I, 275-80, Thessaloniki 1955,

Mamboury, E., Les fouilles byzantines à Istanbul et dans sa banlieue immédiate aux XIXe et XXe siècles, Byzantion 11, 1936, 229-83, Bruxelles 1936, pp. 266-7

Mango, C. Constantinopolitana, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 80, 1965, 305-36 (reprint Mango 1993 ch. II), Berlin,

Mango, C., Constantine's Column, Cyril Mango, Studies on Constantinople ch. III, Aldershot 1993,

Mango, C., Constantine's Porphyry Column and the Chapel of St Constantine, Deltion tes Christianikes Archaiologikes Hetairias, Ser. 4, X, 103-10 (re-print Mango 1993 ch. IV), Athens 1981,

Mango, C., The Byzantine Inscriptions of Constantinople: A Bibliographical Survey, American Journal of Archaeology 55, 1951, 52-66, p. 62

Restle, M., Konstantinopel, Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst, herausgegeben von Klaus Wessel und Marcell Restle. Vol. IV, 366-737, Stuttgart 1982,

Schede, M., Archäologische Funde. Türkei. Konstantinopel, Archäologischer Anzeiger 1928/29, 325-67, Berlin,