Demolished spiral column once crowned by colossal statue of Theodosius I, emperor; later used for statue of Anastasius, emperor. Constantinople, Forum of Theodosius (Tauros). 386-394 and 506

No dedicatory inscription is recorded.

DESCRIPTION (from Bauer 1996, 197-8; Sande 1981; Kollwitz 1941, 3-8; and the published images)
The column was demolished in the early 16th century, fragments of it being built into the foundations of the Hamam of Beyazit (of the first half of 16th century; see below, 'Provenance and Current Location'). There are no drawings which unquestionably depict the column, other than the very sketchy representation on Vavassore's 16th-century engraved view of the city. Becatti 1960, 111-13 believed that a drawing in the Louvre, which represents a triumphal procession, was derived from the reliefs on Theodosius' column, but this identification remains highly controversial (Sande 1981, 73-4). Our evidence is therefore essentially restricted to the few surviving fragments, and to ancient and Byzantine descriptions.

No measurements are recorded; but we can be certain that the column, with its plinth and statue, was one of the most impressive monuments of Constantinople; it was almost certainly around 50 m high, the height of the slightly later columnar monument of Aracadius, LSA-2459. Like this monument (and its prototypes in Rome, the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius), Theodosius' column was of white marble and decorated with reliefs in a spiral band, ascending from left to right. The reliefs showed victorious warfare against Goths and the destruction of their settlements. The surviving relief fragments in the foundations of the Beyazit-Hamam and in the Archaeological Museum (see below, 'Provenance and Location’) show mainly soldiers on the march or in battle, and occasionally city fortifications; one fragment depicts a soldier in a boat. The column, like those of Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and Arcadius, contained an internal spiral staircase, which allowed viewers to climb to the top and enjoy the panorama of the city.

The column was crowned by a colossal statue of Theodosius I. The Chronicon Paschale under the year 394 (Bonn 565, 6) calls it a μέγας ἀνδριάς, hence a statue on foot (Kollwitz 1941, 4), which is what we would expect in this location. This statue fell during an earthquake in 480. It must have been of bronze (not of silver, as Janin 1964, 81 states; Stichel 1982, 86), like the statue of Anastasius which replaced it in 506 (Theophanes I, 128). The origins of this statue are fully recorded by Malalas (pp. 400-401): 'John [= John the Paphlagonian, comes sacrarum largitionum] melted down the statues of the plateia of Constantinople, which the most sacred emperor Constantine had collected from every city as being the finest, and brought for the decoration and adornment of Constantinople. After melting these down, John made from them an exceedingly large statue of the emperor Anastasios, and placed this statue on the great column which stood unused in the place known as the forum Tauri. This column had previously held a statue of Theodosios the Great, but the statue alone had fallen during the earthquakes.' (trans. Jeffreys and Jeffreys)

The column of Theodosius was set up on the forum of that emperor on the hill called Taurus (Greek,Ταῦρος), in the area of the modern Beyazit square (Forum Theodosii, Θεοδοσιακὸς φόρος, φόρος Θεοδοσίου, ὁ φόρος Θεοδοσίου ὁ καλούμενος Ταῦρος; φόρος τοῦ Ταῦρου, ἀγορὰ τοῦ Ταῦρου; Forum Tauri; Bauer 1996, 187; Müller-Wiener 1977, 258-65). The forum straddled the Mese, the main street of Constantinople, west of the forum of Constantine; it was intended to echo Trajan’s forum in Rome (also dominated by a huge spiral column). The exact location of Theodosius' column has not been established by excavation, and remains a subject of discussion. An engraved view of the city by Valvassore (of the early 16th century) shows the column within the precinct of the Old Serail, in the area of today’s University; the column seems therefore to have been off-centre and situated in the northern part of the Forum, north of the Mese (Mango 1990, 45; Bauer 1996, 191-2).

When the column was demolished, fragments of it were built into the foundations of the Beyazit Hamam situated on the modern Beyazit square, immediately west of the forum of Theodosius (Bauer 1996, 194 fig. 63). Some of these are still there and visible; others were removed in the 20th century and brought to the Archaological Museum (Fıratlı 1990, nos. 56-60). More fragments came to light in 1973 during work on the foundations of the University Library of Istanbul, and are today also in the Archaeological Museum (Sande 1981).

The honorand, Theodosius I, was Augustus 379-95. According to the sources, building work on the column started in 386; only in 393/4 was it crowned with the emperor's statue (Kollwitz 1941, 3, with the sources in his notes).

The statue of Theodosius I fell during an earthquake in 480. In 506 a statue of Anastasius (491-518) was set on top instead; this was possibly destroyed already during riots in 512, together with other statues of Anastasius (Stichel 1982, 103 no. 124, with sources).

There is no record of who, in theory, ordered the column (in practice, of course, it was an imperial commission).

The reliefs celebrated Theodosius' I achievements against the Goths in the Balkans. He had become emperor in the wake of the catastrophic Roman defeat at Adrianople (Hadrianopolis) in 378, and in 379-82 was able to reimpose a degree of security in the Balkans. In 386 he prevented the tribe of the Greuthungi from crossing the Danube, and in October of that year entered Constantinople in a triumphal procession.

Ulrich Gehn

Main Reference

Janin, R., Constantinople byzantine : développement urbain et répertoire topographique, Paris 1964, pp. 81-2 no. 8

Becatti, G., La colonna coclide istoriata. Problemi storici, iconografici, stilistici, Rome 1960, pp. 83-150

Kollwitz, J., Oströmische Plastik der theodosianischen Zeit, Berlin 1941, pp. 3-7

Discussion References

Bauer, F. A., Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike, Mainz 1996, pp. 197-8

Fıratlı, N., La sculpture byzantine figurée au Musée archéologique d'Istanbul, Paris 1990, pp. 27-9 cat. nos. 55-61

Mango, C., Le Développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles) (Travaux et Memoires du Centre de Recherche d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, Collège de France, Monographies 2), Paris 1990, pp. 43-5

Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls, Tübingen 1977, pp. 258-65

Sande, S., Some new fragments of the column of Theodosius, Acta ad Archaeologiam et Artium Historiam pertinentia, serie altera in 8o 1, 1981, 1-78, Rome,

Stichel, R. H. W., Die römische Kaiserstatue am Ende der Antike, Roma 1982, pp. 85-6 cat. no. 57