Demolished spiral column once crowned by colossal statue of Arcadius, emperor. Constantinople, Forum of Arcadius. 401-21

No dedicatory inscription is recorded, and none appears on the detailed drawings that were made of the pedestal.

The monument originally consisted of a massive column, decorated with spiral reliefs, set on a square pedestal, and crowned by a colossal statue of the emperor. It was modelled on the earlier columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome, and of Theodosius I in Constantinople (LSA-2458).

The column itself, by then in a dangerous condition, was demolished in 1719 (Konrad 2001, 324 n. 19); however not before it had been documented in several drawings of the 16th and 17th centuries, of which those of 1574 in the Freshfield album are the most reliable, depicting in convincing detail the west, south, and east faces of the pedestal. Likewise reliable for the whole structure, but with only a summary representation of the reliefs, is a drawing by Sandys (early 17th-century). The most complete written account of the monument is that made by the French traveller Pierre Gilles (Petrus Gyllius), who described and measured the column in the early 16th century. The measurements taken by Gilles, translated into the metric system by Gurlitt in 1909, formed the basis of scholarly research in the 20th century (Kollwitz 1941, 25; Jordan-Ruwe 1995). The most recent record of the ruin (Konrad 2001) in the main confirms the accuracy of Gilles’ account (Konrad 2001, 362-71).

Of the original monument, the pedestal with the base and the very beginning of the column shaft are still in situ (see below, 'Provenance and Current Location’), though in a very poor state. The ruin is a square-plan structure made up of eight courses of massive marble blocks (only two per course): seven of these courses make up the pedestal, the eighth the base of the column with a small portion of the shaft. The surviving structure is 10.82 m high, with sides 6 m long (Konrad 2001, 327-8 and figs, 2, 3, 11).

Gilles, who saw the entire structure, counted 21 monolithic blocks of marble above the pedestal, including the column base (the only one to survive).

From the drawings, Gilles' description, and the surviving remains, Konrad 2001 suggested a reconstruction of the monument made up of 5 elements as follows, starting at the bottom:

(1) Socle of three steps of which only the uppermost is above street level today. Konrad 2001, 370 estimates the total height of the socle to have been c. 2 m.

(2) Pedestal with mouldings at top and bottom: H 7.88 m. Reliefs in four registers, now effectively destroyed by fire damage to the pedestal, covered the west- south-, and east-sides, whereas the north side was undecorated, with the door leading to the internal staircase. The four registers correspond with the four courses of marble blocks between the mouldings.

The topic of all the reliefs, as shown on the Freshfield drawings, is the military triumph of the emperors, under the protection of the Christ. In keeping with the ideology of a united empire, both emperors (Ardadius for the East, and his brother Honorius for the West) are shown, as if acting together, although the triumph commemorated was in reality specifically an eastern one. What is shown, from bottom to top, is as follows: WEST (1) armour and barbarian captives; (2) Victories around a trophy, surrounded by Roman troops leading captured barbarians; (3) the two emperors in armour, flanked by high-ranking state officials and guards; (4) hovering Victories presenting the Cross within a laurel wreath, flanked by putti and by personifications of the Sun and Moon riding quadrigas. EAST (1) armour and defeated barbarians, flanked by Victories recording the victory on shields; (2, badly damaged to the right) Senators carrying the aurum oblaticium, flanked by personifications of the two capitals, wearing walled crowns; (3) the emperors in consular garb, flanked by high-ranking officials, guards, and lictors; (4) hovering Victories presenting the Cross within a tabula, and flanked by flying putti holding lighted torches; SOUTH (1) Victories carrying trophies and dragging captured barbarians, flanked by female figures, bearing tribute, apparently the personifications of towns; (2) the emperors in armour, holding Victories and towering over captured barbarians, flanked by high-ranking state officials and guards; (3) hovering Victories presenting the Chi-Rho (flanked by Alpha and Omega) within a laurel wreath, trophies on both sides; (4) armour and weapons (including two Chi-Rho standards). The difference in layout on the south side is possibly a creative modification by the artist of the Freshfield drawings, who did not want to disturb the Chi-Rho (Konrad 2001, 374).

Inside the pedestal is a sequence of three small chambers (Konrad 2001, 348-54 and 400-1); the entrance chamber has an eleborately decorated ceiling, dominated by a cross within a wreath, and a small niche in its western wall (Konrad 2001, 385 and figs. 11b, 12b, 34, 35).

(3) The column proper, consisting of plinth, column base, shaft, and capital, all with an internal spiral staircase: H c. 31.92 m (Konrad 2001, 370).

(a) Plinth, of two steps, set above the pedestal and below the column base (Konrad, 336 'Säulenbasis'). The lower step of the plinth decorated with garlands and putti, and with eagles at its four corners. In the corners below the garlands, are reclining male figures, probably representations of river gods (Konrad 2001, 377 and figs. 15b, 21, 22).

(b) Round column-base, consisting of a large cushion (torus) decorated with an oak wreath, and a fillet decorated with a floral relief; in the floral relief are mythological hunting scenes (nude hunters pursuing lions, griffins, and birds, Konrad 2001, 378-9 and figs. 23, 24), and masks (figs.25, 26).

(c) Column shaft, decorated with a spiral band of relief carving ascending from left to right. The reliefs, which are now lost except for those at the very bottom of the column, apparently depicted the victorious campaign of 399-401 against the rebellious Gothic federates led by the magister militum Gainas (Kollwitz 1941, 17). Inside the column was a spiral staircase, leading to the platform set on the column's capital.

(d) Doric capital crowning the shaft, with egg and dart ornament on the echinus. The underside of the capital’s top plate (abacus) was decorated with engraved Chi-Rho emblems in each corner.

(4) Above the capital, a cylindrical base with smooth shaft and Pergamene capital, probably the base for the crowning statue. The height of this element is calculated by Konrad 2001, 370 to have been 4.29 m. On its southern side was the door leading to the spiral staircase within the column.

(5) On top of the column stood the statue of Arcadius. Nothing is known about the material and the type of the statue. Byzantine sources, however, stress the similarities of the fora of Theodosius and of Arcadius and of the columns in both places; since it is probable that the statue of Theodosius was a colossal standing bronze image ( LSA-2458), this is also probable for Arcadius’ statue. It fell during an earthquake in 740, and is lost.

The total height of the monument, without the statue, was calculated as c.46.09 m by Konrad 2001, 362-371. For the statue, the same scholar suggests a height of c.8.50 m (Konrad 2001, 383-4).

The column was situated on the forum of Arcadius, called in the ancient sources Φόρος Ἀρκαδίου, Ἀγορὰ Ἀρκαδίου, forum Arcadii, but also Φόρος Θεοδοσιακός, forum Theodosiacum, or, after the name of the hill on which it was built, Ξηρόλοφος (Dry Hill) (Müller-Wiener 1977, 250-3; Bauer 1996, 203-12); the variant imperial names are due to the fact that the forum was finished only in the reign of Arcadius’ son Theodosius II (Bauer 1996, 206). The forum was situated on a hill called Ξηρόλοφος and was crossed by the Mese, the main street of late antique and Byzantine Constantinople. The pedestal with the base and the beginning of the column shaft are still in situ, in the Haseki Kadın Sokagı street of modern Istanbul. The general location of the forum of Arcadius is thereby defined, though its shape and extension remain unexplored. According to the Freshfield drawings, the northern face of the pedestal was the only side not decorated with reliefs, and instead had the entrance door to the staircase. This suggests, as Bauer 1996, 208 points out, that the column was sited to the north of the Mese; its surviving pedestal in fact lies north of today’s Cerapaşa Caddesı, which may well follow the course of the ancient Mese (Mango 1990, 28).

The shaft, with its crowning elements, were demolished and destroyed in 1715.

The honorand, Arcadius, was Augustus 383-408. After the death of his father, Theodosius I, in 395 he became ruler sole over the eastern part of the empire.

Work on the column began in 401/2, but it was inaugurated only in 421 (Kollwitz 1941, 17).

Ulrich Gehn

Main Reference

Konrad, C. B., Beobachtungen zur Architektur und Stellung des Säulenmonuments in Istanbul-Cerrahpaşa – ‘Arkadiossäule’, Istanbuler Mitteilungen (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Istanbul) 51 (2001), 319-401,

Becatti, G., La colonna coclide istoriata. Problemi storici, iconografici, stilistici, Rome 1960, pp. 151-264

Kollwitz, J., Oströmische Plastik der theodosianischen Zeit, Berlin 1941, pp. 17-68

Discussion References

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

Gurlitt, C., Antike Denkmalsäulen in Konstantinopel, München 1909,

Janin, R., Constantinople byzantine : développement urbain et répertoire topographique, Paris 1964, pp. 82-4 no. 9

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

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,

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