The Column of the Goths is located in Gülhane Park (the outer garden of Topkapı Palace) on the northeastern slope of the Acropolis of ancient Byzantion. It is located around 300 meters south of the Sarayburnu promontory, where a major Byzantine gate (known as St. Barbara Gate or the Acropolis Gate, later Turkish Top Kapı) was located. Its name derives from its inscription commemorating a successful campaign against the Goths.
The overall height of the monument, which is made entirely of Proconnesian marble, is 18.5 meters. Its shaft is 15 meters tall and rests on a tall pedestal with a socle of three steps. It is crowned with a Corinthian capital, which has sharply-cut leaves independent of each other. It also has an eagle on the abacus. It is possible the column consists of reused material.
The pedestal has a Latin inscription on its eastern side. This inscription possibly replaced an earlier Latin inscription. There is no evidence for an alleged second inscription (IC XC NIKA) on the western side of the pedestal. The inscription’s mention of a victory over Goths has led scholars to associate the column with various historical events. It is commonly accepted that it was erected by either Claudius II Gothicus (r. 268-270) or Constantine I (r. 306-337), though it has also been dated to the Theodosian and Justinianic eras.
While it is uncertain if any Byzantine literary references mention it, it is likely the column of Fortuna Redux (Tyche) that the fifth-century John Lydus attributed to Pompey, adding that the place later became a tavern. It could allow for it to be identified with the Temple of Tyche converted into a tavern mentioned by the fourth-century poet Palladas. As other pre-Constantinian temples were on the Acropolis of Byzantium, the Column of the Goths might have been located near the Sacred Way of pagan Byzantion that led from a nearby acropolis gate towards the Augustaion and Hagia Sophia. The column likely had its own forum and was located near a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. It has also been argued that the column was mentioned as being crowned by Byzas by the fourteenth-century historian Nikephoros Gregoras.
After first establishing a palace (Eski Saray) near Beyazıt Square following his conquest of Constantinople, Mehmet II moved his palace to the ancient Acropolis, where the Column of the Goths was located. It is possible he considered it a trophy recalling the antiquity of his palace’s location. As the column was located on the grounds of the sultan’s palace, it was not accessible for a long period of time. Starting in the 18th century, it was mentioned again in studies and guides to the city. It became open to the public when Gülhane Park opened in the early 20th century.
Eagle from Capital
Aerial view of the Column of the Goths, Sarayburnu promontory, and the Golden Horn
Aerial photo by Kadir Kir
From De Mensibus (On the Months) by John Lydus:
“Pompey the Great erected the monument of Fortune which stands in Byzantium. After hemming in Mithridates there with his Goths he dispersed them and captured Byzantium. The evidence for this is the Latin inscription on the base of the column which reads thus: ‘To Returning Fortune for the defeated Goths’. Later the place became a tavern.”
They mock you, Fortune, now that you have changed
And have not spared yourself misfortune here.
You had a temple here, but now you keep
A tavern in your old age where one sees
You serving men hot drinks instead of fate
And suffer now ill fortune like the rest.
Sarayburnu promontory, Acropolis Gate and the Column of the Goths
Drawing by Cornelius Loos (1710-1711)
Gardens of the Seraglio with European visitors inspecting the Column of the Goths (V&A)
Michel-François Préaulx (early 19th century)
An illustration showing the ancient columns and the Egyptian obelisk (V&A)
Anonymous Greek artist (c. 1809)
From Panorama of Constantinople (British Library)
Henry Aston Barker (1813)
Thomas Allom (1836)
Arslan, Pelin Yoncaci. Christianizing the Skyline: The Appropriation of the Pagan Honorary Column in Early Constantinople
Jordan-Ruwe, Martina. Das Säulenmonument : zur Geschichte der erhöhten Aufstellung antiker Porträtstatuen
Müller-Wiener, Wolfgang. Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul
Tezcan, Hülya. Topkapı Sarayı ve Çevresinin Bizans Devri Arkeolojisi
Croke, Brian. “Poetry and Propaganda: Anastasius I as Pompey”
Eyice, Semavi “Gotlar Sütunu” (İstanbul Ansiklopedisi)
Magdalino, Paul. “The Columns and the Acropolis Gate: a Contribution to the Study of the Ceremonial Topography of Byzantine Constantinople”
Necipoğlu, Gülru. “From Byzantine Constantinople to Ottoman Kostantiniyye: Creation of a Cosmopolitan Capital and Visual Culture Under Sultan Mehmed II”
Peschlow, Urs. “Betrachtungen zur Gotensäule in Istanbul”
The Complete Palladas translated by Harold Anthony Lloyd