Column of Justinian
The Column of Justinian was a monumental column topped with a bronze statue of an emperor. It was located just south of Hagia Sophia and survived until the Ottoman Era. While it no longer survives, multiple literary accounts and pictorial representations give significant information about it.
The Column of Justinian (or the Augustaion Column) was located in the middle of the Augustaion, a central plaza in Constantinople that Justinian rebuilt following its destruction in the Nika Riots in 532. The column was erected by Justinian in 543 and crowned with a bronze statue taken from another location. The identity of the statue is unclear, though it seems that it was either Theodosius I or Theodosius II. The column was made of masonry brick and sheathed with bronze.
Later it was considered as a talisman of Byzantine Constantinople. Even during the Ottoman Era, the Greeks of the city viewed it as a protection against the plague. There was even a dubious 16th century account that one of the sultans tried to have the statue restored to protect the city, but failed due to a lack of skilled craftsmen. The identity of the statue base found in the garden of Topkapı Palace, though it more likely belonged the Column of Leo.
Its ultimate fate is uncertain. It was commonly asserted that Mehmed II destroyed the column and had the statue melted down. It is more likely that it became part of his collection of antiquities. Furthermore it is clear that the column survived until the 16th century. It is possible that the statue was removed because its talismanic power was viewed as a threat by the Ottomans. Turkish sources suggest that the column collapsed during the reign of Sultan Selim or Suleiman.
A depiction of the statue is survives in a fifteenth-century drawing now located in Budapest. The motif of the emperor on horseback can also be seen in the Barberini Ivory, which possibly depicts Justinian. Other depictions of the statue can be seen in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), while a 16th century engraving by Onofrio Panvinio (based on a drawing from late 15th century) depicts the column without a statue.
From MS 35 at Budapest University Library
The Column of Justinian being struck by lightning
From the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
Procopius gave a detailed description of the statue. The emperor wore a breastplate, low boots without greaves (leg protectors), and a remarkable piece of headgear with a crest of swaying plumes. He carried no weapons, holding instead in his left hand the globus cruciger, a sphere representing his universal domain surmounted by a cross, a symbol of Christian authority. Procopius emphasizes the potency of this Christianized imperial symbol, “by which alone Justinian has secured both his dominion and his mastery in war.” He also interprets the gesture of the emperor’s other hand: “Extending his right hand toward the regions of the rising sun and spreading out his fingers, he orders the barbarians in that place to remain at home and to not move forward.” In front of the column were the statues of three barbarian kings in a posture of submission.
16th century engraving by Onofrio Panvinio
The Column of Justinian is on the right
Capitals in the Courtyard of Topkapı Palace
The large capital comes from the Column of Leo or possible the Column of Justinian
View of the Augustaion and Hagia Sophia
The Last Statues of Antiquity by Smith and Ward-Perkins
Brickstamps of Constantinople by J. Bardill
Mehmed the Conqueror and the Equestrian Statue of the Augustaion by J. Raby
The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian edited by M. Maas
Oxford University Press Dictionary of Byzantium
Column of Justinian (Byzantine 1200)