“Palace of Lausus”
The so-called “Palace of Lausus” was a Byzantine palace, located west of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, south of the Mese, and adjacent to the Palace of Antiochus. Until recently, this structure was identified as a palace owned by Lausus, though now this attribution is commonly abandoned.
Lausus was a contemporary of Antiochus, and like Antiochus, he was also a eunuch and an imperial chamberlain. In 420, he was the Grand Chamberlain (praepositus sacri cubiculi) of Theodosius II (402-450), during which time Bishop Palladius of Galatia dedicated his book on the Desert Fathers of Egypt, the Lausiac History, to him. By 422, he had been replaced in the post by one Macrobius. It is possible he held this office again in 431 when Cyril of Alexandria recommended his reappointment and again in 436. During this period, Lausus built a spectacular palace that was large enough to house a famous collection of antique sculpture, including some huge pieces, like Pheidias’ Zeus from Olympia. The palace was seriously damaged in a fire in 475, destroying its collection of statues. While it was repaired, it was damaged and restored several other times, and eventually abandoned at a later date.
A number of literary sources suggest that the Palace of Lausus stood in the general vicinity of the Palace of Antiochus. Until recently, the palace located north of the Palace of Antiochus was generally identifies with the Palace of Lausus. While this position is commonly abandoned, it remains an important site. This palace, which has a huge rotunda and long hall, is one of the rare examples of an aristocratic house in Constantinople in have survived. While around 50 aristocratic houses from the 4th and 5th centuries are recorded in written sources, this palace and the adjacent Palace of Antiochus are the only two that have been excavated.
The palace that was north of the Palace of Antiochus had a large rotunda with niches in the interior and horseshoe-shaped portico adjoining the street running along the west side of the Hippodrome. The interior diameter of the rotunda was 20 meters. A small bath with absidal rooms, accessible from the street by a staircase, adjoined the entrance portico on the south. At some point during the 5th century, after the palace was confiscated, a long hallway with an apse in its end was added to the rotunda. It was around 52 meters long and 12 meters wide and was accessed from the rotunda through a double-apsed vestibule. This long hall was modified in the 6th century with the addition of six apses on its long sides. It was eventually abandoned, though both the rotunda and hall were transformed into cisterns as indicated by the presence of hydraulic mortar.
The identity and location of the palace depends in part on the location of the Cistern of Philoxenus, which has traditionally been identified as Binbirdirek Cistern. Literary accounts of the Palace of Lausus record it being adjacent to the Cistern of Philoxenus. More recently, Bardill has argued the Cistern of Philoxenus is better identified with the ruins of a cistern found on Bab-ı Ali Street, closer to the Forum of Constantine that the palace is more likely north of the Mese, near the ruins of this cistern.
Photos by Müller-Wiener
Shops on the Mese
Three shops were excavated on the Mese north of the so-called “Palace of Lausus”, though they were insufficiently published. These shops may well have been rebuilt following fires in 498 and 532, the latter occurring during the Nika Riot. From the time of Constantine, the Mese was lined with porticoes. An approximation of the shops’ dimensions (10 x 7 meters), suggest that the Mese could have had up to 100 shops (50 on each side) between the Milion and the Forum of Constantine. (Also see Byzantine shops in Sardis).
Plan with shops by Naumann
Plan by Müller-Wiener
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Fragments of Statues from the Palace Collection
Roman era, from Antiochus and Lausus excavations
The Lausus Collection of Antique Statuary
One of the most important collections of statuary in Constantinople was assembled in Lausus’ palace, who was perhaps himself responsible for bringing it together. While the massive importation of statues into Constantinople started by Constantine had diminished, Lausus’ private collection shows that it continued. It seems that obtaining this collection was facilitated by Theodosius I (379-395) declaring Christianity as the official imperial religion in 380, which resulted in pagan temples being closed, abandoned or converted into churches. The collection, unfortunately, was destroyed when the palace of Lausus was burned down in 475.
The Lausus collection, as with all other major collections from Constantinople, is known exclusively through literary accounts. The most important work recorded in Lausus’ collection was the statue of Zeus from the Temple of Zeus in Olympia created by Pheidias, which consisted of a chryselephantine figure of Zeus sitting on a jewel-encrusted throne and carried a small figure of Nike. The statue's height was around 12-14 m and it dated to the 5th century BC. This masterpiece was presumably acquired after the suppression of the Olympic festival in 394. Literary accounts also included Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles (4th century BC), Eros of Myndos by Lyssipos (4th century BC), Hera of Samos by Bupalos (6th century BC), Athena of Lindos by Skyllis and Dipoinos (6th century BC), Kairos by Lyssipos (4th century BC) and numerous sculpted beasts.
It is unclear what significant these statues held for the devout Christian Lausus. During this era and beyond, the syncretism of pagan and Christian motifs was both increasingly common and acceptable. It is possible that Lausus arranged the statues in a meaningful program, perhaps in a manner that suggested the power of Virtue over Eros and Chance. The statues of the animals and perhaps even the cult statues could have been viewed as apotropaia – having the magical ability to protect against evil. Removing pagan statuary from their sanctuaries and altars could have been considered deconsecrating the cultic objects, thus transforming them into displays of victory of the New Christian Rome, just as the old pagan Rome had done so many times in the past. Regardless, they were surely appreciated for their artistic merit - perhaps their aesthetic value was the main motivation behind creating the collection in the first place. This appreciation of pagan motifs would continue throughout the Byzantine Empire, as can be seen in the Byzantine ivory casket at Dumbarton Oaks. It has been even suggested that the presence of Pheidias’ Olympian Zeus in Constantinople lies behind the Byzantine image of Christ Pantocrator.
Temple of Zeus in Olympia by Pheidias
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Olympian Jupiter by Quatremère de Quincy (1815)
Statue of the Olympic Jupiter
Roman copy of Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles
Eros of Myndos by Lyssipos
Roman Copy of Kairos by Lysippos
Museo di antichità in Turin
Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in Santa Pudenziana (5th century)
The Urban Image of Late Antique Constantinople by Sarah Bassett
Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity edited by Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly
The Palace of Lausus and Nearby Monuments in Constantinople by Jonathan Bardill
Antique Statuary and the Byzantine Beholder by Cyril Mango
The Commercial Map of Constantinople by Marlia Mango
The Palace of Lausus at Constantinople and its Collection of Ancient Statues by Mango, Francis, and Vickers