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  The Hippodrome





 video on the Hippodrome


The Hippodrome ( A Hippodrome was a Greek stadium for horse racing and chariot racing, Greek hippos ('ιππος), horse, and dromos (δρομος), path or way ) of Constantinople ( built between AD 203 and 330 ) The whole system of the chariot races between the teams that represented the " factions " of the Circus was reproduced at Byzantium with an energy that even surpassed the devotion of the Romans to horse racing.



From the first foundation, of the city the rivalry of the factions (demes) " Blues " and the '' Greens " was one of the most striking features of the life of the place. It was carried far beyond the circus, and spread into all branches of life. We often hear of the " Green " faction identifying itself with Arianism, or of the " Blue " supporting a pretender to the throne. Not merely men of sporting interests, but persons of all ranks and professions, chose their colour and backed their faction. The system was a positive danger to the public peace, and constantly led to riots, culminating in the great sedition of A.D. 523. In the Hippodrome the " Greens " always entered by the north-eastern gate, and sat on the east side ; the " Blues " approached by the north-western gate and stretched along the western side. The emperor's box, called the Kathisma, occupied the whole of the snort northern side, and contained many hundreds of sears for the imperial retinue. The great central throne of the Kathisma was the place in which the monarch showed himself most frequently to his subjects, and around it many strange scenes were enacted. It was on this throne that the rebel Hypatius was crowned emperor by the mob, with his own wife's necklace for an impromptu diadem. Down the centre of the Hippodrome ran the " spina," or division wall. It is estimated that the Hippodrome of Constantine was about 450 m (1,476 ft) long and 130 m (427 ft) wide. Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators. Gladiatorial games were banned by Constantine the Great in 325 AD, yet were held from time to time. In 393 Theodosius, the last emperor of the Eastern and Western Empire adopted Christianity as the Roman state religion and banned pagan festivals


The Nika Riot of 532



'The purple is the noblest winding-sheet'


To be a " Green " in 530 meant to be a partisan of   the house of the late Emperor Anastasius, and a  Monophysite.* The "Blues" posed as partisans of  the house of Justinus, and as strictly orthodox in  matters ecclesiastical From mere Circus factions  they had almost grown into political parties ; but  they still retained at the bottom many traces of their  low sporting origin. The rougher elements pre-  dominated in them ; they were prone to riot and  mischief, and, as the events of 532 were to show, they  were a serious danger to the State.

In January of that year there was serious rioting in  the streets. Justinian, though ordinarily he favoured  the Blue faction, impartially ordered the leaders  of the rioters on both sides to be put to death. Seven were selected for execution, and four of them  were duly beheaded in the presence of a great and  angry mob, in front of the monastery of St Conon.  The last three rioters were to be hung, but the hang-  man so bungled his task that two of the criminals,  one a Blue the other a Green, fell to the ground alive.  The guards seized them and they were again suspended ; but once more — owing no doubt to the terror  of the executioners at the menaces of the mob—  the rope slipped. Then the multitude broke loose,  the guards were swept away, and the half-hung  criminals were thrust into sanctuary at the adjacent  monastery.  

ruins of the Hippodrome

This exciting incident proved the commencement  of six days of desperate rioting. The Blues and  Greens united, and taking as their watchword, Nika  " conquer," swept through the city, crying for the deposition of John of Cappadocia, the unpopular finance  minister, and of Eudemius, Praefect of the city, who  was immediately responsible for the executions. The ordinary police of the capital were quite unable to  master them, and Justinfan was weak enough to pro-  mise to dismiss the officials. But the mob was now  quite out of hand, and refused to disperse : the  trouble was fomented by the partisans of the house of  the late emperor, who began to shout for the deposition of Justinian, and wished to make Hypatius,  nephew of Anastasius, Caesar in his stead. The city ,  was almost empty of troops, owing to the garrison  having been sent to the Persian War. , The Emperor  could only count on 4,000 men of the Imperial  Guard, a few German auxiliaries, and a regiment  of 500 " Cataphracti," mailed horsemen, under Belisarius, who had just returned from the seat of war.   

Belisanus was placed in command of the whole,  and sallied out to clear the streets, but the rioters,  showing the same pluck that the Byzantine mob displayed against the soldiers of Gainas a hundred and  twenty-five years before, offered a stout resistance.  The main fighting took place around the great  square of the Augustaeum, between the Imperial  palace and the Hippodrome. In the heat of the  fight the rebels set fire to the Brazen Porch by  the Senate House. The Senate House caught fire,  and then the conflagration spread east and north,  till it was wafted across the square to St. Sophia. 

On the third day of the riot the great cathedral  was burnt to the ground, and from thence the flames  issued out to burn the hospital of Sampson and the  church of St. Irene. The fire checked the fighting,  and the insurgents were now in possession of most  of the city. But they could not find their chosen  leader, for the unfortunate Hypatius, who had no  desire to risk his neck, had taken refuge with the  Emperor in the palace. It was not till he was  actually driven out by Justinian, who feared to have  him about his person, that this rebel in spite of  himself, fell into the hands of his own adherents.  But on the sixth day of the riots they led him to the  Hippodrome, installed him in the royal seat of the  Kathisma, and crowned him there with a gold chain  of his wife's, for want of a proper diadem.  councils in the Palace. John of Cappadocia and  many other ministers strove to persuade the Emperor  to fly by sea, and gather additional troops at Heraclea. There was nothing left in his power save the  palace, and they insisted that if he remained there  longer he would be surrounded by the rebels and cut  off from escape. It was then that the Empress Theodora rose to the level of the occasion, refused to fly,  and urged her husband to make one final assault on  the enemy. Her words are preserved by Procopius.   " This is no occasion to keep to the old rule that a  woman must not speak in the council. Those who  are most concerned have most right to dictate the  course of action. Now every man must die once, and  for a king death is better than dethronement and  exile. May I never see the day when my purple robe  is stripped from me, and when I am no more called  Lady and Mistress ! If you wish, O Emperor, to save  your life, nothing is easier : there are your ships and  the sea. But I agree with the old saying that  " the purple is the noblest winding-sheet.' Purple was the color reserved for emperors, the meaning was it was better to die an emperor than flee.

   Spurred on by his wife's bold words, Justinian  ordered a last assault on the rebels, and Belisarius led  out his full force. The factions were now in the Hip-  podrome, saluting their newly-crowned leader with  shouts of  Hypatie Auguste, tu vincas*' preparatory  to a final attack on the palace. Belisarius attacked  at once all three gates of the Hippodrome: that  directed against the door of the Kathisma failed, but  the soldiery forced both the side entrances, and after a  hard struggle the rebels were entirely routed. Crowded  into the enormous building with only five exits,     they fell in thousands by the swords of the victorious  Imperialists. It is said that 3S,ooo men were slain in  the six days of this great " Sedition of Nika."   It is curious to learn that not even this awful  slaughter succeeded in crushing the factions. We  hear of the Blues and Greens still rioting on various  occasions during the next fifty years. But they never  came again so near to changing the course of history  as in the famous rising of 532.  



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