Column of Marcian

GPS coordinates: 41.015460, 28.950319
Column of Marcian
Column of Marcian

Description: 

The Column of Marcian is an honorary monument erected in Constantinople by the city prefect (praefectus urbi) Tatianus in honour of the Eastern Roman Emperor Marcian, who reigned in the years 450–457. Since no documents from this period that would describe this column have survived, everything that is known about it must be deduced from its location, style of execution, and the dedicatory inscription.

Little is known about the youth of the future Emperor Marcian, who served for 15 years as a personal assistant (domesticus) for the military commanders of the empire - Ardabur and his son Aspar. After the death of Emperor Theodosius II in July 450, it was Aspar who put forward Marcian's candidacy for the imperial position. After a month of negotiations, Theodosius' sister Pulcheria agreed to marry Marcian, greatly strengthening his position. Thus, Marcian was proclaimed the emperor in August 450.

As a ruler, Marcian pursued a policy diametrically different from his predecessor. One of his first decisions was to break all agreements with the Huns and refuse to pay tribute to them. When the chief of the Huns, Attila, invaded the Apennine Peninsula in 452 - then a part of the Western Roman Empire - Marcian organized a military expedition. His army crossed the Danube and defeated the Huns in the Great Hungarian Plain. After Attila's death in 453, Marcian took advantage of the breakdown of the Hun confederation and settled the Germanic tribes in his empire as the so-called foederati. They were to provide military services to the emperor in return for the privileges they received.

Emperor Marcian also went down in history as the patron of the Council of Chalcedon, held in 451. This council condemned Nestorianism and declared Jesus to have two natures: divine and human. The introduction of this dogma led to the alienation of the population living in the eastern provinces of the empire - Syria and Egypt.

Marcian died in January 457, most likely of gangrene, after participating in a procession leading from the Great Palace of Constantinople to the suburb of Hebdomon. This name, meaning "the Seventh", indicated that the district was seven Roman miles from the centre of Constantinople and the zero milestone, the Million. In Hebdomon there were suburban residences of dignitaries and emperors as well as the churches of John the Evangelist and John the Baptist, where the head of this saint was kept as a relic.

Emperor Marcian was buried next to his wife in a porphyry sarcophagus placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles. It was his great achievement to leave the empire with a financial surplus of seven million solidi. Although Marcian had a son-in-law - Antemius - who married his daughter from a previous marriage, Marcia Euphemia, he did not start a new dynasty of the Eastern Roman emperors. After Marcian's death, the military commander Aspar resumed the role of electing the emperor and offered the position to Leo I, then the garrison commander in Selimbria. Antemius, however, did not disappear without a trace because Emperor Leo appointed him in 467 to the role of the Western Roman Emperor.

The Column of Marcian, about ten meters high, was carved in grey Egyptian granite brought from Syene (now Aswan). It stands on a cuboid base covered with white marble slabs. Two of its walls, east and west, are decorated with IX monograms inscribed in medallions. These early Christian monograms resembling the spokes of a wheel arise from the combination of the Greek letters Iota - I for Jesus and Chi - X for Christ.

On the southern wall of the base, there is a cross inscribed in a wreath. On the fourth, northern wall of the base, the figures of two goddesses of victory, Nike/Victoria, are carved, holding a shield between them. For this reason, since the Ottoman times, the column has also been known as Kıztaşı - the Girl's Stone. The symbols placed on the base of the column can be possibly explained as the victory of the version of Christianity promoted by the emperor over competing interpretations.

Above the figures of Nike, the column's dedicatory inscription, originally made of letters cast in bronze, has been preserved. Currently, only the recesses in which these letters were affixed remain. The inscription, written in Latin, reads: "PRINCIPISHANCSTATUAMMARCIANI CERNEFORUMQUE PRAEFECTUSVOVITQUODTATIANUS OPUS". Translated, it means "Look at this statue of Emperor Marcian and its foundation, a work dedicated by the Prefect Tatianus".

The column is crowned with a capital of the Corinthian order, additionally decorated in the corners with eagles, the insignia of the legions of the Roman army. According to the inscription, on this capital there used to be a statue of Emperor Marcian, but no trace of it has survived. The column of Marcian was therefore a continuation of the Roman tradition of erecting columns for emperors, the most famous of which are the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome.

The Column of Marcian stands on the fourth hill in Constantinople, on the northwest branch of the Mese, the city's main ceremonial road. It may have stood in a square called Leontes (the Lions), which is known to have been in the same neighbourhood. The orientation of the column's capital - along the north-south axis - suggests that the statue of the emperor looked towards the Church of the Holy Apostles, located about 450 meters to the north of the column. Currently, this church is replaced by the Fatih Mosque with the tomb of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.

In the Ottoman period, the Column of Marcian was considered a kind of talisman of the city. Its peculiar interpretation was noted by Evliya Çelebi in the 17th century: "At the beginning of the Saddlers' Bazaar, at the top of a column reaching to the sky, there is a white marble chest in which the daughter of King Puzentin (Byzantius), born under an unlucky star, rests; to preserve her remains from the ants and serpents, this pillar has become a talisman."

This text is a fragment of a guidebook to Istanbul: "Byzantine Secrets of Istanbul".

Image gallery: 

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