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Author(s) : Kostenec Jan (6/4/2008)

For citation: Kostenec Jan, "Chrysotriklinos", 2008,
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=12440>

Chrysotriklinos (7/27/2009 v.1) Χρυσοτρίκλινος (7/12/2011 v.1) 

1. Introduction

Built in the sixth century (for its date see below), the Chrysotriklinos or ‘Golden Hall’ stood in the southern area of the Great Palace, probably near and north of the last surviving part of the maritime façade and landing staircase of the Boukoleon Palace.1 It was the main reception and dining hall of the Middle Byzantine imperial residence and the real heart and nerve centre of the Palace. The Chrysotriklinos was also the place where the everyday imperial ritual took place in the Middle Byzantine period.2

2. Architecture

The tenth-century Book of Ceremonies (De Cerimoniis) mentions eight arches or barrel-vaults (kamarai) in the interior of the Chrysotriklinos of which the eastern one was surely an apse since it is also referred to as a ‘conch’. In addition, it is also known that the structure was covered with a dome and the interior was lighted by sixteen windows and an unspecified number of smaller windows (perhaps glazed with alabaster). On the basis of these details, the Chrysotriklinos can be reconstructed as an octagonal domed hall. The main door of the hall was in the western side and was preceded by a porch called the Tripeton or Horologion (presumably after a clockwork which stood there). The eastern apse of the hall was the place where the imperial throne stood during formal audiences.3

Unlike the eastern apse the subsidiary vaulted spaces opening off the six sides of the octagon on the north and south were shut off by the central core by curtains (vela). Therefore, it is unclear whether there were apses (and if so, how many?) behind the curtains hung in the arches (kamarai). However, it must be reminded that the description of the Chrysotriklinos in the De Cerimoniis mentioning these curtains dates to the Middle Byzantine period and it is, therefore, probable that the original design of the sixth-century octagonal hall comprised further apses or niches in addition to the eastern apse, taking into account Late Antique comparanda. The Chrysotriklinos has been compared with the sixth-century churches of Sts. Sergios and Bacchos (today Küçük Ayasofya Camii, Istanbul), S. Vitale (Ravenna) and St. John in Hebdomon (suburb of Constantinople; now Bakirköy/Istanbul).4 Although these ecclesiastical structures present an octagonal core such a comparison is, however, only superficial. They have (or had, in case of the vanished St. John at Hebdomon) a groundfloor ambulatory and gallery above it, which envelop the octagonal core. Nevertheless, ambulatories and galleries were functional in churches but were redundant in secular audience and dining rooms.

Rather, Late Antique palaces and, to a certain extent, smaller ecclesiastical structures such as baptisteries can help us visualize the appearance and layout of the Chrysotriklinos. In this respect there are two alternatives for its ground-plan: a) The polygonal plan was fully acknowledged both in the interior and on the exterior of the building: Semicircular apses or niches on all but the entrance side were either in the thickness of a wall5 or projected from the octagonal core on the exterior;6 b) The building was in its lower part externally square and internally octagonal in plan, with internal semicircular apses in each of its four corners and an apse on the main axis, opposite the entrance. The two lateral sides of the octagon (those without apses) could be pierced with large openings (which may be called kamarai using the terminology of the De Cerimoniis). Only the upper part of the building covered with a dome was polygonal on the exterior thus revealing the interior layout.7 In both alternatives the apses, if large enough, could have contained semicircular couches (sigma or stibadium), something quite usual in Late Antique dining halls.8

As far as the vaulting of the octagonal core of the Chrysotriklinos is concerned there appears to be two possibilities also: a) A dome composed of sixteen segments which would be supported on eight wide arches that would fall on eight piers. Each of the dome segments contained one window.9 b) A shallow windowless dome whose curvature would be similar to that of its four pendentives. The windows would pierce the walls of the upper octagonal part of the structure above the eight piers. There would be then two windows in each side of the octagon.10

3. Adjoining rooms

Many (if not all) of the subsidiary spaces groupped around the Chrysotriklinos seem to have been separated structures rather than apses on the respective sides of the octagonal core of the hall judging from what the De Cerimoniis tells us about their functions. The vault immediately to the left of the eastern apse opened into the chapel of St. Theodore and the treasury and there was also a vestry of the emperor. The vault on the northern side of the octagon gave onto the Pantheon where officials would wait before ceremonies. The room next to the Pantheon, near the western entrance of the Chrysotriklinos and accessible through the northwest vault, was used as a steward’s room and there was also a bench on which the doorkeeper of the palace placed the keys when the Chrysotriklinos was opened. The vaults on the south side of the octagon led to the imperial apartments and a private dining room of the emperors. One of the southern rooms was also used by the patriarch: he divested himself of his stole there after blessing the meal at banquets.11

4. Decoration

The original sixth-century decoration of the Chrysotriklinos is unknown. Nevertheless, it is apparent that in the Middle Byzantine period the hall was decorated with figurative mosaics of semi-religious character comissioned by Michael III (842-867) after the defeat of Iconoclasm. The most prominent mosaic depicting Jesus Christ decorated the eastern apse where the throne stood. Another major mosaic was above the western door. This showed the Virgin Mary flanked by the mentioned emperor and the Patriarch Photios. There were further mosaic images of the Apostles, martyrs and other saints.12 Some of the doors were of silver and the same material was also used for interior cornices. In addition, for the Easter banquet and receptions of important guests many objects were brought to the hall from other palatial buildings and churches in order to increase rich appearance of the hall.13

5. The builder of the Chrysotriklinos

The Chrysotriklinos is in modern scholarly literature almost invariably ascribed to the emperor Justin II (565-578). Althought it may be correct it is worth noting that such an atribution is not, however, that certain: first, there is no contemporary source that would state that Justin II built this hall. Second, if we peruse the available Byzantine sources we will find out that only Symeon Logothetes (in his Chronography under the name of Leo Grammatikos) ascribes the Chrysotriklinos to Justin II.14 Suda15 claims it was built by Justin I, Pseudo-Kodinos16 regards it as Marcian´s building and John Zonaras17 says that Justin II reconstructed the Chrysotriklinos. In this respect it is worth noting E. Bolognesi’s suggestion that the Chrysotriklinos may be hypothetically identified as the Heptaconch Hall of Justinian’s Hormisdas Palace (situated near Sts. Sergios and Bacchos/Küçük Ayasofya Camii; it became finally part of the Great Palace complex) since the name of the latter suggests that it was a (possibly centrally-planned) building with seven apses like the Chrysotriklinos.18 Thus, the buiding may have been built by Justinian I (527-565) but it is posssible that was restored by Justin II taking into account that Justin II’s successor Tiberios is said to have decorated its interior.19 Moreover, Bolognesi´s hypothesis reasonably explains why the Chrysotriklinos was situated so close by the sea wall and so far from the Constantinian core of the imperial residence.20

1. A.M. Schneider located the Chrysotriklinos hypothetically north of and close by the Landing Staircase as early as the 1930s - Schneider, A.M., Byzanz. Vorarbeiten zur Topographie und Archäologie der Stadt, IstForsch 8, (Berlin 1936), p. 29; for the location of the Chrysotriklinos see also Mango, C., ‘The Palace of the Boukoleon’, Cahiers Archéologiques 45 (1997), pp. 45-46 and fig. 5. The ground in the complex of the imperial residence at Constantinople descended gradually in a series of terraces from the palace of Constantine the Great beside the Hippodrome to the Sea of Marmara. The south part of the Great Palace, above the imperial harbour, became the focus of everyday life in the palace from the ninth century onwards and was called the Sacred Palace and yet later the Boukoleon. The major development of this southern area was undertaken, according to textual sources, by the emperors Theophilos (829-842) and Basil I (867-886), that is in the ninth century. However, the principal buildings were erected before their reigns: The sixth-century Chrysotriklinos was connected to the hall of Justinianos, situated further north on the lower terrace of the Constantinian palace, by the Lausiakos - both palatial structures atributed to Justinian II (685-695, 705-711). Justinian II is also said to have added two courtyards with fountains for audiences of the circus factions (the Phialai of the Greens and the Blues). Finally, he ordered this south area to be enclosed with a wall. East (or south-east) of the Chrysotriklinos was the church of Mother of God (Theotokos of the Pharos), the palace chapel par excellence, and the lighthouse – the Pharos. The emperor Nikephoros II Phocas (963-969) turned the southern sector of the Great Palace into a kind of fortified castle. The Palace in this reduced form became known as the Boukoleon. On the development of the southern area of the Great Palace see Mango, C., ‘The Palace of the Boukoleon’, Cahiers Archéologiques 45 (1997), pp. 41-50; Kostenec, J., ‘The Heart of the Empire: The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors Reconsidered’, Dark, K.R. (ed.), Secular Buildings and the Archaeology of Everyday Life in the Byzantine Empire, (Oxford 2004), pp. 25-27;  Bardill, J., "Visualizing the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors at Constantinople", F. A. Bauer (ed.), Visualisierungen von Herrschaft: Frühmittelalterliche Residenzen- Gestalt und Zeremoniell, (Istanbul 2006), Byzas 5, pp. 23-40. Unlike the Constantinian part of the Great Palace where several large halls served specific purposes, in the later palace many official and ceremonial functions concentrated into one building, the Chrysotriklinos. It was used as an audience and dining hall and its subsidiary chambers served several other purposes.

2. The palace was opened every morning after dawn and the officials waited in the Justinianos for the logothete who brought in the Chrysotriklinos only those whomever the emperor wanted to see. After the audience was finished the doorkeeper gave the dismissal by shaking his keys and the officials left the Chrysotriklinos and went home. Featherstone, M., "The Great Palace as Reflected in the De Cerimoniis", Bauer, F.A. (ed.), Visualisierung von Herschaft: Frühmittelalterliche Residenzen- Gestalt und Zeremoniell, (BYZAS 5, Istanbul 2006), pp. 54-55.

3. On other occasions the emperor sat on a chair off the main axis of the hall and it was possible to go straight through the interior of the octagon and leave it by a silver door in the eastern apse that opened on the terrace of the Lighthouse (Pharos) where the palace church of Theotokos stood. For the architecture of the Chrysotriklinos as described in the De Cerimoniis see most recently Featherstone, J.M., "The Chrysotriklinos Seen Through De Cerimoniis", Hoffmann, L. (ed.), Zwischen Polis, Provinz und Peripherie. Beiträge zur byzantinischen Geschichte und Kultur, (Wiesbaden 2005), pp. 834-837.

4. Ebersolt, J., Le Grand Palais de Constantinople et le Livre des Cérémonies, (Paris 1910), pp. 77-92; Krautheimer, R. with Ćurčić, S., Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, (Harmondsworth 1986), pp. 77-78, 231.

5. Like the octagon in the palace of Galerios in Thessaloniki, early fourth century – Vickers, M., ‘Observations on the Octagon at Thessaloniki’, Journal of Roman Studies 63 (1973), pp. 111-120.

6. Like the hexagonal hall in the Palace of Antiochus at Istanbul, early fifth century – Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls, (Tübingen 1977), pp. 122-125.

7. Like the sixth-century Baptistery on the southwest corner of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the possible governor’s palace at Ephesus – Mathews, T.F., The Byzantine Churches of Istanbul: A Photographic Survey, (University Park Pa. and London 1976), pp. 311-312; Dark, K.R. – Kostenec, J., ‘The Byzantine Patriarchate in Constantinople and the Baptistery of the Church of Hagia Sophia’, Architectura 36/2 (2006) pp. 113-130.

8. This may also have been the case with the original sixth-century Chrysotriklinos. Nevertheless, the emperors and their guests no longer reclined during banquets in the Chrysotriklinos in the tenth century when the De Cerimoniis was compiled.

9. The dome of the Chrysotriklinos would be then similar to that of nearby Sts. Sergios and Bacchos with the difference that the latter has only eight windows as the eight remaining dome segments have small exterior buttresses.

10. This would be, however, unusual for comparable Late Roman and Early Byzantine centrally-planned buildings which had only one large window opening in each side (Baptistery of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, S. Vitale and the two Late Antique baptisteries in Ravenna, Lateran Baptistery etc.).

11. On the rooms to which the side vaults of the Chrysotriklinos opened see Featherstone, J.M., "The Chrysotriklinos Seen Through De Cerimoniis", Hoffmann, L. (ed.), Zwischen Polis, Provinz und Peripherie. Beiträge zur byzantinischen Geschichte und Kultur, (Wiesbaden 2005), pp. 837-839 and fig. 2; Featherstone, M., "The Great Palace as Reflected in the De Cerimoniis", Bauer, F.A. (ed.), Visualisierung von Herschaft: Frühmittelalterliche Residenzen- Gestalt und Zeremoniell, (BYZAS 5, Istanbul 2006), p. 53.

12. Anthologia Palatina I.106, ed. Beckby, H., Anthologia Graeca 1 (Munich 21965), pp. 152-153; Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453 (Toronto 21986), p. 184.

13. Two golden and two silver ceremonial organs stood in the vestibule. In the interior of the hall stood the imperial thrones, couches and golden table. The Pentapyrgion, a huge five domed cupboard in which precious objects were displayed, was transported there from the Magnaura. Furthermore, several chandeliers and crowns hung from the vaults and enamelled objects and mantles of the emperors and empresses decorated the walls (for non-permanent decoration of the Chrysotriklinos see esp. Featherstone, J.M., "ΔΓ’ ΕΝΔΕΙΞΙΝ: Display in Court Ceremonial (De Cerimoniis II, 15)", Cutler, A. – Papaconstantinou, A. (eds.), The Material and the Ideal: Essays in Medieval Art and Archaeology in Honour of Jean-Michel Spieser, (Leiden 2007), pp. 93-95 and 98-99; for the Pentapyrgion see Dagron, G., ‘Architecture d’Intérieur: Le Pentapyrgion’, Travaux et Mémoires 15 (2005), pp. 109-117.

14. Bekker, I. (ed.), Leonis Grammatici Chronographia (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonn 1842), p. 132 (early eleventh century).

15. Suda, ed. A. Adler, Suidae Lexicon II (Leipzig 1931; repr. 1967), 646 (late tenth century).

16. Pseudo-Codinos, Patria Constantinopoleos III.126, ed. T. Preger, Scriptores originum Constantinopolitanarum II (Leipzig 1907; repr. 1975), p. 256 (fifteenth century). However, this is information is not considered as credible, see Berger, A., Untersuchungen zu den Patria Konstantinupoleos, (ΠΟΙΚΙΛΑ ΒΥΖΑΝΤΙΝΑ 8, Bonn 1988), p. 260.

17. Büttner-Wobst, T. (ed.), Ioannis Zonarae epitomae historiarum libri xviii, vol. 3 (Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae, Bonn 1897), pp. 180-1. (early twelfth century).

18. Bolognesi, E., "Il Gran Palazzo", Bizantinistica 2, (2000), p. 236f. The Heptaconch Hall is mentioned in connection with the discussion between the Monophysite bishops and their Orthodox counterparts in 532 - Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum ed. E. Schwartz (ed.), tomus IV,vol. 2, (Berlin 1913), 169.

19. Could it be that the Chrysotriklinos was restored by Justin II after a fire that damaged part of the Hormisdas palace after 548 (for the fire see: Bardill, J., ‘The Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople and the Monophysite Refugees’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 54 (2000), p. 7). Decoration of the building by Tiberius (578-582): Bekker, I. (ed.), Leonis Grammatici Chronographia (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonn 1842), pp.137f.

20. On the basis of Procopius’ statement that Justinian I connected his former private residence, the Hormisdas Palace, to the Great Palace after his accession to the throne (Prokopios, Buildings 1.1-4, ed. G. Wirth [post J. Haury], Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia, 4 [Leipzig 1964]) it is generally assumed that the Great Palace was extended as far as the sea during his reign. However, despite being in Imperial posession (and possibly connected to the Great Palace by a corridor) the Hormisdas retained its original name and remained outside the Great Palace complex until the late seventh century (it was administered by its own curator) when Justinian II erected other important palatial buildings in this area and incorporated it to the official residence of the Byzantine Emperors – see Kostenec, J., ‘The Heart of the Empire: The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors Reconsidered’, Dark, K.R. (ed), Secular Buildings and the Archaeology of Everyday Life in the Byzantine Empire, (Oxford 2004), pp. 25-27 and Kostenec, J., ‘Observations on the Great Palace at Constantinople: The Sanctuaries of the Archangel Michael, the Daphne Palace, and the Magnaura’, Reading Medieval Studies 31 (2005), p. 28, 47 n. 4.


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