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Milion in Constantinople

Author(s) : Michou Eleni (10/3/2007)
Translation : Panou Eirini

For citation: Michou Eleni, "Milion in Constantinople",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=11753>

Μίλιον στην Κωνσταντινούπολη (7/7/2009 v.1) Milion in Constantinople (8/8/2009 v.1) 

1. General information

Milion1 in Constantinople was initially a column, from which the Mese began.2 Later in the area of this column a square vaulted structure was erected, the vault supported by marble columns. It constituted the point relative to which all roads and distances of Eastern part of the empire were measured.3 Eventually not only the structure, but the whole region to the west of the Augustaion was called Milion.

2. Topography

The exact location of the Milion is unknown; however it was very probably to the northwest of Hagia Sophia and west of the Augustaion.4 It was erected in the beginning of the Mese, at the point where it formed a bend, directed towards the Forum of Constantine to the west and towards the Baths of Zeuxippos to the north. Where the Mese meets what is today known as the square of Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya Meydani) and turns toward the Alemdar avenue, an arch and a column were excavated; according to the archaeologists they must belong to Milion, because that is the area where the Milion presumably stood. Its main facade was turned towards the Augustaion to the east. Here was an area paved with marble, known as the “plakoton” or the “marmaroton” (both names referring to its being paved with marble) of Milion. The part of the Mese that was in front of the Milion was called Forum of the Milion.5

In terms of etymology, the term derives from the Latin word mille, a Roman unit of measurement of length, which measured about 1500 m. (mille passus, mean. thousand paces of a Roman soldier).6 The miliaria were milestones along the Roman streets on which information were inscribed, such as the distance from the capital or the distance between the cities, signalled by a number, the locations between which the street extended, and also the name of those who constructed the street and of the emperor to whom the work was dedicated. This system was established by Julius Caesar and perfected by Augustus.7 The latter erected the Miliarium aureum, a marble milestone reveted with gold, which stood in the central Forum of Rome, relative to which the distance to every city of Empire was measured. All big cities of the provinces had their miliarium aureum.

3. Milion in the sources

The building is often mentioned in the Byzantine sources, and it was one of the points of reference in the life of Constantinople. Located in the region of Hagia Sophia and Augustaion, it was to the centre where many important facts took place and where the heart of capital beat.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos often refers to the Milion in his work De Cerimoniis as an important station in the ceremonial processions of the imperial court.8 He refers to it by the names “marmaroton” and “plakoton” of Milion, but also by “arch” or “small dome”. Milion is mentioned also in the Patria of Constantinople, a compilation of various writings on the public buildings, the topography and the traditions of Constantinople. In both the Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai9 and the Patria of Pseudo-Kodinos10 there is reference to the statues that adorned the monument. Milion is considered a gate of the ancient wall (perhaps of the wall of Septimius Severus). Cedrenos in his history describes the monument as a double triumphal arch, and he also mentions the statues that adorned it, enumerating among others busts of two Roman emperors.11 Apart from the statues, however, in the 6th century the horologion of Justinian I was set up in the Milion.12

Many Byzantine chronographers report facts that took place in the Milion. It appears that occasionally executions took place there, judging from the decapitations recounted in Theophanes’s Chronographia,13 but also the blinding of George Peganes on Michael III’s order.14 Niketas Choniates in his work writes of various facts that took place in the Milion during the reigns of Alexios II Komnenos, Isaac II Angelos and his son Alexios IV, as well as under Alexios V Doukas Mourtzouphlos.15

4. Description and history of the monument

The Milion was built by Constantine the Great in the first half the 4th c., imitating the Miliarium aureum of Augustus16, in the context of transferring the centre of the Empire. Now the measurement begins from Constantinople. The original column made of gold was framed within a tetrapylon, the arches of which formed a cross, and the central square was covered with a dome.17 The floor was elevated and access was through a monumental stairway. The columns that carried the dome stood on the ground floor.18 The location of the monument in the area of the Mese, the Augustaion and Hagia Sophia advocate the important place it held in the life of city. So did the many statues that adorned it according to the sources.19 In the first half the 4th c. the monument was adorned with statues of Tyche, Constantine and Helen flanking the Cross, equestrian sculptures of Trajan and Hadrian, as well as of Theodosios II.

In the 6th century Justinian I places a solar clock there, and under Justin II (565-578) statues of his spouse Sophia, his daughter Arabia and his nephew Helen were placed there.20

In the first half the 8th c., and while the monument was already adorned with mosaic representations of the six Ecumenical Councils, Emperor Bardanes Philippikos, a supporter of Monotheletism, issued a decree according to which only the first five Ecumenical Councils would be depicted in the arches of the Milion. In this way he wanted to manifestate his opposition to the sixth Ecumenical Council, which had condemned Monotheletism. The representation of the sixth Ecumenical Council was destroyed and its place took a mosaic of the emperor and patriarch Sergios. Bardanes’ successor, Anastasios II added a new mosaic of the sixth Ecumenical Council. Later, however, these mosaics were replaced by Constantine V with chariot race scenes featuring his favoured charioteer, Ouranikos.21

The Milion was a nodal point in Constantinople, from which big crowds constantly passed by. It constituted a ceremonial station of many imperial processions, the point where the emperor was honoured by the Blues or the Whites. Because of its location but also its architectural form it constituted a base of operations during riots.22 This happened in the 6th century, in the Nika riot, and the late 11th century, during the conflicts between Nikephoros III Botaneiates and Alexios I Komnenos.

In the big fire that destroyed the city in 1204 during the fall to the Crusaders, the Milion was burned down.23 In the late 13th century the region passes by imperial decree under the jurisdiction of Hagia Sophia.

The Milion does not seem to have attracted much attention by pilgrims and travellers to Constantinople. In early 15th c., Buondelmondi hints at the existence of the monument, while in the 16th c. Pierre Gylles mentions the Milion as an already lost monument. About the monument's end nothing is known.24 During the excavations of 1967-1968 the foundation of a wall and one marble column with its base came to light, but such evidence do not permit the reconstruction of the structure.25

1. It is also called ‘‘Milliarion’’, ‘‘arch’’ or ‘‘vault’’ of the Milion, ‘‘fournikon’’ (mean. small dome) and even embolos of the Milion, see Πασπάτης, Α.Γ., Τα Βυζαντινά Ανάκτορα και τα πέριξ αυτών Ιδρύματα (Αθήνα 1885), pp. 102-103.

2. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2 (ed. A. Kazhdan), s.v. ‘‘Mese’’ (New York – Oxford 1991), p. 1346.

3. Talbot Rice, D., Constantinople: Byzantium – Istanbul (London 1965), p. 18.

4. Πασαδαίος, Α., Ο Πατριαρχικός Οίκος του Οικουμενικού θρόνου (Θεσσαλονίκη 1976), p. 45.

5. Guilland, R., Étude de Topographie de Constantinople Byzantine (Berlin 1969), p. 29

6. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 2 (ed. A. Kazhdan), s.v. ‘‘Milion’’ (New York – Oxford 1991), p. 1373.

7. http://www.penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Texts/Secondary
/SMIGRA*/Miliare Βλ. επίσης Smith, W., A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (London 1875), pp. 762-763.

8. Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos, De cerimoniis aulae byzantinae I, ed. J.J. Reiske (CSHB, Bonn 1829). On the Milion according to Porphyrogenitos text, see Antoniades, Ε.Μ., Έκφρασις της Αγίας Σοφίας 1 (Αθήνα 21983), pp. 53-54.

9. Parastaseis Syntomoi Chronikai, Preger, T. (ed.), Scriptores originum Constantinopolitarum 1 (Leipzig 1901; repr. 1975), pp. 31-2, 38, 41-2.

10. Pseudo-Kodinos, Patria Constantinopoleos, Preger, T. (ed.), Scriptores originum Constantinopolitarum 2 (Leipzig 1907; repr. 1975), pp. 141, 166, 206-7.

11. Bekker, I., (ed.), Georgius Cedrenus Ioannes Scylitzae ope 1 (CSHB, Bonn 1838), p. 564.

12. Bekker, I., (ed.), Georgius Cedrenus Ioannes Scylitzae ope 1 (CSHB, Bonn 1838), p. 650. de Boor, C., (ed.), Theophanes Chronographia (Leipzig 1883), p. 216.

13. De Boor, C. (ed.), Theophanes Chronographia (Leipzig 1883), pp. 420, 442.

14. De Boor C. (ed.) - P. Wirth (corr.), Georgii Monachi Chronicon 2 (Leipzig 1978), p. 745. See also Symeon Logothetes, Chronographia, I. Bekker (ed.), Leonis Grammatici Chronographia (CSHB, Bonn 1842), p. 247.

15. Van Dieten, J. (ed.), Nicetae Choniatae Historia (CFHB 11.1, Berlin 1975), pp. 235-6, 554-5, 572.

16. Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), p. 216.

17. Πασαδαίος, Α., Ο Πατριαρχικός Οίκος του Οικουμενικού θρόνου (Θεσσαλονίκη 1976), p. 46. See also Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine. Développement Urbain et Répertoire Topographique (Paris 21964), p. 103; Mango, C., The Brazen House. A Study of the Vestibule of the Imperial Palace of Constantinople (Copenhagen 1959), p. 47.

18. Πασπάτης, Α.Γ., Τα Βυζαντινά Ανάκτορα και τα πέριξ αυτών Ιδρύματα (Αθήνα 1885), p. 103.

19. Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine. Développement Urbain et Répertoire Topographique (Paris 21964), p. 103-104.

20. Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), p. 216.

21. Guilland, R., Étude de Topographie de Constantinople Byzantine (Berlin 1969), p. 28; Mango, C., Βυζάντιο. Η Αυτοκρατορία της Νέας Ρώμης (trn. Δ. Τσουγκαράκης) (Αθήνα 21990), p. 313; Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire. 312-1453. Sources and Documents (New Jersey 1972), pp. 141, 153.

22. Guilland, R., Étude de Topographie de Constantinople Byzantine (Berlin 1969), pp. 28, 29.

23. Guilland, R., Étude de Topographie de Constantinople Byzantine (Berlin 1969), pp. 29-30.

24. Besides, Buondelmonti’s referrence should not be considered as evidence of the monument’s survival at the time, Guilland, R., Étude de Topographie de Constantinople Byzantine (Berlin 1969), p. 30.

25. Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), p. 218.


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