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Byzantine Empire Hippodrome of Constantinople - Sultanahmet

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Uploaded on Apr 23, 2008

The Great Hippodrome of the Byzantine Empire.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a horse-racing track that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and the largest city in Europe. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydani in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with only a few fragments of the original structure surviving.



The word hippodrome comes from the Greek hippos ('ιππος), horse, and dromos (δρομος), path or way. Horse racing and chariot racing were popular pastimes in the ancient world and hippodromes were common features of Greek cities in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.

History and use


Although the Hippodrome is usually associated with Constantinople's days of glory as an imperial capital, it actually predates that era. The first Hippdrome was built when the city was called Byzantium (Byzantion in Greek), and was a provincial town of moderate importance. In 203 the Emperor Septimius Severus rebuilt the city and expanded its walls, endowing it with a hippodrome, an arena for chariot races and other entertainments.



In 324, the Emperor Constantine the Great decided to move the seat of the government from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Nova Roma (New Rome). This name failed to impress and the city soon became known as Constantinople, the City of Constantine. Constantine greatly enlarged the city, and one of his major undertakings was the renovation of the Hippodrome. It is estimated that the Hippodrome of Constantine was about 150 metres long and 130 metres wide. Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators.

The race-track at the Hippodrome was U-shaped, and the Emperor's box, with four bronze statues of horses on its roof, was located at the eastern end of the track. These horses, which were cast in the 5th century BC and brought from Greece, were looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and installed on the façade of St Mark's Basilica in Venice. The track was lined with other bronze statues of famous horses and chariot drivers, none of which survive.

Throughout the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the city's social life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and the whole city was divided between fans of the Blue (Venetii) and Green (Prasinoi) chariot racing teams. The two other racing teams, the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi), gradually weakened and were absorbed by the two major factions. Frequently rivalry between Blues and Greens became mingled with political or religious factions, and riots which sometimes amounted to civil wars broke out in the city between them. The most severe of these was the Nika riots of 532, in which 30 000 people were said to have been killed.

Constantinople never really recovered from its sack during the Fourth Crusade and even though the Byzantine Empire survived until 1453, the Hippodrome was not rebuilt and did not regain its former glory. The Ottoman Turks, who captured the city in 1453 and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire, were not interested in racing and the Hippodrome was gradually forgotten, although the site was never actually built over.

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