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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Hippodrome in Constantinople

The hippodrome was the centre of social and political life in Constantinople. It was there that the Emperor was proclaimed and dignitaries were welcomed in official ceremonies, there that revolutions broke out, executions, pillories and military triumphs took place. The hippodrome as architectural concept is a combination of the Greek stadium and the Roman arena.It owes to the latter both its structure and symbolism. The most popular show in the hippodrome was chariot-racing, taking place either regularly or on fixed dates or marking happy or disastrous occasions to sweeten the crowds. Beside chariot-racing, the hippodrome was the place for various athletic games like wrestling, boxing, hurling, also for shows and public spectacles in which actors, mimes and acrobats performed hunting and battle scenes etc. Moreover, the hippodrome had a rich cosmic symbolism; it symbolized the universe, while the chariot-races symbolized the circle of life and consequently the continuous renewal of the universe which culminated in the person of the emperor, the representative of God on earth, who ruled the universe-empire. All this symbolism resulted in reinforcing the power and authority of the emperor. Furthermore, the four municipalities representing the people of Constantinople and the symbolic colours for their distinction and identification – green, blue, white, red – reflected the social structure of the capital. Thus, the hippodrome can be defined as the symbolic representation of the social and political situation of its times.