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Bill Thayer

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Book I
Part 1

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Buildings


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Part 3


Book I (Part 2)

 p33  2 1 Before the Senate House there happened to be a sort of market-place, which the people of Byzantium call the Augusteum. In that place there is a structure of stones, which is made up of not less than seven courses, laid in a rectangle, all fitted to each other at their ends, but each course being narrower than that beneath, and set back, with the result that each of the stones becomes, from the way it is set, a projecting step, so that people assembled there sit upon them as upon seats. 2 And at the top of the stones there rises a column of extraordinary size, not a monolith, however, but composed of large stones in circular courses, cut so as to form angles on their inner faces, and fitted to one another by the skill of the masons. 3 And finest brass, cast in panels and garlands, covers the stones on every side, both serving to bind them securely, and covering them with adornment, and giving the shaft throughout, but particularly at the base and the capital, the appearance of a column. 4 This brass, in its colour, is softer than pure gold, and its value is not much less than that of an equal weight of silver. 5 And on the  p35 summit of the column stands a gigantic bronze horse, facing toward the east, a very noteworthy sight.28 He seems about to advance, and to be splendidly pressing forward. 6 Indeed he holds his left foot in the air, as though heº were about to take a forward step on the ground before him, while the other is pressed down upon the stone on which he stands, as if ready to take the next step; his hind feet he holds close together, so that they may be ready whenever he decides to move. 7 Upon this horse is mounted a colossal bronze figure of the Emperor. And the figure is habited like Achilles, 8 that is, the costume he wears is known by that name. He wears half-boots and his legs are not covered by greaves. 9 Also he wears a breastplate in the heroic fashion, and a helmet covers his head and gives the impression that it moves up and down,29 and a dazzling light flashes forth from it. 10 One might say, in poetic speech, that here is that star of Autumn.30 And he looks toward the rising sun, directing his course, I suppose, against the Persians. 11 And in his left hand he holds a globe, by which the sculptor signifies that the whole earth and sea are subject to him, yet he has neither sword nor spear nor any other weapon, but a cross stands upon the globe which he carries, the emblem by which alone he has obtained both his Empire and his victory in war.31 12 And stretching forth his right hand toward the rising sun and spreading out his fingers, he  p37 commands the barbarians in that quarter to remain at home and to advance no further. So much, then, for this statue.

13 The church called after Eirenê, which was next to the Great Church and had been burned down together with it, the Emperor Justinian rebuilt on a large scale, so that it was scarcely second to any of the churches in Byzantium, save that of Sophia. 14 And between these two churches there was a certain hospice, devoted to those who were at once destitute and suffering from serious illness, those who were, namely, suffering in loss of both property and health. 15 This was erected in early times by a certain pious man, Samson by name. And neither did this remain untouched by the rioters, but it caught fire together with the churches on either side of it and was destroyed. 16 The Emperor Justinian rebuilt it, making it a nobler building in the beauty of its structure, and much larger in the number of its rooms. He has also endowed it with a generous annual income of money, to the end that through all time the ills of more sufferers may be cured. 17 But by no means feeling either a surfeit or any sort of weariness in shewing honour to God, he established two other hospices opposite to this one in the buildings called respectively the House of Isidorus and the House of Arcadius, the Empress Theodora labouring with him in this most holy undertaking. 18 All the other shrines which this Emperor dedicated to Christ are so numerous and so great in size, that it is impossible to write about them in detail. 19 For neither the power of language, nor the whole span of eternity, would suffice  p39 us to make a catalogue and by name descant upon each one of these. It will suffice us to have said thus much.

3 1 We must begin with the churches of Mary the Mother of God. For we know that this is the wish of the Emperor himself, and true reason manifestly demands that from God one must proceed to the Mother of God. 2 The Emperor Justinian built many churches to the Mother of God in all parts of the Roman Empire, churches so magnificent and so huge and erected with such a lavish outlay of money, that if one should see one of them by itself, he would suppose that the Emperor had built this work only and had spent the whole time of his reign occupied with this alone. 3 But now, as I said, I must describe the sanctuaries of Byzantium. One of the churches of the Mother of God he built outside the fortifications in a place called Blachernae32 (for to the Emperor's credit there must also be reckoned the buildings erected by his uncle Justinus, since Justinian administered the government also during his uncle's reign on his own authority). This church is on the sea, a most holy and very stately church, of unusual length and yet of a breadth well proportioned to its length, both its upper and its lower parts being supported by nothing but sections of Parian stone which stand there to serve as columns. 4 And in all the other parts of the church these columns are set in straight lines, except at the centre, where they recede.33 5 Anyone upon entering this church would marvel particularly at the greatness of the mass  p41 which is held in place without instability, and at the magnificence which is free from bad taste.

6 He dedicated to the Virgin another shrine in the place called Pegê.34 In that place is a dense grove of cypresses and a meadow abounding in flowers in the midst of soft glebe, a park abounding in beautiful shrubs, and a spring bubbling silently forth with a gentle stream of sweet water — all especially suitable to a sanctuary. 7 Such are the surroundings of the sanctuary. But the church itself is not easy to describe in such terms as it deserves, nor can one readily form a mental vision of it, nor do it justice in whispering speech. 8 It must suffice to say only this, that it surpasses most shrines both in beauty and in size. 9 Both these churches were erected outside the city-wall,35 the one where it starts beside the shore of the sea, the other close to the Golden Gate, as it is called, which chances to be near the end of the line of fortifications, in order that both of them may serve as invincible defences to the circuit-wall of the city.36 10 Also in the Heraeum, which they now call the Hieron, he built a church to the Mother of God which it is not easy to describe.

11 In that section of the city which is called Deuteron37 he erected a most holy and revered church to St. Anna, whom some consider to have been the mother of the Virgin and the grandmother  p43 of Christ. 12 For God, being born a man as was His wish, is subjected to even a third generation, and His ancestry is traced back from His mother even as is that of a man. 13 Not far from this same church, near the last street within the city, he built a very imposing shrine to the martyr Zoê.

14 He found a shrine of the Archangel Michael in Byzantium which was small and very badly lighted, utterly unworthy to be dedicated to the Archangel; it was built in earlier times by a certain patrician senator, quite like a tiny bedroom of a dwelling-house, and that, too, of the house of one who is not very prosperous. 15 So he tore this down, even to the lowest foundations, so that no trace of its earlier unseemliness might remain. 16 And increasing its size to the proportions which it now displays, he transformed it into a marvellously beautiful building. 17 For the church38 is in the form of a rectangle (tetrapleuron), and the length appears not much greater than the width. And at either end of the side which faces the east a thick wall was perfectly constructed of many fitted stones, but in the middle it is drawn back so as to form a recess. 18 On either side of this rise columns of naturally variegated hues which support the church. The opposite wall, which faces approximately the west, is pierced by the doors which lead into the church.

4 1 His faith in the Apostles of Christ he displayed in the following manner. First he built a church of Peter and Paul, which had not previously existed in  p45 Byzantium, alongside the imperial residence which in former times was called by the name of Hormisdas.39 2 For he40 had contrived that this building, which was his private residence, should both seem to be a palace, and by the magnificence of its structure be as handsome as one; and when he became Emperor of the Romans he joined it to the Palace proper. 3 There too he built another shrine to the famous Saints Sergius and Bacchus, and then also another shrine which stood at an angle to this one.41 4 These two churches do not face each other, but stand at an angle to one another, being at the same time joined to each other and rivalling each other; and they share the same entrances (eisodoi) and are like each other in all respects, even to the open spaces (kraspeda) by which they are surrounded; and each of them is found to be neither superior nor inferior to the other either in beauty or in size or in any other respect. 5 Indeed each equally outshines the sun by the gleam of its stones, and each is equally adorned throughout with an abundance of gold and teems with offerings. 6 In just one respect, however, they do differ. For the long axis (mêkos) of one of them is built straight, while in the other church the columns stand for the most part in a semi-circle (hêmikyklos).42 7 But whereas they possess a single colonnaded stoa,43 called a narthex because of its great length, for each one of their porches (prothyra), they have their propylaea (propylaia) entirely in common, and  p49 they share a single court (aulê), and the same doors leading in from the court (metauloi thyrai), and they are alike in that they belong to the Palace. 8 These two churches are so admirable that they manifestly form an adornment of the whole city, and not merely of the Palace.

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The ground plan of a small squarish church with a rudimentary apse. It is the plan of SS. Sergius and Bacchus in Istanbul.
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The ground plan of a large cruciform church with an apse and five domes. It is the plan of St. John in Ephesus.

Plan of SS. Sergius and Bacchus.

Plan of St. John at Ephesus.

9 Afterwards, as shewing very special honour to all the Apostles together, he did as follows. There was in Byzantium from ancient times a church dedicated to all the Apostles; but having by now been shaken by the passage of time, it had fallen under the suspicion that it would not continue to stand. 10 This the Emperor Justinian pulled down entirely, and he was at pains not simply to restore it, but to make it more worthy both in size and in beauty. 11 He carried out his effort as follows.44 Two straight lines were drawn, intersecting each other at the middle in the form of a cross, one extending east and west, and the other which crossed this running north and south. 12 On the outside these lines were defined by walls on all of the sides, while on the inside they were traced by rows of columns standing above one another. At the crossing of the two straight lines, that is to say at about the middle,45 there was set aside a place which may not be entered by those who may not celebrate the mysteries; this with good reason they call the "sanctuary" (hierateion). 13 The two arms (pleurai) of this enclosure which lie along the transverse line are equal  p51 to each other, but the arm which extends toward the west, along the upright line, is enough longer than the other to make the form of the cross.a 14 That portion of the roof which is above the sanctuary, as it is called, is built, in the centre at least, on a plan resembling that of the Church of Sophia, except that it is inferior to it in size. 15 The arches, four in number, rise aloft and are bound together in the same manner, and the circular drum (kykloteres) which stands upon them is pierced by the windows, and the dome (sphairoeides) which arches above this seems to float in the air and not to rest upon solid masonry, though actually it is well supported. 16 Thus, then, was the central portion of the roof constructed. And the arms of the building, which are four, as I have said, were roofed on the same plan as the central portion, but this one feature is lacking: underneath the domes (sphairikon) the masonry is not pierced by windows. 17 And at the time when this shrine was completed by him, the Apostles made it manifest to all men how they delight in the honour shewn them by the Emperor and glory in it exceedingly. 18 At any rate the bodies of the Apostles Andrew and Luke and Timothy, which previously had been invisible and altogether concealed, became at that time visible to all men, signifying, I believe, that they did not reject the faith of the Emperor, but expressly permitted him to see them and approach them and touch them, that he might thereby enjoy their assistance and the safety of his life. This was made known in the following way.

 p53  19 The Emperor Constantius46 had built this church in honour of the Apostles and in their name, decreeing that tombs for himself and for all future Emperors should be placed there, and not for the rulers alone, but for their consorts as well; and this custom is preserved to the present day. Here also he laid the body of his father Constantine. 20 But neither did he give any intimation whatever that the bodies of the Apostles were there, nor did any place appear there which seemed to be given over to the bodies of the holy men. 21 But when the Emperor Justinian was rebuilding this shrine, the workmen dug up the whole soil so that nothing unseemly should be left there; and they saw three wooden coffins lying there neglected, which revealed by inscriptions upon them that they contained the bodies of the Apostles Andrew and Luke and Timothy. 22 And the Emperor himself and all the Christians saw these with the greatest joy, and having arranged a procession in their honour and a festival, and having performed the customary holy rites over them and having put the coffins in order, they laid them once more in the ground, not leaving the place unmarked or solitary, but piously ordaining that it be dedicated to the bodies of the Apostles. 23 And it is plain, as I have said, that it was in requital for this honour which the Emperor shewed them, that these Apostles appeared to men on this occasion. 24 For when the Emperor is pious, divinity walks not  p55 afar from human affairs, but is wont to mingle with men and to take delight in associating with them.

25 Who could pass over in silence the Church of Acacius?47 This had fallen into ruin, and he took it down and rebuilt it from the foundations, so as to make it a building of marvellous size. It is carried on all sides on columns of astonishing whiteness, and the floor is covered with similar stone, from which such a brilliant light is reflected that it gives the impression that the whole church is coated with snow. 26 And two stoas are thrown out in front of it, one of them making a court (peristylos), the other facing48 the market-place. 27 I have almost omitted to mention that martyr's shrine which is dedicated to St. Plato, a truly holy and much revered building, not far from the market-place which bears the name of the Emperor Constantine; also the church dedicated to the martyr Mocius, to which all other shrines yield in size. 28 There is also the resting-place of the martyr Thyrsus, and likewise the precinct of St. Theodore, situated outside the city at a place called Rhesium, as well as the sanctuary of the martyr Thecla, which is hard by the harbour of the city which chances to bear the name of Julian, and that of St. Theodota in the suburb called Hebdomum.49 29 All these our present Emperor built from the foundations during the reign of his uncle Justinus, and they are not easy to describe in words, and  p57 one cannot admire them sufficiently when they are seen. 30 But the Church of St. Agathonicus now draws my narrative and constrains me, though I no longer have the voice or the words to do justice to it. So I must content myself with mention of this church, and leave it to others to describe its beauty and its magnificence in every detail — others whose power of utterance is fresh and not yet wholly spent.

5 1 There are other shrines also, both in the place called Anaplus50 and on the shore of the opposite continent, which he found in a condition unworthy to be dedicated to any of the saints, as well as along the inlet which the inhabitants call Ceras,51 after Ceroessa, the mother of Byzas, the founder of the city; and in all these he displayed a munificence altogether befitting an Emperor, as I shall presently shew, after first explaining how the sea adorns Byzantium.

2 Besides the city's other blessings the sea is set most beautifully all about it, forming curving bays, contracting into narrow straits, and spreading into a great open sea; and thus it makes the city exceptionally beautiful, and offers the quiet shelter of harbours to navigators, thereby abundantly providing the city with the necessities of life and making it rich in all useful things. 3 For in reality there are two seas embracing it, the Aegean on the one side and the sea called the Euxine on the other; these unite with each other to the east of the city, and rushing together as they mingle their waves, and pushing back the solid land by this invasion, they beautify the  p59 city as they surround it. 4 So it is encircled by three straits which open into one another, so disposed that they both adorn and serve the city, all of them most delightful for sailing, each a pleasurable sight for the eye, and very commodious for anchorage. 5 And the middle one of them,52 coming down from the Euxine Sea, flows straight toward the city, as though to beautify it, and on either side of it the two continents are placed. 6 And it is pressed in by their banks, so that it ripples and seems to plume itself because it approaches the city mounted upon both Asia and Europe. 7 One would imagine that he was looking upon a river moving toward him with gentle current. And the strait which lies on the left of this53 is confined by its shores on either side for a very great distance, displaying the woods and the lovely meadows and all the other details of the opposite shore which lie open to view from the city. 8 Then from that point it broadens as it is thrust away from the city toward the south, and carries the coast of Asia very far from the city. 9 Yet the wash of the sea continues to envelop the city up to its western boundary. The third strait,54 which branches off from the first toward the right, commencing at Sycae,55 as it is called, extends for a very great distance along the side of the city which faces the north, and terminates in the bay which forms its end. 10 Thus the sea forms a garland about the city; the remainder of the city's boundary is formed by the land which lies between the two arms of the sea, and is of sufficient size to bind together there the crown  p61 of waters. 11 This bay is always calm, being so fashioned by nature that it is never roiled, just as if limits were set there for the turbulent waters and all billows were excluded from that area so as to do honour to the city. 12 And in winter, even should violent winds chance to fall upon the open spaces of the sea and upon the strait, as soon as ships reach the entrance to the bay, they proceed for the rest of the way without a pilot and are anchored without precautions. 13 For the circuit of the bay extends to a distance of more than forty stades, and furnishes anchorage throughout its whole extent; so that when a ship anchors there the stern rides upon the sea while the prow rests upon the land, as if the two elements contended with each other to see which of them would be able to render the greater service to the city.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

28 This statue is illustrated in the Frontispiece; see Appendix (pp395 ff.), where its significance is discussed. See also the (p35)analysis of Procopius's description by P. Friedländer, Johannes von Gaza und Paulus Silentiarius, Leipzig, 1912, pp64‑65.

29 As if the horse were in motion.

30 Sirius.

Thayer's Note: ὀπωρινὸς ἀστήρ, the star, not exactly of our calendar autumn, but of the season from mid-July to September, often called "the dog days" from another common name of Sirius, the Dog-Star. The expression is from Homer.

31 The emblem of the Christian warrior: ἐν τούτῷ νίκα.

Thayer's Note: A stenographic explanation that would have been better left unwritten. The object in Justinian's hand, an orb, is not symbolic of the Christian warrior, but of rulership or empire and probably represents the globe of the earth (Lat. orbis). Earlier Romans associated the symbol with Jupiter or the Sun, who is frequently depicted as giving it to the Emperor, as in this coin of Aurelian, a pagan emperor; the cross is a later Christian addition.

32 This was the outer edge of the city — toward the west — at the point where the land-walls meet the Golden Horn.

33 See above, p16, note 1.

34 "Spring"; modern Balukli, to the west of the land-walls.

35 i.e. the land-wall as distinguished from the harbour-wall.

36 The Church of the Spring was far removed from the Golden Gate and from the sea. Procopius forgets or wilfully distorts the facts of topography in depicting a purely fanciful arrangement of these two churches as guardians of the city-wall.

37 "Second," as being marked by the second milestone from the original centre of the city, which was near the point of the peninsula.

38 Procopius often uses τέμενος (temenos), as here, to mean the church building itself, not the enclosure about it; sometimes he employs the word to mean both the building and the enclosure.

39 Hormisdas was a fugitive Persian prince, high in the counsels of the Emperor Constantius, A.D. 353‑361.

40 Justinian.

41 See the plan of the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus on p46; the other church has been destroyed.

42 This is a way of saying that one church was a basilica, in which the walls and aisles ran in a straight line, while the other (that of SS. Sergius and Bacchus) was built on a central plan with exedras.

43 Cf. infra V.vi.23.

44 A mosque has been built over the ruins of this church, but it has been possible to recover its plan; see the study of (p49)K. Wulzinger, "Die Apostelkirche und die Mehmedije zu Konstantinopel," Byzantion, VII, 1932, pp7‑39. The plan is illustrated by that of the Church of St. John at Ephesus (above, p47), which Procopius says (below, V.i.6) closely resembled the Church of the Apostles.

45 i.e., of the church.

46 Eusebius and others state that the church was founded by Constantine the Great, while Procopius and some writers attribute it to Constantius; evidently it was begun by Constantine and completed after his death by his son (cf. A. Heisenberg, Grabeskirche und Apostelkirche, Leipzig, 1908, II p110).

47 Acacius, said to have been a centurion from Cappadocia, was martyred at Byzantium under Maximianus. The Church of Acacius which was restored by Justinian had been built by Constantine the Great, and stood at the Heptascalum on (p55)the Sea of Marmara. There was also an oratory at the place where Acacius was executed.

48 Possibly "open towards" or "leading to."

49 Modern Macrikeuy, called Hebdomum because it stood at the "seventh" milestone from the original centre of the city.

50 Modern Arnautkeuy, on the European bank of the Bosporus.

51 "Horn," now known as the "Golden Horn."

52 The Bosporus.

53 The northern extremity of the Sea of Marmara which lies along the east side of the city.

54 The Golden Horn.

55 Literally, "Fig-trees"; modern Galata.

Thayer's Note:

a Procopius, clearly Greek rather than Latin in his mentality, still considers, and expects his Greek readers to consider, that a cross has one longer arm (more properly, the stake fixing it into the ground). This shape is now usually called a "Latin" cross; the "Greek cross", with four equal arms, was apparently not that Greek after all, or at least not in the 6c when Procopius was writing.

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