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The Column of Phocas

The last monument to be built in the Roman Forum, the inscription on the pedestal of the column indicates that the gilded statue on top was dedicated in AD 608 by Smaragdus, the exarch (governor) of Italy, to the Byzantine emperor Phocas, who earlier had been persuaded by Pope Boniface IV to give the Pantheon to the church (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, I.4). The fluted marble column and Corinthian capital were appropriated from other monuments, the high plinth on which they stand originally used to support the honorary column to Diocletian.

Phocas had murdered his predecessor to usurp the throne in AD 602. Two years after this column was erected, he, himself, was stripped, beheaded, dismembered, dragged, and burned (Chronicon Paschale, 610).

The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu, provides an equally vivid account of the death of Phocas.

"And all the officers and senators had taken up a position near the palace, and they were lying in wait for Phocas. But when Phocas and Leontius the chamberlain became aware that they sought with evil intent to slay them as they had slain the depraved Bonosus, the two arose and seized all the money that was in the imperial treasury which had been amassed by Maurice, and likewise that which had been amassed by (Phocas) himself from the Roman nobles whom he had put to death, and whose property he had confiscated, and likewise the money of Bonosus, and they cast it into the waves of the sea, and so thoroughly impoverished the Roman empire. And thereupon the senators and the officers and soldiers went in and seized Phocas, and took the imperial crown from his head, and (they seized) Leontius the chamberlain likewise, and conducted them in chains to Heraclius to the church of S. Thomas the Apostle, and they put both of them to death in his presence. And they cut off the privy parts of Phocas, and tore off his skin right down to his legs because of the dishonour and shame he had brought on the wife of <Photius> because she was consecrated to the service of God, for he had taken her by force and violated her, although she was of an illustrious family. And next they took the bodies of Phocas and Leontius and Bonosus and they conveyed them to the city of Constantinople, and they burnt them with fire, and scattered the ashes of their bodies to the winds; for they were detested by all men" (CX.4-7).

References: Chronicon Paschale, 284-628 AD (1989) translated by Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby; The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu (1916) translated by R. H. Charles.