Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Nadia Maria El-Cheikh


From : “Byzantium through the Islamic Prism from the Twelfth to the Thirteenth Century”, included in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, ed. Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh, Dumbarton Oaks © 2001 - Here published with title and subtitles by Elpenor.

Historiography ||| The twelfth and thirteenth centuries ||| al-Rum ||| Byzantine skills ||| General character ||| Constantinople ||| Constantinople and Jerusalem ||| 1204 ||| Symbols of Constantinople ||| Islamic monuments of Constantinople 


Page 13

Another main monument is the column of Justinian. Ibn Jubayr, al-Qazwini,Yaqut, and al-Jazari all provide lengthy descriptions of the column of Justinian which are essentially the same version. Ibn Jubayr states that on top of a bronze column is placed the equestrian statue of Constantine. Constantine has his right hand upward and his palm opened as if pointing toward the realm of Islam. In his left hand he holds a globe. “Opinions vary concerning this monument. Some think that the globe is a talisman with power to inhibit the enemy from invading their country; others say that the globe holds an inscription that says: I have possessed the world and I held it in my hand like this globe; I left it without carrying off anything.“ Al-Harawi similarly talks about the talismanic nature of the statue: “in his hand is a talisman that prevents the enemy from invading the country.“

One other monument mentioned relatively often is the column of Theodosius. Al-Harawi includes its description in his work: “There is a white marbled column in the market ... entirely covered with three-dimensional sculptures of admirable skill.“ It is surrounded by a grill that includes a talisman. If one climbs to the top of the column, he can have a panoramic view of the city in its entirety. “In my kitab al-‘aja’ib I will ... talk about the veneration the inhabitants of this land profess for it and for the figures that cover it.“ Although al-Harawi mentions the talismanic element of this column, he does not explain what kind of power it holds. The Byzantine texts seem to imply that the column announced the future of the city.

Al-Qazwini gives some details of the Horologium, the clock that so impressed the Arab authors: “In the lighthouse of Constantinople there is a Horologium which is made up of twelve doors, each representing an hour. At every hour, one of the doors opens and a statue comes out. ... The Byzantines say that it is the work of the wise Binas” (Apollonius). Al-Qazwini also attributes to Apollonius the creation of the three bronze horses, a talisman located at the gate of the imperial palace to prevent the horses of the city from making noise or neighing.

The majority of the monuments and statues mentioned in our sources are endowed with talismanic or magical power. The talismanic objects found in Constantinople are not unique to it. The talismanic protection of antique cities is a theme of medieval Arabic literature. Al-Qazwini states in the introduction to his geography that strange talismans were created by the wise philosophers, hukama’, for the defense of cities,and various earlier authors such as Ibn al-Faqih and al-Mas‘udi (d. 345/956) mention several talismans in various ancient Near Eastern cities. Indeed, Rasa’il ikhwan al-safa’ include the science of talismans,and the tenth-century Ibn al-Nadim wrote at the beginning of the section dealing with books of magic that “one group of philosophers and servants of the stars assert that they have talismans based on [astronomical] observations.“

Ibn al-Nadim further states that “this art is divulged openly among the philosophers” and goes on to give a biographical entry of Apollonius the Wise, “one of the people of Tyana, in the Byzantine territory” and “the first to initiate speech about talismans.“ Apollonius was referred to, in various early Arabic-Muslim sources, as sahib al-tilasmat, or “father of talismans.“ In fact, the reputation of Apollonius was such that several Arabic works dealing with astrology, alchemy, and magic, among others, have been falsely attributed to him. It was the connection between the “Byzantine” Apollonius and talismans that probably led to the prevalent belief in the Islamic sources of the excessive presence of talismans in the Byzantine capital. This assumption continued unabated and even increased in the texts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which managed to assign talismanic power to a relatively larger number of monuments. This has partly to do with the proliferation of books on cosmography such as those of al-Qazwini and al-Dimashqi, which, with their wondrous elements, became popular starting in the late twelfth century.


Cf.  Christianity and Islam - Two related, yet different religions * Koran – the invention of an artificial religion * Turkey * The Orthodox Church * Byzantine history * On the Byzantine Military Strategy * Greek Language

On Line Resources for Constantinople

Greek Forum : Make a question / Start a Discussion


Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware


Reference address :