Great Entablature, Hagios Polyeuktos, Istanbul
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Great Entablature, Hagios Polyeuktos, Istanbul

This piece of the Great Entablature in Hagios Polyeuktos includes a niche decorated with peacock feathers, twisting vine stems, intricate floral ornamentation, and part of an inscription. The inscription is the first part of line 31 of an epigram from the Greek Anthology. The transliterated Greek of the inscription reads, “oud’ autē dedaēkas ametr[…”.

Creation Date
Style Genre
Block: 1.44 m. tall; 2.26 m. wide. Letters: height 10-11.5 cm; width plus space
Format Medium

The block is made of Proconnesian marble.

Original Location

Hagios Polyeuktos, Istanbul

Specific Location

Nave, Hagios Polyeuktos

Historical Context

Princess Anicia Juliana commissioned Hagios Polyeuktos. She dedicated the church to Polyeuktos, a Roman soldier who lived in Melitene (modern Malatya) on the river Euphrates. He suffered martyrdom on 9 January 250. At an unknown point, his relics were transferred to Constantinople. A total of five churches are dedicated to him in the following cities: Melitene, Jerusalem, Ravenna, and two in Constantinople. Anicia Juliana chose to dedicate the church to Polyeuktos because the saint recalled her descent from Theodosius II, whose wife Eudocia had built the earlier church of Hagios Polyeuktos in Constantinople.

The church originally stood on the Mese, the main street in Late Antique Constantinople. Only decorative fragments and the substructures of the church remain. Included among these decorative fragments is an inscription which encircled the naos of the church and the narthex. The Greek Anthology 1.10 records the 76 line epigram found in the church of the martyr Polyeuktos, although not in the order in which it was situated in the church. Most of our knowledge concerning the architectural form of the church is derived from the epigram. The church was a basilica and had a gallery. The columns supported a gilded roof. The church included arched recesses and may have included a transept terminating in the semicircular apse. The walls were decorated with colored marble, and a representation of Constantine’s baptism was found in the narthex or courtyard. The excavations uncovered the foundations of the apse, nave, aisles, narthex, atrium, and other substructures of the church, as well as a crypt and burials.

References are made about the church in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but there is no information regarding its upkeep, administration, and status. Since the excavations uncovered no major modifications or additions to its fabric or decoration but did uncover deposits of dumped material from the seventh to the tenth centuries, this suggests that the church was kept on a “care and maintenance” basis only.

Until the completion of Justinian’s Hagia Sophia, the basilica eclipsed all other churches in size and splendor. Both the poem and the church make an explicit political statement about the noble lineage of Anicia Juliana.

Patrons and Others

Princess Anicia Juliana was the patroness of Hagios Polyeuktos. Anicia Juliana was born ca. A.D. 463 to Flavius Anicius Olybrius (Emperor of the West in 472) and Placidia the younger, daughter of Valentinian III. She married Flavius Areobindus Dagalaifus, with whom she had one son, Flavius Anicius Olybrius Junior. In 512, a group of dissidents rioting against Emperor Anastasius pressed a crown upon Areobindus, an honor which he avoided by flight. Juliana died in 527/8. She is chiefly remembered for the Vienna manuscript of Dioscorides, an herbal which she commissioned. She was also an active patroness of churches. Scholars believe that Juliana commissioned a church dedicated to the Virgin on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus. She adorned the church of Hagia Euphemia en tois Olybriou, which her grandmother Licinia Eudoxia had founded. Anicia Julian may have also built the church of Hagios Stephenos in the quarter of Constantinae (also called Theodosianae), nearby Hagios Polyeuktos. Her palace was located in this general area.

Gregory of Tours tells us that, upon his taking office, the Emperor Justinian was informed of Juliana’s wealth and requested her to contribute to the public treasury. She feigned that she was willing to do so and invited Justinian to visit her once she had gathered together her treasure. She then ordered craftsmen to cast all of her gold into plaques and to attach them to the roof of Hagios Polyeuktos. Once the task was completed, she invited Justinian to Hagios Polyeuktos, pointed to the roof, and said, “My poverty is contained in this work. Do with it whatever you please.” Although fictitious, the story confirms the name of the princess, the name of the church, and the general location close to her palace. The epigram in the Anthology (1.10.57) confirms the golden roof. Furthermore, the tale reflects the strained relationship between Justin I and his nephew Justinian and Anicia Juliana. Justinian’s construction of the third Hagia Sophia may be seen as Justinian’s answer to Anicia Juliana’s snub.

After Anicia Juliana’s death, Olybrius was implicated in the Nika Revolt of 532 and was exiled by Justinian. Some years later he was allowed to return. After this incident, nothing more is heard of this family.


In 1960, in the course of grading operations in the quarter of Saraçhane, Istanbul, workmen accidentally discovered several pieces of architectural sculpture and the remains of brick vaults. This particular piece was found by a bulldozer. After an agreement was reached with the Turkish Department of Antiquities, Dumbarton Oaks and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum excavated the site between 1964 and 1969. Recovered sculpture now resides at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Current Repository

Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Turkey.

Repository Number
Mus. No. 5985
Photo Credit
Dina Boero
Dina Boero
Image of Great Entablature, Hagios Polyeuktos, Istanbul.