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"The obelisk of Theodosius" and a "sic transit..." moment


seth77

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I found this picture online recently:

obelisktheodosiusconstantinopolis1855.jpg.e8c8c819934f44a315b49132a3f4902a.jpg

 

It's an "enhanced" image of the base of the Obelisk of Theodosius in Constantinopolis, captured in 1855 by James Robertson, rather well-known engraver, artist and photographer, involved in a lot of the cultural aspects of the Ottoman Empire's "opening up" to Britain around the time of the Crimean War, showing a glimpse of what it looked like being in the Ottoman capital as the Empire itself was breathing its last.

The obelisk itself is not really visible, but what actually counts, the monument to the reign of Theodosius I is clear and haunting, almost alien in the context. Mr. Robertson had a definitive flair for the dramatic. Here's the very short timeline of the monument:

- the actual obelisk was initially dedicated to Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1479-25BCE) in Karnak

- in 356-7AD it is brought to Alexandria for Constantius II

- in 390 it's raised on the spina of the Constantinopolitan Hippodrome and dedicated to Theodosius

At that time, Theodosius was at the top of his game, master of the whole Empire -- the Hadrianopolis disaster in Thracia had been mitigated, Magnus Maximus in the West had been eliminated and Valentinian II was inconsequential. His own dynasty seemed in place and secure.

An early coin from Antioch c. 380 shows him as the quintessential late Roman imperator et dominus, even though at that time he was still in the shadow of Gratian as a junior partner.

1517395_1604759707.jpg.bfe234bb2820496e9b2c9b4abc2eddca.jpg

Now back to the obelisk and its dedication in Constantinopolis. The inscription on the base is still complete in the picture although the last line is underground:

DIFFICILIS QVONDAM DOMINIS PARERE SERENIS
IVSSVS ET EXTINCTIS PALMAM PORTARE TYRANNIS
OMNIA THEODOSIO CEDVNT SVBOLIQVE PERENNI
TERDENIS SIC VICTVS EGO DOMITVSQVE DIEBVS
IVDICE SVB PROCLO SVPERAS ELATVS AD AVRAS


Might as well be:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

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I love old images like this, they feel like they get you a bit “closer” to the Romans, even if the ~170 years is just a 1/5 or so of the way back.

i have a smattering of Theodosius coins. I don’t like him as an emperor as I feel his reign was the last chance to ‘right the ship’ and save the empire of old. After Theo, the slope was too slippery and his children were useless.

TheodosiusConstantinopleRICIX52c.JPG.1324051d13f95e203e287d9c216ecbc1.JPG

TheodosiusCyzicusRICIX25b.JPG.ef11a6f52134a18fd90a03682520008a.JPG

TheodosiusCyzicusRICIX29a.JPG.fe8a92e4909845bb51f08a2eda2a8c74.JPG

TheodosiusSisicaRICIX38b.JPG.3336ad4cf6da5b8f8751efa84d1bd5f1.JPG

TheodosiusNicomediaRICIX46a.JPG.fb5c2d08fdc3d30a1484dc8e1f89f123.JPG

TheodosiusConstantinopleRICIX57d.JPG.404461ce8c5110d4367ab20311c99c47.JPG

TheodosiusSisciaRICIX39a.JPG.a6f6b044ae8991413e9afab049f68c8d.JPG

TheodosiusAlexandriaRICIX13c.JPG.2ca290efb3e6bdf266f4fd5f3c453227.JPG

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Nice. I saw the base in Istanbul in my travels in Anatolia in the 2010's. There is a placard sign there declaring Theodosius "the last roman emperor." I thought this most strange given that the leaders of the great city, other than the Latins between 1204 and 1261, were the emperors of the reigning empire of the Romans. Hence the sign was tone deaf. I sent an email to the head of antiquities in the City asking for this blunder to be remedied. Don't know if anything was done and a few days later I flew back to Cairo.

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DIFFICILIS QVONDAM DOMINIS PARERE SERENIS
IVSSVS ET EXTINCTIS PALMAM PORTARE TYRANNIS
OMNIA THEODOSIO CEDVNT SVBOLIQVE PERENNI
TERDENIS SIC VICTVS EGO DOMITVSQVE DIEBVS
IVDICE SVB PROCLO SVPERAS ELATVS AD AVRAS

"Formerly [I was] reluctant to obey peaceful masters, and ordered to carry the palm [of victory] for tyrants now vanquished and forgotten. [But] all things yield to Theodosius and to his eternal offspring. So too was I prevailed over and tamed in three times ten days, raised towards the skies under governor Proclus."

The interesting piece of information in that is that it took 30 days to get the thing from Alexandria to Constantinople. That's a long hike with more than a few tons of rock.

Edited by JAZ Numismatics
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1 hour ago, Ancient Coin Hunter said:

Nice. I saw the base in Istanbul in my travels in Anatolia in the 2010's. There is a placard sign there declaring Theodosius "the last roman emperor." I thought this most strange given that the leaders of the great city, other than the Latins between 1204 and 1261, were the emperors of the reigning empire of the Romans. Hence the sign was tone deaf. I sent an email to the head of antiquities in the City asking for this blunder to be remedied. Don't know if anything was done and a few days later I flew back to Cairo.

I wonder if they could have meant that he was the last Emperor of both East and West, i.e., of both Rome and Constantinople.

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