Story of the Serpent Column in Hippodrome


Serpent Column in Istanbul

Story of the Serpent Column in Hippodrome

Ancient Wars are attractive subjects in the World nowadays. It is really pleasing to watch mythological movies and documentaries related to 300 Spartans, Troy and Alexander.

Among the things to see in Istanbul, there is something with magnificent history although its ancient glamor do not exist anymore.

Serpent Column Of Constantinople’s Hippodrome

Serpent Column, made of copper, located at the center of Hippodrome of Constantinople where Roman Emperors used to watch the chariot races on their lodge. The Serpent Column is arguably one of the oldest historical monuments in Istanbul. As a matter of fact, it actually does not belong to Istanbul.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople
Hippodrome of Constantinople

Hippodrome of Constantinople

Greco-Persian Wars

Approximately 500 years before Christ, a series of war broke out between Persian Empire and Greek City-States who ruled the sea trade. Persian Emperor Darius and his son Xerxes captured most of the Greek states in the lands of today’s Turkey.

Ionian Revolt

In Ionia, one of those states, a big rebellion occurred against Persians. Due to the support to the rebellion given by the states in the Greek mainland, big wars between Persians and Greeks were ignited.

Darius The Great

Darius the Great wanted to capture whole Greece. Therefore, his general Mardonious initiated a huge wave of invasions. He captured Thrace and Macedonia. However, Persians were severely beaten in the Battle of Marathon.

Son of Darius: Xerxes of Persia

After the death of Darius, his son Xerxes took the throne and Second Persian Invasion of Greece started. During this invasion attempt, world-famous Battle of Thermopylae took place. During this war, Xerxes army, one of the biggest armies the world had ever seen so far, was halted by only 300 Spartan soldiers in a mountain pass. While Spartans fought to the death and earned time, united Greek state army arrived at the war zone and defeated the Persians.

Persian Invasion of Greek City States

Expansion of Persian Empire to the West

Serpent Column As A Victory Monument

After this war, the last land war, Plataea War, took place and Greeks had a certain victory over Persians. In this war, shields of beaten Persian army were collected and melted. A column was created out of melted shields to immortalize this victory. The name of the column is Serpent Column.

Column is comprised of three serpents tangled one another and their heads looking at different directions. It was erected in front of Apollon temple in Delphi city of Greece.

Foundation of Constantinople By Emperor Constantine

In 324, Emperor Constantine chose a small Greek city state Byzantium as the new capital of Roman Empire and took his time to rebuild it. A big hippodrome was built in the new empire capital. They wanted to erect valuable monuments there. Therefore, Tuthmose III column, known as Egyptian Obelisk, was brought from Egypt and Serpent Column was brought from Greece and were erected at the center of Hippodrome.

Previously a golden cauldron was placed on serpent heads. According to rumors, golden cauldron was stolen during the Latin invasion and plunder during IV. Crusades.

Serpent Column in the Hippodrome of Constantinople Ottoman Period

Serpent Column during the Ottoman period

Serpent Column during the Ottoman Era

When the city was captured by the Ottomans in 1453, it was believed that serpent heads were enchanted and were protecting the city from dangerous animals; therefore, it was protected as it was.

According to a rumor, Serpent Column of Istanbul Hippodrome, which was known well and pictured in miniatures until 1700s, was vandalized by a Polish nobleman and destroyed. According to another rumor, the top part holding the serpent heads broke off and destroyed after falling into the ground.

Where Are The Serpent Heads?

One of the serpent heads is exhibited in Istanbul Archeological Museum which was founded during last years of Ottoman Empire. Serpent Column is still standing on the same place it was erected, at the center of Hippodrome. Guides who know these stories recite them to their visitors to make them feel excited.

I had many visitors who got goose bumps after I told them enthusiastically during my guided tours how Greco-Persian wars were associated with this column. Although it lost its ancient charm, Serpent Column is still one of the most special historical monuments in Istanbul for me.

Serpent Column in the Hippodrome of Constantinople Archaeological Museum

Serpent Column Head In Archaeological Museum

Serpent Column in the Hippodrome by Serhat Engul


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