Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Fountains and Water Culture in Byzantium

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Fountains and Water Culture in Byzantium

Article excerpt

BROOKE SHILLING and PAUL STEPHENSON, eds. Fountains and Water Culture in Byzantium, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), Pp. 391, $120.00 Cloth

This book consists of 18 papers delivered at a conference "Fountains of Byzantion-Constantinople-Istanbul," held 28 June to 1 July 2012 at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul and the Netherlands Institute in Turkey. The volume examines the fountains of Roman Byzantium, Byzantine Constantinople and early Ottoman Istanbul, some of which survive today, in a cross-cultural study intersecting archaeology, architecture, history, literature, art and theology. The chapters are presented in roughly chronological fashion: they begin with the archaeological finds associated with the provision of water in antiquity, proceed into later history of Constantinople, investigating not only known fountains but also the motif of fountain in Byzantine art and literature, and finally explore the continuation of the Byzantine culture of fountains into the early Ottoman era. The volume includes a full bibliography of over forty pages, and a careful selection of illustrations, both black and white and in color.

The first chapter, Julian Richard's paper on the discovery and recording of nymphaea across the Eastern Mediterranean world, decries the limitations of scholarship to date and its frequent treatment of fountains as objects of display or the preserve of art and architectural historians rather than as the end points of a water-delivery system. Paul Stephenson and Ragnar Hedlund consider monumental waterworks in early fourth-century Constantinople, including aqueducts, baths, nymphaea, reservoirs, cisterns and fountains. After discussing the maintenance of these works by city officials during late antiquity and the middle Byzantine period, Stephenson and Hedlund conclude with a look at surviving fountains, for the most part ancient victory monuments and columns converted into fountains, such as the Theodosian Obelisk, the Serpent Column and the Masonry Obelisk in the hippodrome. Gerda de Kleijn then shows that the water supply system of Constantinople employed principally terracotta pipes that were connected to lead pipes only when a bronze stopcock or turncock was to be installed to allow the flow of water to be stopped, to change its direction or to create small spouts at a fountain. The lead pipes would be stamped to indicate the grantee and by whose authority the water was granted. Although only one single stamped lead fistula has been discovered in Istanbul, de Kleij offers important comparative material and informed conjecture based on the administration of the water supply in Rome and in Constantinople.

Brenda Longfellow_demonstrates that the so-called Silahtarağa fountain in the vicinity of Constantinople, hitherto considered a construction of the Antonine age (AD 138-93),was more likely a product of the later fourth century, executed by a workshop that also was responsible for the carved bases of the Theodosian Obelisk. Hence, Longfellow places the Silahtarağa statues of snaky-legged giants within the fuller context of Constantinople's serpentine imagery, notable in the Forum of Constantine and the hippodrome. While Longfellow finds no firm evidence that the Silahtarağa group adorned a fountain, she does not rule out that possibility. Rowena Loverance' s_fascinating study of a bronze goose, believed to have come from the Hippodrome of Constantinople when it was donated to the British Museum in 1859, offers the intriguing hypothesis that the goose once emitted not water but sound. Loverance suggests that the bronze goose may have been a companion to Artemis, or may have been shown within a depiction of the Rape of the Sabine Women. The latter possibility receives supplementary support from an association with a tale that emerged in Byzantion, later established among the foundation myths of Constantinople by Hesychios of Miletos.

The Serpent Column in the Hippodrome of Constantinople did expel water, probably for centuries, Paul Stephenson proves. …

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