Early Byzantine churches in Macedonia and southern Serbia

Ralph Hoddinott




Chapter IX. The Monuments — I : Constantine to Justin I  (Early Fourth to Early Sixth Century)


1. The ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica, Philippi  99


2. The ‘Agora’ Basilica, Thasos  106


3. The Rotunda of St George, Thessalonica  108

- The Martyr Saints in the Dome of St George  112
- The Architectural Compositions in the Dome of St George 
- The Ambo of St George, Thessalonica (Pls. 23, 24) 

4. The Palace Octagon, Thessalonica  123


5. The Two Basilicas at Dion  124


6. The Basilica of St Demetrius, Thessalonica  125

- The Fourth-Century Martyrium  128
- The Fifth-Century Basilica 
- The Crypt of St Demetrius 
- The Rebuilding of the Seventh Century 
- The Capitals of St Demetrius (Pls. 27, 28) 
- The Mosaics of St Demetrius (Pl. 29-34) 

A. St Demetrius and the Angels (Fragment) (Pl. IV)
B. St Demetrius with a Woman and Child (Fragment) (Pl. IV)
C. The Various Scenes on the Arcades of the North Inner Aisle belonging to the Period Prior to the Seventh-Century Fire (destroyed in 1917) (Pls. 29-31)
D. The Medallions of the North Inner Aisle inserted after the seventh-century fire (destroyed in 1917) (Pls. 29h and c)
E. St Demetrius and the Builders (Pl. 32)
F. St Demetrius and a Deacon (Pl. 32)
G. St Demetrius and Two Children (Pl. 33a). St Sergius (Pl. 33 b)
H. The Virgin and St Theodore (Pl. 34)
I. St Demetrius and the Four Ecclesiastics (Pl. 33)

7. The Basilica of the Holy Virgin ‘ Acheiropoietos’, Thessalonica  155

8. The Basilica at Tumba, Thessalonica  158

9. The Two Basilicas at Heraclea Lyncestis  159

10. The Basilica of Bishop Philip, Stobi  161

11. The Cemetery Basilica, Stobi  167

12. The Quatrefoil Baptistery Basilica, Stobi  168

13. The Basilica A, Philippi  169

14. The Chapel of Hosios David, Thessalonica  173

15. The ‘Synagogue’ Basilica, Stobi  179

16. The Cruciform Basilica, Thasos  181

17. The Basilica at Voskohoria  183

18. The Basilica at Palikura, near Stobi  185




(From a marble head found at Niš and now in the National Museum, Belgrade)


Fig. 44. ‘EXTRA MUROS’ BASILICA, PHILIPPI a. First period. Plan. b. Second and third periods. Plan



Chapter IX. The Monuments — I : Constantine to Justin I

(Early Fourth to Early Sixth Century)




(Plates II, 10-12)


It is appropriate that this survey of the Early Byzantine churches of Macedonia and the territory extending immediately to its north should start, chronologically and geographically, at Philippi, the first city in Europe to receive the Gospel of Christianity from St Paul. Here, in 1956 and 1957, on a site outside the old walls, a short distance from the Neapolis (Kavalla) gate, Pelekanides discovered and excavated a Christian basilica dating from the first half of the fourth century and probably from the reign of Constantine the Great. [1] One of the oldest churches yet excavated, prior to its discovery the existence of the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica had been unsuspected, no record or indication of it appearing in any documentary source.


The Acts of the Apostles tell us that, after Paul and his companions had spent certain days in Philippi,


‘on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made ; and we sat down and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us. . . .’ [2]


Collart, writing in 1937, suggested that the banks of a small river crossing the Via Egnatia two kilometres west of Philippi, which are still a popular walk for the villagers on Sundays and holidays, were the scene of this unpretentious start of Paul’s mission to the Philippians. [3] However, since the draining of the marshes, which formerly covered large areas of the plain, the local topography has been considerably modified and once existent streams and rivers are now either insignificant rivulets or have been drained away altogether. The new discovery of this early church, beside a tiny stream to the east of the city, proposes an alternative to the site put forward by Collart. For it is probable that succeeding generations of Philippian Christians would have kept in sacred memory the place of the apostle’s original ministry to their city and, with the Peace of the Church, would have erected a basilica in commemoration.


Three building phases were identified on the ‘Extra Muros’ site. The second, happening within a century or two of the first, restored the original basilica after it had been damaged by fire, but incorporated certain modifications.





2. Acts xvi, 14.


3. P. Collart, Philippes, ville de Macédoine depuis ses origines jusqu’à la fin de l’époque romaine (Paris, 1937), p. 457 et seq.





In the third phase, which occurred during the mediaeval period, a much smaller and simpler church was erected in the middle of the ruins of its predecessors.


The fourth-century structure was basically a Hellenistic basilica. It had a nave and two aisles, a semicircular apse, galleries, a narthex and an atrium. Porticoes lined the atrium on its north, south and east sides (all trace of the western has disappeared), and three doorways, one sited centrally and two laterally, linked it with the narthex. A tribelon connected the narthex with the nave. Two other entrances, slightly smaller than and asymmetrically placed to those from the atrium, opened into the aisles. Colonnades, without stylobates, and running the entire length of the nave except for short projections from the western wall, marked the division between the nave and aisles. They also served to support the galleries, which were approached by a staircase situated in a small room north of the narthex, to which it was linked by a door at the western end of the joint wall.


The apse, supported by three buttresses, was lit by six windows, placed one to either side of each buttress. A synthronon of three marble-lined steps, each 0.20 metres high and, from the lowest, 0.40, 0.80 and 1.00 metres deep, respectively, provided presbytery seats around the wall of the apse. No signs of an episcopal throne could be observed and Pelekanides concludes that this was probably of wooden construction. A reliquary crypt, 1.40 metres square with a small rectangular hole in its centre, was found beneath the site of the altar. No remnants of an altar were found and only a little earth in the reliquary crypt.


The internal length of the nave and aisles measured 27.50 metres, the width was 15.60 metres. This ratio of approximately 2 : 1 was usual in the Hellenistic type of Early Christian basilica. The aisles, however, were relatively narrow, 3.20 metres from the walls to the axes of the colonnades compared with a similarly calculated nave width of 9.20 metres and a depth of 5.30 metres in the narthex.


A variety of annexes were attached to the north and south walls of the basilica. One group of two rooms was placed immediately east of the room with the staircase. A doorway opened from the narthex into the more westernly of the two which, measuring 4.40 by 3.40 metres, contained a small low-walled structure in its south-east corner. Another doorway led into the second room, 5.60 by 3.40 metres, which had access to the north aisle. In the eastern half of this room the excavators found the broken remains of a marble table-top and four small, slender pillars which had been its supports.


Pelekanides identifies these two rooms as an early form of diaconicon, to which the members of the congregation, entering from the narthex, brought their offerings, perhaps depositing them in or on the low-walled structure in the corner of the first room. The table in the second room, he suggests, was where ‘the priest, sitting with the archdeacon and the readers, inscribes the names of those who make oblations’.


A second group of annexed rooms was excavated at the eastern end of the basilica’s north wall. An entrance from the north aisle led into an L-shaped corridor, 1 metre wide along its western length and 2 metres along its northern. A doorway in the latter opened into a rectangular room, 6.10 by 3.00 metres, paved with tiles, 0.30 metres square. A small, slender, marble pillar, originally the single leg of a small table, was found in situ in its centre. A second room, 2.70 by 2.80 metres, lay to the east of the first, its eastern wall flush with the termination of the north aisle. No trace of a doorway to this room was discovered, and it was not possible to ascertain its purpose.


Pelekanides points out that in spite of the unusual nature of this north-eastern annexe, its proximity to the sanctuary presupposes an important purpose probably connected with the performance of the liturgy, at least at the time of the church’s foundation. The table on the single pillar, in conjunction with the position of this group of rooms, suggests, he says, a prothesis function. Here the prayers may have been recited for living and dead members of the congregation and from here the bread and wine may have been brought to the altar. Consequently, he concludes, we have in this basilica a form of pastophoria annexed to the north wall. Logical as this appears, we must admit that it is outside the normally accepted tradition of Early Christian basilicas in Greece and Macedonia. This, if it does not omit





pastophoria entirely, places them, Syrian fashion, at the basilica’s east end as an integral part of a tripartite sanctuary.


Although Pelekanides confines himself in his excavation report to a factual description and interpretation of the finds, in the several comparisons which he makes between the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica and the early churches of Salona he points towards an explanation of these seemingly anomalous pastophoria. A comparison of the ground plan of the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica with those of the basilica of Manastirine (Fig. 21) and the Basilica Urbana (Fig. 90), both at Salona, show that all three possessed northern annexes, and that in each case one was situated with convenient access to the sanctuary. In the Basilica Urbana, the room immediately north of the apse similarly contained a short single pillar, identified by Dyggve as being the support of a prothesis table. [1]


Salona, it will be remembered, received its Christianity from the great late third and early fourth-century missionary centre of Nisibis in Northern Mesopotamia. The parochial churches of the Tur Abdin in Northern Mesopotamia, ground plans of which are shown in Figure 16, are later foundations than the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica, but unquestionably they reflect the deeply rooted local tradition of ‘the latitudinal chamber, although the nave is actually disposed in the contrary fashion with relation to the apse’. [2] In her description of Mar Aziziel at Kefir Zeh (Fig. 16d) Gertrude Bell remarks that a door in the south side of the apse ‘leads into a small chamber which communicates also with the nave by a narrow door, and communicated with the narthex (along the southern side of the church) by a door now walled up. Above it is an upper chamber, approached by a wooden stair and containing an altar. Another small dark chamber with an altar lies still further to the east.’ [3] Of Mar Kyriakos at Amas (Fig. 16a), she comments : ‘as at Kefr Zeh, a chamber containing an altar lies to the south of the apse, communicating with apse, nave and narthex’. [4] If we simply read ‘prothesis table’ for altar we have the essential features of the north-eastern annexes of both the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica at Philippi and the Basilica Urbana of Salona.


While the Philippian and Salonitan annexes are placed against the northern walls of the churches, in these two Northern Mesopotamian examples the prothesis rooms occupy the south-east corners. Moreover, except for possible anterooms of the prothesis chambers, there appear to be no corresponding spaces for members of the congregation to bring their offerings in accordance with the diaconicon ceremony described by Pelekanides. In fact, the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica with its twin annexed pastophoria conforms more to the ancient Hittite form of the Hilani narthex than do the parochial churches of the Tur Abdin. The latter are, however, somewhat later. It is possible that the churches of the third and fourth centuries possessed such pastophoria. On the other hand, perhaps they were not essential to the Mesopotamian, liturgy. The placing of the prothesis on the northern side of the church — in Salona as well as Philippi — may have been due to the growing influence of Syria, which was developing as an increasingly powerful factor in Christianity during the fourth century.


In view of the powerful foothold known to have been established by Mesopotamian missionaries in Salona during the third century and maintained throughout the fourth, their presence at Philippi, an important city of a region that had long been peculiarly susceptible to Oriental influences, can hardly be surprising. In the Basilica at Tumba in Thessalonica a very similar arrangement of northern annexes was also excavated. Thus there enters a possible Mesopotamian factor into our consideration of Macedonian Christianity’s early history.


On the southern side of the basilica, against the western end of the southern aisle and the narthex, to which it was connected by a doorway, another annexe, 7.75 metres long and of uneven width, was sited over a crypt. The complete structure appears to have been built to serve a single funerary purpose.



1. E. Dyggve, History of Salonitan Christianity (Oslo, 1951), p. 27.


2. G. Bell, ‘Churches and Monasteries of the Tur Abdin and neighbouring districts’ (Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Architektur), (Heidelberg, 1913), p. 84.


3. G. Bell, ‘The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur Abdin’, in M. van Berchem and J. Strzygowski, Amida (Heidelberg, 1910), pp. 246-7.


4. G. Bell, op. cit. (Amida), p. 249.





West of it, along the south side of the atrium, was another annexed room, three metres wide and of unknown length.


Following a fire which caused considerable damage to the upper parts of the basilica, the opportunity was taken to bring it into line with somewhat later liturgical requirements. The free standing colonnades were replaced by pillars standing upon brick stylobates. These stylobates reached a height of 0.65 metres and extended uninterruptedly from the pier projecting from the west wall of the nave to a point 4.50 metres from the east wall. Here a partition, running the full width of the basilica, converted its eastern end into an inscribed sanctuary-transept. Remains of a low screen of marble slabs supported by small pillars were discovered in situ in the north aisle and possibly these were part of the original partition. The building of the later small church over part of the sanctuary and a wall extending from it into the south aisle destroyed all evidence of the central and southern sections. Other additions belonging to the basilica’s second period were seats along the walls of the aisles and the south wall of the narthex. These were 0.45 metres high and constructed of brick. In the north aisle the doorway into the north-eastern annexe was left, but that into the diaconicon was walled up — unless it had been done previously — and the seat continued across it. The diaconicon could now only be entered from the narthex.


The north-eastern or prothesis annexe had nevertheless lost its previously unrestricted access to the nave and sanctuary, for the new, relatively high stylobates and the eastern partition effectively blocked all passage between the nave and aisles. The annexe must, therefore, have ceased to serve a prothesis function. It seems unlikely that this was immediately transferred to one of the newly formed compartments at the eastern ends of the aisles in view of the fact that the tribelon and the narthex entrance from the diaconicon annexe remained. Thus, an Offertory Procession, starting from the diaconicon (now incorporating the functions of pro thesis ?), could have approached the altar by entering the nave through the tribelon. The influence of Nisibis had disappeared — to be replaced by that of Asia Minor, perhaps associated with the Patriarchate of Antioch.


If we compare the arrangement of the rebuilt ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica with that of the great Basilica A (Fig. 80), erected inside the city walls in the fifth century, we find a number of important similarities. Both had the same kind of tripartite sanctuary, that is to say three divisions which, although not structurally separated, were clearly defined. Both had the nave and aisles separated by high stylobates with no intercommunicating openings. Both had a northwestern annexe entered from the narthex. (In the case of Basilica A, this has hitherto been assumed, although with reservations, to have been a baptistery. [1] Both had tribelons and a triple entrance from the atrium into the narthex. Apart from the great scale and magnificence and the T-shaped form of transept of Basilica A, the main difference between the two churches occurred in the height of their stylobates. Those of Basilica A reached 1.70 metres, the height of a man, so that no one in the aisles was permitted a glimpse of the altar. In the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica only physical access was denied.


Inside the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica the decoration appears to have been simple and unassuming, although skilfully and carefully executed. Only some floor mosaics and fragments of sculpture have survived in pieces large enough for study. Nothing of significance has remained from the walls of the nave and aisles which were probably decorated with wall paintings. We have no means of telling whether painting or mosaic was used to ornament the apse.


Slabs of blue schist formed the floor of the aisles but mosaic was used for the nave and narthex. Almost nothing remains of the nave floor beyond small areas discovered at the bases of the north colonnade and the northern sector of the east wall. These revealed bands with a running flower pattern and a spiralling ivy branch bearing leaves in the semicircles formed by the spirals. Of the central motif, of which these fragments formed part of the border, only minute pieces of debris could be found.


The destruction in the narthex was much less, comparatively large areas of the floor surviving in an excellent state of preservation.



1. P. Lemerle, Philippes et la Macédoine orientale (Paris, 1945), pp. 332-44.





It was planned in three zones to correspond with the nave and aisles. The central zone was the most damaged but sufficient of it remained to show that it comprised a series of white tetraphyllia, or four-leaved crosses, edged with blue and set in a red field. The two lateral zones were more complex and were enclosed within borders consisting of three bands — a white, blueedged line, an ‘astragalos’ pattern on a red field and a blue Meander or curving wave design on a white field (Pl. 12b). Inside these borders series of squares enclosed individually patterned tetraphyllia alternating with circles framing various kinds of birds, dolphins and rosettes in the form of double Maltese crosses (Pls. II, 12d). Pelekanides draws attention to the skilful manner in which different colours and sizes of tesserae were used to avoid monotony and, in particular, to express a subtle sense of modelling in the plumage of the birds.


Unless the fire which partially destroyed the first basilica necessitated a major reconstruction in the nave, no alterations to the floor were made during the second building phase. On the other hand, some at least of the wall paintings were replaced by mosaics. Tiny pieces of plaster, to which a few tesserae have remained attached, are all that have survived of these.


Sculpture belonging to the first phase was also re-used in the second, even the bases of the pillars being re-sited on top of the new stylobates. Only one kind of capital was found, an Ionic-impost form with an ivy leaf between a leaf and scroll motif ornamenting its lower part and a Latin cross with splayed arms on the main face of the impost (Pl. 11a). Above these capitals had been an additional plain, abruptly inclined impost.


Part of the base and fragments of marble slabs from the ambo indicate that this possessed a double stair. As no traces of this could be observed Pelekanides concludes that it was probably constructed of wood. The surviving half of one of the marble slabs bears a relief showing a tree, under which a lamb is standing, its head turned to the rear and wearing a collar from which hangs a Latin cross. The shape of this slab indicates that it served as a balustrade of one of the stairs and, consequently, we may assume the presence of a similarly decorated slab correspondingly placed on the opposite side of


the ambo, an arrangement which would leave space for a centre-piece to occupy the curved side of the platform. The evidence of Crypt B, supported by that of the capitals, leads one to think that here was a cross, but this must remain conjecture for no part of the central slab was recovered.


Other pieces of sculpture found on the site included fragments of chancel stylobates and pillars (Pl. 11c, d, e), part of a lintel, decorated with a cross of similar design to those on the capitals, and a marble slab displaying an encircled monogram cross composed by six ivy leaves with, to either side, Latin crosses standing on ivy stems (Pl. 10b). The emphasis upon the ivy leaf as a decorative motif has perhaps a special significance in view of the locality’s earlier association with the Thracian goddess Bendis, to whom in her aspect of goddess of the underworld and immortality the ivy was a sacred attribute.


Sixteen funerary crypts were discovered beneath various parts of the floor. Several of these were constructed within a few decades of the church’s foundation and, with a single, much later exception, all probably belong to its first phase. Five of the earliest, Crypts A-E, were vaulted, the remainder had flat ceilings.


Crypt A (Crypts A-O appear on Fig. 44a, Crypt P on Fig. 44b) lies near the eastern end of the north aisle. A marble slab set into the floor covered three steps leading to a small rectangular opening, 0.50 metres deep, through which the east end of the crypt was entered at a height near the ceiling. The crypt itself measured 2.20 by 1.40 metres and was 1.65 metres high in the centre. A Greek inscription on the face of the floor slab read, ‘ Sleeping place of Paul, presbyter and doctor of the Philippians. Lord Jesus Christ God, Who created out of nothing, in the Day of Judgement remember not my sins and have mercy upon me.’


Crypt B, occupying a corresponding position in the south aisle, was slightly larger, 2.65 by 1.90 metres and 1.84 metres high. A marble slab set in the floor covered a small compartment that provided access, via a short and again small, arched opening, into the eastern end of the crypt, also near the ceiling level. There were no signs of steps to this crypt. The west, north and south walls and the vaulted





ceiling were decorated with paintings of large, thickly leaved wreaths encircling Latin crosses. The cross on the west wall was the most ornate, being blue in colour and embellished with pearls and precious stones (Pl. 12c). Those on the north and south walls had only a pearl decoration and on the ceiling the cross was a plain white. Pelekanides comments that similar crosses have been discovered in ancient Christian graves in Thessalonica and that such wreaths appear in a Salonitan crypt. Two skeletons were found inside and an inscription on the covering slab read, ‘Sleeping place of the most pious presbyters Faustinus and Donatus of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Philippians’.


The discovery of coins of Constantinus II (337—361) in the earth beneath the floor slab has particular importance in establishing the approximate date of the construction of this basilica. Together with the fact that the crypt was later than the basilica and was constructed to contain the remains of two of its presbyters, it indicates about the middle of the fourth century as the latest possible period for the foundation of the church.


Crypt C, sited on the axis of the nave, lay slightly to the west of A and B, far enough to have been beyond the sanctuary. Slightly smaller than Crypt B and possessing a similar entrance, it was distinguished by a double apse at its western end. A large number of skeletons were found inside and eighteen skulls were counted in the two apses. A Greek inscription reading, ‘ Sleeping place of the God-protected priests Gourasius and Constantius who died in Christ in the fourteenth indictio’, points to the conclusion that it was probably a privileged funerary crypt for priests attached to the church.


Crypt D was situated in the narthex near the southern opening of the tribelon. Smaller than, but otherwise similarly planned to Crypt B, its walls were lined with carefully laid marble slabs. Another marble slab over the opening in the floor, inserted to replace the original mosaic, had carved upon it a Greek inscription reading, ‘Here lies Andrew, called Comitas, the faithful tribunus notariorum, who was famous for his stature and beauty and much nobility was about him and he died at eighteen years on the first month day’. The exact meaning of the final phrase is unclear, but the office of tribunus notariorum was extremely high and Pelekanides suggests that this, coupled with the apparent youth of the deceased and the reference to much nobility, may imply a relationship with the imperial family.


Crypt E was situated in the southern annexe adjoining the narthex and the western end of the south aisle. Following the plan of Crypt A, three steps descended to a small compartment and short passage which opened into the vaulted crypt, 2.38 by 1.86 metres and 1*89 metres high in the centre. Fragmentary remains of wall paintings indicate that originally these probably covered all the walls. A few strands of gold thread were also discovered, showing that the deceased must have been laid to rest in a gold-embroidered garment. It seems likely that this whole annexe was built as a two-storied funerary chamber.


The remaining early crypts require little mention. Crypt F contained a re-used marble sarcophagus, a form of coffin most unusual in a crypt. Crypt G, at the north end of the narthex, is noteworthy for its Greek inscription which reads, ‘Sleeping place of Paul, priest of God’s Holy Church of the Philippians. And anyone who, after my burial, attempts to put here another dead person will be accountable to God ; because this is a “monosomon” (grave for a single person) of a high priest.’ Crypt H has a short Latin inscription ; one other funerary inscription in Latin was also found elsewhere in the basilica. These two inscriptions are additional evidence of the basilica’s foundation in the first half of the fourth century, a period which saw Greek oust Latin as the language of Philippi. A Greek inscription belonging to Crypt I referred to the deceased (as did that of Crypt H) as belonging to a ‘committee’. Crypt K, in the passage of the north-eastern annexe, was notable for containing coins of Arcadius (395-408).


No evidence of a baptistery was discovered. Pelekanides comments that the practice of baptism in a running stream, as John the Baptist had baptised Christ, and Paul, presumably, had baptised Lydia and her family, probably persisted in memory if not in practice into early fourth-century Philippi. Use of a baptismal chamber had been, at least in part, a device to evade the persecution which would have resulted from a public ceremony.





Particularly if the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica had been erected upon the traditional site of Paul’s first conversions among the Philippians, it would have been a natural reaction immediately after the Peace of the Church to have adopted the practice of John and Paul rather than to have continued with an artificial substitute.


This absence of a baptistery is, as Pelekanides remarks, an argument in favour of a Constantinian date for the foundation of the church rather than one in the mid-fourth century. The selection of a site outside the city walls could also be adduced in support of a date preceding an official status for Christianity, but such a choice is more likely to have been the consequence of the traditional sanctity of the site, although this factor is conjecture and not an established fact. Certainly, however, the Philippian Christians who built the church were neither particularly numerous, wealthy nor influential. It was small and many of the materials were taken from earlier, pagan buildings. Such a state of affairs tallies with conditions shortly after the Peace of the Church and before 324, when Christianity was declared by Constantine to be the state religion, rather than with the middle decade of the fourth century when even the inherent strength of Philippian paganism could hardly have stood in the way of a more splendid building.


The first ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica appears to have lasted into the reign of Theodosius II (408-450), for coins of this emperor were found in parts which remained unreconstructed but which were covered by additions or repairs belonging to the second phase. The next evidence of a numismatical nature comes from coins of the early years of Justinian I (527-565) discovered in the new brick stylobate dividing the nave from the north aisle. The inference that the partial destruction by fire and the subsequent rebuilding occurred during the latter half of the fifth century and the first three decades of the sixth is supported by the architectural and historical evidence. More precisely, Pelekanides points out that the date of the burning was probably 473, when Theodoric Strabo unsuccessfully attacked Philippi and ‘burned up what was outside the city but did no other harm’.


If this date is correct and if we may rely upon the evidence of the Justinian coins, more than half a century elapsed before the church was reconstructed, although temporary repairs possibly enabled it to continue in use in so far as the general state of insecurity permitted. Probably the reconstruction was an early result of Justinian’s firm measures to defend the Balkans against the Slav, Avar and Bulgar invaders. This view is supported by the fact that the second phase reflects none of the new ideas gaining strength in Constantinople, although these were to appear in a tentative manner soon afterwards at Philippi in Basilica B. On the contrary, it followed with striking fidelity the lines of Basilica A, probably erected a little less than a century before and, we surmise, destroyed by the earthquake of 518. It is, however, interesting to note that Basilica B (Fig. 97), probably started shortly before the middle of the sixth century and perhaps intended as the successor of Basilica A, also retained the principle of an inscribed eastern transept by making the stylobates and colonnades of the nave turn outwards before reaching the east wall of the basilica.


The next and last piece of numismatical evidence is a coin of Leo VI (886-912). It was found in Crypt P, a grave that extended beneath the sanctuary (Fig. 44b). This situation and the fact that its walls were built of broken pieces taken from the main building, including the threshold, jambs and lintels of what had probably been the main doorway, show clearly that by the end of the ninth or the beginning of the tenth century the basilica no longer existed. Which of the many Slav, Avar and Bulgar raids and invasions of the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries was responsible for the final destruction is impossible to say with certainty, but Pelekanides argues convincingly for the second of the two Bulgar invasions of the first half of the ninth century, when, in 812 and 837, they occupied Philippi. The siting of a grave so that it impinged upon the area of the bema suggests that several decades at least must have elapsed since the church’s destruction, long enough for the ruins to have lost the distinctive character of their various divisions, but before the traditional sanctity and associations of the site had become dim. A Bulgar inscription of 837 found among the ruins of Basilica B (see p. 193) certainly provides a degree of circumstantial support for this view.





The third and final phase of the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica was a small single-naved church with a rounded, protruding apse (Fig. 44). It was situated in the bema of the old basilica and the line of its north wall required considerable modification because of Crypt P which lay beneath. The walls were built from various parts of the earlier building, including pillars, bases, capitals, stylobates and marble slabs. A small pillar served as the base of the altar. Built presumably when security, although neither prosperity nor fame, had returned to Philippi, it maintained pathetically and humbly the proud apostolic tradition of the site — until the period of Turkish domination, when the region became inhabited by a solely Moslem population, and the church and the local Christian traditions passed into oblivion.





Remains of a small early-Christian basilica were discovered in 1949 in the north-east part of the agora of the ancient city of Thasos, on the island of the same name. This church probably dates back to some time during the fourth century, although between its foundation and the end of the seventh century it underwent considerable changes. [1]


The structural elements of the original basilica consisted of a nave, approximately 13 metres long and 6.65 metres wide; two aisles, each 2.70 metres wide; a narthex, 3.50 metres deep; and a semicircular apse that was 5.70 metres in diameter. The full length, including the exterior walls, was about 21 metres. The excavators have shown that one of the post-fourth-century alterations was the raising of the level of the floor. This fact needs to be remembered when viewing the ruins to-day, since both early and later stages exist side by side.





1. Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, lxxv (Paris, 1951 ), pp. 154-64; X. I. Macaronas, Archaeological Reports, ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΑ (1941-52), vol. 2 (Thessalonica, 1953), pp. 667-8 (Greek).





The fourth-century church was paved with white marble slabs, apparently taken from nearby buildings, which seem to have been the principal source of building materials. Columns, about 2.10 metres or so high, on bases, stood on stylobates of stone or rubble, which were 0.45 metres high. These stylobates ended 0.65 metres from the east wall to allow access between the aisles and the nave. The bases of the pillars, two discs on a rectangular slab, were grooved as if to carry parapet slabs. A bench of rubble covered with plaster ran along the north wall of the north aisle and at its west end on either side of the doorway into the narthex.


The north aisle also had a door at its eastern end, and close to this, a large well. The south aisle had a door at the eastern end of its outer wall. The western entrances into the church from the outside were complicated by the presence of earlier buildings. Besides a doorway at the north end of the narthex, another was placed at the northern end of the west wall. This was slightly wider than that leading from the narthex into the north aisle (1.25 and 1.05 metres respectively) and was situated asymmetrically opposite it. A second western entrance into the narthex occupied a position a little to the south of the church’s axis. Beyond this another building obstructed convenient access.


Nothing remains of whatever entrance led from the narthex into the nave, nor from the narthex into the south aisle.


Three concentric steps, forming presbytery seats, back on to the semicircular wall of the apse. Only those in the northern part exist to-day, the others were probably destroyed about the end of the last century when a well was dug there. To the west these seats end in huge stone slabs taken from some old building, possibly an indication that the sanctuary did not extend into the nave. No traces of a chancel screen have been found in this part of the church. A silver reliquary is said to have been discovered and surreptitiously removed during the sinking of the well, but a search for the reliquary crypt which would have contained it yielded no results.


Half-way along the nave, near the northern stylobate, a tomb containing the skeleton of a man had been inserted below the surface of the floor and covered with five irregularly shaped marble slabs. While probably later than the original building, it is clear that this tomb belonged to an early phase of the church when the floor was at its lower level.


Also constructed at some date subsequent to the foundation of the church was an E-shaped hypogeum or crypt outside the north door of the narthex. The three sections of this triple crypt are each two metres long and 0.81 metres wide. The walls of marble and gneiss blocks are covered with greyish-brown plaster, on which appear jewelled Latin crosses with small round pendants at the ends of each horizontal arm. On the cross at the head of the central compartment was an inscription in black paint reading: ‘ΑΚΑΚΙΟΥ ΜΑΡΤΥΡΟΣ’ — ‘Akakios Martyr’.


The crypt was covered by marble slabs, apparently either taken from the chancel screen or from the parapets of the nave colonnades. They are solid pieces; one is ornamented with a Greek cross inscribed in a circle. Above these slabs the whole area covering the crypt was decorated with a rough mosaic consisting mostly of large white marble pebbles, but with a border of ivy leaves formed by pieces of blue slate.


Two rectangular enclosures, one to the east and one to the north, opened on to this mosaic floor. Other rooms appear to have existed to the west of the crypt.


Inside the narthex, on the red cement floor near the north door, a basket or sack was outlined with small white pebbles against a background of diamond-shaped lozenges with single pebbles in their centres. With this was an inscription reading : ‘ ΥΠΕΡ ΕΥΧΗΣ ΑΚΑΚΙΟΥ’ — ‘for the prayer of Akakios’.


The excavators point out that the style of the mosaic and the form of the letters of the inscription, as well as the type of jewelled crosses painted on the walls of the crypt, indicate a fifth-century date for the martyrium. The fact that this structure was later than the church is, therefore, a strong argument in favour of the latter’s fourth-century foundation. This dating is also supported by the evidence of the slabs. It is tempting, although not certain, the excavators add, to see this church as the one mentioned by Gregory of Nazianius, in connection with which a Thasian priest was entrusted with a mission to Constantinople in





order to buy marble slabs from the Proconnesus quarries, a mission for which, alas, he proved unworthy, spending the money in the capital on other, unspecified purposes.


Probably towards the end of the sixth century, perhaps at the same time as the raising of the floor, a prothesis chamber was constructed in the north aisle by blocking the east door and building in its place an inscribed apse. A diaconicon chamber, with a protruding semicircular apse, was built as a slanting projection from the east end of the south aisle. The new floor reached to the top of the stylobates and the presbytery seats, thus obliterating both these early features.


Whether Akakios was a local martyr or whether the martyrium held relics brought from another centre, remains an unsolved mystery. The name was not uncommon, but no known text mentions an Akakios who died for this faith in Thasos. Of those with this name who were martyred elsewhere, the excavators incline towards a Cappadocian soldier who was beheaded in Constantinople in 303. His cult was the most popular of all the saints bearing this name. Moreover, in the Synaxary of Constantinople is a mention of the relics of three saints — one a woman, one called Markos (possibly a mistake for Akakios ?) and one neither described nor named — being transported from Constantinople to Thasos, an incident which could provide a likely explanation for the triple form of the martyrium.





- The Martyr Saints in the Dome of St George  112
- The Architectural Compositions in the Dome of St George 
- The Ambo of St George, Thessalonica (Pls. 23, 24) 


The Rotunda of St George, Thessalonica, was built by Galerius (died 311), and may have been intended by him to be his mausoleum. It was converted into a Christian church during the reign of Theodosius the Great (379-95), [1] that is to say, coincident with the important resurgence of Christianity in Thessalonica which had followed Theodosius’s conversion by Acholius and the subsequent imperial decree establishing Christianity, Orthodox Christianity specifically, as the only legally tolerated religion within the Empire.


Doubt has been expressed as to whether the church was originally named after St George. The sources are silent on the point, but in early Byzantine times the episcopal church of Thessalonica was reputed to be a large building, dedicated to the Holy Archangels or Asomati, in the same quarter of the city. No indication, however, has been noted near St George of an annexed baptistery, which would have been essential to the official church of a bishop. On the other hand, the newly discovered Palace Octagon Church possesses this very feature. Unlike St Demetrius, whose cult was already established, St George was unconnected with the city. However, although the latter’s prominent place in Western hagiography was only achieved after many centuries, he is shown on a fifthor sixthcentury icon of Sinai with the Virgin and Child and St Theodore. Thessalonica’s close association with Syria and Egypt in the fourth century may well have resulted in the dedication of the Rotunda to this eastern saint, although recently a new theory has been propounded that it was originally dedicated to Christ under the name ‘Dynamis Theos’. [2]


Sometime after the capture of Thessalonica by the Turks — between 1430 and the end of the sixteenth century—the Rotunda was transformed into a mosque. It is now a museum for Christian antiquities.


A considerable effort of the imagination is required to-day to visualise Galerius’s building in its original, early fourth-century setting. From its southern portico, a colonnaded avenue led to the emperor’s great Triumphal Arch, beneath which it intersected one of the city’s main streets and then continued south between the Hippodrome to its east and Galerius’s palace to its west. During the Theodosian alterations the confines of the Rotunda appear to have been enlarged and the church made the centre-piece of a great complex of ecclesiastical buildings (Fig. 46b).


It is difficult to say whether Galerius’s Rotunda was



1. H. Torp, ‘Quelques Remarques sur les mosaïques de l’église Saint-Georges à Thessalonique Acts of the IXth International Byzantine Congress, Thessalonica, 1953 (Athens, 1955), vol. i, pp. 489-98.


2. A. M. Amman, ‘Le Titre primitif de l’église de Saint-George à Salonique’, Acts of the Xth International Byzantine Congress, Istanbul, 1953 (Istanbul, 1957).





inspired by Roman models, such as the Pantheon in Rome and Diocletian’s mausoleum in Split, or by buildings encountered during his eastern campaigns in lands where circular structures had long been the appropriate and sacred form for temples and mausolea. Most probably East and West jointly and indivisibly contributed. In its building methods, however, the Rotunda is unquestionably Oriental. Instead of using concrete, as had been the practice in Rome for the past two and a half centuries, particularly for vaulting, the architect relied upon principles of Asiatic origin which had only appeared in the eastern Mediterranean during the second and third centuries a.d.


Fundamentally, the building’s plan is of extreme simplicity, a cylinder supporting a semicircular dome. The walls, 6.3 metres thick as far as the base of the dome, are pierced by eight bays. Brick is the material of construction throughout — for the thin dome, for the barrel-vaulting of the bays, and for the walls, which are filled with mortared rubblework bound with brick courses. The outside walls are continued, though considerably thinner, above the base of the dome to support the beams and rafters of the low pitched roof protecting the light and comparatively fragile dome. A protective timber roof over a vault was to become a common feature of Western mediaeval church architecture, but Galerius’s Rotunda and, later in the same century, the mausoleum of Sta Costanza in Rome, are two of the earliest known European examples of the practice.


During the conversion of the Rotunda into a church one important and permanent structural addition was made, the eastern bay being extended to form an oblong, apsidal-ended sanctuary. A second addition, since dismantled, was an ambulatory encircling the outside of the church and opening into each of the remaining seven bays. At the same time, the great dome, the ceilings of the bays and the apse were richly decorated with mosaics.


Excavations have also revealed that the church once possessed a towered portico at the south entrance, but it is uncertain whether this was part of Galerius’s original structure. If so, it would have provided another parallel with the Pantheon in Rome. The portico opened upon the colonnaded road leading towards the Triumphal Arch. Discussing the church’s entrances, Tafrali writes :


The monument was entered from two sides, the west and the south. In front of the doors were porches of later date than the building, porches which still existed in the tenth century. But once there must have been a third entrance on the north side, corresponding to that on the south,




a. Plan of Galerius’s building, b. Plan of Theodosian Palace Church. (Reconstruction by Dyggve)










and which was later blocked up. By means of their porches, these three entrances and the bema which similarly protruded from the building’s circumference, formed the four branches of a cross ; their disposition proves the intention of the restorer to give the building . . . the form of a cross. In front of the church is the fountain surrounded by several columns of green stone from Thessaly. In the open space before the church one still saw in the eighteenth century an underground chamber, the purpose of which we are ignorant and which has since completely disappeared. [1]


Impressive now, in its original state, the mosaic decoration of the dome, the vaulted bays and the apse must have presented a profoundly stirring sight to the Christian worshipper ; and the Thessalonians were a people whose religious emotions were not difficult to arouse. The vaulted ceilings of the bays, extending almost the full depth of the walls, were richly ornamented with mosaics showing birds and fruit and geometric designs. The decoration of the dome, estimated by Texier and Pullan [2] to have used more than thirtysix million tesserae, comprised three zones, the middle one now almost entirely missing.


The lowest zone consisted of eight panels, regularly spaced on the sixty-five and a half metre circumference of the base of the dome. Seven have wholly or partially survived, the missing panel being situated above the opening leading to the apse. These seven remaining mosaics are among the greatest extant examples of early Byzantine art. Each presents two or sometimes three saints, chosen with regard to the calendar — the months of their festival being given with the saint’s name and description — as well as for their qualities of intercession. They stand, their hands raised in the position of prayer, in front of sumptuously embellished architectural compositions, of which there are four versions, each appearing twice. These compositions rise behind the saints in a manner reminiscent of the ornate and formal architectural backgrounds or scenae frons of Hellenistic and Roman theatres. Each panel is separated from the next by a stylised representation of the Tree of Life.


Traces of sandalled feet are all that remain of the middle zone to indicate that here were probably to be seen the apostles. In the apex of the dome, encircled in a wreath of foliage and fruits held by four archangels, was the figure of Christ. Unfortunately, nothing has survived of the mosaics in the apse, and our knowledge of them is limited to Colonel Leake’s tantalising comment that the Turks had not destroyed ‘a figure of the Almighty, which occupied a niche opposite to the door’, [3] and even this may have referred to a wall painting of much later date which restoration work has recently uncovered.


To appreciate the meaning and the intended effect of the surviving panels and the decorative patterns of the bays we must regard them, to the best of our ability, through the fervent, more or less unsophisticated eyes of a fourth- or fifth-century Thessalonian Christian, as well as in relation to their architectural position and to those parts which have since been lost. The ambulatory, now destroyed, encircled the outside of the building and opened into each of the barrel-vaulted bays. As worshippers entered the church, they passed from the ambulatory into the great round nave through the bays. Here their eyes would immediately have been drawn upwards to admire the luxuriant, geometric tracery and the richly ornamental representations of birds and fruit, reminders of God’s bounty and wonders on earth and many, if not all of them, possessing some religious symbolism. The bays, therefore, had an extremely important function. They were passages in which Christians living in the terrestrial world were prepared for the sight of the great vault of heaven represented by the dome. In Rome the ambulatory mosaics of Sta Costanza (circa 340) may have served a similar purpose and, in any case, a comparison of these two examples of fourth-century ecclesiastical art is of particular interest. The mosaics of Sta Costanza are pagan in spirit as well as in form. They are related, not to the humble Christian art of the catacombs, but to the decorative motifs that had been used upon the walls and floors of the imperial Roman palaces. The ceilings of the bays in St George are also imperial art, and in both form and subject they demonstrate a clear relationship to those of Sta Costanza.



1. O. Tafrali, Topographie de Thessalonique (Paris, 1913), p. 158 (trans.).


2. C. Texier and R. P. Pullan, Byzantine Architecture (London, 1864), p. 137.


3. W. M. Leake, Travels in Northern Greece (London, 1835), vol. iii, p. 240.





In spirit, however, they belong to an entirely different world, where paganism has been replaced by Christianity and the cool, clear marbles of Rome by the rich colour and ornate splendour of the East.


Reaching the central domed space, or nave, their eyes already uplifted by the ceilings of the bays, the Christian worshippers in St George saw first the martyr saints, whose martyrdom for their faith was, in several cases, so recent as to be only just beyond the memories of living men. Depicted in the act of intercession for the congregation below, these stood in front of the iridescent portals of heaven. Above them, in ‘vertical perspective’, were (we presume) the apostles, the chosen disciples among men of the Son of God. Finally, reigning above all Heaven and Earth, was the crowning glory of Christ Himself.


This was not the whole. We can neither, for instance, reconstruct in our minds the decoration of the apse nor sense the impact of the church’s architectural environment. Nor can we recreate the triumphant fervour of fourth-century Christianity. Even so, in the Rotunda that has been pagan temple, church, mosque, and which is now a museum, it is still not difficult to feel some lingering remnant of the awe that must then have overtaken Christian Thessalonians when they entered it to worship.


Before considering the significance of the architectural compositions in the dome we shall take the individual figures of the martyr saints represented in the foregrounds. In so doing, it is essential always to have in mind the splendour and exuberance of the whole scene ; the golden background, against which golden pillars, arches, friezes and cupolas gleam and sparkle with the fight of many coloured jewels ; rich curtains and the bright plumage of birds adding further exotic touches. It is Oriental rather than Occidental splendour, and, yet, with all the magnificence, there is a restraint which indicates an Orient that has felt the influence of Hellenism.



The Martyr Saints in the Dome of St George


The figures all stand in a frontal and ‘orante’, or praying, position. None have haloes. Beside them are written their names, their professions, usually soldier or priest, but with exceptions, such as Damian, who is described as a doctor, and Philemon, as a flute player, and the months of their festivals. Following the panels clockwise from the lost panel over the opening to the apse, the saints are :


1. An unknown saint who occupied a part of the mosaic that is now completely destroyed.


Leo, wearing a chlamys, was a leading citizen of Patara in Lycia. He was martyred in the reign of Diocletian for preaching Christianity and persistently refused to sacrifice to idols even under long and extreme torture.


Philemon, wearing a phelonion, was a flute player of Comana who, when ordered to play his instrument before idols, publicly declared himself a Christian and prayed that his flute might be destroyed lest it be used for idolatrous purposes. Legend tells us that his prayer was answered. Flames descended from the sky and consumed his flute, and afterwards he died a martyr.


2. Onesiphoros, in a chlamys, and Porphyrios, in a phelonion, were martyred together. The former was a powerfully connected citizen of Iconium (Konia) where he received St Paul, and was baptised by him with all his household. He left Iconium to preach Christianity at Paros, where, with his servant Porphyrios, he was seized and tortured to death.


3. Damian and his friend Cosmas (whose inscription is now lost) both wearing the phelonion, were two natives of Arabia, usually jointly described as the ‘ Anargyriou’, or silverless ones. They travelled about the country curing the sick without charge, only asking that those they healed should embrace Christianity. Enemies denounced them as magicians to the Emperor Carinus. Arrested, they were ordered to renounce Christianity. The two refused, but managed to convince the emperor of their righteousness by curing him of an illness, whereupon the emperor, too, believed. Their pagan opponents, jealous of the honours they received, attacked and killed the two one day while they were gathering herbs on a mountainside.


4. An unknown saint wearing a chlamys, the inscription beside him has been entirely lost.


Romanos (only his forearm and inscription now remaining), a deacon at Caesarea in Palestine, was a native of Antioch, where, during a visit in the reign of Diocletian, he comforted a group of Christians who had been sentenced to torture, and rebuked their judge. For this he was thrown into prison and strangled.





Eucarpios, in a chlamys and described as a soldier, was martyred at Nicomedia, also in the reign of Diocletian.


5. The inscription regarding the first saint, who wears a phelonion, in this panel has been lost. The second, Ananias, also in a phelonion, was a Christian priest, who, during the Diocletian persecution, displayed such fortitude under torture that his warder begged to be baptised. Both were then bound to a wheel and placed upon a burning grate. The fire at once extinguished itself, and the seven soldiers responsible for the torture were inspired to accept Christianity. All nine were ultimately put to death.


6. Basiliscos, wearing a chlamys, was a native of the kingdom of Pontus and a soldier in the Tryonian legion. With two fellow Christians he was arrested during the Diocletian persecution and executed after a period of torture for refusing to sacrifice to Apollo.


Priscos, another soldier, also in a chlamys, was a Roman officer in the guard of the Emperor Aurelian. While serving in Gaul he was arrested, with many of his companions, for refusing to worship idols, and was martyred.


7. Philip, dressed in a phelonion, was bishop of Heraclea in Thrace at the beginning of the fourth century. When his church was ordered to be closed and its treasure seized, he persisted in holding services in its portico and in rallying Christians to their Faith. For this he was burnt at the stake.


The history of Thermos is obscure. He is classified as a soldier and wears a chlamys. Only parts remain of the third saint in this panel and the inscription is also mostly obliterated. Earlier photographs, however, indicate him to be Cyril. He wears a phelonion and may have been a Palestinian deacon martyred in the persecutions of the early fourth century.


The bodies and draperies of the saints are well executed, but the heads are outstanding work by one or more highly talented artists. Accomplished in much smaller tesserae than the costumes and the architecture, the faces are modelled with extreme delicacy and without the use of dark, heavy contours to delineate the features. Considerable variety is displayed. Some, Onesiphoros and Porphyrios, in particular, have close similarities with such works as the statue of the Good Shepherd from Palmyra (now in Berlin). Others, such as Ananias and his anonymous companion, have links with the school that produced the fifth-century sculptured head (Pl. 22f) found at Ephesus. More than one have resemblances with the work of the Fayum painters. For all their individuality, however, all possess a transcendental and hieratic quality. They are saints who, by virtue of their supreme sacrifice, have achieved the Heavenly and ineffable Peace of God. They are, in fact, prototypes of the long series of saints and fathers of the Church that have represented the idealism of Byzantine Christianity on the walls of churches from the fourth century until the present day. The iconographic break with the past which these figures represent is shown by a comparison with the fourthand fifth-century mosaics of the Roman churches of Sta Costanza and of Sta Maria Maggiore. In fact, Sta Maria Maggiore’s cycles of crowded Biblical scenes are not unlike in technique and are similar in educational purpose to the scenes on Thessalonica’s Arch of Galerius.



The Architectural Compositions in the Dome of St George


Two-storied, architectural compositions rise behind the martyr saints in each of the seven remaining panels of the lowest zone of the dome. Together with the lost panel, they give an effect of an octagon. There are four different architectural versions, the northern being repeated by the southern, and the western, presumably, by the now lost eastern panel. The repetition of the north-eastern, however, does not appear in the diagonally opposite position, but in the south-east, and, correspondingly, the north-west in the southwest. Each panel is separated from the next by a foliage and vase arrangement symbolising the tree of life in a highly stylised manner. While not identical, each of these follows a closely similar pattern.


Before discussing the variations in these architectural compositions it will be useful to take the features that are common to all. Most prominent, perhaps, is the glowing, golden nature of both the architecture and the background. This golden effect is intensified by the brilliant colours of the martyrs’ clothes, of rich curtains, and of the splendid plumage of peacocks and other birds, as well as by the fact that the architectural compositions are shallow façades, consisting for the most part of pillars and arcades,





through which the golden background is constantly revealed.


Yet, shallow as these architecturescapes are, they are far from appearing insubstantial. Well-proportioned marble pillars support massive entablatures. They are façades only in the sense that a city or palace gate is a façade — for the city or palace that is within.


In each case the central architectural feature is an apse, exedra or opening, flanked by one or two pavilions on either side. An upper storey consisting of a central superstructure and two subsidiary loggias produces the impression of an ornate, and even fantastic, towered façade. An often inaccurate use of perspective achieves a limited sense of depth, not unlike that of a relief carving. The rendering of architectural components also frequently appears careless. Symmetrical arrangement and an effect of exuberant splendour, rather than realism and exactitude, are the artist’s aim.


In three of the pairs of panels a round, rectangular or hexagonal ciborium stands in the centre foreground. The exception occurs in the panel opposite the apse ; here a low chancel screen takes its place.


Panels 1 and 7 (Pl. 17)


An unknown saint (now wholly lost), Leo and Philemon stand in the foreground of Panel 1 ; Philip, Therinos and Cyril in the foreground of Panel 7.


These two panels, the most classical of all, flank the missing composition above the apse. The central structure of the lower storey is an apparently unroofed exedra. In front of it, or projecting from it, is a rectangular ciborium with a triangular pediment above the entablature, which is common to the ciborium, the exedra and a pavilion on either side. A round, j ewelled candlebra hangs from the centre of the ciborium and in the tympanum two winged angels hold a round shield or clipeus bearing the head and shoulders of Christ. Between the ciborium and the adjoining pavilions the exedra reveals an arcade with turquoisecoloured curtains drawn back around the inner pillars to display lamps hanging behind. These two pavilions, which are surmounted by bow-shaped pediments, are each flanked by another pavilion, the entablature of which is slightly different, and which has a semicircular pediment and a scalloped tympanum.


The foreground pillars of the ciborium and the outer pavilions carry jewelled bands. The remainder are plain. The capitals are all Corinthian, but with a tendency towards a Composite effect.


Above the ciborium in the centre of the upper storey is a circular, domed loggia supported by four pillars. Behind it stand three loggias, the centre having a flat top and the two outer triangular pediments with scalloped tympana. A common entablature serves all three. Reddish-pink curtains, knotted in the middle, hang at the back of the outer loggias, but they are arranged with an eye to symmetrical presentation rather than to realism. All the columns in the upper storey are plain and have Ionic capitals.


Unlike the remaining panels, no birds figure in either of these two compositions.


Panels 2 and 6 (Pl. 16)


Onesiphoros and Porphyrios stand in the foreground of Panel 2 and Basiliscos and Priscos of Panel 6.


A wide, semicircular, semi-domed apse, ceiled with a sumptuous peacock-tail design occupies the centre of the lower storey. Mounted upon a pedestal in front of this is a hexagonal ciborium, with six spiral pillars supporting a deep entablature from which a hexagonal roof rises to a point. The entablature, plain in form, is decorated with three bands, the upper and lower having a lattice-work pattern, the centre a series of ‘ rayed suns ’. A low lattice-work chancel screen connects the pillars, but leaves the front open. A tall, bejewelled cross, upon the top of which a dove (?) descends within a rayed mandorla or clipeus, occupies the centre foreground.


Single arcaded pavilions flank the apse on either side. These, like the apse itself, have fluted pillars and capitals that verge upon the Composite. The arches of the pavilions and the arcades of the apse, two of which appear on each side of the ciborium, are all heavily jewelled. A frieze of stylised, opposed swans, with vases as centre-pieces, is the chief feature of the entablature, which is common to both the pavilions and the apse. Tall candlesticks, with lighted candles, stand in the centre of the pavilions.


Of the three loggias comprising the upper storey, the two outer stand above the pavilions on either side of the apse. In both cases four columns, on a deep base





or parapet, carry an ornate dome that curves upwards at its outer edges in defiance of all the laws of perspective. A lamp hangs from the centre of each. The central structure is set back, as though extending behind the apse. It is difficult to say whether it is an octagon or a hexagon, and its form is further complicated by two projecting pillars on either side. A triangular pediment rises above the cornice between the two foreground pillars. Two vases and two doves also appear upon the cornice and two phoenixes are placed just above the parapet between the outer loggias and the. central structure.


Contrasting with those of the outer loggias, the pillars of the central structure are plain. On the other hand, the capitals of the latter are similar to the capitals of the lower storey, while those of the outer loggias follow a more simple design.


Panels 3 and 3 (Pl. 15)


Damian and Cosmas appear in Panel 3 and Ananias and an unknown saint in Panel 5.


In this panel it is the upper storey which has an apsidal character, while the lower has as its centre-piece what appears to be an open rectangular loggia. In front of this loggia a circular ciborium stands upon a rectangular base. The ciborium has six pillars, the two in front ornamented with jewels and bands of pearls and arranged, not equidistantly, but three on each side. They support a high entablature displaying a Greek fret frieze. Above this is a ribbed cupola. Three steps lead up to a table or a backless throne, bearing an open, sacred book, beneath the ciborium. A curtain running between the two rear pillars backs the lower part of the ciborium, and a lamp or a wreath hangs from its ceiling.


The rectangular loggia behind is carried on four pillars, the two in the foreground being spiral and the two in the rear plain. The cornice is surmounted by a low triangular pediment. Two tall candlesticks with lighted candles stand one on each side of the ciborium in front of this loggia.


Flanking the central structure are two narrow pavilions, their foreground pillars decorated with bands of pearls and supporting, above their entablatures, low curved pediments with scalloped tympana. These, in turn, are enclosed by pairs of projecting


pillars, ornamented with jewelled bands. A common entablature serves the central structure and its two flanking pavilions ; another above the projecting pillars has a slightly different design.


The central structure of the upper storey consists of a semicircular apse flanked by porticoes. In the apse five arcades support a ceiling in the form of a scallop shell. An ornate lamp hangs from the ceiling in the centre, and turquoise curtains, knotted back, half-close the porticoes. The pillars are uniformly plain.


Outside the porticoes, and standing upon the lower pavilions and the enclosing pillars, are rectangular loggias. Crosses, Latin in their shape, but ansated in Oriental fashion, that is to say, with the ‘handle’ of the ‘P’ open at the bottom, and with pendants hanging from their arms, stand on each of the flat foreground cornices. Dark plumaged birds are placed on either side of the crosses. Exquisitely coloured peacocks stand beneath the crosses between the four fluted columns of each of the two loggias.


In the panels the capitals are Corinthian throughout except in the ciborium, where a slightly more simple form is preferred, and in the apse arcades of the upper stories. Here, in Panel 3, a simple, rather crude form appears ; in Panel 5 , two are simplified Corinthian and two are Ionic.


Panel 4 (Pl. 14)

(Panel 8, above the apse, has been entirely lost)


An unknown saint and Eucarpios stand in the foreground. Only the inscription and a forearm have survived of the figure of Romanos, originally in the centre.


The centre section of the lower storey is planned on lines similar to those of the upper storey in Panels 3 and 5. A central, arcaded apse, with a low curved pediment and a scalloped ceiling, is again flanked by porticoes. Here, however, the proportions are taller, the porticoes narrower, and the whole effect is more substantial as well as more ornate. The foreground pillars of both apse and porticoes carry bands of pearls. Dark plumaged phoenixes stand on the cornices of the porticoes.


Within the apse and extending forward from it is a low chancel screen. Unfortunately, only a small part of this remains, but it appears to have been hexagonal in form with an entrance in front. Romanos,





like his companion saints, was placed outside this chancel and on a lower level.


The pavilions that, one on either side, Hank the porticoes appear to be visualised on a quarter circle ground plan. The front and inside faces are straight, but behind this can be seen an unmistakably curved line belonging to the lower edge of the entablature. Moreover, in addition to the two foreground pillars, which support a triangular pediment, three more are visible behind. White, silken curtains, strikingly decorated with vivid, round patches of colour, half close the rear openings and fountains play inside. Spiral bands ornament all the ten pillars of the porticoes.


Much of the upper storey is missing. In the central part a long, flattened arch, from which hang a row of pendants, runs above and behind the vestiges of a triangular pediment, which surmounts an almost entirely lost architectural structure above the apse. An ornate vase stands at each end of the arch. On either side, above the lower pavilions, spiral columns carry a nearly semicircular arch, from which spring pieces of cypress-like foliage. Behind each arch is a glimpse of a flat-topped loggia. The entablature, uniform in all sections of this storey, carries a frieze of opposed swans. This is smaller than, but is otherwise identical with, those in Panels 2 and 6.


Corinthian-type capitals are the rule throughout this panel with the exception of the central composition of the upper storey. The one surviving capital of this is clearly Ionic.


Two distinct aspects of these architectural compositions emerge from the foregoing analysis. Firstly, the structures do not enclose a space as is normally the architectural function of a temple or a house ; they represent instead a magnificent façade, the three-dimensional presentation of which only the more emphasises the fact that it is intended as a façade. Secondly, the ciboria, the chancels and the various sacred symbols indicate a cult-purpose analogous to the sanctuary of a church.


Fig. 48. FAÇADE OF THE LIBRARY, EPHESUS (Reconstruction by Wilberg)



The architectural form shown in these panels had long been a familiar one to the Roman world. Some of the later rock tombs of Petra executed under strong Hellenistic influence, El Deir and El Khasne in particular ( circa late first or early decades of the second century a.d.), bear such detailed resemblances that it is almost tempting to think that the artist of St George had been inspired by them (Pl. 18). The same form was used in the frontages of such civic buildings as the Library at Ephesus (early second century a.d.) and the Agora at Miletus (first century a.d.). The Propylaeum at Gerasa also follows what are essentially similar lines. In first-century Italy it appears in Pompeiian fresco decoration, notably the Porta Regis mural of the Casa di Apollo, and in Rome in the Thermae of Titus and the Casa di Livia on the Palatine. Another example is to be found in the Paris and Oenone stucco relief in the Palazzo Spada, Rome, although, in this case, the version is more simple and practical and a complete house is indicated. The most widespread use of this architectural form, however, appeared in the scenaefrons of the late Hellenistic and Roman theatres. The theatre of Aspendus in Pamphylia in southern Asia Minor may be cited as an obvious example, but countless others can be recalled from the Mediterranean provinces of the Roman Empire.


The atrium of Basilica A at Philippi and the entrance to the Exarchate Palace at Ravenna show that the form survived into the fifth and early sixth centuries.





Fig. 49. SCENAE FRONS OF THE THEATRE, ASPENDUS, ASIA MINOR (Reconstruction by Lanckoronski and Niemann)





In a degenerated version it appears in the mosaic of Theodoric’s palace in S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. In Syria, the ‘Hilani’ towered west fronts of the churches of Turmanin and Ruweha again repeat the essential features.


Palestinian Syria contains an example of particular interest, the mosaic representations of the early Church Councils in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The mosaics surviving into our own century were executed in 1169 on the initiative of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenos when Palestine lay under Arab dominion.









It seems, however, that these replaced earlier mosaics which had probably been heavily damaged or defaced. In such circumstances the twelfth-century mosaicist may have only restored earlier mosaics, modernising here and there and, of course, inserting details of the Councils in place of representations of human or other living creatures in deference to the Islamic tenets of the occupiers (Pl. 18).


So little remains of Parthian and Sassanian architecture that generalisations have to be based upon a relatively small amount of evidence. Nevertheless, the popularity of this form of architectural façade cannot be questioned. It was a feature of the palaces of Hatra and Ctesiphon and was extensively adopted by the Arab conquerors. In all Persian examples, however, and even in many Syrian, the influence of the architecture of the ivan and the city gate shows in the dominating central — in later examples often sole — doorway (Pl. 18, Figs. 51, 53).


These comparisons apply to the St George compositions in their aspect of a two-storied façade comprising a central opening or exedra supporting a superstructure and flanked by porticoes and towered pavilions. In their other aspect, that of a structure serving a cult purpose, we find ourselves observing what is essentially, however extravagantly contrived, the principle of a wide central apse, flanked by a subsidiary chamber on either side. In fact, we have a fanciful but clear picture of that tripartite form of sanctuary characteristic of Syrian and Mesopotamian churches. In three versions a ciborium stands in the centre of the apse, in the fourth a chancel, ‘a fence of . . . lattice work’ to quote Eusebius’s description of the cathedral of Tyre, occupies this — the Oriental — position of the altar.


As far as we know, which is really very little, the full structure of the Oriental tripartite sanctuary was not introduced into Thessalonian church architecture for another century, when it appeared in the tiny Chapel of Hosios David. The Basilica of St Demetrius (412-13) effected a compromise between Rome and Syria, but a few years later ‘Acheiropoietos’ (circa 440) reverted severely and conservatively to the Occidental plan.


These facts and considerations of style imply that the St George mosaics were probably the work of an artist from the capital, not from Macedonia. In this case they not only are a revelation of the splendour and brilliance of Theodosian monumental art, they indicate the ascendancy which Syrian liturgical ideas had already achieved in Constantinople in less than threequarters of a century. Perhaps, too, they may convey to us something of the splendour of the sanctuaries of the great late fourth-century basilicas, as, for instance, Epidauros and Nicopolis B, not to mention the lost churches of Constantinople itself.


There was no conflict in this union of the towered façade and the cult purpose. The concept of the whole decoration of the dome was the creation of, in Lethaby’s words, ‘a localised representation of the temple of the heavens not made by hands’. The golden façades rising behind the martyr saints were the forecourts of Heaven, behind which the apostles walked in glory and, ultimately, Christ Himself, attended by the archangels, sat enthroned.





This was not simply the signification of a great and monumental work of art ; it expressed in visual terms the Church’s fundamental liturgical concept. The martyr saints, who had proved themselves by dying for Christ as Christ had died for men, appeared as the officiating priests in the Divine — here the Heavenly — Liturgy. Thus, the complete composition represented in early Byzantine terms the supreme experience of Christian worship. Such a concept was not necessarily common to the whole contemporary Christian world. Like the tripartite sanctuaries and the use of the dome to signify the sky temple, or Heaven, it was Oriental, that is to say, Syrian or Mesopotamian rather than Roman. The artist portrayed a religious experience, a ‘communion’ that was purely spiritual and which had rejected all hint of physical participation by the congregation. Contemplating it one recalls those essential points of difference between the Roman and Oriental liturgies discussed in Chapter II.


The concept of the portals of Heaven as the ideal site for the supreme act of worship by mortal men was an ancient religious idea. Its origin was not Hellenic ; it was essentially Oriental, where ‘as sacred buildings were imitations of the other world, so their doorways were significant symbolically of the great doorway in the firmament’. [1] The Achaemenian kings of Persia who entered Heaven through their rock tombs carved into mountain faces, in their lifetimes received tribute and dispensed the law at the gates of their palaces. In consequence, as Baldwin Smith has written :


The palace and temple developed as interrelated forms of architecture. In every theocratic society, where the royal dwelling was revered as a sacred edifice, temples were customarily built like palaces, or palaces like temples. Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages there appear to have been recurrent parallels between kingly and divine dwellings, royal and religious ceremonies and the formal rituals pertaining to the adoration of godlike kings and kinglike gods. Hence the importance of the palace-temple concepts in the formation of architectural symbolism. As long as the human imagination was limited to thinking of the unknown in terms of the known, to conceive of the invisible only by means of the visible, it remained instinctive for the common man to see in the most memorable aspects of the Sacred Palace, the Royal Stronghold and the King’s Gate heavenly images, visions of paradise and cosmic forms. Even when this figurative imagery seems artificial in the Late Antique panegyrics and stereotyped in the iconography of the Middle Ages, it should not be forgotten that it was still vividly real to the uneducated masses and that to the authors of the Bible and to thinkers, like St Augustine in his ‘ City of God’, it was a graphic means of conveying mystic ideas. [2]


Moreover, to quote Baldwin Smith again :


because the gateway of the king’s stronghold in the Ancient East was the centre of public life, the portal where god-images made their seasonal entrance, the place where the populace took part in the appearances and triumphal receptions of their divine rulers, and the archway where a king sat in judgment, its bounding towers and brilliantly decorated arched opening acquired royal, divine, celestial, and anagogical values. Partly because of this association of ideas the towered façade was transferred to palaces and temples, where it was seen and remembered as a mark of royal power, of a heavenly abode and of a seat of authority. [3]


As empires covering vast expanses of territory replaced the city-state in the ancient Near East, the function of the city gate ceased to be purely defensive. It developed as the link between the city and its rural environment, and as a meeting and a market-place. Gradually it became a principal administrative centre ; and, as it assumed so many of the ancient functions of the palace gate, so it adopted its essential architectural features — and its ancient symbolism.


Not only did this development scarcely occur in Greece, it was foreign to Hellenic ideology. Here the function of the city gate remained defence. The palace gate or entrance was perhaps the point at which deputations might meet the ruler, but for no other than purely secular purposes. Greek religion excluded theocracy, and similarly Greek democracy ensured that a civic site, such as the agora, or market-place, should become the centre of a city’s social fife. The expansion of Achaemenian Persia and the conquests of Alexander opened the Greek world and its Roman



1. W. R. Lethaby, Architecture, Nature and Magic (London, 1956), p. 112.


2. E. Baldwin Smith, Architectural Symbolism of Imperial Rome and the Middle Ages (Princeton, 1956), pp. 180-1.


3. E. Baldwin Smith, op, cit, p. 181.





successor to Oriental ideas and, amongst other innovations, imported the ceremonial palace façade. Nevertheless, within the sphere of Greek influence it was applied to civic buildings such as the Agora of Miletus, the Library of Ephesus and, most generally of all, to the formal background of the theatres in which were commonly depicted man’s noble but futile struggles in the grip of fate.


Likewise, the Oriental royal palace, with its mystic associations of divinity, was not natural to Greece. The Oriental palace façade could not, therefore, translate into Greek religious architecture. The Greeks, having been accustomed to see their gods ‘in the round’ and mixing with men on the same, if not on an equal footing, had originally conceived their temples as groves or tree-lined glades. Even in terms of marble, stone and urban life, this concept remained fundamental to their religious thinking. Hellenised foreigners might reach a compromise between this Hellenic conception of religion and another the gods of which were revealed in colossal outlines among savage mountain peaks and with whom only priestkings might speak ; but Greeks themselves could not. Greek thought and artistic expression could fuse with Judaism in the service of Christianity, as it had earlier in Gandhara in the service of Buddhism, but fundamentally Greek and Persian ideology were still poles apart. Consequently, the Greek stream in Byzantine architecture evolved its own characteristic principles, insisting upon a symmetrical balance of the whole, a logical structural reason for each member and a visible projection of the inner structure to the outer walls. In Byzantine Christianity, as earlier in Hellenistic paganism, these principles remained fundamental to the Greek contribution, and their influence on Byzantine architecture waxed and waned with the strength of the Greek element.


Nevertheless, for all the intermittent resurgences of Hellenism, the victory of the Syrian liturgies in Byzantine Christianity was permanent. The ceremony of the Great Entry may not have been officially introduced into the Orthodox Byzantine service until the second half of the sixth century, but the mosaic panels in the dome of St George indicate that the Syrian liturgy, of which, with more or less ceremony, the Great Entry was always a part, was already in high favour in the capital by the end of the fourth. Stripped of their fantasy and extravagance, the ground plans and the front elevations of the St George architectural compositions are closely related to those of the tripartite sanctuaries of the early Syrian churches. By no means decorative pictures inserted merely to fill an empty space in an attractive manner, these mosaics were the carefully designed clothing of vital religious ideas.


With the passage of centuries and the increasing dominance of eastern influences in the Byzantine world, screens tended more and more to close off the sanctuary from the nave. Yet (except when expressly forbidden by the iconoclasts) figures of saints were retained as the symbolic interceders for men, and pride of place on each side of the royal doorway became the position of the two arch-interceders, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. There is thus a clear relationship between the end-fourth-century architectural compositions in St George and the iconostases of the Orthodox Church of to-day.


Before leaving this subject it is perhaps of interest to compare the Orthodox iconostasis, which is thought to have achieved its present form in seventeenthcentury Russia, with the Gothic west front of the Western European cathedral — and with the mosaic panels of St George. (The extent to which Byzantine, and, in particular, Syrian churches may have influenced the development of Gothic is beyond the scope of this book; we must content ourselves with the observation that the Crusades and the rise of the Gothic movement in architecture were contemporary.) In iconostasis and west front alike there appears an insistence on filling every possible space with either protective symbols of sacred significance, in particular the figures of saints, or frightening figures of savage and often mythological beasts (Pl. 19).


Even the siting of three doorways is identical. In the ‘representational’ West there appears above the central ‘ royal’ door the figure of Christ ; in the ‘nonrepresentational’ East it is the Cross, the symbol of the ‘Light of the World’ and of the Resurrection. Again we may note that this was the position of the Sun Symbol in the ancient Near East.


Iconostasis and west front stem from the same tradition. Their important difference lies in their position, the iconostasis immediately before the sanctuary, which





only the priests may enter, the west front forming the entrance to the church itself and opening into the nave. In this difference lies a reflection from those early centuries of Christianity, when, in the Eastern liturgies, the Eucharist was performed by the priests in the manner of a sacred mystery, while, in the Western, the clergy celebrated it openly and with relatively little ceremony before the congregation, screening the mystery of the rite only from those not admitted to the Faith.







The Ambo of St George, Thessalonica (Pls. 23, 24)


Fragments of the large stone ambo, or pulpit, now housed in the Museum of Antiquities in Istanbul, are the only early examples of sculpture to have survived from the church of St George. Incomplete and battered as these are, they still radiate an impression of beauty and fine workmanship.





Below bands of delicately worked acanthus and vine motives, the ambo, in its original state, presented the Adoration of the Magi. Each figure set individually beneath scalloped niches and between Corinthian columns, the three Magi are shown on one side of the ambo searching for the Christ Child, and on the other bringing Him their gifts. The Virgin, enthroned upon a round backed chair, holds the Child upon her knees. An angel introduces the Magi. Another figure, the upper part of which has been lost, represents a shepherd with his sheep around him and the skin of an animal over his shoulders. Eagles, or other large birds, their wings outstretched, occupy the spandrils between the scalloped niches.


The subject of greatest interest in the whole composition is that of the Virgin and Child. Both are seated in a frontal attitude and possess, to quote Diehl, ‘a rather stiff majesty, a rather solemn gravity, which fits in well with the ideas of the new society and already foreshadows the style and iconography of the Ravenna mosaics of the sixth century’. [1]


As is similarly the case with corresponding scenes in the destroyed mosaics of St. Demetrius (Pl. 29), S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (early sixth century) and the Holy Land ampoules, or small flasks, in the cathedral of Monza (c. 600), this ‘stiff majesty’, and ‘solemngravity’ appertains only to the holy pair ; the Magi are presented as human characters acting in an ordinary human manner. This is a conception of the Virgin and, indeed, of the young Christ which stems essentially from the traditions of western Asia. It is far removed from the Greco-Roman representations of a human, eager Child and a human, tender Virgin, as appear, for instance, on the circa fifth-century reliquary of SS. Quirico and Giulitta in Ravenna, on the early fourth-century ‘Theological’ sarcophagus in the Lateran Museum and the door of Sta Sabina in Rome and, again, in the destroyed mosaics of St Demetrius.


Discussing the ambo as a whole, Talbot Rice summarises its importance as ‘not only is the form something new and essentially Christian — unlike the sarcophagi — but also the whole spirit of the carving attests the birth of new ideas. The way in which the leaves are treated is thus distinctive, and the ornamental frieze above the figures heralds the ‘light and dark’ geometric ornament typical of Justinianic sculpture’. [2] Indeed, fully as much as the figures of the Martyr Saints in the dome of St George, the ambo signifies the accomplishment of that synthesis of Greece and the Orient that was to express itself in Byzantine art. The earliest known Byzantine representation of the Virgin and Child, in its style and in its isolation of the holy pair in a separate niche we have here a prototype of the ‘ Hodegetria ’ (Pointing the Way) Virgin that was later to develop as one of the key aspects of Byzantine theology and art.


While the ambo can be dated with reasonable certainty to the first half of the fifth century or possibly a decade earlier, opinions differ as to whether it could possibly have preceded the Council of Ephesus, which, in 431, for the first time granted official recognition to the Virgin as ‘ Theotokos ’ or Mother of God. The obvious importance and prominence of the work, and the hierarchic aspect of the Virgin and Child can be adduced as arguments for a post-Ephesus date. On the other hand, Thessalonica was a strong protagonist of the ‘Theotokos’ viewpoint and, particularly when supported by Rome, was likely to be spurred rather than restrained by disapproval from the Patriarch of Constantinople. Comparable sculptural work belonging to the same half-century include the Psamatia sarcophagus from Sidamara in Asia Minor and the chancel doorway of St Demetrius. The first lacks completely the essentially Greek sense of proportion that, despite the Oriental characteristics of the ambo, is its predominant quality. The second is also more Oriental in technique. Both appear clumsy beside the graceful, skilfully rendered figures of the ambo.


Certainly, in spirit, the Virgin and Child of the ambo are closely allied to the martyr saints in the church’s dome. How their facial expressions corresponded with those of the saints in the dome is unfortunately impossible to tell ; but it is, to say the least, an admissible theory that had the Virgin and Child been placed in the dome, they would have been represented in a fashion very similar to their portrayal on the ambo. If this was the case, the ambo and mosaics may have been almost contemporary works, a



1. C. Diehl, Manuel d’art byzantin (Paris, 1925), vol. i, p. 284.


2. D. Talbot Rice, The Beginnings of Christian Art (London, 1957), p. 87.





dating which would place the carving of the ambo to about the last decade of the fourth century. It must be remembered, too, that in early Christian ideology the Magi were symbols of the Gentiles. This fact made the theme particularly apposite in a city whose Church was a foundation of the great Apostle of the Gentiles and one, therefore, which might well have been adopted in Thessalonica at a relatively early date.





In 1950 an octagonal structure was discovered within the area of Galerius’s palace, a situation lying to the south of the Rotunda of St George and the Triumphal Arch.


Macaronas, in a preliminary report on the excavations, has shown that in size and, to some extent, arrangement, it was comparable with St George. [1]





The octagonal walls enclosed seven apses, the eighth wall, facing south-west, containing the entrance. Six of the apses were identical, but the one opposite the entrance was appreciably larger than the rest. All comprised rather more than a semicircle, thus appearing slightly horseshoe in plan. From the head of one apse to that opposite was about 30 metres. A circular building, 14-20 metres in diameter, and probably used as a baptistery, stood close to the entrance.


The interior of the octagon appears to have been richly decorated. Traces of mosaic flooring have been found, and marble slabs re-used in neighbouring houses indicate that the walls were revetted with the finest materials. A small fragment of a massive pillar, with crosses carved in low relief within diamond and rectangular fields, also seems to have belonged to the building.


One of the most interesting features of the octagon is a section of ornamental brickwork in the centre of the north-east apse. Almost at ground level, a cross with equal arms, each consisting of a single brick, is enclosed within a circle of rayed bricks. On each side of this is what appears to be a brick-composed palm branch. This unusual decorative brickwork raises a number of questions. First of all, we need to ask whether, in fact, it is a Christian symbol. The cross and the palm branches argue strongly in favour. On the other hand, the equal-armed cross enclosed within a circle and surrounded by rays, was one of the commonest symbols of the sun god and his fiery chariot. In the latter event another explanation than palm branches would be required for the two lateral designs. Could they be symbols of fertility, perhaps immense ears of com such as those that sprung from the death wound of the bull slain by Mithras?


The situation of these symbols in the centre of the main apse would normally be a sign of their importance. Yet, how can we reconcile this rough — if skilful — brickwork with the mosaic floors and marble revetments that covered less significant parts of what was a large and splendid building? Could it be that it was secretly inserted and covered over by Christian workmen erecting a pagan building in the palace of Galerius ? This is unlikely since the cross as a Christian symbol was rarely used until after the discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem by Helena, the mother of Constantine.



1. X. I. Macaronas, Archaeological Reports, ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΑ, vol. 2, 1941-52, pp. 594-7 (Thessalonica, 1953), (Greek).





Or, in different circumstances but for similar reasons, was it introduced by workmen who were followers of Mithras ? If, however, the insertion was openly made with the simple object of sanctifying the most holy part of the building, the question of whether the symbol is Christian or pagan will be decided by — or will help to decide — the date the octagon was constructed. Should this brickwork represent a Christian symbol openly employed, the octagon cannot possibly have been constructed in the time of Galerius as part of his palace, as was first thought. It is to be hoped that completion of the excavations and publication of a full report on them will provide solutions to the problems of these remains.


A possibility, which may or may not be resolved by further research, exists that this building and not the Rotunda of St George may have been that great church of the Archangels or Asomati which was the original cathedral of the city before the erection of Aghia Sophia in the eighth century. The presence of the baptistery close by is a strong factor in support of this contention, for a baptistery was ordinarily attached only to episcopal churches.


In 1957 a marble arch was found which is thought to have been originally used in a recess of a wall near to the octagon (Pl. 9). Clearly pagan in conception and detail alike, and belonging to the era of Galerius, it is of particular interest in the extent to which it is a prototype of Thessalonica’s Christian iconography. Two medallions in the demi-spandrils enclose, on the right, a bust of Galerius and, on the left, the bust of a crowned woman, probably representing the Tyche or Fortune of Thessalonica. Mosaic medallions enclosing busts of saints in very similar style, were to appear later in the Basilica of St Demetrius. The presentation of Galerius with the Tyche of Thessalonica may, however, indicate the emperor’s local elevation to heroic if not to divine status. In Thessalonian minds, St Demetrius was to be, as we shall see when discussing the Church of St Demetrius, closely associated with the Virgin ; but at an early stage he was also connected in the popular imagination with the Lady Evtaxia, who seems to have been a carry-over from paganism into Christianity (see page 149 below). Before Christianity a Cabir had been similarly linked with a goddess, as the Heroic Horseman had been by the Thracians. Galerius and the Tyche fall into this changing pattern of a constant basic theme of protector god or hero and goddess.


Holding the two medallions are two men in Persian costume, the popular fifthand sixth-century dress of the Three Magi, including those on the ambo of St George. Towards the centre of the arch two winged ‘cherubs’ each hold branches thick with leaves and fruit. Particularly important in relation to the soffits of ‘ Acheiropoietos’, at each end of the soffit is carved a cantharus, from which spring twin interlacing vines, carrying thick bunches of grapes and leaves. These rise to a central medallion containing the bust of Dionysus, who, in ‘Acheiropoietos’, is transformed into a cross or the Gospels.





In the extreme south of Macedonia, at the foot of the northern slopes of Mount Olympus, lay the ancient city of Dion, or Dium. Here have been discovered the remains of two early Christian basilicas. Little, unfortunately, beyond the site of the semicircular apse and parts of a mosaic floor, has been discovered of the earlier church, which has been dated as probably fourth century. The second, larger and built over the site of the first, can be ascribed with reasonable certainty to the fifth.


In its main aspects this second church appears to have been a typical Hellenistic basilica of the period. It had a wide nave, two lateral aisles, a protruding, semicircular apse and a narthex, the west wall of which was twice the width of the others. The interior measurements were 27.25 by 18.90 metres, to which must be added the depth of the narthex, 5.20 metres.


The arrangement of the columns lining the nave is a peculiar feature of the church. The columns are not placed equidistantly ; the intervals vary from 1.10 to 1.80 metres. Sotiriou infers from the shortness of these intervals that they supported straight architraves rather





than arcades. [1] An even more unusual feature is the presence of three massive piers on the insides of each of the rows of columns. Built with deep foundations, each forms a base for two columns, which, although smaller in size, are placed opposite two of the regular columns of the nave. It is difficult to estimate their purpose on the available evidence. With due reservations, Sotiriou suggests that they may have been later additions intended to buttress the structure. On the other hand, the possibility does not appear to have been excluded that they may have been part of the original basilica. Their presence might then explain the asymmetrical arrangements of the lines of columns. Only a thorough excavation can provide the answer to this. Should the second possibility prove correct, we would be faced with the surprising appearance of a Syrian and totally un-Hellenic fourth-century Christian basilica in Dion, an eventuality which in the fight of our present — extremely limited — knowledge we have no reason to expect.





Later additions to the second basilica which were discovered in the course of the excavations include two rectangular rooms at the north-east corner, and a circular building, probably a baptistery, standing away from the south side and connected with the south aisle by three obliquely placed chambers.




- The Fourth-Century Martyrium  128
- The Fifth-Century Basilica 
- The Crypt of St Demetrius 
- The Rebuilding of the Seventh Century 
- The Capitals of St Demetrius (Pls. 27, 28) 

- The Mosaics of St Demetrius (Pl. 29-34) 

A. St Demetrius and the Angels (Fragment) (Pl. IV)
B. St Demetrius with a Woman and Child (Fragment) (Pl. IV)
C. The Various Scenes on the Arcades of the North Inner Aisle belonging to the Period Prior to the Seventh-Century Fire (destroyed in 1917) (Pls. 29-31)
D. The Medallions of the North Inner Aisle inserted after the seventh-century fire (destroyed in 1917) (Pls. 29h and c)
E. St Demetrius and the Builders (Pl. 32)
F. St Demetrius and a Deacon (Pl. 32)
G. St Demetrius and Two Children (Pl. 33a). St Sergius (Pl. 33 b)
H. The Virgin and St Theodore (Pl. 34)
I. St Demetrius and the Four Ecclesiastics (Pl. 33)



The earlier of Thessalonica’s two surviving fifth-century basilicas is the Church of St Demetrius. Erected by a Prefect named Leontius, whose period of office was 412-13, in gratitude for his restoration to health through the intercession of the saint, it replaced the much smaller martyrium built in the fourth century. Leontius’s structure was severely damaged by fire during the reign of Heraclius (610-41). Rebuilding followed quickly in spite of the stringency of the times and was completed around the third decade of the seventh century. A second calamitous fire occurred in 1917, reducing the church to much the same derelict condition as had resulted from the disaster of thirteen centuries earlier. Again it has been restored and, as was the case previously, the architects followed the general fines of the earlier church.



1. G. A. Sotiriou, ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΚΗ ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΣ, 1929 (Athens), p. 180.






(Reconstruction after Sotiriou)










In consequence, while the present newness of certain parts contrasts a little disconcertingly with the mellowed — and sometimes battered — antiquity of others, by exercising imagination we are still able to realise in the church of St Demetrius as it is to-day something of the early fifthcentury conception of Leontius.


Leontius’s basilica was built early in the reign of Theodosius II (408-50), very shortly, at most three decades, after the conversion of the Rotunda of St George and its mosaic decoration. It antedated by half a century St John of Studion, the earliest surviving church in Constantinople. It was approximately contemporary to the Episcopal Church of Korykos in Cilicia, and followed by a few years the transept basilica of St Menas, built by the Emperor Arcadius near Alexandria in Egypt. Nearer at hand, it belonged to that same period, covering the late fourth and early fifth centuries, that saw the construction of many of the great early Byzantine basilicas of Greece, including examples at Nicopolis, Epidauros, Ilissos, Corinth, Sicyon and Thebes.


Two to three years before, in 410, Alaric and his Visigothic followers, having earlier left a trail of terror and destruction throughout the Balkans, had accomplished the downfall and sack of Rome. Five years before this calamity, Honorius, the western emperor, had moved his capital from Milan to the greater safety of Ravenna. In the eastern half of the empire the death of the weak Arcadius and the accession of Theodosius II had introduced an atmosphere of greater security. In the face of the increasing power and growing ambitions of Constantinople, Macedonia was loyally maintaining her ecclesiastical allegiance to Rome, and Pope Innocent I had appointed Rufus, Bishop of Thessalonica, to be his Vicar Apostolic. In the economic sphere Macedonia was no longer in the advantageous position of straddling a great imperial highway. The western sector of the Via Egnatia had suffered complete disruption. Eastward routes alone remained open, providing access to civilised order and to commercial markets.



The Fourth-Century Martyrium


Although the early sources state that the original Church of St Demetrius, erected by the saint’s followers soon after the Peace of the Church, was razed


to the ground in order to make way for the great new basilica of Leontius, the possibility appeared tenable that this might be the tiny basilica in the crypt. Sotiriou has now conclusively disproved this theory. Parts of the tiny basilica belong to the structure of the Roman baths, but the rest, including the apse, date from the fifth century. [1]


On the other hand, while excavating the area immediately behind the recessed wall west of the arc of piers in the crypt, foundations were discovered of another apse not belonging to the baths but which can be ascribed to the fourth century. This apse, measuring approximately nine metres across, covered almost the total width of the present nave, the colonnades of which coincide with earlier walls of the baths. Confirmation that this apse formed part of the first Chinch of St Demetrius appears in the existence narrowly within its eastern extremity of the small cruciform reliquary crypt containing a flask of blood-soaked earth which lies below the present altar. The position of the flask itself is centred upon the axial line of the apse (Fig. 60).


Whatever the reasons for situating the reliquary crypt so close to the wall of the apse, such a position was clearly incompatible with the requirements of fifth-century Christian worship. Consequently, the new apse was built farther to the east, and a massive arc of piers was constructed to serve as its foundations. This new plan made room for a bishop’s throne in the centre of the wall and enabled the altar to be placed above the holy relic (Fig. 59).


It appeared to the excavators that the walls of the baths corresponding to the present nave colonnades were used as the walls of this first church, indicating that the apse was disproportionately wide. How far the church extended to the west is uncertain, evidence having been found of several transverse walls of the baths, any of which could have been used. As at Philippi, the Christians of Thessalonica at the time of the Peace of the Church seem to have been mainly drawn from the poorer classes, for the remains of St Demetrius’s first basilica indicate it to have been little more than an adaptation of part of the baths.














The Fifth-Century Basilica


Thanks to Sotiriou’s recent authoritative study of the Church of St Demetrius, [1] we are not only able to reconstruct the fifth-century martyrium of Leontius but follow the various structural modifications of the seventh and twentieth centuries.


St Demetrius had been imprisoned, it will be recalled, in rooms belonging to some baths while Galerius watched the games which included the defeat of his champion gladiator, Lyaios, at the hands of the young Christian, Nestor. The same day, while still in his temporary prison, the saint was murdered on the emperor’s orders. [2] When Leontius planned his new basilica in 412, he demolished the fourth century church and altered adjoining parts of the baths into a spacious crypt. This was situated beneath the eastern end of the church and opened on to the street outside which was on the same level. Most of the remaining structure of the baths was demolished and replaced by the basilica. The stadium, lying to the west, was transformed into an atrium for the church and some of its tiers of seats re-used as steps.


The original fifth-century basilica was timber ceilinged and consisted basically of a nave and four lateral aisles having, at their eastern end, a tripartite sanctuary. The latter, with a protruding, semicircular, five-windowed apse, was inscribed within a transept and an eastern projection, the whole being precisely situated above the crypt. West of the nave was a narthex and atrium, and from the west end of the northernmost aisle there jutted northwards two chambers belonging to the earlier Roman structure, the more northern one of which was the new repository for the tomb of St Demetrius. Galleries ran above the two inner aisles and the narthex, but did not extend into the transept. The total length, including the narthex, was 57 metres.


A tribelon provided a ceremonial entrance from the narthex into the nave. Subsidiary doorways opened into the inner aisles. Rows of twelve columns separated nave and aisles, with the exception of the northernmost, where the antechamber of the room containing St Demetrius’s tomb left place for only eleven. Piers stood at the eastern ends of all four rows, and from those terminating the nave colonnades high arches were sprung across to two more piers at the chord of the apse.


These twin arches, in effect, divided the sanctuary into its three divisions : the central area, consisting of the bema and the apse, and the wings, or parabemata, on either side. The episcopal throne was placed in the centre of the apse, but the presbytery seats were ranged on the north and south sides of the bema. Between them and beneath a ciborium, stood the altar and under this was a small, shallow, cross-shaped crypt. This held a glass phial containing earth soaked with human blood, reputed to be that of St Demetrius.


A marble screen, pierced by a porticoed doorway (Pl. 26), part of which is no w in the Byzantine Museum in Athens, separated the bema from the nave. This entrance, which is reproduced and incorporated in the iconostasis of the present church, was surmounted by a quadruple arch carved with entwined floral and foliate designs, and, in the demi-spandrils, either peacocks against a background of branches, or angels with smaller peacocks. The arches stood upon square pillars ; the faces of which carried foliate and zoomorphic designs, some with a curiously Scythian air and which had square Corinthian capitals. The carving of the borders and the spandrils is in low relief, but now and again a tendency to emphasise contrasts of light and shade is seen.


The reconstruction of the chancel screen which appears in the present church, although with slight modifications, such as terminal doorways, to conform with the modem requirements of the Orthodox service (Pl. 25), follows the contemporary fifth-century style and accords with the original fragments which have survived. It consists of a parapet of sculptured marble slabs between square carved mullions or pillars, the upper parts of which are transformed into round columns with Corinthian capitals supporting an ornamental architrave. Icons now hang in place of the fifth-century curtains which could be opened or closed as required.


On the northern side of the nave a hexagonal base marks the site of the famous silver ciborium of St Demetrius, the accidental setting afire of which in 581 resulted in the sounding of the ‘ false’ alarm that saved the city from a surprise Slav attack.



1. G. and M. Sotiriou, op. cit.


2. See above p. 70.













The Miracula give two nearly similar descriptions of the ciborium. One of these reads:


This work, as holy as it is remarkable, stands in the midst of the temple on the left side. It is hexagonal in form, upheld by six columns, with a like number of walls of fine silver, and ornamented with incised work, and its cover stands circular upon the six sides, and supports, as upon a base, a silver sphere, not insignificant in dimensions, upon which run, as it were, stalks of admirable lilies, and above shines forth the sign of life, the adorable cross of our divine Saviour.


(The second description is rendered on page 149.)


As there were no galleries above the parabemata, the roof of which was the same height as that of the inner aisles, the piers and pillars which enclosed them corresponded to those lining the nave, thus giving an impression of loftiness and dignity to these relatively small areas. Vaulting in the crypt below necessitated the raising of the floor of the northern parabemata 0.80 metres above the general level of the church.


Sotiriou’s work has rendered possible an architectural reconstruction of the fifth-century basilica, but the greater part of the original decoration of the interior was irretrievably lost during the fire of the seventh century. However, colour was certainly used with effect. The floor was paved with slabs of white marble, but the pillars of the tribelon were of the particularly precious green-veined ‘Cipolino’ marble imported from Carystos in Euboea. A number of the central columns of the nave were of green Thessalian marble ; the remainder and those of the galleries and the colonnades between the inner and outer aisles were of white marble from the Proconnesus quarries in the Marmora. Those enclosing the parabemata were of red Egyptian granite. The magnificent Corinthian capitals of the tribelon bear faint traces of red paint, but it is impossible to say if this work dates from the first or a later period ; traces of gilding also appear on one of the Corinthian capitals of the nave. We can go no farther than this with certainty, but mosaics, coloured marble revetting, perhaps wall paintings, curtains between the columns of the nave and galleries must all have made their contributions to a scene of awe-inspiring splendour, intended, we may be sure, to be no less breath-taking than that of the nearby Rotunda of St George.


From the outside the basilica presented a noble and harmoniously balanced appearance (Fig. 58). Its dominating feature was the long, low pitched roof, which ran the length of the nave and bema as far as the chord of the apse. Stepped downwards to either side were the two sloping roofs of the aisles which turned outwards at their eastern ends to follow the lines of the transept. A clever and varied concentration of windows, sometimes asymmetrically grouped, ensured full daylight illumination to every part of the building.


Sotiriou’s reconstruction of the fifth-century ground plan indicates that the area and the limits of the transept were primarily governed by the structure and extent of the crypt. The ambulatory between the walls of the transept and the colonnades of the sanctuary was not linked with the aisles except possibly at the north-west corner of the transept, where, unlike the completely new southern transept, an earlier Roman wall, belonging to the baths, extended westwards beyond the limits of the sanctuary and provided a porticoed entrance into both the ambulatory and the north aisles.








In the present-day church the southern transept wall has been similarly extended westwards, with the effect that both parabemata are now inscribed by extensions of the outer aisles ; but Sotiriou’s reconstruction makes it quite clear that this was not the case in the original basilica. A glance at the plan of the seventh-century church (Fig. 66) shows that this change was made in the course of rebuilding following the first great fire.


Nevertheless, to whatever degree the transept and the extension east of the apse were connected with the crypt and its martyrological aspects, it is clear that St Demetrius belongs to the category of basilicas in which the increasing ceremonialisation of the late fourth





and fifth centuries — due to the Oriental influences of Persian royal ceremony and the Syro-Mesopotamian liturgy — was met by expanding the sanctuary within a north-south transept.


However, it did not signify the orientalisation of Byzantine Macedonia ; other basilicas continued to be built in and around the fifth century which rejected the new Oriental influence completely. Examples include those of Dion, of ‘ Acheiropoietos’ and ‘Tumba’ in Thessalonica and the Basilica of Bishop Philip at Stobi. Here the bema continued to stretch down the nave between the colonnades while the aisles extended to the east wall.


Although built during the nadir of Roman fortunes and ecclesiastical power, St Demetrius did not lean eastwards to the extent of copying the Syrian form of sanctuary with its apse inscribed between two rectangular lateral chambers. This occurred in Salona, on the Aegean Islands and on the Asia Minor coast, but it failed to secure a foothold on the Greek mainland or the Hellenic regions of Macedonia. Moreover, the evolution of the St Demetrius form of tripartite sanctuary is by no means evidence of the introduction of the Syrian liturgy. To use a modern analogy, it was a High Anglican form, but not Roman Catholic — not forgetting that in the fifth century the champion of the ‘ Low Church ’ was the Bishop of Rome. On the other hand, St Demetrius and similarly planned churches were unmistakably precursors of the liturgical revolution through which Antioch was entirely to displace Rome throughout the Byzantine Church. Although neither of the parabemata were designed to have a prothesis function, they foreshadowed its introduction with all the accompanying liturgical, social and political implications.



The Crypt of St Demetrius


Incorporating part of the original structure of the Roman baths in which St Demetrius had been imprisoned and murdered, the crypt of the basilica lies immediately beneath the sanctuary and ‘nave transept’, the shape and dimensions of which it seems, to a large extent, to have dictated. During the erection of Leontius’s basilica in the fifth century the crypt received certain structural additions intended


to provide foundations of sufficient strength to bear the weight of the fabric above. One such addition was a series of piers to support the colonnade of the north wing of the sanctuary, but the principal innovation falling within this category was a semicircular arc of massive piers, constructed from ancient materials including many pagan altars, to serve as foundations for the apse. The chord of this arc was a wall, dating from the Roman period, containing three semicircular and two rectangular recesses.


Other alterations of minor architectural significance but connected with the cult of the martyr and which were made at the same time included the division of the crypt into three main sections. In the centre, the arc of piers was enclosed within an ambulatory formed by vaulted porticoes to the north, east and south. A small, single-chamber, basilical construction having an eastern apse lay at the western end of the southern portico. The greater part of this, including the apse, dates to the fifth century. Three openings in the eastern portico provided access from a street or courtyard which was on the same level as the crypt. To the north and south of this central complex were joined two rectangular, vaulted rooms, originally part of the baths, in which a series of recesses mark the sites of graves. Probably these held the sarcophagi or coffins of bishops, who, by virtue of their office and perhaps of the sanctity of their lives, were granted the honour of burial within such sacred precincts.


The apse-like central space, and its surrounding porticoes, was the section specifically concerned with the cult of St Demetrius. Two staircases connected it with the sanctuary. The main flight, starting from the southern side of the bema, descended into the tiny basilica through a doorway at the west end of its north wall and entered the arc of piers at its southernmost point through another doorway near the east end of the same wall. The second staircase led from the north side of the sanctuary, via a landing, into the north portico.


In the course of time the central section of the crypt, particularly that part of it within the arc of piers, underwent a series of changes. The fame of St Demetrius and of his cures attracted increasing numbers of pilgrims.





Fig. 64. BASILICA OF ST DEMETRIUS, THESSALONICA. PLAN OF THE CRYPT The red lines indicate the superstructure






a. The original cult centre in the crypt, b. Plan of the cult centre in the crypt altered to accommodate increased numbers of pilgrims. (Reconstruction by Sotiriou)



Before long the facilities for receiving them must have proved inadequate; but fully as important a motive as this for making changes was the growing emphasis upon ceremonial ritual which was taking place throughout the Byzantine Church.


On the basis of his excavations Sotiriou has divided these changes into three principal phases. In the first, a parapet of marble slabs ran parallel to the chord of the arc. In the centre of this enclosure, which was about 130 metres deep, stood a marble fountain or basin containing holy water, which was administered to pilgrims by clergy, who entered the enclosure from the sanctuary through the tiny basilica. (Fig. 65a.)


The second phase was marked by the construction of the ciborium, most of which remains to-day (Pl. 26, Fig. 65b), although in its original state it was probably provided with a domed roof. Built around the fountain, the ciborium jutted beyond the slabs forming the enclosure, allowing more convenient access to a greater number of people. Further economy of space was effected by moving the parapet on either side of the ciborium to a line slightly nearer the recessed wall. Convenience, however, was probably only a secondary consideration. The ciborium was a symbol of special dignity and it appears likely that the ceremony of giving the holy water to pilgrims had developed into a rite almost analogous to the administration of a sacrament.


The third phase, Sotiriou found, signified changes of even greater ritual significance. The entrance





from the tiny basilica into the enclosure leading to the ciborium was blocked by a wall. The ciborium was floored with concrete, slabs were inserted between the first two pillars on either side and the ciborium itself and the two compartments thus formed on each side of it were converted into three separate pools. Pipes from the ciborium fed both lateral compartments and yet another, circular pool, situated between the ciborium and the arc of piers.


The excavators discovered that the pipe supplying the ciborium with water pierced the recessed wall, after which it turned northwards and ran along the wall to a marble basin placed in the landing on the north staircase. Another pipe, bringing water to this marble basin, was traced to the south wall of the north portico, whence, concealed in the wall, it continued until just beyond the sanctuary, it reached a well, the source of the holy water.


Probably at the same time as the walling-up of the entrance from the tiny basilica into the arc of piers, the entrance from the north portico to the north staircase had been similarly blocked, rendering the marble basin on the landing accessible from the sanctuary only. From this, Sotiriou comments, it is clear that here was secretly made the preparation of perfumed holy water, mention of which appears in the early sources and which tradition — wrongly — alleges to have welled from the hexagonal silver ciborium of St Demetrius in the nave.


During the Turkish domination, when the basilica was converted into a mosque, the crypt and its once famous shrine must have fallen into disuse. The level of the street or courtyard outside gradually rose. Sometime during the eighteenth century the crypt was finally sealed off, not to be rediscovered until the present century.


As Grabar has pointed out, the crypt of St Demetrius was a cult centre, not a martyrium in the strict sense of a repository of sacred relics, for the flask of blood-soaked earth had been placed in the small cruciform reliquary crypt within the sanctuary to which only the clergy had access. [1] On the other hand, as the scene of the martyrdom of St Demetrius, quite apart from the presence of the fountain of holy water, it fulfilled the interpretation of the term as ‘a place of witness’, an interpretation that was particularly applied in the Holy Land. In spite of this distinction, as we shall discuss in connection with the crypt of the Church of Bishop Philip at Stobi, it appears probable that the plan of the crypt of St Demetrius exerted considerable influence upon the form of later crypt-martyria in Western Europe. This aside, it must be admitted that these excavations, and Sotiriou’s skilled examination of the archaeological discoveries, seem to do more to illuminate our ignorance of the cults of the Early Christian Church than fill gaps in our knowledge, although it would be difficult to exaggerate the contribution they have made to our eventual appreciation of them.



The Rebuilding of the Seventh Century


Documentary sources and architectural evidence agree in indicating that the fire of 1917 followed a very similar course to that of the seventh century. Consequently a common fifth-century foundation and part superstructure formed the basis of both reconstructions.


The careful analysis made by Sotiriou shows that the seventh-century fire destroyed the roof and all the upper parts of the church, including the galleries, which were particularly vulnerable owing to their timber floors and ceilings. The apse was preserved intact, as were the great arches connecting it to the nave colonnades. Some damage was inflicted in the area of the sanctuary but, in addition to the piers and arches, the columns enclosing the south parabema were saved. In the nave and aisles the devastation was severe, the colonnades and their capitals suffering badly. Only the northernmost, its arches decorated with a row of votive mosaics, survived intact until the second fire. The tribelon, much of the wall between the nave and narthex and the two small chambers jutting from the north outer aisle, also escaped damage. Of the outside walls, the greatest destruction occurred on the southern side, and the least to the north transept wall, which was preserved to the height of the upper windows.



1. A. Grabar, Martyrium (Paris, 1946), vol. i, pp. 455-6.






Plan of the seventh-century rebuilding. (Reconstruction by Sotiriou)



Haste and improvisation were keynotes of the reconstruction, which, probably in view of the importance of the church to Thessalonian morale, was quickly completed by re-using materials from other buildings. A structural alteration, which had the effect of increasing the capacity of the church, was the insertion of galleries over the outer aisles and around the ambulatories of the transept. The south transept wall was extended a few metres west to correspond with the north transept wall and to provide an entrance to the southern ambulatory from the southern aisles.


Although the transept retained its original height, that of the nave and aisles were all reduced by as much as a metre and a half. The roof of the narthex, on the other hand, was now raised to the new height of the nave in order to avoid dismembering its upper windows


Texier and Pullan, who saw the church a century ago, describe its then internal decoration as


composed of slabs of marble of different colours ; there are neither mouldings, nor cornices, nor modillions. The entablature of the ground floor is ornamented with marble mosaics, representing modillions, with a decoration of beads, dentils and flowers. The archivolts of the arches of both stories are composed of voussoirs, of marbles of different colours. The piers (of which there are three on each side of the nave) are covered with white marble slabs, and the spandrils between the arches have panels of various colours. [1]


Important changes were made in the sanctuary, the general level of which was raised one or two steps. The presbytery seats were moved from their position flanking the altar to the walls of the apse.



1. C. Texier and R. P. Pullan, Byzantine Architecture (London, 1864), p. 128.





In each of the parabemata two columns were added to the western sides to help carry the new transept galleries. The double columns which had occupied the corner positions were replaced with similarly shaped brick piers and the new columns of the north wing were placed on stylobates. A corresponding low wall was also constructed on the south side of the south wing. Small eastern apses were added to both extremities.


As the liturgical ceremony of the Great Entry had been universally adopted in the Byzantine Church for a full half-century before the rebuilding of St Demetrius, these alterations in the arrangement of the sanctuary were clearly made to conform with its requirements. The fifth-century parabemata had provided the essential tripartite division, but the ceremonial of the Great and Little Entries in a basilica of the size of St Demetrius required a procession from a doorway at the extremity of the sanctuary rather than from one within the width of the nave. It is probably for this reason that the prothesis and diaconicon chambers were so situated.


More than any other part of the church, perhaps, the restoration of the colonnades of the nave reflected the changed conditions of life since the building of the church in the fifth century. Two massive piers occupied the positions of the columns in each row. In other cases damaged columns were replaced from other buildings. They were not always the right size and it was necessary to insert plinths of various heights beneath them. The capitals were a similar hotch-potch. Only a small number had survived the fire, and the seventh-century rebuilders did their best with what they could find from elsewhere, attempting only to match opposing pairs on the two sides of the nave.


This attitude of re-use rather than creating anew was not only due to the haste in which the church was reconstructed. No longer was there easy access to the workshops and quarries of the Proconnesus, and for fully a century the main energies of Thessalonian architects and builders had been concentrated upon fortresses rather than churches. Of all the proud basilicas of Greece and Macedonia that had been contemporary foundations of St Demetrius, few outside Thessalonica remained standing. A Slav king sat enthroned beneath the looted ciborium of the basilica of Corinth, and Chagan, ruler of the Avars, flaunted on his person the liturgical vestments which a Byzantine empress had presented to the great basilica of Nea Anchialos (Thebes). Even in Thessalonica probably any other church than that of St Demetrius, the city’s divine protector and never failing saviour, would have been left in ruins.





The Capitals of St Demetrius (Pls. 27, 28)


A great deal of scholarly attention has been lavished upon the capitals of St Demetrius, particularly in relation to their dating. For specialised treatments of the subject Sotiriou’s work on St Demetrius and Kautsch’s study of capitals generally must be consulted. [1]



1. G. and M. Sotiriou, op. dt. ; R. Kautsch, Kapitellstudien (BerlinLeipzig, 1936).





A full discussion on such detailed lines is out of place here. After the fire of 1917, a careful attempt was made to reproduce the previous forms of the capitals destroyed as exactly as possible. However, because the two fires followed approximately similar courses, most of the original capitals surviving the first still remain in situ to-day.


Capitals which with reasonable certainty belong to the fifth-century church are those of the two columns and the two pilasters of the tribelon; the pilaster capital at the western end of the south nave colonnade ; the capitals with imposts situated at the points where the eastern colonnades of the parabemata meet the chord of the apse, and those of the windows of the apse. A few also survived from the colonnades of the nave and parabemata.


All of the definitely fifth-century capitals in the nave are variants of the ‘Theodosian’ acanthus type in which the drill has been used to emphasise the light and shade effect of the acanthus leaves. The two capitals of the tribelon are representative of the classical ‘Theodosian’ capital, in which two rings of gracefully curving, serrated acanthus leaves rise from a crown of smaller, obliquely inclining leaves. Midway between the volutes a band of alternately erect and inclining leaves encloses a cross. Some of the nave capitals and those of the north wing of the bema are closely similar, although the latter have also intricately and finely carved imposts. Nearly related, too, are the capitals of the demi-columns where the colonnades of the parabemata join the chord of the apse. These, also, have carved imposts. As usual, in the apse windows the capitals are of a more simple type. Here carved, spiky, stylised leaves are inscribed within borders.


The pilaster capitals of the tribelon and of the western end of the southern nave colonnade are of particular beauty and delicacy. In the former the bust of a winged animal, in one case a lion and in the other a calf, emerges from a fringe of tiny acanthus leaves. The bust is flanked by two large, gracefully curving acanthus leaves carrying volutes and below are three more, similar in size and type, standing upon a line of smaller inclining leaves. In the latter, the principal of its three faces displays two pairs of peacocks drinking from a cantharus out of which grows a vine. This work is exceptionally graceful, the peacocks express life and movement and even such details as the ripples of their feathers and the patterns of their tails have survived to the present day. The four birds stand, framed among leaves, upon curved serrated acanthus leaves, which have been finely worked with a drill. Above them is an upper band of acanthus leaves, not drilled but of the fleshy, spiky type ; this band runs on all three sides of the capital. On the south face the lower zone consists of a purely formal design of acanthus leaves and spiral pseudo-volutes. On the north face, that is to say, the side facing the nave, there appear two birds in a vine bearing grapes.


Likewise fifth century, sometimes re-used from other demolished buildings but in many cases probably belonging to the original basilica, are a variety of other capitals. They include two Theodosian capitals standing on green columns in the southern nave colonnade. Although of a similar type to the others, Sotiriou considers these sufficiently different and inferior in execution to have belonged to some other, though more or less contemporary structure.


The capitals in the large western triple window of the narthex are also contemporary. A common fifthcentury type, they consist of two registers of four fleshy acanthus leaves, separated in the top row where the tips occupy the place of volutes, but touching in the lower. Sotiriou regards these as probably originally belonging to some other part of Leontius’s basilica.


Also within this category are the animal and bird capitals in the nave, where rams or eagles rise from behind a row of ‘Theodosian’ acanthus leaves and substitute for volutes. Such capitals, using either birds or animals, had a lengthy pedigree. Fourth-century b.c. Achaemenian Persian examples were in use at Susa and Persepolis. In first century a.d. Rome they are represented in the temples of Concordia and Mars Ultor. They are found in Pompeii. Dalton describes the tradition as ‘common in the Hellenistic world, and in the country of its origin (it) was continued in the sculpture of the later (Sassanian) monarchy. It was through Hellenistic channels that the fashion spread to East Christian art, and its popularity helped sculpture in the round to survive on capitals later than elsewhere.’ [1] The St Demetrius examples are some of the first appearances of this form of capital in Byzantine sculpture. Slightly later, in 447, it was used in the Golden Gate of Constantinople.



1. O. M. Dalton, East Christian Art (Oxford, 1925), p. 196.





Thereafter, until the end of the century, it was common in all parts of the Byzantine Empire.


Sotiriou considers that all but one of these capitals are probably from the original church, basing his conclusions mainly upon the general type and the execution of the acanthus leaves. The exception is a ram capital. This, though similar in detail to the others, is appreciably smaller.


Of later date than Leontius’s basilica is the late fifth- or perhaps early sixth-century example which has the ‘ wind blown’ acanthus as its decoration. Here two rows of acanthus leaves turn in opposite directions, presenting a contrast to the contemporary, single direction ‘wind blown’ form similarly re-used in the later Thessalonian church of Aghia Sophia. Found at Kalat Siman in Syria in the second half of the fifth century and in Ravenna until midway through the sixth, the ‘wind blown’ acanthus form achieved a considerable popularity during this period.


The seventh-century reconstructors of St Demetrius also introduced two types of capital which can be assigned to the sixth century. The first of these was a bird capital in which eagles stand upon a quite separate lower register of geometrically formalised acanthus leaves, a purely Byzantine development from the earlier and traditional form. The new capital became generally current in the sixth century, when it ousted its traditional prototype in popular favour, and was frequently found with a basket-work design in the lower panel. The second type of sixth-century capital is a fluted or lobe-shaped example decorated with stylised, symmetrical and lace-like foliate patterns, carved in sharp relief to accentuate the effect of light and shade. Those re-used in St Demetrius probably belong to the early sixth century. They are a little heavy and the formalisation is uneven. They foreshadow, but are still some distance from the superb examples that were to appear later in the century in SS. Sergius and Bacchus and Aghia Sophia in Constantinople and in S. Vitale in Ravenna.



The Mosaics of St Demetrius (Pl. 29-34)


If a generally agreed classification and dating of the decorative sculpture of St Demetrius has been achieved,


the same cannot be said for the mosaics, which are still to-day as fruitful a field for expert disagreement as exists anywhere in Christian art. [1] There is reason enough for this. An important series of panels, discovered on the northern arcades of the northern inner aisle in 1907, perished in the fire of 1917, while it was only in the course of the restoration work following this fire that several others were uncovered. Consequently, apart from whatever examples suffered destruction prior to this century, and of which there is no record at all, no one has even had the opportunity of studying together all that are known to have existed in our own time. Photographs were taken of those lost in 1917; but, valuable as these are, they are sadly inadequate beside the splendid originals which can still be seen in the church to-day.


The exceptional, indeed, unique relationship which existed between St Demetrius and his city adds to the difficulties of classification, for, as far as is known, the mosaics are not paralleled in any contemporary church. The devotion which the grateful Thessalonians rendered to their great protector and healer made his church a cult centre in many ways analogous to the pagan temples of an earlier era. In the context of Thessalonica’s history it was natural for citizens either wishing to express gratitude to or to request favours from the saint to erect in it votive mosaics — the up-todate and Christian version of the votive stele of pagan times. Such a practice was by no means confined to Thessalonica. From the fourth century onwards, it had been gaining in popularity throughout Christendom, particularly in those parts possessing a strong Hellenistic legacy of culture. On the other hand, it had aroused opposition, equally deeply seated and vigorous,



1. Principal works of reference on the subject are :

·       C. Diehl and M. le Tourneau, Monuments et mémoires, vol. xviii (Paris, 1910).

·       C. Diehl, M. le Tourneau and H. Saladin, Les Monuments chrétiens de Salonique (Paris, 1918).

·       C. Diehl, Manuel d’art byzantin (2nd ed.), (Paris, 1935).

·       M. van Berchem and E. Clouzot, Mosaïques chrétiennes (Geneva, 1924).

·       V. N. Lazarev, History of Byzantine Art (Moscow, 1947) (Russian).

·       G. and M. Sotiriou, op. cit. T. Uspensky, Some Mosaics of St Demetrius of Salonika, vol. xiv, Izvestija Russkogo Archeologicheskogo Instituta v Konstantinopolje (Leipzig, 1909) (Russian).

·       O. Tafrali, ‘Sur la date de l’eglise et des mosaïques de Saint-Démétrius de Salonique’, Revue Archéologique (Paris, 1909).

·       Xyngopoulos, H ΒΑΣΙΛΙΚΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ (Thessalonica, 1946).

·       Grabar, Martyrium, vol. ii (Paris, 1946), p. 87 et seq.

·       E. Kitzinger, Byzantine Art in the Period between Justinian and Iconoclasm. Berichte zum XL Internationalen Byzantinisten-Kongress, München, 1958 (Munich, 1958).





which stemmed mainly from Semitic and Anatolian regions. In the eighth century the controversy culminated in the iconoclastic revolution, which gained the upper hand in the Byzantine Empire from 726 to 843 and permanent sway in Islam (with the exception of Persia) from 745. St Demetrius in Thessalonica must certainly have been one of the strongest of all Christian cult centres ; but, particularly in Greece, many of the other important basilicas would have had similar potentialities. Most of these basilicas, however, were destroyed during the various invasions of the sixth and seventh centuries. As we have seen, during this time not only did St Demetrius give his wards good reasons for erecting appropriate expressions of gratitude, but, by preserving his city, he also ensured the survival of his church and its mosaic decoration — except for the damage caused in the unfortunate fire of the early seventh century. In turn, and doubtless with the saint’s aid, the citizens retained their votive images during the iconoclastic period, a feat that was almost comparable with the physical survival of the city. Possibly no iconoclast emperor felt powerful enough to order the destruction of the icons of St Demetrius ; for icons, that is to say, cult images clearly identified with the saint, these mosaics were.


Though the iconoclasts did not destroy the icons of St Demetrius they seem to have been able here, as elsewhere, to forbid or discourage the erection of new ones. Throughout the Byzantine dominions monumental figural art was halted for nearly a hundred and twenty years. When it restarted in the mid-ninth century, in matters of technique it was obliged to begin at die point where it had left off in the first half of the eighth. Thus very little difference may be apparent between mosaics erected immediately before and immediately after the iconoclastic period. This bridging of the iconoclastic gap is especially noticeable in areas where Hellenistic culture was inherent or had continued to be dominant, for the defeat of the iconoclasts was followed by a general Hellenistic revival in the Byzantine court and capital. In such circumstances, therefore, technique cannot always be an infallible guide to dating.


Moreover, in St Demetrius the various mosaic panels followed no set scheme. They were votive icons, erected by individuals whose principal qualification was probably in most cases an ability to afford a substantial contribution towards the rebuilding or other expenses of the church as well as to commission a suitable artist. In consequence, the panels were not the work of, or even carried out under the supervision of, a single artist.


It will be seen from these notes that any attempt at an analysis of the mosaics is more than usually subject to error. Consequently, any conclusions drawn need to be regarded with reserve. In the following study we shall consider the panels (omitting one or two which are very badly damaged) under the following heads :


A. St Demetrius and the Angels (Fragment).


B. St Demetrius with a Woman and Child (Fragment).


C. The Various Scenes on the Arcades of the North Inner Aisle belonging to the period prior to the SeventhCentury Fire (destroyed in 1917).


D. The Post Seventh-Century Fire Medallions of the North Inner Aisle (destroyed in 1917).


E. St Demetrius and the Builders.


F. St Demetrius and a Deacon.


G. St Demetrius and Two Children.

St Sergius.


H. The Virgin and St Theodore.


I. St Demetrius and Four Ecclesiastics.



A. St Demetrius and the Angels (Fragment) (Pl. IV)


This mosaic, of which only the top left-hand corner remains, is placed on the west wall of the inner north aisle immediately below the gallery.


A saint who, from his general appearance, we can unhesitatingly assume to be St Demetrius, stands on the left-hand side. He is dressed in a chlamys and has a deep golden halo. Only the upper part of his body remains. Emerging from delicately tinted clouds above him and to his right is an angel, with outspread wings and a golden, though smaller halo, blowing a long slim trumpet. The wing of a second angel can be seen to the right but the remaining part of the scene has been lost. While the attempt at realistic portrayal of the clouds appears a little naïve and crowded, the colouring is delicate and charmingly restrained. Against the silver clouds, edged with gently fading pale greens and pale gold, the richness of St Demetrius’s chlamys, the golden haloes, the deeper colouring of the





angels’ wings and robes all gleam with brilliant effect. The two heads are delicately modelled. St Demetrius has a rapt and attentive expression ; that of the angel is tender and compassionate.


The scene is unique among representations of St Demetrius. It is difficult to be certain what proportion this fragment is of the original area of the mosaic, but the position of the saint on the edge of the composition is probably an indication that he appeared more than once. Possibly the whole panel originally included the scene of his martyrdom. The subject of the surviving piece may be his apotheosis.


The tesserae used in this mosaic are in general rather large. They are all shapes and are not particularly carefully fitted together. The haloes are formed of horizontally laid tesserae.


Sotiriou considers this scene to have been part of the original decoration of the church and, on all grounds, a fifth-century date appears appropriate. On this assumption, it presents an interesting contrast with the end fourth-century art of the capital, represented in Thessalonica by the dome mosaics of the Rotunda of St George, and with the stylised soffits of ‘ Acheiropoietos’ (circa 431-50). The naturalness of the faces and the restraint of the colouring are indicative of a Greek artist, perhaps a local one.



B. St Demetrius with a Woman and Child (Fragment) (Pl. IV)


This panel occupies a corresponding position in the inner south aisle to the St Demetrius and the Angels mosaic on the other side of the nave. Again only part of the original scene remains.


St Demetrius stands in an attitude of prayer in front of a silver ciborium. On the right, against a landscape background, stand a woman and child. To the left of the saint legs and folds of garments belonging to another child are visible, from which it may be inferred that the original panel was a symmetrically balanced composition in which two mothers were portrayed in the act of dedicating their children to the saint.


This panel has an atmosphere and a beauty completely different from any of the others in the church to-day, but which compares with one destroyed in the fire of 1917 where the Virgin is shown receiving a child. St Demetrius stands on a low step in the foreground dressed in a plain gold chlamys with a purple or dark-blue tablion, a square patch of cloth signifying high rank. His hands are raised in prayer. His face, while flatter than in the previous panel, is yet modelled with a semblance of naturalness ; but it possesses an other-worldly expression akin to those of the martyr saints in the Rotunda of St George. The presentation of the saint is hierarchic. He is considerably taller and larger than the woman. There is the Byzantine accentuation of the height of the body in relation to the small head. Most striking of all, perhaps, are the hands, which are large — very large in comparison with the head and the dainty feet — and golden.


The ciborium behind the saint is a hexagon formed of silver spiral columns supporting arches upon which a silver roof rises to a point. Behind the saint’s shoulders reddish-brown screens with ‘fish scale’ decoration can be seen in the arched spaces. Probably this is intended to represent the famous silver ciborium of St Demetrius, the catching alight of which caused the Prefect of Dacia to sound the ‘false’ alarm, and save the city from the Avar and Slav attack of about 581.


The mother and child are both shown bending slightly forward, their hands enclosed within their phelonia in an attitude of dedication, an attitude which appears frequently in later periods of Byzantine art in scenes of the Communions of the Angels and the Aposdes. The schematically indicated folds of their phelonia, firmly avoiding any attempt at realism, convey an impression of movement that is spiritual rather than physical. A pillar, upon which stands a golden vessel (perhaps representing the vessel containing earth soaked with the saint’s blood), is behind the mother at the extreme edge of the composition and adds both to its balance and to its sense of depth. In the background a mountainous scene is depicted in Hat shades of yellow and green. It is bare except for stylised trees, the foliage of which spreads in three tiers in a manner exactly similar to the apex of a Buddhist stupa. The trees also incline as if to reflect the spiritual movement of the mother and child towards the saint.


The tesserae are brilliantly utilised, not only to indicate form and colour but to present the composition in a series of planes. Unless arranged to give





modulation to the phelonia of the mother and child and to produce a slight effect of contour and depth in the landscape, their regular, horizontal placement Stresses the effect of the strong, vertical or near vertical lines which are an emphatic feature of the panel. St Demetrius, hierarchically standing in the foreground, dominates the composition with a tremendous impression of spiritual power. He steps forward in the direction of the onlooker in the same insubstantial manner that the mother and child approach him. His chlamys, like his halo, is indicated flatly by horizontal rows of tesserae ; it hangs upon a disembodied frame. Only the head, with its calm, all-seeing eyes, and the large, golden hands — of the protector and the healer — raised in prayer, have substance.


This panel is the work of a great artist. As Diehl has pointed out, it is closely related to the lost panels of the north aisle and it must be considered together with them. Nevertheless, on its own evidence we must also admit a possible Alexandrian or Egyptian influence, particularly with regard to the landscape details, the outstanding features of which are the pillar with the vase and the three-tiered tree. Alexandria’s connections with India and the influence of Buddhism upon Egyptian monasticism have been discussed in Chapter I. In view of these links, the adoption of such a convention as a three-tiered tree to indicate a background and general atmosphere of holiness is easily feasible.


Whether the artist was an Alexandrian, or whether we may regard this mosaic as evidence of a strong Alexandrian cultural influence in Thessalonica at the time of its erection is more difficult to judge. The Hellenistic restraint and Alexandrian detail could be adduced in support of either contention. As we have seen, Thessalonica and Alexandria were closely linked in ecclesiastical matters and, while this may have been largely based upon a common antagonism towards Constantinople, cultural ties were an obvious consequence. Such ties are reflected again in the legend of Senoufias in connection with the church of Hosios David and in the foundation of the now entirely destroyed early Byzantine church of St Menas.


The old ecclesiastical alliance between Thessalonica and Alexandria may have caused an increasing number of Christians from Egypt to look to the Macedonian


capital for refuge during the sixth and seventh centuries. At this time Egypt was steadily becoming more and more impoverished. Not only was its trade falling away, internal strife and foreign invasions were taking a heavy toll of the country’s prosperity. During the reign of Justinian it was temporarily occupied by the Persian army. Finally it fell to the Arabs in 640. Thus incentive enough existed long before this last date for Egyptian Christians to emigrate to Thessalonica, and prior to the Arab conquest communications must certainly have been a great deal easier than afterwards.


As far as the date of this panel is concerned, in style and theme alike, it appears to fall between the St Demetrius and the Angels fragment and the panel of St Demetrius with the Builders, that is to say, the latter half of the fifth or sometime during the sixth century.



C. The Various Scenes on the Arcades of the North Inner Aisle belonging to the Period Prior to the Seventh-Century Fire (destroyed in 1917) (Pls. 29-31)


The mosaics of the north inner aisle fall into two main groups. The earlier are a series of votive panels, either commemorating miracles wrought by St Demetrius or expressing thanks to him for his intercession. The later comprise four commemorative medallions subsequently inserted into the earlier group, but having no connection with them. In addition, a number of purely decorative mosaics occupied the soffits of the arcades. These are described by Diehl as of a classical nature, similar to those of ‘ Acheiropoietos ’ and representing garlands of foliage and fruit entwined within ribbons of blue and red against a greenish-yellow background. They must be dated to the fifth or sixth centuries.


Probably covered over by the Turks when Sultan Bajazet II (1481-1512) converted St Demetrius into a mosque, after five hundred years these mosaics were again briefly revealed from 1907 to 1917, when they perished in the great conflagration. Unfortunately, in most cases the published water-colour reproductions give a very misleading idea of the beauty of these works, and to supplement the existing meagre black and white photographs, we have only the descriptions which, happily, such experts as Uspensky and Diehl





were able to make from their personal observation. The following account is based principally upon their narratives and Uspensky’s photographs.


The original panels of the arcades, in so far as they were revealed in 1907, can be divided into four compositions. A mutilated fragment at the western end, identified as St Demetrius with a Founder or a Donor, may represent yet another ; but this was too damaged for adequate description.


At the western end, the first recognisable composition shows St Demetrius, as usual dressed in a chlamys. This hangs in natural folds very similar to those in the mosaic in which the saint appears with the mother and child, but without the insubstantial impression achieved by carefully laid, horizontal lines of tesserae. He stands in the attitude of prayer between two pillars, the upper parts of which are destroyed. Above the rising arch of the arcade to the right, a man kneels before him, and, over this man’s shoulders, a medallion inscribed within a square frame displays the bust of a bearded saint or prophet whom Diehl suggests is iconographically reminiscent of Zechariah (Pl. 31a).


The second composition, within a different border, begins with two medallions within a rectangular field, which is situated over the centre and right-hand side of the arch. The medallions contain the busts of a female and a male saint, neither of whom has been identified. Then, still above the curve of the arch, St Demetrius is shown in the act of presenting a follower, presumably the donor of the panel, to the Virgin. The Virgin is enthroned, in a strictly frontal pose, the Child upon her knee, in the centre of the spandril. On either side of her stand two angels, with fair, wavy hair, silver haloes and dressed in white. They appear to be carrying banners and are turning towards the Virgin. To the right, as the curve of the next arch begins, and in a corresponding position to St Demetrius, there stands another saint, this time with a pointed beard and thin face, his hands raised in the attitude of prayer. He has no identification, but, as far as can be seen, he is of the iconographical type of St Theodore. Farther to the right are three more medallions containing, first, a male and then two female saints, the latter bearing the names of Saints Pelagia and Matrona. Below St Matrona is a small figure of a kneeling woman. Tafrali remarks that Bishop Alexander, probably the prelate who was reputedly responsible for the conversion of Galerius’s daughter and who took part in the Council of Nicaea in 325, erected a church off the Via Egnatia on the city’s outskirts to be a martyrium for the relics of St Matrona. A monastery, probably built around the site of the martyrium and consecrated to this saint, who was of Thessalonian origin, is mentioned in the Miracula as existing in the seventh century [1] (Pls. 29a, 30c).


The third composition is on a larger scale and is divided into four episodes. The key to it is given by an inscription, which speaks of a child with the name of Mary, who was miraculously given to her parents through the grace of St Demetrius.


The first episode of this story shows St Demetrius seated upon a red-cushioned stool beneath a hexagonal construction with open doors which must surely be his ciborium. He is presenting a young child to a richly dressed woman whose black hair is caught up by a large gold clip. The saint’s left hand is stretched out to touch another hand which extends from an almost totally destroyed medallion, presumably originally containing a representation of Christ and placed above the beginning of the curve of the next arch on the right. Farther over the curve of the arch, in a yellow mantle worn over a red tunic, stands the Virgin, her right hand similarly stretched out towards the mother and her left raised as though praying or blessing. Although standing in a position facing a sarcophagus placed in the right-hand foreground, she is turning away from it to watch the scene on the left. Young, human, full of compassion and inexpressibly beautiful, this conception is very different from the stately, enthroned Mother of God of the second composition. We can do no more than guess at the significance of the sarcophagus. Perhaps the couple’s first child had died, and Mary, given to them through the grace of St Demetrius and the Virgin, was their second, possibly born after a considerable interval (Pls. 30c, 29d).


Over the middle of the arch the composition has been interrupted by the later insertion of a bust of a saint with a beard and long black hair. An irregular dark-blue background jars against the soft green of the original, and encroaches both upon the sarcophagus and an aedicula on the other side (Pl. 30c).



1. O. Tafrali, Topographie de Thessalonique (Paris, 1913), p. 189.





This aedicula, which appears at the left-hand side of the second episode, has four ornate and bejewelled columns, an entablature and a triangular pediment. A great vase, or crater, recalling but not identical with that depicted in the mosaic of St Demetrius and the Woman and Child, hangs from its ceiling. In the spandril of the arcade the Virgin stands between two angels, who introduce to her, on the left, a woman wearing a gold dress and holding in her arms a child wrapped in a red mantle, and, on the right, a man richly clad in a gold tunic. All wear low red boots, a sign of exalted rank. The woman is obviously she who received her child from the saint in the first episode. The Virgin, again pictured in the act of turning and raising her hands in welcome, is the same human, but dignified Virgin of tenderness and youthful beauty, who appeared beside the sarcophagus (Pl. 29b).


Between this and the third episode three medallions, showing St Demetrius and two priests, together with an inscription beneath them, were interpolated at a later period. They have no connection with the story of Mary (Pls. 29b and c).


The third episode shows St Demetrius standing in front of a portico. He is framed by two gilded pilasters carrying a jewelled architrave. On either side are low colonnades, each of five dark columns. Presumably a cross section of the basilica of St Demetrius is intended ; the dark pillars may be a reference to the Thessalian green marble columns of the nave. Inside the building with the saint are, on the left, the woman and child who have already appeared twice, and, on the right, a second woman (or possibly the man — the condition of the mosaic is very poor here), all luxuriously dressed. Below the saint is a damaged and indecipherable inscription. Above the five pillars, to the right, is a medallion with an unidentified female saint (Pls. 3 o<j, 31c).


The fourth and final episode of this composition illustrates the ceremony of the presentation of Mary to St Demetrius. On the extreme left, above the centre of an arch, is a medallion containing a bust of Christ. Christ is presented frontally, but turning to watch the scene on the right, and the fingers of his right hand, raised in benediction, emerge from the lower edge of the medallion. The saint, the upper part of whose body is unfortunately missing, stands in the centre of the


spandril, making a gesture of welcome, apparently similar to that of the Virgin in the second episode, as the mother and father present their child to him. Mary, now, as Diehl observes, old enough to walk, brings the saint a gift of two doves in her hands. Behind the parents are two other women. An inscription below explains the episode, gives the child’s name and recalls the benefactions of her patron (Pl. 30b).


The remaining undamaged part of the scene consists mainly of landscape details. To the left, in the middle of a garden with trees, there stands, once again, on a high, square plinth, the hexagonal ciborium of St Demetrius with its pointed roof and a low chancel-type screen. To the right, beyond a gap in the mosaic, extends another garden containing trees and a gushing fountain. Diehl suggests that this may either have represented the fountain in the atrium of the basilica, or the Chapel of the Spring, which, according to the Miracula, was erected in the saint’s honour just outside the city. A small building beside it suggests the latter as the greater probability (Pls. 30b, 31b).


In the fourth composition, St Demetrius stands in the attitude of prayer in a scalloped apsidal exedra, the arch of which springs from an architrave supported on columns. Three diminutive persons gather around him, one touching his robe and the other two having their hands enveloped in their mantles in an attitude of dedication. Above, in the comers, small medallions frame the busts of two saints, identified by means of fragmentary inscriptions as Saints Cosmas and Damian, both as famed for their devotion to healing as was St Demetrius himself (Pl. 31b).


In spirit, in style and in many points of detail, these lost mosaics of the north inner aisle are unquestionably related to the surviving fragment in the south inner aisle showing St Demetrius with the Mother and Child. Like it, they belong to the pre-seventh-century fire period, for the subsequently inserted medallions of the saint and two ecclesiastics can be dated with reasonable certainty to the period of the church’s reconstruction. They may not all have been erected simultaneously, but there cannot have been a very great interval between the earliest and the last. Stylistically quite different from, and almost certainly later than the panel depicting St Demetrius and the Flying Angels, they





must all belong to the latter two thirds of the fifth or perhaps to the sixth century.


Yet two aspects stand out from the general air of homogeneity. They are firstly the medallion of Christ, and secondly, the two entirely different portrayals of the Virgin. The Christ, in so far as we can visualise Him from the available photographs, with His rather short beard and the expression of calm, omniscient dignity and profound feeling, belongs equally to the spirit of Constantinopolitan art of the ninth or tenth century.


The enthroned Virgin, with her attendant angels, is essentially an eastern inspiration. Here, without shadow of doubt, is the Theotokos, the Mother of God — Christianity’s Great Goddess — presented hierarchically and frontally in a manner identical with the ancient gods of the East, and similarly devoid of human emotions. Like the Virgin and Child on the ambo of St George, it could almost be a copy of the Syrian Virgin on the sixth-century plaque in the British Museum. We find other versions in an icon of Sinai (Hellenised, sixth century ?), in S. Apollinare Nuovo of Ravenna (first quarter of the sixth century), in the cathedral of Poreć (circa 550), in the Panaghia Angelokisti of Cyprus, where the Virgin appears standing (late sixth or early seventh century), in the crypt of S. Urbano, Rome (eighth century ?), in the Church of the Dormition at Nicaea (787), in S. Maria-in-Domnica, Rome (817-24), in Aghia Sophia in Thessalonica (circa mid-ninth century), in the Gospel of Etchmiadzin (late tenth century), in the Catacomb of S. Eremete, Rome (tenth century ?) and in Aghia Sophia in Constantinople (tenth century). In the West it was still used by Margaritone (circa 1216-93) and on a wall-hanging of 1300-50 (Pl. 5g). In the Byzantine sphere, influenced by Neo-Hellenism, it developed into the ‘Hodegetria’ (Pointing the Way) Virgin. Although this widespread acceptance of an image that stemmed wholly from Oriental origins is an indication of the successful penetration of Syro-Mesopotamian ideology, it must be noted how the enthroned Virgin of St Demetrius compares with the others in its emphasis of ahuman qualities — in spite of the fact that Thessalonica was essentially a Greek city, while Ravenna and Poreć, two chronologically close examples, were not.


The ahuman presentation of the enthroned Virgin is emphasised by its two neighbouring portrayals of the Virgin standing — firstly beside the sarcophagus and secondly welcoming the parents with their child. In both of these we see a completely Hellenic Mother of Christ, or Goddess, who is able to be glimpsed in half profile and in the act of turning, and whose expression is one of tenderness, compassion and human love.


It is tempting to think that no one artist could have been responsible for presenting the Virgin in two such different aspects. Possibly this was the case, but evidence to this end must be based upon technical points of style alone. The appearance of the enthroned Virgin, taken with Diehl’s comments on the decoration of the soffits of the arcades, suggests that these panels may have been erected sometime between 431, the date of the Council of Ephesus which established the Virgin as the Theotokos, and the end of the fifth century. Acceptance of the canons of the Council of Ephesus is clearly indicated. Yet this demonstration of allegiance, in part a political action, in part a reflection of Thessalonica’s long-established commercial relations with Syria and Egypt, and in part an instinct inherited from pre-Christian religions, did not automatically imply the discarding of other aspects of the Virgin, which, unconnected with the Theotokos question, were none the less fundamental to Thessalonian religious beliefs. So, beside the Theotokos — or Great Goddess of Asian origins — we see the Goddess of Love, Compassion and Beauty, through whom in earlier stages of their religious development, the Greeks had projected their pre-Christian ideals, using variously such pagan divinities as Pallas Athene, Aphrodite, Artemis and Semele the mother of Dionysus.


Unfortunately lost to us now, these images of the Virgin, the medallion of Christ, and possibly some others unknown to us, remained throughout the iconoclastic period, when so much else was destroyed. The end of iconoclasm in the ninth century, when Byzantine Christians were allowed to erect images once more, was not simply a victory for the monks and the iconodules, it signified the resurgence of Hellenism and the re-establishment of its forces as a counterbalance to those of the Orient in the Byzantine synthesis. Because in much of the Empire the only survivals of





pre-iconoclastic, Hellenic Christian art were illustrated manuscripts, the influence of the Thessalonian mosaics must have been particularly great in the field of monumental art, and they may well have provided some of the inspiration for the post-iconoclastic mosaics of Constantinople.


Had Thessalonica succumbed to the Avar and Slav attacks, as was the fate of almost every other city of the Balkans, it would have been sacked, burnt, and its population slaughtered or scattered. It is difficult to estimate the degree to which such a disaster would have set back the main stream of Byzantine art. Perhaps the effect would have been limited to whatever influence was exerted by Thessalonica upon Constantinople in the immediate post-iconoclastic era. On the other hand, the fall of Thessalonica would undoubtedly have altered the course of mediaeval Balkan art, which, with the rise of the Serbian Nemanja dynasty and the capture of Constantinople by the notorious Fourth Crusade in 1204, tended increasingly to look away from the Byzantine capital and towards Thessalonica and Mount Athos for artistic inspiration and leadership.


Was this the total sum of Thessalonian influence, and of these mosaics in particular ? The course of one iconographical theme, the Lamentation, in which the Virgin is depicted as an intensely human mother passionately grieving for her crucified son, a conception as far removed from the Byzantine Theotokos as were the Hellenic Virgins of St Demetrius, may indicate a much more far-reaching influence. Five versions of this theme are known to have existed in the Balkans, one in Thessalonica itself, the remainder within a radius of two hundred and fifty miles of the city, and all portrayed along almost identical lines. All are dated to the period of the twelfth century. They are the now lost wall painting in the Panaghia Halkeon in Thessalonica, [1] those in Anagyriou at Kastoria and at Kurbinovo by Lake Prespa, and the fragment preserved at Bačkovo in Bulgaria. The fifth, and the best known example, is at Nerezi and is dated 1164. In the following century this identical iconographic theme appears again, but in Italy. Here it is used, circa 1220, by the Master of St Matthew at Pisa. Around the turn of the century it is repeated by Giotto, in 1295-6 at Assisi and in 1303-5 at Padua. From first to last these scenes express an identical and, for the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a new spirit — the spirit of Hellenism or of the Renaissance, within this context only the terminology is different. Particularly in view of the existence of a Latin Crusader kingdom of Thessalonica in the first half of the thirteenth century, it is difficult to compare the humanistic Virgins of the Lamentation scenes with those of the destroyed mosaics of St Demetrius without acknowledging the possibility that the latter may well have played some, and perhaps a not unimportant, part in the origins of the Western European Renaissance.


The Virgin has a particularly prominent position in these panels and, as in only one case is she represented as the Theotokos, the decision of the Council of Ephesus cannot have been the sole reason. Moreover, a second great basilica, ‘Acheiropoietos’, expressly dedicated to her worship stood nearby and in succeeding centuries a great procession passed from here to the Basilica of St Demetrius on the eve of the principal day of the Feast of St Demetrius. Led by the archbishop of Thessalonica and his clergy, it symbolically retrod the saint’s road to martyrdom, ‘Acheiropoietos’ being identified with the place where he had been arrested while teaching. [2]


The lost north aisle panels demonstrate, however, that the Virgin was associated with St Demetrius in an intercessory or votive sense at quite an early date. Uspensky, on the basis of his researches in the Miracula, has propounded a theory in support of this, which Diehl, a more rational critic, dismisses, although conceding it to be ‘ingenious and subtle’.


Uspensky’s theory is based mainly upon a passage in the Miracula dealing with a time of dire civil strife during the reign of the Emperor Maurice (582-602). It is recounted that not only were people


drunk in the public squares on the blood of their neighbours, but they attacked each other in their homes and pitilessly murdered those within, so that they who lived



1. Drawings of this painting are published in : A. Grabar, La Peinture religieuse en Bulgarie (Paris, 1928), p. 59, fig. 13 ; and in A. Xyngopoulos, Thessalonique et la peinture macédonienne (Athens, 1955), p. 17, fig. 3.


2. O. Tafrali, Thessalonique au XIVe siècle (Paris, 1913), pp. 140-2; O. Tafrali, Topographie de Thessalonique (Paris, 1913), pp. 132-3.





in the upper stories were flung down to the earth — women and children, the old and the young, who because of their weakness could not escape by flight — and (citizens,) like the rough barbarians, plundered friends and relations and burned down their dwellings. In such a situation was Thessalonica. . . .


To make clear to all by whose intercession the city escaped from the jaws of a death that stretched out from Greece to Thessalonica, a dream was given to an honourable man, related to the then prefect of Illyricum who was in the city for the first time and still uninvolved in the questions occupying the community. In his dream he went to the church of St Demetrius.


Entering the church he saw the sacred receptacle and beautiful edifice which stands in the middle of the church on the left-hand side, six-sided in plan with six columns and as many little walls made of tested sheets of silver, with a roof, also six-sided, rising circularly and winding round a vault, and having above a sphere, beneath which in a circle are wonderful patterns from lilies and, on the top, a cross.


Seeing, in his dream, this God-given edifice which we call the holy ciborium, he asked those standing near, ‘What is the meaning of this wonderful creation in the middle of the church ?’ When he learned that this was the shrine of St Demetrius he expressed a desire to go inside it, whereupon he was led to the doorkeeper in front of the silver doors on whom depended admittance to the ciborium.


When the ciborium was opened for him, but before he had entered, he saw in its centre a couch, and at its head a golden throne decorated with precious stones upon which was seated the famous warrior of Christ, Demetrius, as he is portrayed on the icons, and, on another throne, at the foot of the couch and constructed of silver, he saw a woman seated. She had a majestic and beautiful appearance, was sumptuously dressed although without excess, and was gazing attentively at the martyr.


When, in the dream, he was standing inside the ciborium, the woman rose and went towards the door. The Great Martyr, rising with much ardour, took her by the hand, and seated her again upon the throne, saying, ‘ For the sake of the Lord, do not go out from here, and do not leave the city ; thou shouldst never do this, and especially at the present time.’ Then the man, deciding not to go farther into the ciborium, bowed and left, asking the doorkeeper, ‘Tell me, who is this woman sitting with the martyr ?’ He replied, ‘Then you do not know her ? She is known to the whole city, and she is always with our martyr.’ ‘But I.’ said the newcomer, ‘am not from here and do not know her. Do not be angry and say her name.’


The doorkeeper answered, ‘It is the Lady Evtaxia, whom God a long time ago commended to the warrior himself, and he protects her, not allowing her to go out from here, as thou hast seen.’ Upon this, the man awoke.



As Uspensky remarks, this story must have origins deeply rooted in the pre-Christian religions of Thessalonica. A feminine goddess, whether regarded primarily as a divine mother or a divine consort, was an essential part of the Thessalonian and, indeed, Macedonian-Thracian religious tradition. The Cabiri had been the protectors of Thessalonica before St Demetrius had replaced them. A tradition has ascribed to them the saving of the city during the Gothic siege of 269. [1] The Cabiri, it will be recalled, were the attendants of the Samothracian Great Goddess. The bloody sacrifices and Games held in honour of the Cabiri were repudiated by their Christian successor, but the association of St Demetrius with Christianity’s Virgin was instinctive. The Lady Evtaxia, however, was probably not directly associated in the popular imagination with the Virgin, as is implied by Uspensky, for the story related above indicates quite clearly that she was, like the city itself, his ward, with perhaps an implication of a spiritual consort. In fact, the admonition of St Demetrius, ‘For the sake of the Lord, do not go out from here, and do not leave the city ; thou shouldst never do this, and especially at the present time’, implies that the Lady Evtaxia was rather regarded as the Tyche or Fortune of the city. In parenthesis it is of interest to note that ‘Evtaxia’ possesses the meaning of ‘discipline’ or ‘good order’, demonstrating on the part of the saint a down-to-earth appreciation of his unruly and impetuous proteges’ character as well as a truly Greek capacity for self analysis on the part of the Thessalonians. Nevertheless, during the sixth century and thereabouts the Virgin, in the mind of the populace, must have been steadily assimilating the identity of the Lady Evtaxia, and Uspensky may well have been correct in suggesting that in the north-aisle mosaics this identity was implicit in the portrayal of the two Hellenic Virgins.



1. E. Lucius, Die Anfänge des Heiligenkults in der christlichen Kirche (Tübingen, 1904), pp. 223-4.





D. The Medallions of the North Inner Aisle inserted after the seventh-century fire (destroyed in 1917) (Pls. 29h and c)


Three commemorative medallions were erected on the arcades of the north inner aisle after the reconstruction of the church in the first half of the seventh century. They were inserted between the second and third episodes of the story of the child Mary. Beneath them a panel carried an inscription reading :


ἐπὶ χρόνων Λέοντος ἡβῶντα βλέπεις

καυθέντα τὸ πρὶν τὸν ναὸν Δημητριόυ


In the times of Leo you see made young again the

church of Demetrius earlier burnt.


The centre medallion, which is placed slightly higher than the other two, contains a bust of St Demetrius. The two on either side are both ecclesiastics, the one on the right of St Demetrius (the spectator’s left) is a deacon, the other a bishop. Both appear again on other panels, from which it is clear that they played roles of importance in the rebuilding of the church. The deacon appears on a panel alone with St Demetrius and the bishop is represented on another as one of the church’s builders.


The reference to ‘the times of Leo’ in the inscription has been considered by some authorities to be applicable to one of the Byzantine emperors, either Leo III (717-41), an unlikely candidate in view of his iconoclastic record, or Leo IV (886-912), who is much too late, as, in fact, is also Leo III. These mosaics, and others of approximately the same date, are not likely to be later than the second half of the seventh century and can probably be placed about the middle of it or a decade earlier. The Leo of the inscription, therefore, is now generally considered to have been probably a Prefect of Illyricum or some other high official of whom this, with the possible exception of the next mosaic to be considered, is the only surviving record.


The personalities and significance of the two ecclesiastics will be discussed in connection with the other mosaics in which they appear.



E. St Demetrius and the Builders (Pl. 32)


This panel, which is complete and undamaged, is situated on the north face of the pier at the south-east corner of the nave. By virtue of its relation to the nave and bema, the position was one of great importance. St Demetrius appears standing between two men, one a bishop and the other a secular official. Underneath an inscription reads :


κτίστας θεωρεῖς τοΰ πανενδόξου δόμου ἐκεῖθεν ἔνθεν μάρτυρος Δημητριού τοῦ βάρβαρον κλύδωνα βαρβάρων στόλω(ν) μετατρέποντος κ(αὶ) πόλιν λυτρουμένου.


You see the builders of this famous house on each side of St Demetrius, who averts the barbarians’ terrible naval might and saves the city.


Unlike the mosaics we have been discussing hitherto, St Demetrius here does not occupy the foreground, but stands behind his companions. His chlamys, with its tablion of nobility, is luxuriously decorated with a diamond-shape pattem, and opens on the saint’s right side to reveal a no less splendid garment beneath. Y et the frame upon which these hang is even more emphatically incorporeal than in the panel where he appears with the Woman and Child. His arms, which he places around the shoulders of his two companions, leave his chlamys and other garment quite undisturbed. Only the relatively small, ascetic face, with its unsmiling and penetrating eyes, comes to life against the flat background of its golden halo.


This ascetic and insubstantial character of St Demetrius contrasts almost dramatically with the vivid personalities of his companions. Their faces are full of individual and robustly human character and, similarly, their clothes hang in folds that, while formalised, are natural to their stance. The bishop, his rank indicated by the omophorion around his shoulders, has a thick, dark beard and a prominent, hooked nose. In his phelonion-enveloped arms he carries a large Bible and, as befits his rank, his demeanour is dignified and relaxed, but none the less serious, with even a hint of severity. The secular official has obviously an altogether different personality. Wearing a rich tibennion and carrying in one hand his staff of office and in the other either a purse or perhaps a roll containing the law, he stands, alert, tensed and vigorous, as if in the act of giving a command. Neither of the two men gives the slightest hint of being aware of the physical presence of the saint, although both are obviously dominated by and tinder the protection of his spiritual power, indicated through his action of placing his hands upon their shoulders.





In its technical details as well as in its projection of the spirituality of St Demetrius and the authoritative but very human personalities of his companions, this mosaic is an artistic achievement of a higher order than the famous Justinian and Theodora panels of S. Vitale in Ravenna. For all the richness and delicacy of the colouring, the message conveyed in this mosaic is essentially religious, and a faithful interpretation of the relationship of St Demetrius to those under his protection.


The saint’s two companions are so vividly presented as to give the impression of being contemporary portraits. The bishop, in fact, is not difficult to identify. He has appeared before in one of the medallions in the north aisle which were probably erected immediately after the seventh-century reconstruction of the church. It is a reasonable assumption, therefore, to regard him as Bishop John, one of the authors of the first books of the Miracula S. Demetrii, a doughty defender of the city against the Avars and Slavs in their attack of 617–19, as well as the bishop whose comment on his predecessor was that he never failed to take an opportunity to re-tell the story of his own glorious role during the Avar siege of 586. This supposition tallies with the inscription beneath the panel which may refer to the naval siege which took place between 617 and 619, and in which the garrison was saved through St Demetrius invoking a storm to wreck the enemy ships.


The secular official is more difficult to identify. Much depends upon whether we are to regard the rectangles framing the two officials’ heads as square haloes or part of the battlements of the wall in the background. Opinion is divided upon this point, Uspensky, supported by Van Berchem and Clouzot, taking the former view, Diehl the latter. Sotiriou follows Diehl, but suggests that the implication of haloes was possibly intentional.


The rectangular halo was used to signify a living person. This accords well with the lively expression of the secular official whose face appears quite as much a portrait as that of the bishop, who, if John, was almost certainly alive about the time when the mosaic was erected. On the other hand, powerful arguments can be ranged to support the opposite view. Firstly, the rectangular fields are not only uncommonly mundane in colour, but they are exactly the same tint as the walls and carry a corresponding horizontal line. It is hardly credible that an artist of such subtle brilliance and with every material facility and mosaic technique at his disposal should have represented walls and haloes in an identical manner. Nor would he have hung a substantial cloth over a halo, he would surely have draped it behind as in the mosaics of St Demetrius and the Two Children and of St Sergius. Secondly, the representation of Bishop John in the lost mosaic of the north aisle does not include a square or even a round halo. Square haloes, in fact, are a Roman feature which appear particularly during the eighth and ninth centuries. About the second quarter of the sixth century, in S. Vitale in Ravenna, Justinian and Theodora were given circular golden haloes, as was Justinian in S. Apollinare Nuovo. At this time, a mere ecclesiastical dignitary, his foundation or rebuilding of a church notwithstanding, rated no halo at all, as we see from the portraits of Ecclesius and Maximianus in S. Vitale and Euphrasius and his archdeacon in the cathedral at Poreć.


When the historical circumstances, the Eastern influences which are all prevalent in the art of St Demetrius, and the lost north-aisle portrait of Bishop John are taken into consideration, it seems most unlikely that there was any intention even to suggest the semblance of a halo for these two persons. On the contrary, battlements were most appropriate. Thessalonica at this time was an embattled city and Eusebius and John were not its only bishops who achieved fame as military commanders as well as spiritual leaders.


Who, then, was John’s companion on the left-hand side of the saint ? While the vividness of the portrait argues a contemporary, the sources leave us in ignorance of suitable candidates, although the fact that Bishop John happened to be the author of the chronicles in question, and was not a writer who tended to stress the reputation of a rival and, particularly one who was a secular official, should not, perhaps, be forgotten. The inscription beneath, which refers to the ‘builders’, suggests that it may be the Prefect Leontius, the original founder of the church in the fourth century. While proof is entirely lacking, authoritative opinion to-day generally accepts this view as the most probable.





The main argument against, the lively, portrait-like character of the official, loses a great deal of its force in the light of the exceptional ability of the artist. There also exists, however, the possibility that the official may be the Leo of the north-aisle inscription, in whose ‘times’ the church of St Demetrius was ‘made young again’.


In conclusion we may say that historical and stylistic evidence combine to date this mosaic to about the middle of the second quarter of the seventh century. A truly great work of art, it is an invaluable witness to the spirit of its age.



F. St Demetrius and a Deacon (Pl. 32)


This mosaic is on the east face of the south-east pier of the nave, a position which places it at the division between the bema and the diaconicon and where it would not be visible from the nave. It was not discovered until the reconstruction of the church following the fire of 1917.


In its general tone this panel is more subdued than the previous one. St Demetrius wears a greyish-white chlamys decorated with golden markings. His left hand is lifted, not in the attitude of prayer but rather in the gesture of salvation. His right rests on the shoulders of a white-bearded ecclesiastic, who wears a stikarion, a long and sleeved grey gown, with a narrow orarion hanging over his left shoulder to denote his status as a deacon. The ornamental covers of the Bible or Gospels which the deacon carries in his left hand and the gold of his orarion are the only splashes of colour on his attire. Like the two Builders in the neighbouring mosaic, his head is framed against the curtained battlements of the city walls.


Sotiriou has identified this deacon with the one appearing with St Demetrius and Bishop John in the destroyed seventh-century medallions of the north aisle. It is interesting to note that he is also carrying the same holy book. Fortunately, owing to the devoted researches ofTafrali, [1] we know, if not his name, a few details about his life, as well as the reason why he, a simple deacon, was placed at the right hand of the saint in the north aisle while his bishop appeared on the left, and why he is to be seen a second time alone with the saint.


In one of the early manuscripts of the Miracula, Tafrali discovered a passage, which recounts how, after the fire had died down, ‘one of those whose duties lay in the church of St Demetrius ’ lamented when he saw it in ruins and reproached the saint for having allowed his sanctuary to burn. That night, St Demetrius appeared to him in a dream and reassured him that the church would soon be fully as beautiful as before. ‘The servant of the martyr’ then arose and told his dream to his superiors, ‘those who were more qualified than he’. But these superiors were seized with doubt. They wondered how, at such a time, it would be possible to restore the church. Where would they find the workmen and the necessary money? However, the saint again intervened, and asked God to inspire ‘some souls he knows’ so that his home should be given back to his people, as beautiful as before. The plea was answered and, not least among the miracles of St Demetrius, the church was rebuilt.


There can be little doubt that this ‘servant of the martyr’, in answer to whose grief the saint had appeared in a dream and had even interceded with God, is the deacon twice represented in post-fire mosaics. Indeed, it was a happy chance of an otherwise cruel misfortune that the fire of 1917, which destroyed the seventh-century medallions amongst so much else of irreplaceable value, should have been responsible for the discovery of this panel, in which St Demetrius rests his hand upon the deacon’s shoulder. On stylistic as well as historical evidence it must have been erected at the same time or very shortly after the mosaic of St Demetrius and the Builders, though probably by another and less great artist. It is in all respects more humble, but although the presence of St Demetrius is again spiritual rather than physical, a feeling slightly less skilfully conveyed in this mosaic than in the other, the deacon reverently and proudly touches the chlamys of the saint with his right hand, an act which tells us that his beloved martyr had indeed appeared to him in person.


There was nothing vainglorious about the position of this mosaic. Away from the public gaze, it stood in the diaconicon, where the deacon and the others of



1. O. Tafrali, ‘Sur la date de l’église et des mosaïques de Saint-Démétrius de Salonique’, Revue Archéologique (Paris, 1909), pp. 98-9.





his order performed their offices. The inscription beneath was equally in character. It ran :


† πανόλβιε τοῦ Χριστοῦ μάρτυς, φιλόπολις,

φροντίδα τίθη κ(αὶ) πολιτῶν κ(αὰ) ξένων.


Blessed Martyr of Christ, friend of the city, protect

the citizens and strangers.



G. St Demetrius and Two Children (Pl. 33a). St Sergius (Pl. 33 b)


The panel of St Demetrius and Two Children appears on the west face of the pier occupying the eastern end of the northern nave colonnade. Situated above the level of the architrave surmounting the chancel screen, it was visible from all parts of the nave and, except where piers or pillars intervened, from the aisles.


St Demetrius, supernaturally tall as before and clad in a splendid chlamys with the tablion, differs most noticeably in appearance from his other images in having luxuriantly thick and wavy hair. The spirituality conveyed by the large, serene but penetrating eyes and the elongated, formless body is still there ; but the generally ascetic nature of his face which is so powerful a feature of the other compositions is here replaced by a physical beauty and a carefully moulded plasticity.


The two children — the authorities differ quite categorically as to their sexes — stand slightly in front of the saint. Both wear a simple chlamys with a tablion as an indication of their noble blood, and both have the large eyes and penetrating gaze that are characteristics of their protector. St Demetrius raises his right hand in the gesture of salvation and rests his left on the shoulder of one of the children, although this act does not appear to disarrange the folds of his chlamys. Above a wall in the background, a curtain of green and gold, of similar material to that hanging upon the battlements behind the two Builders, is hung behind his halo. It does not, however, impinge upon it as is the case with the curtain behind the battlements.


The icon of St Sergius occupies the west face of the pier at the eastern end of the south colonnade of the nave. Its position corresponds to that of the mosaic of St Demetrius and the Two Children, similarly situated at the end of the north colonnade.


St Sergius stands alone. He is as disproportionately tall as St Demetrius and similarly has a mass of curly hair. His hands are raised in prayer and he, too, wears a splendid chlamys and tablion, as well as his characteristic golden circlet around his neck. The decoration of the chlamys, consisting of trefoils alternating with rayed circles within other circles, has been superimposed without regard to the folds of the garment. The background of wall and ceremonial curtain behind the halo is similar to that of the corresponding St Demetrius panel.


A comparison with the probably sixth-century icon of SS Sergius and Bacchus from Sinai, and now at Kiev, makes it clear that the Thessalonian panel (unless a copy of the Sinai icon) faithfully reproduces an already established image of the saint. Sergius and Bacchus, both officers, had been martyred during the persecution under Diocletian, and they were particularly revered by Justinian, one of whose first acts on gaining the throne was to found a church in their honour in Constantinople.


In style and in many matters of detail the panels of St Sergius and St Demetrius and the Children are so similar as to be almost certainly contemporary and probably the work of the same artist. To suggest a firm date is more difficult. While, as we have seen, St Sergius, a martyr of the east Syrian desert, strictly conforms to his iconography, St Demetrius, in his own church and city, and surrounded by other uniformly orthodox examples, does not. In view of the preciseness observed in Byzantine art over iconographic details, the different arrangement of hair might be held to argue a very much later date than the other mosaics of St Demetrius. Yet it seems improbable that two such prominent positions would be left vacant for long while other less important sites were being used.


In view of their situation the donor of these two mosaics is likely to have been an exceptionally wealthy and powerful person. Such a person would not necessarily have limited himself to local talent. The panels showing St Demetrius with the Builders and with the Deacon may perhaps be regarded as Thessalonian work, reflecting those Syrian influences currently dominant in the liturgy and in ecclesiastical architecture. Do those of St Demetrius and the Children and St Sergius represent the work of another part of the Christian world where Hellenism had remained the dominant influence? If so, the puzzling differences would be more accountable.





The links between Thessalonica and Alexandria and the possibility of Alexandrian influence appearing in the panel of St Demetrius with the Mother and Child have already been mentioned. About the same time as the reconstruction of the church in the second quarter of the seventh century, the Moslem Arabs were entering upon their era of conquests and Egypt fell to them in 640. Although few examples have survived of the art of the Egyptian provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai was successful in preserving a number of icons from this period. That of SS Sergius and Bacchus has already been mentioned as bearing close similarities to the panel in Thessalonica. Another, still at Sinai, shows the Virgin and Child enthroned between two saints. The saint on the left, from his appearance presumably St Theodore, wears a chlamys decorated with a design that, if slightly more simple, is similar to that worn by St Sergius, and has been applied with precisely the same disregard for the garment’s folds. The other saint, identified as St George and wearing a chlamys, has his hair arranged after the fashion of St Sergius.


If these two panels were the work of an immigrant Alexandrian artist we would have also an explanation for the unusual softness of St Demetrius’s expression obtained by delicately modulated shading. This was a Hellenistic and Roman feature which Greek Egypt retained longer than anywhere else in the early Byzantine world. It would also be an explanation of the large, penetrating eyes, a characteristic of the children as well as of the two saints.


Should this supposition be correct, the two panels may be more or less contemporary with that of St Demetrius and the Builders, that is to say circa mid-seventh century.



H. The Virgin and St Theodore (Pl. 34)


This panel stands on the south side of the north-east pier of the nave. It faces St Demetrius and the Builders, and presents the Virgin in semi-profile.


The Virgin’s right hand is raised in prayer, while her left holds a scroll, upon which is written :


Δέησις. Κ[ύρι]ε ὁ Θ[εό]ς, εἰσάκουσον τῆς φωνῆς

τῆς δεήσεώς μου, ὅτι ὑπὲρ τοῦ κόσμου δέομαι.


Supplication. Lord God, hear the voice of my

prayers, for I pray for mankind.


On the right-hand side a saint stands in a frontal position, his hands lifted in prayer. He wears a finely decorated chlamys with a tablion, and this, taken with his long thin face, pointed black beard and thick black hair, indicates him to be St Theodore, another military saint, the same probably who appeared with the Virgin in the north inner aisle.


A wall, without battlements, rises to shoulder height in the background. Above this, at the top of the panel, a small bust of Christ appears in a half-orb of light — probably symbolising the Heavens, but perhaps not entirely lacking animplication of Christ-Helios—from which radiates alternating wide and narrow beams of light. In general, the colouring of this mosaic is more sober than in the others, but this impression is to some extent due to the dark red mantle of the Virgin and the plainness of most of the background.


Only part of the votive inscription at the bottom of the panel remains. It reads :


. . . ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἀπελπισθεὶς παρὰ δὲ τῆς σῆς

δυνάμεως ζωοποιηθεὶς εὐχαριστῶν ἀνεθέμην. Κλήμης.


. . . discouraged by men, saved by your strength, in

thankfulness I dedicate this offering. Klimes.


The differences between this mosaic and its companion-pieces have generally led to its being regarded as a later work, possibly tenth or eleventh century. Sotiriou, however, points out that it is not, in fact, very different in style from the panel showing St Demetrius and the Two Children, and suggests that it cannot be later than the ninth century. Yet if we examine the figure of St Theodore apart from the rest of the composition and compare it with that of St Sergius, it is difficult to come to the conclusion that more than a few years can separate the two, although St Theodore is not, perhaps, quite so skilfully or splendidly executed. Moreover, St Theodore is fully as ‘Alexandrian’ as St Sergius and the small image of Christ at the top of the panel is a feature of several early Sinai icons. In the case of the Virgin a particular problem arises through her half-profile stance, which presents her face at an unusual angle. Nevertheless, one circa seventh-century painting of the Virgin, that in S. Maria Novella in Rome, is remarkably like the Thessalonian image, both in spirit and in certain stylistic points. Talbot Rice says of this panel:





‘the painting (is) carefully and subtly modelled, and the tones merge gently one into the other; the characteristic Byzantine highlights are completely absent. Especially noteworthy are the delicately pink tones of the flesh, laid over a green undercoat, and the almond-shaped eyes with eyebrows curling over them like hooks and forming a continuous line with the shadow of the nose.’ [1]


The early eighth-century wall paintings of S. Maria Antiqua in Rome and the late sixth- or early seventh-century Virgin in the apse of the Panaghia Angelokisti in Cyprus are other interesting comparisons. In the latter the Virgin is shown full face, but the type is clearly the same and the clothing and its arrangement almost identical. St Theodore appears beside the Virgin in one of the fifth- or sixth-century Sinai icons. His great reputation as a soldier would also particularly endear him to the Thessalonians of around this time.


It seems that the customary later dates for this mosaic require reconsideration and that it may well belong rather to the middle of the seventh century. Whatever the date, perhaps more important is the fact that the Virgin is here a prototype of the long line of later images of her as the intercessor for mankind, either in the scene of the Crucifixion or in the Deisis.



I. St Demetrius and the Four Ecclesiastics (Pl. 33)


This is a badly damaged panel on the narrow wall between the tribelon and the western end of the north inner colonnade.


St Demetrius, wearing a chlamys with a tablion, stands between and a little behind two bishops, whose rank is indicated by the omophoria which both wear. Their heads and that of St Demetrius have been destroyed, it would seem deliberately. The saint’s hands rest upon the bishops’ shoulders as they do in the mosaic of the Builders. Flanking, and standing slightly behind the two bishops are two other ecclesiastics. The one on the left has a short dark beard and dark hair. He is dressed in a stikarion and the orarion over his left shoulder shows him to be a deacon. The one on the right is white bearded ; the phelonion he wears indicates that he is a priest.


The remnants of a circular halo can be seen above the shoulders of St Demetrius and there are light rectangular panels behind the heads of his four companions. A curtain hung on rings from the upper edge of the mosaic completes the background. No wall is visible behind the five persons and the arrangement of the light-coloured rectangular panels, particularly the narrow intervals between them gives the impression that in this case they are more likely to have been intended as square haloes of living persons than as battlements.


The two heads that have survived are vivid characterisations and show every sign of being contemporary portraits. Although of decidedly inferior workmanship the mosaic is obviously modelled upon that of St Demetrius with the Builders. However, the presence of two living bishops with the saint is strange. Possibly a copying of the earlier mosaic in order to accrue some of its prestige was, at least in part, the reason for inserting what appear to be the ‘haloes’.


This panel, therefore, probably belongs to a later period than that of the Builders, perhaps to some time during the eighth century.





The Church of the Holy Virgin, ‘ Acheiropoietos’, Thessalonica’s second great fifth-century basilica, is ignored by any literary source known to us until the tenth century. Architectural evidence, however, places it in the first half of the fifth, and it seems reasonably certain that it was constructed between 431, the date of the Council of Ephesus, and the middle of the century. ‘Acheiropoietos’, ‘Not Made by Human Hands’, is a description that referred to a miraculous icon of the Virgin. From it the church, in which it was placed, took its early and now universally used name.


In view of the popularity in Thessalonica of pre-Christian maternal dieties, it was only to be expected that its citizens might express their allegiance to the Christian faith by rendering especial homage to the Mother of Christ. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, had maintained the doctrine of dual human and divine natures of Christ,



1. D. Talbot Rice, The Beginnings of Christian Art (London, 1957), p. i12.








with its corollary that the Virgin was the mother, not of the divine, but only of the human Christ. When, therefore, the Council of Ephesus rejected this doctrine, and upheld instead the contention of Alexandria and Rome that the Virgin was, indeed, Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Thessalonians welcomed the decision enthusiastically. It occurred at a time of expanding prosperity, of indulgence in a passionate zest for theological argument, and of popular resentment against the capital. In these circumstances, the construction of a new and splendid church, dedicated to the Mother of God, was an appropriate manner of commemorating the Council’s confirmation of the divinity of the Virgin and the condemnation and overthrow of the Patriarch of Constantinople who had dared to deny it.


After the Turkish conquest ’Acheiropoietos’ was converted into a mosque and was known as Eski Djouma. In the course of time its Christian beginnings and even its original name became completely forgotten. Western travellers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including Felix de Beaujour, Cousinéry and Colonel Leake, all describe it as an ancient temple of the Thermaic Venus or Aphrodite, itself an interesting reflection of the strength of the city’s ‘Great Mother’ tradition.


In plan, ‘ Acheiropoictos ’ is a plain, Hellenistic-type basilica with a semicircular, protruding apse lit by three windows. The nave is separated from the two aisles by rows of twelve columns ; above the aisles arc galleries. A western narthex opens into the nave through a tribelon and also has access to each of the aisles. A high, triple window, however, replaces the usual central doorway leading from the atrium, with the effect that those outside cannot view the sanctuary and apse until they have come inside the narthex. In addition to entrances from the narthex, doorways in the north and south walls give direct access to the aisles. The total length, including apse and narthex, is 50 metres. The nave alone is nearly 37 metres long and 15 1/2 metres wide. The aisles are 7 1/2 metres in width.


Pelekanides points out that, although in its ground plan ‘Acheiropoietos’ conforms to the normal Hellenic type of early Byzantine basilica, it is exceptional in its subtly asymmetrical disposition of windows in two rows, separated by a marble course, to relieve the effect of heaviness and monotony which the long and high north and south walls might otherwise give. As a result, and by virtue of unusually strong walls, the architect has been able to achieve lightness without any sacrifice of architectural unity. The outside wall of the apse has decorated marble slabs below the windows, a feature which, as Pelekanides also mentions, does not appear in other Macedonian or Greek basilicas of the fifth century. Probably in its original state the building had clerestory lighting, but this does not exist now. [1]



1. S. Pelekanides, ΠΑΛΑΙΟΧΡΙΣΤΙΑΝΙΚΑ ΜΝΗΜΕΙΑ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ (Thessalonica, 1949).





The interior reflects the same impression of a unified architectural conception gained from the exterior. The lines are clean and simple. The twelve columns lining each side of the nave are of greyish-white marble. All have the same Corinthian-type of capital, featuring the upright, overhanging acanthus upon which the drill as well as the chisel has been used, and all are particularly finely executed. In a longitudinal section of the church, Texier and Pullen (who are not always accurate on points of detail) indicate parapets comprising series of marble slabs, each decorated with a cross contained in a horizontal diamond outline, between the Ionic columns of the galleries, but these no longer exist. [1] The two columns of the tribelon are of green marble.


The only pieces of mosaic decoration to survive the centuries occupy the soffits between the columns of the nave, those of the two arches which project the lines of these columns into the narthex, the three soffits of the tribelon, and those of the south gallery. Each one of these is an individual composition; but, although no two are identical, all are characterised by a superb richness of colouring and luxuriance of ornamental design. The motives are extremely varied — intertwining vine scrolls; flowers, particularly lilies, or foliate and fruit-bearing branches rising from ornate vases and sometimes containing wreaths encircling crosses (both the four-armed Latin and the star monogrammed forms of cross are shown) ; interlacing foliate, fruit-bearing or pine-tuft wreaths enclosing crosses, sacred books, vases, birds, fish lying on elaborate dishes ; entrelacs and geometric designs enclosing birds and fruit within multi-coloured octagons ; stylised trees of life, plumes and peacock-eye patterns. These designs are within borders that are equally varied and appear against backgrounds of richly gleaming gold often teeming with fruit, flowers and birds. A comparison with the early fourth-century soffit illustrated in Plate 9 shows the traditional nature of some, at least, of these compositions.



The south face showing the original clerestory windows. (Reconstruction by Orlandos)



Nevertheless, these were but minor details — like the mosaics in the vaults of the bays in St George — of what must have been a great unified artistic scheme devoted to the glorification of the Mother of God. We know nothing at all of what was once in the apse and on the walls of the nave.



1. C. Texier and R. P. Pullen, Byzantine Architecture (London, 1864), Pl. xliii.





We may guess that representations of saints and probably Christ and the Virgin formed the major part, for these would understandably have been destroyed either by the eighthcentury Christian iconoclasts or by the later Turks as inimical to Islamic tenets. Perhaps along the walls there were processions of saints, forerunners of those in S. Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna. If so, the beauty of the soffit mosaics is sufficient evidence for us to be sure that there would have been none of that stiffness and absence of characterisation that mark so many of the Ravenna figures, particularly those of the male saints. The Galla Placidia chapel in Ravenna and the Baptistery of Soter in Naples were approximately contemporary structures, and perhaps in their mosaics we may find the safest guide available to-day should we try to recall in our own imaginations the majesty of mid-fifth-century ‘ Acheiropoietos’.


Fig. 70. BASILICA OF THE HOLY VIRGIN ‘ACHEIROPOIETOS’, THESSALONICA. The arrangement of the sanctuary in the fifth century. (Reconstruction by Xyngopoulos)



The bema originally extended into the nave as far as the third pair of columns. Presbytery seats were ranged north and south of the altar and not in the apse. [1] There is no structural evidence of side chambers and the white marble slabs which form the nave floor reach to the eastern wall. In the arrangement of its sanctuary too, therefore, ‘Acheiropoietos’ follows the simple Greek basilical plan and rejects the Oriental tripartite tendencies which had already appeared in St Demetrius and in the dome mosaics of St George. This is readily understandable in view of the fact that the building of ‘Acheiropoietos’ had taken place at a time when Thessalonica was stubbornly and vigorously ‘kicking against the pricks’ of Constantinople and expressing its loyalty to the Bishop of Rome in obstinate defiance of imperial decrees. Its form was, perhaps, also an indication of the revival of Roman prestige under the leadership of Pope Leo the Great (440-61). Yet, as in the cases of its sister Hellenistic basilicas in Greece and the Aegean islands, the sanctuary was no longer in the fourth-century Roman position of the middle of the nave, but placed at the eastern end.


Before the Turkish conquest, ‘Acheiropoietos’ was the centre of a group of conventual buildings serving various social and philanthropic purposes including care of the aged and the sick and provision of meals for the poor. These buildings have long since disappeared. The small fifth-century single-apsed baptistery adjoining the south wall is still, however, in existence.





In 1917, while building a military barracks in a suburb of Thessalonica known as Tumba, the foundations of a basilica dating back to the fifth century were discovered. These were excavated and examined, but after this, unfortunately, the necessities of war reasserted their priority and the construction of the barracks proceeded.


As originally built, the Tumba basilica is generally of the ‘Acheiropoietos’ rather than the St Demetrius type. It has a central nave of greater width than the two lateral aisles combined, a semicircular, protruding apse and a narthex of the same width as the aisles. The dimensions of the nave and aisles are 15.50 by 13.30 metres. A tribelon is situated at the west end of the nave and a chancel screen with a central opening extends from the apse to occupy over a third of the length of the nave. Sotiriou has convincingly demonstrated



1. A. Xyngopoulos, ‘Concerning Acheiropoietos Thessalonica’, ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΑ, vol. ii, 1941-52 (Thessalonica, 1953), p. 472 et seq. (Greek).








that two lines of five columns, 1.80 metres apart as in ‘ Acheiropoietos’, divided the nave from the aisles. [1]


In the middle of the sanctuary was discovered the remains of a small T-shaped reliquary crypt, measuring 1.10 by 1.80 metres. Above this was probably the altar.


The basilica stood in the centre of a number of subsidiary and adjoining buildings. The north and south walls were projected east beyond the apse. Connected by another wall, they gave a rectangular aspect to the east end of the basilica. This enclosure, which was probably not roofed, was used as a burial place and had an entrance into the north aisle. Alongside this aisle were two rectangular chambers, the more easternly having an apparently inscribed apse at its east end. The other, which opened into the narthex as well as the north aisle, was divided into two by piers, and served as a baptistery. However, the recent excavation of the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica at Philippi with its northern pastophoria opens the possibility that these annexes were originally rooms for the diaconicon and prothesis and thus evidence of Northern Mesopotamian influence. Another room, with a southern apse, extended south from the narthex. An exonarthex ran along the western termination of the entire complex.


Such a plan in a Thessalonian church suggests a date before the middle of the fifth century. In time, alterations came to be made. An extension of the chancel screen found in the north aisle is likely to have been made in the second half of the sixth century to provide space for a new prothesis chamber. Later still came the replacement of the lines of columns by piers. Three on each side, these were spaced at unequal distances from each other and from the terminating walls (2.80 m., 3.60 m., 1.30 m., 3.40 m.). This substitution of piers may have been necessitated by a decision to change the roof from one of Hellenistic timber work to a dome. Since the district of ‘Tumba’ lay outside the city walls it is likely that enemy destruction afforded opportunity enough for constant remodelling of the church on more up-to-date lines.





Excavations which were started shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War interrupted the work, indicate that the fortifications of Heraclea Lyncestis were strengthened or perhaps rebuilt sometime around the fifth century. The same excavations also uncovered parts of two churches situated close to each other within the walls of the citadel. [2, 3, 4]


The larger and probably the earlier of the two was a single-apsed basilica with a nave and two aisles that had been built over the foundations of an earlier building. The excavations did not reveal the full length of the church, nor the nature of its narthex or atrium. That it was of considerable size, however, is shown by the width of the nave, more than 9 metres, and the aisles, approximately 5 metres. Stylobates carrying colonnades had separated the nave from the aisles, but these were too badly damaged to determine the positions of the columns. The basilica had once possessed a mosaic floor of which scattered tesserae remained the only evidence. The apse, semicircular inside and, except for a short straight termination at its southern end, with a semicircular exterior, was supported by three buttresses similar to those of the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica at Philippi.



1. G. A. Sotiriou, ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΚΗ ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΣ, 1929 (Athens), pp. 177-8.


2. M. Grbić, ‘Excavations at Heraclea’, Umetnički Pregled, ii, 1938 (Belgrade), p. 351 (Serbian).


3. M. Grbić, ‘Excavations at Heraclea Lyncestis near Bitola’, Umetnički Pregled, 8, 1939 (Belgrade), pp. 231-5 (Serbian).


4. M. Grbić, ‘Ausgrabungen in Heraclea Lyncestis bei Bitolj in Südserbien’, Bericht über den VI. Int. Kongress für Archäologie, Berlin, 1940, pp. 180-1.






Black areas indicate pre-war excavations, dotted areas are an approximation of the results of current excavations



Steps descended from a doorway at the east end of the north aisle into a room which inscribed the apse on its northern side and from which a stylobate carrying the marble bases of columns ran in a southerly direction in front of the apse, presumably to a similar room inscribing the south side of the apse The excavations did not extend as far as this, but the supposition is supported by the squaring-off of the apse on the south. A brick-paved area east of this colonnade led into a courtyard, some 70 metres square, which was floored with finely executed and well-preserved mosaics.


This mosaic courtyard seems to have been part of the building complex belonging to the second basilica. An eastern doorway led from the mosaicfloored courtyard into another, somewhat larger, paved with slabs of marble and with a fountain in the middle. This served as the atrium of the second basilica although it was probably constructed as part of an earlier building. In the apparent absence of a narthex it opened directly into the nave of the basilica, the excavation of which was begun by Grbić and which is now being continued after a lapse of twenty years.


This basilica, considerably smaller than the earlier one, comprised a nave and two aisles and a single protruding apse that was semicircular inside and three-sided on the exterior. The stylobates of the chancel screen and its central opening were uncovered and the floor, which was composed of small black and grey marble slabs arranged in simple geometrical patterns, had also survived in quite good condition (Pls. 36e and f). Here were also found sculptured


chancel slabs, pillars and capitals of various dates. Some of these have unfortunately since disappeared. In the course of the current excavations evidence has also been discovered of a curtaining-off of the eastern end of the southern aisle.


The mosaic floor of the courtyard between the two churches is composed of three panels of different widths which rim, strip fashion, from north to south (Pl. 360). The easternmost panel consists of spiral interlacings containing two rows of alternated birds and fruits within geometrically-patterned borders of squares and hexagons. Next to this is a narrow strip displaying three groups of opposed birds or beasts — water fowl (Pl. 36a), a lioness and a bull (Pls. 36c and d) and peacocks — each separated by an amphora. Also within this strip are two patches inserted at a different date and executed with larger tesserae. One patch shows a geometrical design within a square border (Pl. 3 the other, placed upside down and impinging upon the hindquarters of the lioness, water fowl.


The third and most westerly mosaic panel is the largest. It is bordered by strips of interlacing squares and circles enclosing water fowl, of which Grbić comments that they are types of local birds which still abound in the nearby lake into which the Cerna Reka flows. Within these borders two narrow bands of spiral interlacings contain the main design — three rows of square fields, each separated from the





next by a series of diamond-shaped lozenges. Each of the squares frame some such symbol as a vessel, a basket of fruit or a four-leaved cross.


In one place this panel, too, is interrupted by a patch of different mosaic showing an approximately life-size peacock, superbly executed in particularly rich colours and with smaller tesserae than the rest (Pls. 36a and b). It is obviously an interpolation, either a later repair or, more probably, a piece of an earlier work retained in a later composition because of its exceptional beauty. Thus three different periods are represented on the floor. The first is almost certainly the peacock, perhaps a relic of the days when the Via Egnatia was at the height of its prosperity. Whether the interpolations in the second strip are earlier or later than the main design is more doubtful; the manner in which one of them impinges on the lioness supports a later date, on the other hand it is strange for a repair to be inserted upside down into a design.


Until more of the surrounding buildings have been excavated it is difficult to estimate the function of this courtyard in relation to either of the basilicas. It must be a different date from the atrium of the second basilica, to which it became attached, because its southern wall was given a double thickness to bring it into alignment with the wall of the atrium. [1] The interruption of the mosaic in its north-east corner by a brick-covered channel running in the direction of the fountain in the atrium implies that the mosaic floor existed before the erection of the second basilica.


The present excavation will, it is hoped, provide a chronology for the second church and its various alterations. Possibly they may also provide more information on the first. This, with its unusual east end reminiscent of some of the Salona churches and embodying certain Syrian characteristics, may be fourth or early fifth century. The peacock in the mosaic floor may be its contemporary and have belonged to an annexed building, destroyed, like the basilica and much else in Heraclea Lyncestis during the Gothic wars. So far, however, nothing has been found which would establish such a connection.





Stobi, a Hellenistic, Roman and early Byzantine city, was strategically placed at the confluence of the Černa and Axios (Vardar) rivers. A hundred miles or so north-west of Thessalonica, it was an important junction in the road network established by the Romans in the Balkans. Four roads radiated from it. One travelled north-west to Scupi, and thence to Naissus on the great south-east route from Viminacium on the Danube to Byzantium ; the second northeast to Sardica, also on the same Pannonian-Bosphorus highway; the third south-east to Thessalonica; and the fourth to Heraclea Lyncestis. Since both the latter cities lay on the Via Egnatia, it is clear from a glance at the map that the greater part of the traffic connecting the two principal east-west land routes of the Empire could hardly do otherwise than pass through Stobi. The city’s combined strategic and commercial importance ensured a steady increase in prosperity until the barbarian invasions of Italy, the growing insecurity of the second half of the fifth century in the Balkans and the invasions of the sixth brought about its decline and eventual ruin. A great earthquake in 518 probably swiftly accelerated the process.


Kitzinger, in a valuable summary of the information gained from excavations in Stobi up to 1940, [2] describes the town as


situated within the general orbit of Byzantium, prosperous in the fourth, fifth and early sixth centuries, yet sufficiently stagnant afterwards that the traces of this prosperity were not obliterated. . . . Probably sometime in the fourth century the province of Macedonia II (Salutaris) was created ; it existed until sometime in the sixth century and Stobi is said to have been its capital. In 3 88, Theodosius I issued two laws from Stobi. These two traditions — its rise to the rank of a provincial capital and the Emperor’s visit — may perhaps suggest an increased importance of the town just at the time when some of the earlier Roman city blocks seem to have undergone a thorough rebuilding. The next political event is the sacking of the town by Theodoric in 479.



1. I am indebted to Dr. G. Stričević for information on the excavations in progress at the time of writing.


2. E. Kitzinger, ‘A Survey of the Early Christian Town of Stobi’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 3 (Harvard, 1946). This includes a full bibliography on the subject to the year 1940.





Thereafter we have no definite mention of the town in any worldly capacity except for a passing reference in Cedrenus’ description of the wars of Basilius II.


In the ecclesiastical field we know of bishops of Stobi taking part in various Councils during every century from the fourth to the seventh. According to Grujić, during that period it was a metropolis with three eparchies. The last time we hear of a bishop of Stobi is in 692. [1]


In view of the conditions of life in the central Balkans during the seventh century, it may be doubted whether the latter-day bishops of Stobi exercised much influence in or even entered their titular see. Cedrenus’s mention that Basil II and his Byzantine army occupied Stobi during their campaign against the Bulgarians in 1014 implies that it remained a fortified urban centre after the Slav settlement, or at least was not destroyed as was Caričin Grad. Nevertheless, the city never appears really to have recovered from the sack of Theodoric and the earthquake, two events which took place within less than a quarter of a century of each other.





Stobi’s leading church in the fifth century was a large basilica known, from an inscription on the lintel of one of its principal doorways, as the Basilica of Bishop Philip. A Hellenistic type of basilica, it comprised a nave and two aisles, a semicircular, protruding apse, lit, probably, by three windows, no transept, a narthex, galleries above the aisles and probably also over the narthex. The total length was approximately 53 metres and the width 29 metres. West of the narthex was an atrium, upon which the presence of a road and probably other earlier buildings imposed a more or less triangular shape. The south aisle, which narrowed slightly from east to west, is another indication that the church was planned to fit into a space strictly limited by standing buildings. The narthex, in which two pairs of columns projected the nave colonnades, had a northern doorway opening on to a small square room which may have served as a baptistery. Adjoining it, at least one more long, narrow room flanked the north aisle, to which it was connected by a doorway.


The stylobates of the nave embodied two registers, one carrying the columns of the nave and a second, immediately behind and higher, carrying a mullioned screen. [2]



1. E. Kitzinger, op. cit. pp. 148-9.


2. B. Saria, ‘Neue Funde in der Bischofskirche von Stobi’, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts, 1933, pp. 112-39.





Access between the nave and aisles was provided at the western ends, but the eastern terminations are less clear.


In the general arrangement of the bema the Basilica of Bishop Philip seems to follow the model of ‘ Acheiropoietos’. There are no indications of parabemata. Beginning at the western ends of two opposing banks of presbytery seats, situated close to the chord of the apse, stylobates carried a chancel screen into the eastern end of the nave. Nikolajević-Stojković points out that the frontal stylobates were moulded after the fashion of an Attic base, while for those at the sides old seats taken from the theatre were used. The lateral chancel slabs had massive frames decorated on both sides with acanthus, vine, ivy and other carved ornamentation, but those placed in front were decorated with open work. Holding these slabs were short, square, mullion-type pillars [1] (Pl. 40).


The arrangement of the apse is of particular interest. Egger, who excavated the church, reported the following discoveries. Firstly, the floor of the apse was 1.75 metres below that of the bema, which was raised 0.24 metres above the nave. Secondly, there existed the remains of an interior wall, concentric with that of the apse and separated from it by a corridor one metre in width. In the centre of this wall was a colonnade of three pillars, the bases of which were found in situ. On the inside, one on either side of the colonnade, were two small niches. Thirdly, in the centre of the chord of this inner ‘ apse’ was a west wall, containing a somewhat wider, central niche and separated from the western ends of the inner ‘apse’ by two openings. [2] The purpose of these openings was not investigated at the time of the excavations. We must therefore leave open the possibility that they may have led to a reliquary crypt beneath the altar (Fig. 74).


Fig. 74. BASILICA OF BISHOP PHILIP, STOBI. Plan of apse and bema



Steps, replaced at a later date by earthen ramps, provided access from the bema to both the north and south ends of the corridor of the crypt. It was possible, therefore, for persons to enter from one end, and while passing along the semicircular corridor, to see whatever lay inside the inner apse, possibly even entering it, before they left by climbing the steps at the other end.


As a martyrium, or cult edifice holding sacred relics, Grabar points out that variants of this form of crypt were to achieve very considerable popularity in western Europe from, at latest, the second half of the seventh century onwards. He quotes numerous examples in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and England, beginning with the crypt of S. Apollinare-in-Classe (648-71), and suggests that the example of some particularly famous monument, perhaps the church of St Peter in Rome, may have been responsible. [3]


Grabar’s view was soon confirmed by the publication in 1951 of the results of the excavations of the Constantinian basilica of St Peter. Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) decided that the Constantinian shrine of St Peter needed remodelling to give it a form more appropriate to contemporary religious practice. Toynbee and Ward Perkins describe his reconstruction of the shrine as taking


the form of raising the whole of the area within the Constantinian apse some 1.45 metres above the old pavement-level to form a new, raised presbytery, and of incorporating within it, below this new floor-level, a crypt, known as the Covered (or Semicircular) Confessio. To allow for steps leading up to the presbytery and down into the crypt, the raised platform had to be carried nearly six metres forward into the transept. . . . The crypt, the purpose of which was to provide access to the tomb-shrine beneath the pavement of the



1. I. Nikolajević-Stojković, Early Byzantine Decorative Architectural Sculpture in Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro (Belgrade, 1957) (Serbian with French summary).


2. R. Egger, ‘ Die städtische Kirche von Stobi Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts, 1929, pp. 42-87.


3. A. Grabar, Martyrium (Paris, 1946), vol. I, p. 457 et seq.





raised presbytery, consisted of a semicircular corridor, immediately against the inner face of the Constantinian apse, and an axial passage leading from the head of the apse to the back of the shrine. The semicircular passage, which was entered by two doors in the flanks of the platform of the presbytery, immediately against the west wall of the transept, is still substantially preserved. [1]


Fig. 75. BASILICA OF BISHOP PHILIP, STOBI. Capitals from the crypt



Yet, although Rome appears to have set the fashion for this kind of martyrium in western Europe, the Stobi crypt had been built, and perhaps destroyed, long before Gregory ascended the throne of St Peter. From where, then, did Stobi draw its inspiration? St Demetrius in Thessalonica is certainly the most likely answer. The crypt of this church is very much larger and more complex, but, when originally built, it was a part of the Roman baths ; and its conversion into the crypt of a Christian basilica was an architectural accident. Nevertheless, it also contains a semicircular apsidal construction enclosed within an ambulatory, although, as far as can be seen, at Stobi the only access to the ambulatory came from the bema.


Evidence of mosaic flooring has been discovered in the narthex and in the south aisle, although only in the central part of the narthex has it survived in reasonably good condition. Here eight square sections, seven of



1. J. Toynbee and J. Ward Perkins, Shrine of St Peter (London, 1957), p. 216.





which have been preserved, are enclosed within a border of interlaced circles containing such symbols as birds, flowers and vessels. They cover an area of 12.5 by 6.25 metres. The ornamental motifs of the sections vary. They include a fish-scale design and geometric patterns of various kinds and complexity. In others, animals are the principal subjects. One section presents two sheep on a medallion in the centre of an eight-pointed star, while in the comers canthari stand between opposed ducks and peacocks. In another a large medallion encloses two opposed lambs drinking from a shallow vessel of milk. Another portrays, in a manner reminiscent of Scythian art, a bear attacking a cow or bull (Pls. 41, 42).


Glass tesserae discovered during the excavation of the apse indicate that here, at least, were wall mosaics.


Fig. 76. ST PETER’S, ROME. The sanctuary as rebuilt by Pope Gregory the Great



Wall paintings were used to decorate the nave, aisles, narthex and parts of the apse and crypt. However, except for traces of imitation marble revetment in the form of a parapet or balustrade on the walls of the narthex, the only recognisable fragments discovered by the excavators lay scattered among the debris on the floor of the nave and narthex (Pls. 43, 44). Only one, the head of a saint (Pl. 44c), came from the nave ; the remainder were found in the narthex. Unfortunately, these pieces suffered further injury during the last war, some being destroyed, others damaged, so that we must depend very largely upon photographs taken about the time of the excavations in the late 1920s and early 1930s.


The imitation marble revetment on the walls of the narthex is very similar to a fragment found in Basilica A at Philippi, [1] and the two may be contemporary. It also reflects more simply, some of the motifs of the mosaic floor.


Our ignorance of the positions of the fragments, chiefly heads, belonging to the narthex makes it extremely difficult to suggest the compositions of which they may have formed part. One tiny fragment is part of a head that, unlike the others, which are all of smaller dimensions, appears to be life-size. However, a close examination of the pre-war photograph (Pl. 43 d), which I publish through the courtesy of Professor Mano-Zisi, shows it to be part of the head of a Hon (cf. Pl. VII) and not of a man as has been customarily thought. Is this then part of a Daniel scene, or does it represent the Lion of St Mark ? If the latter, is it to be linked to the remains of a Greek inscription also found in the narthex which Maximović suggests may be a summary of Christ’s reply to the women of Samaria :


‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ ? [2]


Such a link might suggest a scene similar to the Vision of Ezekiel in the apse of Hosios David in Thessalonica, where an inscription also refers to the ‘life-giving spring’, although it seems unlikely that such a scene would be placed in the narthex. Nevertheless the inscription probably does refer to some form of Source of Life scene which may or may not have included the Lion of St Mark.



1. P. Lemerle, Philippes et la Macédoine Orientale (Paris, 1945), Pl. xxxiv.


2. J. Maximović, ‘Contribution à l’étude des fresques de Stobi’, Cahiers Archéologiques, x, 1959, pp. 207-16. The photographs accompanying this article include the fragments of imitation marble revetment from the narthex. A reconstruction of this appears in Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 3, 1946, fig. 151.





Technically, the fragments of the human figures are of great interest, particularly as they are unique examples of early Byzantine painting in Macedonia. In the most recent study of this subject, Maximović says :


The frescoes have a dark red outline, sharply defined. Yet this is not solely linear painting. Inside the outlines the faces are modelled very freely. The effect of light and shade is obtained by colour contrasts : shadows are brown, sometimes emphasised by grey or violet-blue, whilst the light parts are painted in greenish or pink tones, with occasional white spots. This ‘impressionist’ technique of late antiquity, already known in early Christian catacomb painting, is here combined with a very marked outlining of head, nose and eyes. [1]


The Roman catacomb paintings with which the Stobi examples show similarities are all, however, considerably earlier. They also belong to a period when Oriental influences predominated in Christian Rome. The paintings in Sta Maria Antiqua, S. Saba and S. Paolo-fuori-le-Mura, which are nearer in time, use quite a different technique. A closer comparison is to be found in the fifth- to seventh-century icons of Sinai and still nearer are the many wall paintings that have been found at Dura Europos, a fact which, although the Dura Europos paintings, like most of the comparable examples in the Roman catacombs, are not later than the third century, argues Syrian influence. The sideways glance which is a characteristic of the heads is also found in the destroyed north aisle mosaics of St Demetrius in Thessalonica, and this may provide one clue to the route by which this Oriental influence arrived.


Maximović dates the Stobi paintings to about the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, that is to say after the sack by Theodoric in 479 and before the earthquake of 518. At this time it is probable that the church underwent a certain amount of reconstruction and the floor mosaics of the narthex may have been inserted about the same time.


No less individual are the capitals of the nave and galleries (Pl. 38). Of those from the two colonnades lining the nave, two have the Late Roman-Early Byzantine-type of fleshy leaved acanthus and a heavy, degenerated form of cyma, volutes and abacus. A second acanthus form is the thorny ‘Theodosian’ type. A third, of which one badly damaged example was found, seems to fall between the other two ; it has a fleshy but denticulated leaf. Fourthly, we come to a capital, comprising two registers, where the denticulation of the leaves is so emphasised as to render them more like those of a fern than an acanthus. In the lower register the leaves are upright and curving outwards in the customary Corinthian manner, while in the upper the plants’ long stems spiral against the surface of the capital in a manner reminiscent of a vine rather than either a fern or an acanthus.


The capitals of a fifth group depart still further from tradition. Their lower registers consist of either the thorny or the ‘fern’ acanthus, but above these are different and varied reliefs of animals and birds, the latter including peacocks and eagles. These are represented extremely naturally and are full of life and movement. One capital shows, for instance, a hunting scene in a forest with a hound attacking a deer. Trailing ivy branches are also a common feature. Lastly, we have a capital where the badly damaged lower register apparently consists of the earlier, fleshy acanthus, and the upper of four addorsed eagles with outspread wings, the tips of which just touch each other.


Some, at least, of the imposts above these capitals from the nave colonnades were carved with varied forms of fleshy acanthus leaves in low relief. Generally the style appears to have been formal and symmetrical, but in one case a most vivid impression is given of an acanthus bending before the force of a strong wind (Pl. 39 j-l).


The excavations also yielded eleven Ionic impostcapitals from the galleries. Only one of these may be regarded as completely finished. Some have no decoration at all, the others have either no or very little carving except on their fronts. Even this has not always been completed. In every case the main motif is the acanthus leaf, sometimes incorporating a cross in the centre of the principal face. As in the nave capitals, however, the artist or artists have exercised full freedom in their presentation of the acanthus. Sometimes, spreading realistically or sometimes arranged in a completely formal,



1. J. Maximović, op. cit. p. 212 (trans.).





stylised and symmetrical manner, each capital is an individual creation, quite distinct from the others. In one case even the Ionic base is replaced by one that is round (Pl. 39 a-i).


While we know that the church was the foundation of a Bishop Philip, unfortunately we do not possess a full list of Stobi’s bishops with their dates. On the evidence of the capitals, and to a certain extent on other sculptured fragments of parapets, the chancel screen and the platform of the ambo, the basilica has usually been dated to about the end of the fifth century or the first quarter of the sixth. [1] This has been revised by Stričević and Nikolajević-Stojković, who base their arguments in support of the second quarter of the fifth century on the large amount of new evidence with regard to Balkan sculptural decoration which has come to light in the course of the last three decades. [2]


It is impossible here to give an adequate review of the detailed arguments for and against the various dates. However, Sotiriou’s researches into the basilica of St Demetrius in Thessalonica have incidentally shown that the links between the fifth-century sculptural decoration of this church and that of the Stobi episcopal basilica have not generally been given sufficient prominence. While, as Egger has pointed out, the fragment of the Stobi chancel screen may resemble in its decorative form one of the chancel slabs of S. Vitale, it is also closely related to fifth-century motifs in the sculptural art of St Demetrius.


Historical reasons can also be adduced in favour of a date around the second quarter of the fifth century. It was a time of peace and prosperity — except for brief, though savage, Hun invasions—maintained by the firm rule of Theodosius II (408-50), and one far more appropriate to the erection of a large and splendid basilica than any subsequent period. It was also a time when Thessalonica still retained the artistic leadership of Illyricum, a leadership that the troubles of the second half of the fifth century were to destroy, and which Constantinople was briefly to supersede during the last two-thirds of the sixth, before the whole region was overrun by the Slav invaders. This would explain the relationship of the sculpture in the Basilica of Bishop Philip with those of St Demetrius, built in the second decade of the fifth century.


Nikolajević-Stojković suggests that Bishop Philip may have been the predecessor of Bishop Nicolas, who is known to have attended the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but that Philip died before his church was finished. Under his successors it proceeded slowly and on a less splendid scale. Probably, as Egger suggests, the work was made possible by means of legacies and donations, which would help to explain the variety of workmanship and occasional use of inferior materials, including the substituting of wall paintings for mosaics.







In 1918 a basilica was excavated in the western outskirts of Stobi. Consisting of a nave and two aisles, a



1. Arguments summarised by Kitzinger, op. cit. pp. 107-9, and by Nikolajević-Stojković, op. cit. p. 7 et seq., p. 80 et seq.


2. I. Nikolajević-Stojković, op. cit. and G. Stričević, Ranovisantiska Architektura u severnim provincijama Ilirika (unpublished).





semicircular, protruding apse, a narthex and either an exonarthex or an atrium, it measured 29 metres long, including the apse and narthex, and 17 metres wide.


There are no indications of parabemata and the bema extended into the nave in Greco-Roman fashion. An unusual feature, however, was the existence of what appears to be a second, internal and concentric apse. Additional rooms were placed both north and south of the narthex. Fine floor mosaics found at the time of the excavations were unfortunately destroyed soon afterwards.


The church was built above existing graves, the vaults of which in some cases served as foundations. [1] A number of other graves were discovered close by. It seems probable, therefore, that the building may have served as the principal cemetery church for Stobi, and to this extent was linked to Bishop Philip’s Basilica. In this case the ‘double apse’ may have possessed some special significance connected with this church’s martyrium crypt.


The excavators considered this church to have been built in the fifth century, a date which subsequent research has left unchanged.








In 1937 a basilica was discovered and partially excavated within the walls of Stobi. Standing some thirty metres to the north of the ‘ Synagogue’ Basilica in the same street, it possessed a quatrefbil baptistery joined to a room north of the narthex and the north aisle. [2]


Two flights of steps descended a steep drop from the street level to a colonnade forming the west front of the church’s exonarthex. In front of this colonnade water gushed from a spring into a basin and performed the function of the ceremonial fountain usually placed in the atrium. Marble-lined niches were found beside the pool. Two doorways led from the exonarthex into the narthex, which, in turn, had three entrances into the nave and aisles. The exact disposition of these entrances is not clear.



1. J. Petrović, ‘U Stobima Danas’ (‘Stobi Today’), Glasnik Hrvatskih Zemaljskih Muzeja u Sarajevu, 1942 (Croatian).

(Following new excavations in 1936, an account of this church was also written by C. Truhelka in Glasnik Skopskog Naučnog Društva, iii, 61, but I have not had an opportunity of consulting this. Pre1940 references appear at the end of E. Kitzinger's Survey of ‘The Early Christian Town of Stobi' in Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 3 — R. F. H.)


2. J. Petrović, ‘The Baptisteries of Stobi’, Umetnički Pregled, 9 (Belgrade, Nov. 1940), pp. 263-7 (Serbian); ‘U Stobima Danas' (‘Stobi Today'), Glasnik Hrvatskih Zemaljskih Muzeja u Sarajevu, 1942 (Croatian), pp. 463-525.





The main body of the basilica consisted of a nave and two aisles and a semicircular, protruding apse. The arrangement of the sanctuary must await further investigation, but the preliminary report speaks of loose tesserae from a mosaic floor. Side-chambers were built to the north and south of both narthex and exonarthex. In the room north of the narthex portions of the original mosaic floor were uncovered. Squares enclosed within ‘rope’ borders display in one a chalice, in another a sack or basket of fruit, and in others various birds. The pattern is similar to that in a room in the neighbouring ‘ Summer Palace’, but in artistry and in execution it is definitely inferior. In addition to the door opening from the narthex, another, in the east wall, led from this room into a quatrefoil-shaped baptistery, with a piscina covered by a ciborium. Persons about to be baptised could, therefore, have awaited the rite in the anteroom to the west of the baptistery. After baptism, a doorway connecting the baptistery and the north aisle would have given them direct access into the church.


The single semicircular apse is a Greco-Roman feature and conforms with other Stobi basilicas. On the other hand, the side chambers of the narthex and the exonarthex are among the indications of Anatolian influence that appeared during the reign of Justinian. The quatrefoil apse, moreover, recalls the inscribed quatrefoil of the Episcopal Church of Caričin Grad, to which, if Caričin Grad was indeed Justiniana Prima, Stobi was made ecclesiastically dependent in the sixth century.


At this period a baptistery could only be an adjunct of an episcopal church. Consequently, this basilica must either have preceded or followed Bishop Philip’s basilica as the episcopal church of Stobi. Its east end and general form of construction suggest a fifth- rather than a sixth-century date, but this is contradicted by the annexes of the narthex which may, however, be later additions. The possibility therefore exists that this basilica was Stobi’s episcopal church until the building of the great new basilica of Bishop Philip and that it reverted to its status in the sixth century after the earthquake of 518 had shattered the new basilica. The baptistery may have been reconstructed at this time. However, in view of its relationship with the basilica at Tumba on the one


hand and with those at Studenčišta and Radolišta on the other, a late fifth- or early sixth-century date seems most likely.





In the fifth century a great new transept basilica was built within the walls of Philippi. Lemerle has given us a scholarly and comprehensive account of all that archaeological excavations and historical research can tell us of this church. [1] Nevertheless, we still have no clue to its dedication and it has therefore been named Basilica A, to distinguish it from the similarly anonymous Basilica B, erected farther to the south in the sixth century.


For a city of such prominence in the early history of Christianity, a prominence that is substantiated by the magnificence of the churches which have been excavated, we know remarkably little of the story of Philippi. A third-century epitaph of a foreign visitor describes the city as ‘crowned with beautiful walls’. That these walls were also exceptionally strong we know from the fact that, by 473, it alone of the cities of Thrace and neighbouring parts of Macedonia had been able to withstand the assaults and sieges of the Gothic armies of Theodoric Strabo. It seems evident that the defensive qualities of these walls were maintained throughout at least the first half of the sixth century, since Procopius omits to mention Philippi in his list of fortifications repaired and strengthened by Justinian.


Although Philippi was a lesser city than Thessalonica, Basilica A was scarcely smaller than St Demetrius and larger than ‘ Acheiropoietos’. The interior length of the nave and aisles was 41.60 metres. The addition of the depth of the apse brought this to 47 metres and, with the narthex, a total length of 55 metres was reached. The nave was 14 metres across, the aisles 5.10 metres. The complete interior width, including the nave stylobates, was 27.60 metres. In the transept it was 39.50 metres.


The basilica lies, with little more than its foundations remaining, on the north side of the Via Egnatia, opposite the Roman forum.



1. P. Lemerle, Philippes et la Macédoine Orientale (Pans, 1945).






Fig. 81. BASILICA A, PHILIPPl. SECTION. (Reconstruction by Lemerle)



The complete architectural ensemble began with a propylaeum leading from the Via Egnatia into a colonnaded courtyard enclosing a cistern, the traditional site of the prison of Paul and Silas. East of this courtyard and entered through two doorways, extended the atrium, lined with colonnades on three sides and, on the west, facing the narthex, having a two-storied portico, recalling the mosaic façades in the dome of St George. In the centre of the portico was a large recess, or exedra, the ceiling of which projected into the second storey and, on either side, symmetrically arranged, two niches containing fountains. Three doorways led into the narthex, from which a tribelon opened into the nave and two side entrances into the aisles of the church.


A rectangular room possessing a black-and-white tiled floor (Pl. 47b) was annexed to the north aisle but without an intercommunicating doorway.


It was entered from the narthex through a small anteroom. Hitherto, this annexe has been considered a baptistery, with the reservation that no evidence of the piping of water could be found. Pelekanides’s discovery of a similarly sited and planned annexe in the ‘Extra Muros’ Basilica now offers a more satisfactory explanation. In all probability this was built as a form of diaconicon (cum prothesis ?) from which the bread and wine were taken through the tribelon and nave to the sanctuary.


The church itself was a T-transept basilica, with a semicircular, protruding apse. Galleries ran above the aisles and narthex. Clerestory lighting below the low pitched timber roof, windows behind the galleries and narthex, and a triple window in the apse flooded the church with daylight in typically Hellenistic manner. As in St Demetrius, the nave colonnades entered the transept, then tinned right angles outwards as far as the projections of the walls of the aisles.





Fig. 82. BASILICA A, PHILIPPl. WESTERN END OF THE ATRIUM. (Reconstruction after Lemerle)



From here, however, they extended directly to the east wall of the transept, which was considerably shallower than that of St Demetrius.


The plan of the sanctuary was very similar to that of St Demetrius, and, like it, lay within the transept. It consisted of three clearly defined areas. The bema, in the middle, extending westwards from the chord of the apse, was enclosed partly by presbytery benches ranged opposite each other and partly by a low chancel screen. It was flanked by two square enclosures, or parabemata, a tripartite division which was further emphasised by separate zones of coloured marble pavement, laid in geometric designs. Probably these parabemata were for the use of the deacons in the performance of their offices. Yet although possessing no prothesis functions their presence unquestionably represents a step towards the introduction of pastophoria. Again like St Demetrius, a small, shallow reliquary crypt occupied the exact centre of the transept.


An important feature, paralleled in the Episcopal Church at Stobi, was the use of double stylobates. These were an integral part of the colonnades separating the nave and aisles, and continued with them into the transept. The two main stylobates, more than a metre wide and standing half a metre above the floor, served as bases for the massive columns flanking the nave and supporting the galleries. Lemerle points out that they were constructed of blocks of stone taken from earlier Roman buildings. Joined on to their outer sides was a second stylobate, less than half the width, but nearly twice the height of the first. This second stylobate, moreover, supported a screen composed of carved marble slabs held by mullion-type pillars. The whole structure formed a solid wall, 1 metre 70 centimetres high, that is to say, approximately the height of a man. Except for narrow openings at each end, it effectively divided the nave and sanctuary from the aisles. Curtains, necessary during the liturgy in a church like St Demetrius, but which would have detracted from that architectural unity which was the keynote of Basilica A, were thus avoided.


From his intensive study of Basilica A, Lemerle has given us this impression of its interior :


Two words, which are only apparently contradictory, sum up the decoration of the basilica ; it is at the same time luxurious and plain. Luxurious because of the material used and this profusion of beautiful slabs of imported marble for wall and floor covering ; luxurious again in relation to the custom of the time, because all the elements of the order, bases, columns, capitals, imposts were specially ordered for the basilica, mostly from distant workshops and there was no





question of their being second-hand : luxurious, finally, because of the richer decoration of certain parts, such as the west door of the atrium or the sanctuary. But the builders, although clearly they had great resources at their command, knew how to overcome the temptation to sacrifice simplicity of line to opulence or variety of decoration. There was no heedless use of coloured marbles, which were kept for special purposes, related to the function of certain parts of the building. There was none of that luxuriant sculpture which, instead of emphasising, obscures the constructive function of the parts it covers. There was no wall or floor mosaic to distract the eye and hide the structure. Nor was there any attempt to bring an artificial diversity into elements all fulfilling the same role. On the contrary, unity of function was emphasised by unity of decoration. One type of capital sufficed for the nave, another for the tribunes, and there were only two types of chancel slab. Unity, sobriety, subordination to contructional or functional purpose, such are the principles of what may rightly be called an architectural decoration. They are also those which the Greek tradition had given to antique art. [1]


Fig. 83. BASILICA A, PHILIPPl. Sculptured fragments of slabs



The floor of the nave was constructed of slabs of white Proconnesian marble and the same material was used for the walls. The columns were similarly of white marble, except in positions of particular liturgical importance, such as the west portico of the atrium, where green Thessalian marble was used. This marble appeared, too, mixed with grey and black, in the sanctuary,



1. P. Lemerle, op. cit. pp. 396-7 (trans.).





and was used for the altar and its ciborium. It is probable that a large slab of grey marble surmounted the tribelon. Only in such unimportant parts of the church as the small antechamber to the diaconicon was the high standard of decoration allowed to lapse and coloured stucco introduced to imitate marble revetments.


Lemerle comments that the Christian monuments of Philippi’s early Byzantine period outshine in every way the undistinguished buildings of its Roman era. It cannot be doubted that this was mainly due to the particular importance that accrued to the city through its connection with St Paul. For at least two centuries after the decline of the Via Egnatia and the commercial prosperity that had been based upon it, Philippi was able to switch its economy to that of a pilgrimage centre, and wax wealthy on the proceeds. Thus can the erection of such a large and magnificent basilica in a relatively small centre become explicable.


Largely on the evidence of the Corinthian type of plain acanthus capitals, Lemerle has proposed the end of the fifth century, or about 500, as the probable date of construction of this basilica. However, the capitals may also be regarded as evidence of an earlier date. They are closely similar to capitals in the Basilica of Bishop Philip at Stobi (Pl. 380). Those of Philippi are particularly finely executed and by no means degenerate as one would expect from late examples of the type. Moreover, it seems hardly likely that a basilica which used nothing but the best materials, and which was planned in a manner so masterly as to imply the hand of a major architect from Constantinople or another leading city of the empire, would not have used capitals then being developed in Constantinople instead of ones which were already or were becoming old-fashioned.


Historically, too, the late fifth century is unlikely. The seventh decade of this century, it will be recalled, was, even by Balkan standards, one of exceptional violence. Nicopolis had been sacked by the Vandals and, in course of internecine Gothic wars and revolts against the imperial authority, a similar fate had befallen Stobi and many other leading Macedonian and Thracian cities. It is quite likely that, in the course of Theodoric Strabo’s attacks on Philippi about the year 473, the ‘Extra Muros’ church, standing some little way outside the walls, had been rendered unsafe of access for considerable periods and may have suffered damage. Although such circumstances might have been reason enough to re-site the city’s principal church within the impregnable confines of the walls, on the other hand the latter part of the century was still an unpropitious time for the building of a new basilica on so great a scale. In consequence, as with the Church of Bishop Philip at Stobi, the second quarter of the fifth century seems probable.


Nevertheless, all this must remain conjecture. As Lemerle says: ‘no Christian inscription, carved in stone or designed in mosaic, has been found in the basilica. No historical text makes any mention of the monument.’ It seems, though, that Basilica A did not stand for long, and that some violent catastrophe, probably an earthquake, destroyed it. It may have been the same earthquake which reduced Scupi (Skopje) to rubble in 518, or it may have occurred earlier. Some time near the middle of the second half of the sixth century Basilica B was erected. Philippi possessed several other churches, but one surmises that this was built as the new Episcopal Church to replace the splendid edifice which had been suddenly shattered. The superb site, at the foot of the acropolis that even to-day is still riddled with the sanctuaries of the ancient pagan gods, was left deserted and the new church was erected some distance away, where the city extends into the plain. In the sixth century Christianity, though the imperial faith, was still relatively young. The ancient gods of Samothrace and Thasos, the god of Mount Pangaeus, had still not long been vanquished. [1] One cannot help wondering if the Philippians had reasons, which perhaps they hardly cared to acknowledge, for removing the site of their ill-fated cathedral to a greater distance from the acropolis.





Reluctantly, we must reject the attractive legend related by Ignatius which attributes the building of at least part of the small church of Hosios David to the daughter of Galerius (see page 69).



1. P. Collart, Philippes, ville de Macédoine depuis ses origines jusqu à la fin de Vépoque romaine (Paris, 1937).





Fig. 84. CHAPEL OF HOSIOS DAVID, THESSALONICA. Section and plan of present structure

Fig. 85. CHAPEL OF HOSIOS DAVID, THESSALONICA. Section and plan of original building. (Reconstruction by Pelekanides)



Archaeology has established with reasonable certainty that, as Ignatius tells us, it was the catholicon, or chapel of the monastery of the Prophet Zechariah, but that it was constructed, probably towards the end of the fifth century, on the site of a Roman temple. The other parts of the monastery, more commonly known as Moni Latomos, the Monastery of the Quarrymen, have long been demolished, and only about two-thirds of the original church remains to-day. During the period of Turkish domination it was converted into a mosque. It was not reconsecrated until 1921, when, in the course of cleaning and redecoration, the mosaic described by Ignatius was again revealed. [1]


Tucked away among the houses and narrow streets near the northern ramparts of Thessalonica, this truncated little fifth-century chapel houses one of the most beautiful of Early Byzantine mosaics and also is of considerable architectural importance. In its original state, it was a square building, with a single, semicircular, protruding apse pierced by a double window. The interior presented a radical change from the basilical construction of Thessalonica’s earlier churches. The ground plan was an inscribed cross or ‘cross in square’, consisting of the four equal arms of a Greek cross, the eastern having the projecting apse, with four square chambers occupying the comers, each opening into the adjoining arms of the ‘ cross ’. A central dome, built square externally, and now lacking, was based upon the four angle piers. The corner chambers had domed ceilings. These were not projected beyond the sloping exterior of the roof, which simply indicated



1. A. Xyngopoulos, TO ΚΑΘΟΛΙΚΟΝ ΤΗΣ ΜΟΝΟΗΣ ΛΑΤΟΜΟΥ ΕΝ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΙ, ΑΡΧ. ΔΕΛΤ. 12 (1929), p. 142 et seq.





the directions of the barrel-vaulted ceilings of the arms of the ‘cross’.


Hosios David is one of the earliest known appearances in Europe of this architectural form which Byzantine church architecture was later to develop. Grabar suggests that, as a memorial chapel to the Prophet Zechariah, whose cult was widespread in the fifth century, Hosios David followed the cruciform plan of the eastern martyrium. [1] He cites the Church of the Prophets (461-5) at Gerasa, in Palestine, as demonstrating that by the mid-fifth century the inscribed cross had already reached an advanced state of development in Syria. It is similarly true that the cruciform church — not inscribed — was a popular Eastern Anatolian plan for the memorial chapel. [2] As the Anatolian churches, unlike the Syrian, were not accustomed to have parabemata, this difference is less significant than would at first seem. In any case the general Oriental origins of the cruciform martyrium, whether inscribed or not, are unquestionable.


Fig. 86. CHAPEL OF HOSIOS DAVID, THESSALONICA. Original structure of roof. (Reconstruction after Pelekanides)



The church is the first of which we know in Macedonia to have two clearly defined chambers flanking the bema. This uncompromising acceptance of the Oriental form of sanctuary may or may not have been partly a reflection of the contemporary weakness of the Latin West. Certainly, since Hosios David was built as a monastery chapel its similarity to the monastic churches of the Tur Abdin (Fig. 15) suggests links with Northern Mesopotamia additional to those already noted in connection with the ’Extra Muros ’ Basilica, Philippi, and in the basilica at Tumba.


The mosaic described by Ignatius occupies the upper part of the apse. It represents, according to Ignatius, the visions of Ezekiel and Habakkuk. Christ appears in a mandorla of glory enthroned upon a rainbow, with symbolical representations of the four evangelists in attendance. In chapters i and ii of the Book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel relates :


And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. . . .


. . . And as for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a Hon, on the right side : and they four had the face of an ox on the left side ; they four also had the face of an eagle. . . .


. . . And above the firmament. . . was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone ; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.


And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.


As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake....


. . . And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me ; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein ;


And he spread it before me ; and it was written within and without ; and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.


Ezekiel himself is shown in the left-hand corner of the composition, a bowed figure, his hands raised. He is listening, although his gaze is averted from the vision. Behind him appears a landscape of wooded hills and, in the far distance, the towers and roofs of the Chaldaean city of the Israelite exile, a scene which recalls the ‘ Egyptian landscapes ’ of Pompeii. In the opposite corner Habakkuk sits at the foot of a mountain, an open book, the writing upon which is difficult to make out, resting on his knee, in an attitude of deep meditation. Springing from beneath the feet of Christ are



1. A. Grabar, Martyrium (Paris, 1946), vol. 1, p. 164.


2. W. Ramsay and G. L. Bell, The Thousand and One Churches (London, 1909), pp. 340 ff.





the waters of the Jordan, rich with fish, and from which spring the four rivers of Paradise. To the left the awestruck figure of a pagan river god half emerges from the Jordan.


Christ, youthful and unbearded, is seated in the centre of a rainbow, the colours radiating from Him like the spokes of a wheel to form a circular mandorla. A jewelled cross ornaments His halo. His right arm is raised, hand outstretched, His left holds an open scroll. The four symbols of the evangelists, a man, a lion, an eagle and an ox, each with their gospel, appear from behind the mandorla, indicating, incidentally, its translucent nature in contrast to the normally opaque clipeus.


Although the mosaic may be interpreted as representing the visions of Ezekiel and Habakkuk, its spirit is entirely that of the New Testament. The scroll Christ holds in His left hand carries no message of ‘lamentations, and mourning, and woe’. On the contrary, it may be translated as, ‘Behold our God in Whom we hope and here rejoice in our salvation, for He will give us rest and hospitality in this house’, possibly a paraphrase of Isaiah xxv, verses 9 and 10. Christ Himself is not the Old Testament, Hebrew God of Wrath, who, in Habakkuk’s words, ‘didst march through the land in indignation’ and ‘didst thresh the heathen in anger’. [1] Instead, His expression of an understanding seemingly beyond human comprehension combines a sublime detachment from the world of material strife and temptation with an infinite compassion.


The unbearded Christ, a version popular in the fifth and sixth century in Italy, Istria and Egypt, is certainly a basically different conception from the bearded, ‘ Syrian’ Christ that succeeded it in Christian art ; but a comparison of the Hosios David mosaic with various of its Western contemporaries clearly indicates the existence between them of fundamental spiritual differences. The church of Hosios David was a monastic establishment, erected during a long, seemingly unending period of insecurity, including the calamitous break-up of the entire Roman Empire in the West and even the sack and barbarian occupation of its ancient, imperial capital. In such times Christianity brought a message of hope and reassurance that spiritual faith would eventually triumph over the material forces of evil. Habakkuk had said :


I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the Lord answered me, and said ‘Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not He : though it tarry, wait for it ; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him : but the just shall live by his faith ! ’ [2]


Belief that ‘the just shall live by his faith’ was a fundamental factor in the development of the monasticism then spreading from Egypt to all parts of the troubled Christian world. Monasticism, though first adapted to Christianity in Egypt, was not of Egyptian but of Indian Buddhist origin. It is not, therefore, surprising that in many cases the Hosios David Christ displays closer affinities with Gandhara and even Mathura Buddhas than with its approximately contemporary Western conceptions of Christ (Plates 48, 49). As we have seen, this was by no means an isolated example of Buddhist impact on Early Christian thought. The coins of such late Indo-Bactrian kings as Amyntas and Hermaios, showing Zeus enthroned in an almost identical posture, show the enduring cultural links established by Alexander between Macedonia and India in even sharper relief (Fig. 87).


With this in mind, we must consider the position of Christ’s right hand. With the palm outstretched, it is the Roman gesture of allocution. It is also, however, the Semitic sign of divine reassurance or salvation and the Buddhist abtaya mudra or gesture of reassurance, although an orthodox representation of Buddha would bring the arm closer to the body. The gesture is, in fact, relatively common in the Christian art of Europe of the late fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. Italy, France and the Balkans were regions where reassurance was one of the qualities which men sought most anxiously from the Christian faith. Thus we find this gesture, in its Christian and Western form possessing additional positiveness that was its Roman allocutionary inheritance, a common feature of late fourthand fifth-century representations of Christ in Italy.



1. Habakkuk iii, 12.


2. Habakkuk ii, 1.4.





Fig. 87. TETRADRACHM OF SOTIROS HERMAIOS (50-30 b.c.) showing Zeus enthroned. (Twice actual size)



Examples include the Chapel of S. Aquilino, Milan; Sta Costanza, SS. Cosmas and Damian, and the door of S. Sabina, Rome ; probably the Baptistery of Soter, Naples; various sarcophagi of Ravenna, where (as at Arles in France) it is part of the ‘Traditio Legis’ scene.


The lower parts of the mosaic refer to the conclusion of Ezekiel’s vision.


Afterward he brought me again to the door of the house ; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward : for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar. . . . Now when I had returned, behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then he said unto me, ‘These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea : which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that everything that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live : and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither : for they shall be healed ; and everything shall live whither the river cometh. . . . And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed : it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary : and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine.’ [1]


Habakkuk ends his prophecy with an epilogue that is indeed appropriate to the spirit of the mosaic :


Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.


Grabar has disputed this normally accepted identity of Habakkuk as one of the two prophets, and has suggested that the one sitting reading his book should be Zechariah. The chronicle of Ignatius, he points out, may well have been altered during rewriting in the course of time, and it is strange that in a monastery dedicated to the Prophet Zechariah such an important mosaic should carry a text of Isaiah and representations of Ezekiel and Habakkuk, but not of Zechariah. Was Ignatius, Grabar asks, or whoever amended him at a later date misled by making out from the book resting on Habakkuk’s knees such phrases as ‘ the life-giving spring’ which nourishes ‘the souls of believers’ and connecting them with Habakkuk’s assertion that ‘the just shall live by his faith’? [2]


It does indeed seem strange that Zechariah should not be represented — if, in fact, the church was dedicated to him at the time of the erection of the mosaic. But this may not have been the case. The monastery may have possessed another and perhaps larger chapel. Also, a mosaic of Zechariah may have occupied another position of importance in the church. Grabar’s objection certainly deserves the fullest attention, yet there is no doubt that in the conditions reigning in the fifth century the message of Habakkuk was particularly pertinent. Perhaps Ignatius’ story of the miraculous change in the image may have some significance with regard to the absence of Zechariah which has so far been beyond our ability to fathom.


Recently Grabar, recalling the New Testament spirit of the mosaic, has made the interesting suggestion that, in fact, the two figures may represent Peter and Paul. [3] This would not necessarily conflict with their being Old Testament prophets as well, for there is no reason why the artist should not have conceived as one the theophanies of Ezekiel in exile



1. Ezekiel, xlvii.


2. A. Grabar, op. cit. vol. ii, p. 198 et seq.


3. A. Grabar, ‘A propos d’une icône byzantine du XIVe siècle’. Cahiers Archéologiques, x (Paris, 1959), p. 297 et seq.





and St Paul on the road to Damascus. As Grabar points out, the iconography of the two figures is applicable to Peter and Paul and, except for Peter’s seated position (he is not a witness of the vision), their relationship to Christ is in general accord with contemporary renderings of the ‘Traditio Legis’. Should this theory be correct, and it is difficult to disagree with it, this mosaic is a document of most profound importance for our understanding of early Christianity.


Two more features of this mosaic remain to be mentioned. The first is the decoration of the face of the arch, which encloses the apse like a border. At its head is a cross within a circular medallion. Pendants, the nature of which is difficult to determine, hang from the cross’s horizontal arms and the medallion is supported by two birds, perhaps doves, their wings outstretched. Descending on either side of the arch face are regular patterns of stylised Trees of Life and vessels of the cantharus type, between opposed swans. While the swan motif is reminiscent of some of the friezes in the dome of St George, here the birds are portrayed in a much more lively and realistic fashion. Each is treated individually and with evident zest.


The second noteworthy feature is the figure of the river god below the Lion of St Mark on the side of Ezekiel. This god is far removed from the type who, in, for instance, the two Baptisteries of Ravenna, has been ‘accepted’ into Christianity. This is a barbarian figure, who regards the vision with awe and terror, and symbolises, in terms that were real to Thessalonians of the late fifth century, the inevitable and splendid triumph of Christ and the truth of the text that the just shall five by their faith.


Ignatius, who gave us a delightful but quite fictitious account of the mosaic’s origin, comes nearer to historical fact in his description of its rediscovery.


When the pagan darkness was dispersed and when the Lord ordained that Christian rulers should rule the Roman State, the Church which was built allegedly in the form of a bath, became a monastery dedicated to the prophet Zechariah. At that time a monk called Senoufias from the mountains of Nitria (in Egypt), a holy man who wished and implored the Lord to show Himself as He will appear in the final judgement, heard a voice saying : ‘ If you wish your desire to be fulfilled, go from your land and from your cell as once did the Patriarch Abraham, and come to the Monastery named Latomos in Thessalonica. There will it be revealed to you.’


The old monk made the necessary preparation for the pilgrimage, took his garment and his stick, and left his cell in the monastery to follow the voice calling to him. After many troubles and anxieties on the way he arrived at last in the famous city of Thessalonica and in the monastery of the Latomos.


Before he could recover from the exertions of the pilgrimage he began to ask the monks and to try to find out whether the monastery existed which the vision had promised him he should find. The old man was sorry deep within his heart and thought that he had been deceived by the devil and had exposed himself to all this trouble in vain when the monks told him that what he was looking for existed neither in their monastery nor in the entire city of Thessalonica. Nevertheless, he continued to hope and only after six months did he decide to return to his monastery feeling that all had been a deceit organised by the devil.


Back in his own familiar cell Senoufias continued to think the same thoughts and complained to the Lord for the unnecessary trouble and the terrible ordeals he had had to undergo. Again the Lord appeared to him as before and told him : ‘You were not deceived nor did you make any mistake. Again you have to go to the monastery of the Latomos if you wish to achieve what you desire. The Lord has ordained that you should spend your last days in that monastery.’


With sorrow the old man left his cell again as Adam once left Paradise, and arrived in Thessalonica at the Monastery of the Latomos, where he was given a cell to rest from his tiring journey.


After some time had passed and he had recovered sufficiently to participate in the communal prayers he remained after one of his prayers alone in the Church to perform some penitence. Suddenly a tempest broke out with thunder and lightning and an earthquake began to shake the Church from the very foundations. At this moment the calves’ leather fell to the earth together with the bricks and the lime which covered the holy imprint of the Lord on the eastern apse. The face of the Christ appeared like a sun from a cloud so that when the old monk Senoufias saw it, he said : ‘Glory be to Thee, Oh Lord, I thank Thee’, and delivered his holy soul to the Lord.


The monks on hearing all these happenings rushed to that spot and looking in fear at this sight praised the Lord with the Kyrie Eleison.





Then after taking the necessary measures for the dead monk they buried him who had been chosen to see the vision and had died.


These miraculous happenings and the cures performed at the burial of the holy remnants of the monk were soon known throughout the entire city and neighbourhood. Many people, flowing like a river, climbed to the monastery and were cured of spiritual and bodily diseases, as happens until the present day. Many even hear in the morning hours in this holy place the choir of the angels praising with their voices the three-fold Divinity. [1]


In its essentials, if not in its details and its dating, Ignatius’ story of the concealment and later discovery of the mosaic has the stamp of truth and provides us with the explanation of its remarkable survival. The Theodora episode can be, of course, no more than an attractive legend, partly invented in the course of its oral progress through the centuries and partly compounded from stories of other saints, for instance, St Barbara. But, during the iconoclastic period, when perhaps St Demetrius and ‘Acheiropoietos’ were stripped of almost all their decoration — although evidently not even the most fiercely iconoclastic emperor dared touch the sacrosanct figure of St Demetrius in his own city — it is highly likely that the monks of the monastery hid their most holy icon beneath a leather-covering and so saved it from destruction. Whether its uncovering in the ninth century was an accidental discovery on the lines described by Ignatius, we do not know. The episode of the Egyptian monk could well have its origin in the close connection which Thessalonian Christianity traditionally had with Egypt and which was probably maintained at least until the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century.


Under the Turkish occupation Hosios David was converted into a mosque and the mosaic was again covered, either by the monks prior to their eviction or by the Turks. It is an idle temptation, but one difficult to resist, to wonder whether centuries to come will give birth to a new folk-tale that will provide an explanation of yet another concealment from the infidel and a miraculous, twentieth-century rediscovery.





This church is so called because one of its pillars carries an undated Greek inscription commemorating certain additions made ‘ to the synagogue’ by Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos, ‘father of the community in Stobi ’. In fact, the site may well have previously been used for a synagogue, for it would seem that about the end of the fifth or early in the sixth century, an existing building was adapted to Christian purposes. [2]


Standing in the centre of Stobi and adjoining a secular structure known as the Summer Palace, the ‘ Synagogue’ Church is a basilica consisting of a nave and two aisles, a single protruding semicircular apse, a narthex and an atrium. On the south side of the last were three rooms.


The aisles are unusually narrow, and only two columns stand between them and the nave on either side. At the western end of the nave there is evidence of short, internally projecting walls from which arches could have been sprung to the two western pillars. Similar walls, but considerably longer (3.25 metres), also extend inwards from the eastern wall on either side of the apse. Here the projection seems more to have had the purpose of enclosing the sanctuary and, in so doing, to leave two lateral enclosures occupying the eastern ends of each aisle.





The length of the whole ‘Synagogue’ complex was 43.20 metres, of which the apse projected 3.60 metres. The atrium was 14.40 metres long and the narthex and nave 25.20. The width of the nave and aisles was 15.60 metres.



1. Taken from S. Pelekanides op. cit. (trans.).


2. Kitzinger, ‘A Survey of the Early Christian Town of Stobi’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 3 (Harvard, 1946), pp. 129-46. (This includes a hill bibliography of pre-1941 publications.)







Fig. 91. CRUCIFORM BASILICA, THASOS. THE SANCTUARY (Reconstruction by Orlandos)





Little remains of the interior decoration of the ‘ Synagogue’ Church, but, in any case, it appears likely that most of the sculptured work was taken from other earlier buildings.


The narrow aisles, the wide intercolumniations and the apparently tripartite form of sanctuary are all Syrian characteristics. However, this may perhaps be due to the church’s earlier history as a synagogue rather than to the presence of a strong Syrian community, a Syrian architect or an exceptional receptivity to Syrian influences. The generally accepted dating of the church, that is to say of its conversion into a building for Christian worship, places it after Theodoric’s sack of Stobi in 479, and either before or soon after the earthquake of 518.


Nevertheless, we can still only guess at the reason for such a conversion at a period when the city’s fortunes were sinking rapidly. Had most other churches been destroyed, either by acts of God or of man ? Was there such a strong influx into the city from an insecure and lawless countryside that new churches were required? What had happened to the Jews, whose synagogue it seems once to have been ? Had they fled, either because better conditions of life or commerce could be found elsewhere, or because they were regarded as scapegoats for the troubled times and had been subjected to persecution?





Close to the seashore and within the confines of the ancient capital of Thasos on the island of the same name lie the ruins of a large cruciform basilica, dating from about the beginning of the sixth century.


In contrast to the plan of the T-transept basilicas of St Demetrius and Philippi, an eastern extension of the nave of this church projected beyond the transept. The colonnades dividing the nave from the two aisles followed the lines of the transept walls as in St Demetrius. Unlike the Thessalonian basilica, however, the semicircular apse was not inscribed but protruded beyond the end of the eastern arm, to the east walls of which the colonnades also extended. Stylobates of a chancel screen, separated from the chord of the apse by opposing presbytery benches, extended westwards within the eastern colonnades as far as the piers marking their turns to the north and south. Slightly beyond this point, the stylobates turned inwards towards a central entrance into the bema. A narthex at the western end was connected with the nave by a tribelon. A baptistery probably lay to the north-west of the basilica, for in an adjoining rectangular room facilities appear to have existed for the heating of water. [1] The entire length of the church, including the narthex and apse, was about 44 metres.


Within the bema the remains of a shallow reliquary crypt have been excavated. This was rectangular in shape with steps at the southern end. Presumably the altar table stood above this crypt, but all trace of it has disappeared. An unusual feature of the apse is a low western wall, the remains of which are still visible. Possibly this is an indication that the level of the apse floor was higher than that of the rest of the church. The double mullions of the apse windows are similar to the common Anatolian type. White marble slabs of the type used for flooring can be seen in the neighbourhood — still in use as paving stones, but the only mosaics discovered belong to an earlier Roman house. The columns are of white marble with the exception of two or three green fragments, which perhaps belong to the tribelon. The nave columns appear to have been surmounted by simple and very low impost capitals.


Orlandos, who studied the site in 1938, before the results of earlier archaeological activity had suffered irreparable harm at the hands of enemy-occupying troops during the Second World War, has pointed out that its ground plan is almost identical with that of the Cruciform Basilica at Salona. Furthermore, an attempted reconstruction of either church is applicable equally to the other (Fig. 92). [2]


Discussing the Salonitan basilica, which was attached to the Episcopal Church of the city, and which replaced an earlier, simple, three-naved building, Dyggve writes :


The Greek cross has been used as motif for the ground plan in cult-buildings since the time of Constantine. It is not so extraordinary that the architectural



1. X. I. Macaronas, Archaeological Reports, ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΑ, 19411952 ; vol. 2, p. 659 et seq. (Greek).


2. A. K. Orlandos, Η ΞΤΑΟΣΤΕΓΟΣ ΠΑΛΑΙΟΧΡΙΣΤΙΑΝΙΚΗ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΚΗ (Athens, 1952 and 1954).





golden age during the time of Justinian also took up the solution of the cruciform church at such a great scale as in this church. In the years 530 and 533 a church council was held at Salona under the presidency of Bishop Honorius. It would be easy to understand from a purely human point of view if the council had been summoned by Honorius, who in the records from the council is styled archiepiscopus —just at the time when this large architecturally so remarkable church was finished. [1]


Fig. 92. cruciform basilica, THASOS. Exterior view from the north-east. (Reconstruction after Orlandos)




That Salona, the leading city of the east Adriatic coast and still enjoying prosperity as well as the reflected glory of its martyrs in the early sixth century,



1. E. Dyggve, History of Salonitan Christianity (Oslo, 1951), p. 29.





should have erected such a martyrium is hardly surprising. Thasos, however, had long ceased to be the island state with colonies that included rich areas of the Macedonian and Thracian mainland. Clearly it was still wealthy. Yet the building of this church on such a splendid scale may not have been entirely due to local prosperity and a desire to build a church that would be at least the equal of those constructed in other important centres. On the heights of the acropolis above the city there still stood the temple of Apollo, though doubtless to some extent despoiled and its great statue (now in the town museum) thrown down. Close by, there was still the sanctuary of Pan. Who the saint was whose relics were interred in the reliquary crypt beneath the altar we do not know, but it is likely that even in the sixth century he and his priests were facing no light challenge from the island’s ancient gods. The Christians of Thasos were probably fully aware that the forces of paganism were still far from vanquished.


Probably in the second half of the sixth century a small apse was added to the north aisle of the basilica’s east wing. This would have been connected with the addition of a prothesis chamber to the sanctuary.





In the village of Voskohoria, close to Kozani on the Verria road, an early Byzantine basilica was accidentally discovered by local workmen laying a water-pipe in 1935. This basilica has a special interest in being the only one yet to have been discovered in south-western Macedonia. The area was populous in Hellenistic and Roman times, and its popularity seems to have continued into the early Byzantine period, until the barbarian invasions transformed it into a region of desolation far outside the pale of Byzantine law and order.


Xyngopoulos, who carried out the subsequent excavations, [1] reports that in its main structural parts it followed the simplest form of basilica, having a nave and two aisles, a narthex and a projecting semicircular apse. Its length, exclusive of the apse, was 19.50 metres and its width 10.60. Colonnades, each of seven columns, only the bases of which have remained, separated the nave from the aisles. Three entrances led from the narthex into the nave and aisles; but the three giving access to the narthex from the outside were not placed to correspond with them. Two were situated at the north and the south ends and the sole western entrance lay slightly to the north of the axis of the church, an arrangement which may have had the object of excluding draughts, or was perhaps intended to prevent those entering from viewing the sanctuary until they were inside the church.


The sanctuary presents a number of unusual features. The chancel screen, which extended into the nave as far as the second column from the east wall before turning inwards, was not composed of the usual marble slabs supported by mullions or piers, but consisted of brick walls rising, considers Xyngopoulos, to a height of one metre. These were given a hard and shiny surface upon which circles and crosses were roughly carved in order to give an impression of the conventional marble slabs. Between the apse and the columns nearest to it, the walls were considerably thicker than elsewhere.


Xyngopoulos also discovered evidence of a wall, with a niche in its centre, extending along the chord of the apse with no opening permitting access to the space behind. From this and other evidence in the apse, and also from analogous constructions in other churches, particularly those of Nea Anchialos in Thessaly, he has reconstructed three steps, each with concentric indentations, rising within the apse to a height of one metre, that is to say to the same level as the chancel walls (Fig. 94b). The presbytery seats, he suggests, were either placed against the apse wall on the stepped platform, or on the thickened parts of the chancel walls.


No evidence of an altar in the bema has been found and, as the floor of the bema is covered with mosaics which show no sign of having been disturbed by the sinking of stone supports, it is probable that the altar was a wooden structure, as appears also to have been the case in the basilica of Daphnousi.



1. A. Xyngopoulos, ‘The Early Christian Basilica of Voskohoria’, ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΑ, 1940, vol. i, pp. 8.23 (Greek).






a. Plan. b. The sanctuary. (Reconstruction by Xyngopoulos)



While no sculptured remains have been found in this basilica, considerable areas of floor mosaic have been preserved, extending over the floors of the bema, the nave and the narthex. Unfortunately, the falling of burning beams when the church was destroyed has obliterated the colours, and, consequently, the designs in the narthex and the western part of the nave.


Xyngopoulos describes the almost intact floor of the bema as containing two rectangular panels, in each of which are two birds standing back to back. These centre-pieces are surrounded by smaller squares enclosing circles and rhomboid shapes. The chancel entrance zone is decorated with a ‘fish scale’ design. The two square spaces between the protruding chancel entrance and the colonnades display chequered squares. In the nave the main decoration to have survived the burning of the church consists of three large square sections. That nearest the bema has a bird, probably a phoenix, enclosed within a circular border in the centre of a geometric pattern. The second square is sub-divided into four smaller squares by double spiral borders which hold alternately flower-like forms and partridges. The design of the third square is unfortunately impossible to distinguish.


It is pointed out that these mosaic patterns appear to follow no particular plan, but are simply intended — in a most un-Byzantine manner — to fill empty spaces. Nevertheless, their execution is good. The geometrical designs are firmly planned and the birds are posed in a natural manner. They give the impression, however, of being good copies rather than original creations, and there is a strong likelihood that the mosaics of the Rotunda of St George in Thessalonica, particularly those in the ceilings of the bays, provided the model.


Voskohoria, in fact, has all the characteristics of a provincial church modelled upon those of greater centres not so very far away, Nea Anchialos perhaps providing the architectural inspiration and Thessalonica the artistic motifs. Xyngopoulos argues convincingly that it is essentially a provincial and poorer version of greater and wealthier monuments, and not a later and degenerate form. He consequently puts





the date of its construction to about the beginning of the sixth century.





At Palikura, three kilometres to the west of Stobi, a basilica consisting of a nave, two aisles and a semicircular protruding apse has been excavated. The aisles, which are slightly under 18 metres long, are divided from the nave by colonnades, each of five columns. Walls, 2 metres long, project from the east and west walls to terminate the colonnades. [1] The plan shows three western entrances into the church; it gives no indication of a narthex, but it would be strange if one had not existed.


East of the church there appears to have been a courtyard and, beyond this, an octagonal baptistery inscribed within a square. There were also numerous other annexes which Egger suggests may be evidence of a monastic site. [2]


The sculptural remains found in the church seem to originate from two distinctly different periods. Some are obviously contemporary with Bishop Philip’s Church at Stobi. In fact they are so similar to fragments belonging to this church that they may even have come from there. The later period, to which most of the sculptured remains appear to belong, can be dated with reasonable certainty to the middle of the sixth century. The shafts of columns, a chancel slab and capitals are, as Nikolajević-Stojković points out, completely different from anything yet found in Stobi. [3] Some of the columns have areas of fluted decoration, others show incised, curved lines, another type is squared at the top with a cross carved on each face. Of two chancel or parapet slabs discovered, one displays a plain, cleanly carved cross in a rectangular border, the other a cross inscribed within a circle, with amorphous leafy shapes filling the spaces between the four arms and heavy ivy tendrils terminating in single leaves on either side of the circle (Pl. 52).





A baptistery was unusual in a comparatively small church, particularly one so close to a city with an episcopal church. The rite of baptism was the prerogative of a bishop. Can we therefore conclude that this rural basilica actually attained the status of an episcopal church?


This seems unlikely while a bishop remained in Stobi, and we know that, in name at least, Stobi definitely continued to be an episcopal see until the



1. E. Kitzinger, ‘A Survey of the Early Christian Town of Stobi’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 3 (Harvard, 1946). (This lists publications concerning Palikura prior to 1940.)


2. R. Egger, ‘Die städtische Kirche von Stobi’, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts, 1929, p. 42.


3. I. Nikolajević-Stojković, Early Byzantine Decorative Architectural Sculpture in Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, pp. 47, 90 (Belgrade, 1957) (Serbian with French summary).





end of the seventh century. However, we have no information concerning the amount of damage caused in Stobi by the earthquake of 518, which apparently destroyed Scupi, not very far away to the north. Should this damage have been severe and have reduced the great Basilica of Bishop Philip and other important churches to ruins, it would then be understandable that the Bishop of Stobi would have moved to an undamaged church nearby until Stobi had been rebuilt or lack of security obliged him to return. If this was already a monastery, offices and accommodation would be to hand. If not, perhaps they were built at this time. Such a move would be even more likely if the monastery had been founded by Bishop Philip in connection with his Episcopal Church in Stobi, as the close correspondence between the fifth-century sculptured fragments may imply. On the other hand, without very careful examination of the sculptures in question, the possibility must not be excluded that these were brought from Stobi to the Palikura church for re-use.


The later sculptures are also difficult to explain with any degree of certainty. Most probably they belong to the brief era of relative peace and security established by Justinian. Possibly they were part of a rebuilding of the church at this time — after it had been sacked once by the Avars and Slavs, or other raiders, and before they quickly and finally destroyed it.


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