Thread: Life This Day in History
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Old 01-18-2009, 07:16 PM   #82
Amnorix Amnorix is offline
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January 18.

Nothing all that tremendously historically significant occurred today, and I have time, so I'll select the end of the Nika Riots on this day, 532 A.D.

It was still early in the reign of one of the most undeservedly famous monarchs in ancient history, Justinian I (Justinian the Great). The Roman Empire had split, and the western portion of the Empire had stood tremulously for centuries, and then finally fallen, leaving only the eastern portion of the Empire, latterly known as the Byzantine Empire.

One thing Byzantium had inherited from the Roman Empire were the various games. Some had been abolished, leaving chariot racing in particular as one of the most popular. Like modern sports fans, various groups rooted for their "players", or factions, of which there were four, the Blues, the Greens, the Reds and the Whites. Of these, the Blues and Greens were the most numerous.

Unlike modern times, however, these factions also spilled over into every day life. These colors came to represent not just what team you rooted for, but your political faction as well. And, to a degree, they were also the modern equivalent of "gang colors". Violence often resulted from a faction member being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As a result of arrests for murder that had occurred, the greatest city of the age, Constantinople, was uneasy. The Blues and the Greens demanded that the accused be released. Justinian the Weak, errr....Great, decreed that the death sentences would be commuted to imprisonment, and that games would be held on January 13.

It was a tense, anxious and ready to riot crowd that showed up for the games at the Hippodrome

Site of the Hippodrome today (partial ruins visible):

The Hippodrome was next to, and partially annexed to, the Palace, so the Emperor could oversee the races personally and safely. At first, all seemed normal. Soon, however, it became clear that a great change had taken place: the Greens and Blues were united, and their clamor was directed not at each other, as had always been the case, but at the Emperor. "Nika!" "Nika!!", they cried, the normal word of encouragement -- "Win!" "Win!!" In the past, they had always tried to shout each other down, cheering their own faction member. Now, in menacing chorus, they changed the single word alone, over and over. Factional differences forgotten, united in hatred against the Emperor who had imprisoned their members.

The games were abandoned. The mob poured out of the great circus, bent on destruction. They stormed the City Prefecture, killing the guards, releasing all the prisoners, and setting fire to the building. The Praetorian Prefecture, Senate House, Baths of Zeuxippus and the great Churches of St. Irene and St. Sophia were each visited in turn and reduced to smoking ruins.

Some Senators, sensing opportunity and disliking Justinian's high taxes, saw the opportunity to try to overthrow him. They appointed a cousin, Hypatius, as Emperor.

For five days smoke lay thick over the city, as Constantinople, the greatest city in the Western World, burned.

Justinian was resolved to flee. An opportunity existed for him to take his family out of the city. His wife, however, the infamous Theodora, his wife, the Empress intervened. To her, having risen from lowly actress and, cough, courtesan, to flee was out of the question.

Originally Posted by Empress Theodora
I myself [will] never willingly shed my imperial robes, nor see the day when I am no longer addressed [as Empress]. If you, my Lord, wish to save your skin, you will have no difficulty in doing so. We are rich, there is the sea, there too are our ships. But consider first whether, when you reach safety, you will not regret that you did not choose death in preference. As for me, I stand by the ancient saying: the purple [a color that could only be worn by monarchs] is the noblest [burial shroud].
Shamed into action, Justinian turned to his great general, Belisarius, and other military leaders and came up with a plan. His brilliant eunuch, Narses, was sent to the Hippodrome with a small bag of gold. Empty-handed other than this, Narses went to the Blues, whom Justinian had supported, and pointed out that Hypatius, whom they were trying to crown, was a Green. Then he distributed the gold. The Blues walked out. The Greens sat stunned. Then the Imperial Troops, led by Belisarius, stormed the Hippodrome. The rebels were cut down.

A trembling Hypatius was led before the Emperor. An old friend of Justinian's, Hypatius had been rushed along by events beyond his control. Justinian was inclined to mercy. Theodora, however, noted that he had been crowned by the mob, and might be raised up by them once again. Hoving to her will, as he always did, Justinian ordered Hypathius summarily executed.

The capital lay in ruins. Nearly half the city had been burned to the ground. 30,000 had died in the rioting. However, on February 23, 532, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, St. Sophia (sometimes Hagia Sophia), one of the most famous Churches in Christendom until the fall of Constaninople to the Ottoman Turks a thousand years later, was rebuilt for the third and final time.

It stands to this day.

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