Monday, June 17, 2019


Ivana Jevtić, Suzan Yalman (ed.), 'Spolia' Reincarnated: Afterlives of Objects, Materials and Spaces in Anatolia from Antiquity to the Ottoman Era. Istanbul: Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED), 2018. Pp. 373. ISBN 9786052116142. $54.00.

Reviewed by Benjamin Anderson, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Abroad in the 1820s, the French archaeologist Léon de Laborde encountered two very similar gates in the Anatolian cities of Iznik and Konya. Both stood in the city walls, both faced Constantinople, both were built in the thirteenth century, and both displayed figural reliefs made in the days of Roman rule. De Laborde's two reactions were very different. In Iznik, he saw the decline of Greek culture from its ancient acme, "the brutal, shameless, and clumsy employment of the most respectable remains of a brilliant civilization." Of Konya, by contrast, he wrote that "the Seljuks treated the monuments of the arts with a respect and compositional taste that can only be compared to the elegant dispositions adopted at the height of the Italian Renaissance, under the stimulus of a Raphael and a Leo X."1

The artist Raphael and his papal patron Leo X are familiar to many readers of BMCR; "'Seljuk'," an eminent classicist once said, "is an answer to a crossword puzzle."2 Raphael's letter to Leo X includes an early use of spoglie for the Antonine reliefs on the Arch of Constantine.3 This is not what de Laborde had in mind when he proposed his comparison. He saw in Konya's walls "les parois des salles d'un musée," the walls of a museum hall: a metaphor for modernity, not medieval decline.

The two gates are discussed in a dense and rewarding trio of essays— by Livia Bevilacqua, Scott Redford, and Suzan Yalman, respectively— in the book under review. Each author must come to terms with disjunctive chronologies. Spolia, as Paul Magdalino remarks at the end of the volume, form a concept imported from "the Roman heartland" (341). Such too is the origin of his "three clearly defined though overlapping phases" in "the history of the culture of spolia." First comes "the expansion and hegemony of ancient Rome... The second phase begins with the Arch of Constantine," and includes "the later Roman Empire and its successor states, both Christian and Muslim." Finally, there is a "third phase" that "began in the Renaissance and is still with us" (342-43). Magdalino places Islam at the end of the second, middle, period: thus again, "East Rome and its Islamic heirs" (345). De Laborde's chronology is different: thirteenth-century Konya anticipates sixteenth-century Rome.

Bevilacqua explores with great sensitivity the similarities between the Anatolian gates of the Seljuks and Laskarids and Frederick II's contemporary gate at Capua. Similarly, Suna Çağaptay tracks the double-headed eagle from Trabzon through Konya up to Constantinople and as far west as Moutiers-Saint-Jean. But these are rare synchronic connections drawn across confessional lines. Elsewhere in the volume, Islam mostly follows and replaces Christianity, whether the cut-off be 1071, 1453, or 1923. That last date figures prominently in the essay of Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir, who discusses the many stone churches that Ottoman Christians built after Tanzimat (1839), and which were re-purposed less than a century later in the wake of the population exchanges.

In an introduction equally engaging and rigorous, Ivana Jevtić paraphrases "Dale Kinney's definition of spolia as artifacts 'incorporated into a setting culturally or chronologically different from that of (their) creation'" (11). Differences in time we presume to measure, but it is much harder to agree on distances between cultures. The finest essays collected here do not start from an answer, but work through the stones and stuffs and towards one. In this, I suspect, they emulate their mostly anonymous protagonists, those masons and accountants who shuffled from ruin to quarry to building site, scratching their heads in front of ponderous blocks, asking "does it work?" and "is it worth it?"

The twelfth-century Great Mosque of Diyarbakır, whose structure and reception are presented with care and reserve by Elif Keser-Kayaalp, remains as good a place to begin as it was in 1910 for Strzygowski (and would have been for Riegl had he known it when writing Stilfragen). All of the pieces are literally there— the complete columnar screens, convincingly Corinthian, entablature and all, vertically superimposed two at a time on two facing facades. They are both classical and not so much, reused and then again maybe not. It seems pointless to ask if the Inalids of Amida were late Constantines or early Leos, fruitful to follow Keser-Kayaalp as she seeks alternative models, impossible not to agree when she concludes that "the reference to the past in this building is confusing" (146).

It should be similarly difficult to parse the beautiful bronze doors at the southwestern vestibule of Hagia Sophia, discussed in an invaluable essay by Claudia Barsanti and Alessandra Giuglia that covers great swaths of the great church. The doors were Roman, but reinstalled and reworked in the sixth and ninth centuries. Barsanti and Giuglia speculate neither on intent nor on reception, even as they demonstrate that the scale of reuse in Hagia Sophia is greater than has been assumed for early Byzantine buildings (Philipp Niewöhner's essay provides further support). Nicholas Melvani, in an attentive treatment of early and middle Byzantine sculpture reused in later Byzantine centuries, assumes that those stones were appreciated as objects of antiquarian interest, that they signified continuity.

By contrast, those essays that entertain a "triumphalist" interpretation of reused materials deal with Muslim rulers: most forthrightly, Mariya Kiprovska's account of the Mihaloğlu family, gazi in the Balkans and devotees of Anatolian shrines. Whether addressing monuments of the fourteenth or of the sixteenth centuries, Kiprovska sees spoils— "'manubial' monuments" like those of ancient Rome surveyed by Inge Uytterhoeven. For Kiprovska, an iron relief depicting the Wedding at Cana on the palace gate at Pleven is "a classical display of spolia as a war trophy," since its German inscription ("Es war ein Hochzeit..." is legible in the photo) "suggests that it was probably seized as booty during one of the Mihaloğlus' raids in Austrian lands" (68). Yet Pleven's Christians (and German-speakers) must have puzzled over the display of a Gospel scene on their once-Christian ruling family's door; even while they and others could recognize a simpler boast about hospitality (within the wine never runs out).4

Ünver Rüstem's account of the relation between the Baroque and the neo-Byzantine in eighteenth-century Istanbul demonstrates— in excellent photographs finely reproduced— the combinatory potential of multiple chronologies. Horizons realign and much more meaning results. Nothing is more Byzantine than the Ottoman claim that the twelve great courtyard columns of the Nurosmaniye Mosque in Istanbul (completed in 1755) came from Pergamon—as when, in the ninth-century Diegesis, columns converge on Hagia Sophia from Rome, Ephesus, Cyzicus, Troy, and the Cyclades.5 Both claims recall an image, evoked by Magdalino via Metochites, "in which the recycling of building materials is compared to the circulation of water in nature," and Constantinople becomes "an imitation of the cosmos itself" (347)— except that theirs is a cosmos of multiple cities, living and dead, a very old idea of the oikoumene.

I am captivated by the Greek liturgical vestments of the Ottoman period studied by Elena Papastavrou and Nikolaos Vryzidis, whose chapter is also accompanied by photographs of great beauty. One should buy the volume for their Figures 1 and 2 alone, in which silver-brocaded silks bearing the "closed crescent" jostle in "patchwork" against velvet tulips. Here the seams are as plain as on those thirteenth-century gates. The ornamental vocabulary is at first glance little "classical," until one thinks again of Stilfragen, and its author's claim to "have forged the various links of this chain in an unbroken sequence, thereby connecting the mysterious flower of the Nile Valley ... with the wondrous achievements of the Arabesque."6

To return to the beginning: why for de Laborde is Iznik clumsy, Konya elegant? In part, I think, it is because the Konya gate was more regularly built, its spoils more symmetrically arranged. But perhaps it is also because, for him, the Laskarid emperors of Nicaea were Christian Greeks, and thus poor custodians of their own heritage; while the Seljuk sultans of Konya were Turkish Muslims, admiring collectors of something not their own. If so, does it follow that Raphael too was unclassical, as much an outsider as the Seljuks, separated from Roman antiquity not only by time but also by culture?

Perhaps Magdalino has something of the sort in mind when he pronounces: "Renaissance man was himself the heir to, if not very much a part of, the medieval world" (343). I would draw a different lesson, in two parts. First, the tripartite chronology doesn't help in Anatolia. Second, it never worked very well in Rome. These stones are things to make us humble. They are the objects out of which classicists build thought-worlds, but otherwise arranged, and resistant to our categories.

Authors and titles

Ivana Jevtić, Introduction

I. From Spoils of War to Reused Materials and Spaces
Inge Uytterhoeven, Spolia, -iorum, n.: From Spoils of War to Reused Building Materials: The History of a Latin Term
Mariya Kiprovska, Plunder and Appropriation at the Borderland: Representation, Legitimacy, and Ideological Use of Spolia by Members of the Ottoman Frontier Nobility
Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir, Remains of the Day: Converted Anatolian Churches

II. Biographies of Monuments
Claudia Barsanti and Alessandra Giuglia, Spolia in Constantinople's Hagia Sophia from the Age of Justinian to the Ottoman Period: The Phenomenon of Multilayered Reuse
Elif Keser-Kayaalp, The Great Mosque of Diyarbakır in Light of Discussions on Spolia and Classicism
Nicholas Melvani, Late, Middle, and Early Byzantine Sculpture in Palaiologan Constantinople

III. Rewriting History through Spolia
Livia Bevilacqua, Spolia on City Gates in the Thirteenth Century: Byzantium and Italy
Scott Redford, The Sarcophagus as Spolium: Examples from Thirteenth-Century Konya
Suzan Yalman, Repairing the Antique: Legibility and Reading Seljuk Spolia in Konya

IV. Aesthetics of Variety
Philipp Niewöhner, Varietas, Spolia, and the End of Antiquity in East and West
Elena Papastavrou and Nikolaos Vryzidis, Sacred Patchwork: Patterns of Textile Reuse in Greek Vestments and Liturgical Veils during the Ottoman Era

V. Conceptual Spoliation, or Spolia in Re
Ünver Rüstem, Spolia and the Invocation of History in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul
Suna Çağaptay, On the Wings of the Double-Headed Eagle: Spolia in Re and Appropriation in Medieval Anatolia and Beyond
Paul Magdalino, Epilogue: A Meditation on the Culture of Spolia


1.   Léon de Laborde, Voyage de l'Asie Mineure (Paris, 1838), 39 and 116-117.
2.   Personal communication.
3.   Dale Kinney, "Spolia: Damnatio and renovatio memoriae," Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 42 (1997): 122.
4.   I suspect from the medium and format that the relief was a stove plate, of which many were made in German-speaking lands from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, frequently featuring the Wedding at Cana. Compare, e.g.: Stefanie Funck, Christoph Otterbeck and Eveline Valtink, eds., Bibel in Eisen: Biblische Motive auf Ofenplatten des 16. Jahrhunderts (Kassel, 2015), Cat. No. 17; Helmut Rüggeberg, Ofenplatten in Nordwestdeutschland: eine Dokumentation. Ofenplatten mit biblischen und welfischen Darstellungen (Cloppenburg, 2013), Cat. Nos. NT 67-89 and 259; and Erich Schmitt, Pfälzische Ofenplatten (Berlin, 1968), Cat. Nos. 13-16, 37 and 44.
5.   Albrecht Berger, trans., Accounts of Medieval Constantinople: The Patria (Cambridge, 2013), 232-235.
6.   Alois Riegl, Problems of Style, trans. Evelyn Kain (Princeton, 1992), 305.

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