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The Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda with its minaret

The Arch of Galerius (Modern Greek: τόξο του Γαλερίου or Aψίδα του Γαλερίου) and the Tomb of Galerius (Τάφος του Γαλερίου) are neighboring monuments in the city of Thessaloniki, in the province of Central Macedonia in northern Greece. The Tomb of Galerius is better known as the Rotunda, the Church of Agios Georgios or (in English) the Rotunda of St. George.



The 4th century Roman Emperor Galerius commissioned these two structures as elements of an imperial precinct linked to his Thessaloniki palace, substantial remains of which were found to the southwest.[1] These three monuments were connected by a road that ran through the arch, which also straddled the major east-west road of the city. By sitting at the crux of these major axes, the Arch of Galerius emphasized the power of the emperor and linked his assembly of monumental structures with the fabric of 4th century Thessaloniki. The arch was composed of a masonry core faced with marble sculptural panels celebrating a victory over the Sassanid Persians. Less than half of the arch is preserved. The Rotunda was a massive circular structure with a masonry core that had an oculus like the Pantheon in Rome. It has gone through multiple periods of use and modification as a polytheist temple, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque, and again a Christian church (and archaeological site). A minaret is preserved from its use as a mosque, and there are ancient remains exposed on its southern side.

Arch of Galerius


Location and description of the Arch

The Arch of Galerius

The Arch of Galerius, (Modern Greek: Καμάρα) stands on what is now Dimitrios Gounari Street. The arch was built in 298 to 299 CE and dedicated in 303 CE to celebrate the victory of the tetrarch Galerius over the Sassanid Persians and capture of their capital Ctesiphon in 298.[2] The structure was an octopylon (eight-pillared gateway) forming a tripe arch that was built of a rubble masonry core faced first with brick and then with marble panels with sculptural relief. The central arched opening was 9.7 m wide and 12.5 m high and the secondary openings on other side were 4.8 m wide and 6.5 m high. The central arch spanned the portion of the Via Egnatia (primary east-west Roman road from Dyrrhacium to Byzantium) that passed through the city as a Decumanus (east-west major street). A road connecting the Rotunda (125m northeast) with the Palace complex (235m southwest) passed through the arch along its long axis.

At present, only the northwestern three of the eight pillars and parts of the masonry cores of the arches above survive: i.e. the entire eastern side (4 pillars) and the southernmost one of the western pillars are lost. [3] Extensive consolidation with modern brick has been performed on the exposed masonry cores to protect the monument. The two pillars flanking the central arched passageway retain their sculpted marble slabs, which depict the wars of Galerius against the Persians in broadly panegyric terms.

Sculptural program of the Arch

Galerius (L) attacks Narses (R)
The imperial family at the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
The tetrarchs arrayed in unison with a Victoria holding a victory wreath to the Augusti.

Understanding of the sculptural program of the arch is necessarily limited by the loss of the majority of the marble panels, but what remains gives an impression of the whole. There were four vertically stacked registers of sculpted decoration on each pillar, each separated by elaborate moldings. The presence of a label for the Tigris river indicates that there were likely labels on others representations as the builders deemed necessary. It is clear that a certain degree of artistic license was taken in the representations, since the Caesar Galerius is shown in personal combat with the Sassanid Shah Narses in one of the panels; in fact, they never met in battle. The panel on the arch has a mounted Galerius attacking a similarly mounted Narses with a lance as an eagle flies down upon Galerius bearing a victory wreath in its talons. The Caesar sits securely on his rearing horse, while the Persian king appears at the point of being unhorsed. Terrified Persians cower under the hooves of the Caesar’s horse in the chaos of battle. The message of the panel is a competence and power of the Caesar Galerius.

The relief of the imperial family conjoined in a sacrifice of thanksgiving owes its distant prototype to the Augustan reliefs on the Ara Pacis in Rome. The presence at his side of Galerius' wife, Diocletian's daughter Valeria, served to authenticate his links to his predessor. Here as elsewhere all the faces have been carefully chiselled off, whether as damnatio memoriae or in Christian intolerance of images.

In another panel, the tetrarchs are all arrayed in the toga as a Victoria holds a victory wreath out to the heads of the two Augusti. A third panel celebrates the unity and strength of the tetrarchy with a depiction of the tetrarchs standing in unison; the depersonalized manner in which the tetrarchs are portrayed is reminiscent of the schematic statues of the tetrarchs in porphyry at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. In this instance, only Galerius is dressed in armor, and he makes the offering upon the altar.

More than simply depicting the victory of the Caesar Galerius, what remains of the arch asserts the glory of the tetrarchy and the prominence of Galerius within that system. The arch celebrates the relevance to the Roman Empire as a whole of Galerius’ victory over the Sassanid king.

Rotunda of Galerius

Location and description of the Rotunda

Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Rotunda of Galerius
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv
Reference 456
Region** Europe and North America
Coordinates 40°37′N 22°57′E / 40.617°N 22.95°E / 40.617; 22.95
Inscription history
Inscription 1988  (12th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Rotunda of Galerius is 125m northeast of the Arch of Galerius at 40°37'59.77"N, 22°57'9.77"E. It is now the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Georgios, better known as the Church of the Rotunda (or simply The Rotunda). The cylindrical structure was built in 306 on the orders of the tetrarch Galerius, who was thought to have intended it to be his mausoleum. It was more likely intended as a temple; it is not known to what god it would have been dedicated.

The Rotunda has a diameter of 24.5 m. Its walls are more than 6 m thick, which is one reason why it has withstood Thessaloniki's earthquakes. The walls are interrupted by eight rectangular bays, with the south bay forming the entrance. A flat brick dome, 30 m high at the peak, crowns the cylindrical structure. In its original design, the dome of the Rotunda had an oculus like the Pantheon in Rome.

Mosaics in one of the bays of the interior.

Uses of the Rotunda

After Galerius's death in 311, he was buried at Gamzigrad (Felix Romuliana) near Zajecar, Serbia); however, the structure stood empty until the Emperor Constantine I ordered it converted into a Christian church in the 4th century. The church was embellished with very high artistic quality mosaics. Only fragments survived of the original decoration, for example a band depicting saints with hands raised in prayer, in front of complex architectural phantasies.

The building functioned as a church for over 1,200 years until the city fell to the Ottomans. In 1590 it was then converted into a mosque, the Mosque of Suleyman Hortaji Effendi, and a minaret was added to the structure. It remained a mosque until 1912, when the Greeks captured the city during the Balkan War. It was then formally re-consecrated into a church, but the minaret was not demolished. The structure was damaged during an earthquake in 1978 but was subsequently restored. As of 2004, the minaret was still being stabilized with scaffolding. The building is now a historical monument under the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture though the Greek Orthodox Church tries to reclaim it back for Orthodoxy every so often.

The interior of the Rotunda

The Rotunda is the oldest of Thessaloniki's churches, and some publications in Greece claim that it is the oldest Christian church in the world, although there are a number of other claimants to that title. It is certainly the most important surviving example of a church from the early Christian period of the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire.


  1. ^ The palace of Galerius was built on a massive scale using primarily local materials, perhaps over the destruction layer of a fire that cleared an area for the complex. Expansive areas of mosaic are preserved in several areas. A structure linked to the palace and called the Octagonal Room is at the southwest end of the excavated area at 40°37'48.53"N, 22°56'55.99"E; this was thought at one point to be a mausoleum, but may have actually been a monumental entryway to the palace. Beside the palace to the northeast was a Hippodrome.
  2. ^ At this point Galerius was a Caesar (subordinate emperor); he became one of the two Augusti (head emperors) in 305 CE, when Diocletian abdicated.
  3. ^ The other parts of the structure were destroyed at an unknown date, probably during one of many earthquakes which have damaged Thessaloniki throughout its history.


The arch

  • Dyggve, E. (Copenhagen, 1945). Recherches sur le palais imperial de Thessalonique.
  • Engemann, J. (JAC 22, 1979). “Akklamationsrichtung, Sieger- und Besietenrichtung auf dem Galeriusbogn in Saloniki.”
  • Garrucci, P. (W. Wylie, trans.). (NC 10, 1870). “Brass Medallion Representing the Persian Victory of Maximianus Galerius.”/
  • Hébrard, E. (BCH 44, 1920). “L’Arc de Galère et l’église Saint-Georges à Salonique.”
  • Kinch, K. F. (Paris, 1890). L’arc de triomphe de Salonique.
  • Laubscher, H. P. (Berlin, 1975). Der Reliefschmuck des Galeriusbogens in Thessaloniki.
  • Makaronas, C. J. (Salonica, 1970). The Arch of Galerius at Thessaloniki.
  • Meyer, H. (JdI 95, 1980). “Die Frieszyklen am sogenannten Triumphbogen des Galerius in Thessaloniki.”
  • Pond Rothman, M. S. (AJA 81, 1977). “The Thematic Organization of the Panel Reliefs on the Arch of Galerius.”
  • Pond Rothman, M. S. (Byzantine Studies/Etudes Byzantines 2:1, 1975). “The Panel of the Emperors Enthroned on the Arch of Galerius.”
  • Sutherland, C. H. V. (London, 1967), RIC IV: From Diocletian’s Reform (A.D. 294) to the Death of Maximinus (A. D. 313),
  • Velenis, G. (AA, 1979). “Architektonische Problems des Galeriusbogen in Thessaloniki.”
  • Velenis, G. (AA, 1983). “Nachtragliche Beobachtungen am Oberbau des Galeriusbogens in Thessaloniki.”
  • Vermeule, C. C. (Cambridge, Mass., 1968). Roman Imperial Art in Greece and Asia Minor.
  • von Schönebeck, H. (BZ 37, 1937). “Die zyklische Ordnung der Triumphalreliefs am Galeriusbogen in Saloniki.”
  • von Schönebeck, H. (JbBerlMus 58, 1937). (Preserves image of the now lost head of Galerius, possibly from the large Arch of Galerius. The relief head was in Berlin.)

The palace

  • Αθανασιου, Φ. et al. (ΑΕΜΘ 8, 1994). “Νεα στοιχεια για το Οκταγωνο του γαλεριανου συγκροτηματος.”
  • Αθανασιου, Φ. et al. (Θεσσαλονικεων πολις 3, 1981). “τα ανακτορα του Γαλεριου στη Θεσσαλονικη, Μεθοδολογια αποκαταστασης.”
  • Αθανασιου, Φ. et al. (Θεσσαλονικεων πολις 4, 2001). “Το λουτρα του ανακτορικου συγκροτηματος του Γαλεριου.”
  • Dyggve, E. (Copenhagen, 1945). Recherches sur le palais imperial de Thessalonique.
  • Dyggve, E. (Dissertationes Pannonicae ser. 2, 11, 1941). “Kurzer vorläufiger Bericht über die Ausgrabungen im Palastviertel von Thessaloniki.”
  • Hébrard, E. (BCH 44, 1920). “Les Travaux du Service archéologique d’Armée d’Orient a l’arc de triomphe de Galère et à l’arc de triomphe de Galère et à l’église Saint-Georges de Salonique.”
  • Καραμπερη, Μ. (AAA 23-28, 1990-1995). “Ο πολος του Οκταγωνο στο γαλεριανο συγκροτημα και η σχεση του με το νοτιο μεγαλο περιστυλιο.”
  • Καραμπερη, Μ. (Θεσσαλονικεων πολις 3, 2000). “Η αυτοκρατορικη εδρα Θεσσαλονικη.”
  • Sasel, J. (ed.). Tabula Imperii Romani (Sheet K34).
  • Vichers, M. (BSA 66, 1971). “A note on the Byzantine Palace at Thessaloniki.”
  • Ward-Perkins, J. B. (New York, 1981). Roman Imperial Architecture.

General reference

  • Bianchi-Bandinelli, R. (New York, 1971). Rome: The Late Empire.
  • Brilliant, R. (L’Arte 10, 1970). “Temporal Aspects in Late Roman Art.”
  • Brown, P. (New York, 1971). The World of Late Antiquity.
  • Cameron, A. (Cambridge, Mass., 1993). The Later Roman Empire, A. D. 284-430.
  • Kleiner, D. E. E. (New Haven, 1992). Roman Sculpture.

See also

External links

Coordinates: 40°37′59.97″N 22°57′10.61″E / 40.633325°N 22.9529472°E / 40.633325; 22.9529472


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