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ISTANBUL – The Serpent Column: An Ancient Marvel

The Serpent Column “Three-headed Serpent”, is an ancient bronze monument located at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, now known as Atmeydanı “Horse Square” in Istanbul, Turkey. This historic artifact also referred to as the Plataean Tripod or Delphi Tripod originates from an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod that was initially situated in Delphi. It was relocated to Constantinople by Constantine the Great in 324 AD.

The Serpent Column was constructed to commemorate the Greek city-states’ victory over the Persian Empire at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Originally standing at 8 meters (26 feet) high, the column featured three intertwined serpent heads, which remained intact until the late 17th century. Today, one of these heads is displayed at the nearby Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

This column boasts one of the longest literary histories of any surviving object from Greek and Roman antiquity. Alongside its original golden tripod and cauldron—both of which have long been missing—it served as a trophy or offering dedicated to Apollo at Delphi. This dedication was made in the spring of 478 BC, several months after the Greek victory at Plataea, a key event in the Greco-Persian Wars.

The Serpent Column is mentioned by numerous ancient writers, including Herodotus, Thucydides, pseudo-Demosthenes, Diodorus Siculus, Pausanias the Traveler, Cornelius Nepos, and Plutarch. Its removal to Constantinople by Emperor Constantine is detailed by the historian Edward Gibbon, who draws on the accounts of Byzantine historians such as Zosimus, Eusebius, Socrates, and Sozomenus.

Today, the Serpent Column stands as a testament to ancient Greek history and its enduring legacy in the heart of Istanbul, inviting visitors to explore the rich cultural tapestry of this historic city.

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