Wednesday, June 24, 2020



Alan Cameron, Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium (1976; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), pp. 276-277:
Vandalism, in the form of incendiarism, was a common and perhaps regular sequel to a faction riot. It is explicitly recorded of riots in 491, 493, 498, 507, 532, 548, 560 (twice at Constantinople and again in Cyzicus), and 561.7 Once or twice it is the Praetorium or the house of a prefect that is burned,8 but more often the incendiarism is apparently quite indiscriminate, taking in shops, churches, and public baths. The Nika rioters of 532 set fire to much of the city—hardly because they imagined it was going to cause Justinian to give way. Dio records a three-day battle between soldiers and the people some time in the 220s at Rome where it was the soldiers who won by setting fire to buildings ('and so the populace, fearing the whole city would be destroyed, reluctantly came to terms with them').1 A riot in May 562 began with Blues attacking Greens on the way out from the hippodrome (presumably in a spirit of triumph—or disappointment—after the races; compare the great riot of 507 at Antioch inspired by the victories of Porphyrius2). Some fellow Blues from Sycae then set fire to the docks; contained here they set fire to a nearby church and then made their way to the main boulevard of the Mese, where they set fire to the house of the praetorian prefect and an entire neighbouring colonnade. Such seemingly pointless vandalism is one of the recurring features of hooliganism down the ages, taking the form of smashed telephone boxes and slashed train seats with the soccer hooligan of today. Some light on the spirit in which it was done during a riot of 561 is cast by the accompanying acclamations, soberly committed to paper for posterity by some faction clerk: 'Burn here, burn there, not a Blue anywhere...' (p. 91). It is easy to see, then, why one contemporary called the Greens 'citizen-burners' (καυσοπολῖται).3

7 491-3: Marcellinus, Chron. s.a. (with Jo. Ant., Exc. de Insid. p. 41); 498: Malalas, Exc. de Insid. p. 168.22; 507: Malalas, p. 397 (at Antioch); 532, see below; 548: Malalas, p. 484, Theoph. p. 226.15f.; 560: Malalas, pp. 490-1; 561: Theophanes, pp. 235-6.

7 The city prefect's house was always the first to be burned in riots at old Rome; cf. John Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court A.D. 364-425 (1974), 20, and add Sidonius, Epp. i.10.2.

1 lxxx.2.3.

2 Malalas, pp. 395f.

3 Doctrina Jacobi, p. 39.6 Bonwetsch.

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