History is written by the victors – this is something that we all know, or at least should know. I apologize in advance for being elementary in my discussion, but I think one thing that scholars tend to do too often is assume our readers or audience has a firm grasp on what we are talking about. With this topic, I am not assuming.
When studying artifacts from past civilizations, an interesting phenomenon of using spolia as a demonstration of conquest is commonplace. If a conquered country’s deity is placed on the bottom of a column, or even turned a different direction, the significance usually means that deity is demoted or inferior – this is found in the Hagia Sophia (especially under the structure). If spolia is found whereby a country adds their deity (even if that deity is their ruler) to another country’s monument, then there is a coexistence or combining of empires with the conquesting ruler in prominent view, even substituting past rulers. This is best demonstrated on the Arch of Constantinople whereby Christian symbols and the likeness of Constantine was incorporated into an arch that once displayed the victories of Marcus Aurelius and Domitian. If you are interested in this topic, please see my article “Hagia Sophia: Political Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” in Popular Archaeology magazine.
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