Serpent column, Istanbul. Photo by Gryffindor.

Today is the anniversary of the victory of the Greek city states over the Persian army of Xerxes at the Battle of Platea in 480 BCE.

This is the gift the saviors of far-flung Hellas upraised here,

Having delivered their states from loathsome slavery’s bonds.

– Herodotus

A tenth of the booty from the battle was set aside for a dedication to Apollo, in fulfilment of a vow. The bronze column of three intertwined snakes symbolized the cooperation of the city states participating in the battle. The column was topped with a golden or gilded tripod. The monument was placed on a stone base near the altar of Apollo at Delphi. 


Serpent Head, Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Gryffindor.

The column was desecrated in 345/344 BCE by the Phocians, who stole the treasure from Delphi during a war against the Delphic Amphictyonic League. The conflict was settled by Philip II of Macedon, and the Phocians were fined 400 talents for their act of extreme sacrilege.

In 324 CE, Constantine I in had the column relocated to the Hippodrome in the new city of Constantinople. The serpent heads survived until the 1700s. The column was lost when the ground level was raised. Charles Thomas Newton, a British archaeologist, supervised the excavation of the base in 1855. The remaining portion of the column is 7.62 meters/25 feet in height.


Reconstruction of the Serpent Column by doktorjohn, 2010.


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