Classicizing visions of Constantinople after 1204: Niketas Choniates' De signis reconsidered

Foteini Spingou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The De Signis by Niketas Choniates is traditionally understood as an emphatic and accurate account of the destruction of the ancient statues in Constantinople following the events of 1204. This article re-evaluates its content and manuscript transmission, and reads it as a symbolic account of the assaults against the Empire and its capital, rather than a factual report of the destruction of the Constantinopolitan statuary. The argument is developed in three sections. The first section offers a fresh examination of the manuscript transmission of the De Signis and finds that previously unnoticed paratexts prove its function as a semi-autonomous rhetorical appendix to a single version of Choniates’ History. Noticing discrepancies between the different (Greek or not) accounts related to 1204 and the De Signis, and inconsistencies within the same text, the second section reads the text as a narrative of a semi-fictional and highly symbolic landscape of memory. The third section offers a close reading of the crescendo of the account, the ekphrasis of the statue of Helen of Troy, which –we argue – stands for the beauty of Constantinople. The highly emotive description of the statue is also a way for Choniates to express his emotions and plea for unity among literati against the “illiterate barbarians”.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-220
Number of pages40
JournalDumbarton Oaks Papers
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


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