The Chrysotriklinos (Greek: Χρυσοτρίκλινος, "golden reception hall", cf. triclinium), Latinized as Chrysotriclinus or Chrysotriclinium, was the main reception and ceremonial hall of the Great Palace of Constantinople from its construction, in the late 6th century, until the 10th century. Its appearance is known only through literary descriptions, chiefly the 10th-century De Ceremoniis, a collection of imperial ceremonies, but, as the chief symbol of imperial power, it inspired the construction of Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel in Aachen.
History and functions
The hall is usually attributed to Emperor Justin II (r. 565–578), with his successor, Tiberius II (r. 578–582) finishing it and carrying out its decoration. However, Byzantine sources present conflicting accounts: the Suda encyclopedia attributes the building to Justin I (r. 518–527), and the Patria of Constantinople to the Emperor Marcian (r. 450–457), although the latter is usually rejected as unreliable. The historian Joannes Zonaras records that Justin II in fact reconstructed an earlier building, which has been suggested as the Heptaconch Hall of Justinian I (r. 527–565).
Following the Byzantine Iconoclasm, it was embellished again under the emperors Michael III (r. 842–867) and Basil I (r. 866–886). Unlike the earlier, single-purpose buildings of the Daphne wing of the Great Palace, it combined the functions of throne room for reception and audiences with those of a banquet hall. Since the later imperial chambers were also attached to it, the hall acquired a central position in the everyday palace ceremonial, especially in the 9th and 10th centuries, to the point that Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945–959) calls it simply "the palace". In particular, according to the De Ceremoniis, the Chrysotriklinos served for the reception of foreign embassies, the ceremonial conferring of dignities, as an assembly point for religious festivals and a banquet hall for special feasts, like Easter.
The Chrysotriklinos thus became the central part of the new Boukoleon Palace, formed when Emperor Nikephoros II (r. 963–969) enclosed the southern, seaward part of the Great Palace with a wall. From the late 11th century however, the Byzantine emperors began to prefer the Blachernae Palace, in the northwestern corner of the city, as their residence. The Latin emperors (1204–1261) chiefly used the Boukoleon, and so did, for a time after the recovery of the city in 1261, Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) while the Blachernae Palace was being restored. Subsequently the Great Palace was rarely used and gradually fell into decay. The Chrysotriklinos is mentioned for the last time in 1308, although the still-impressive ruins of the Great Palace remained in place until the end of the Byzantine Empire.
Despite its prominence and frequent mention in Byzantine texts, no full description of it is ever given. From the fragmented literary evidence, the hall appears to have been of octagonal shape crowned by a dome, paralleling other 6th-century buildings like the Church of Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople and the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. The roof was supported by 8 arches, which formed kamarai (apses or niches), and pierced by 16 windows. The shape and general features of the Chrysotriklinos were later consciously imitated by Charlemagne in the construction of the Palatine Chapel of the Palace of Aachen, although San Vitale, being located within his realm, provided the immediate architectural model.
In its interior, the imperial throne was placed on the eastern apse (the bēma), behind a bronze railing. The northeastern apse was known as the "oratory of St Theodore". It contained the emperor's crown and a number of holy relics, including the rod of Moses, and also served as a dressing room for the emperor. The southern apse led to the imperial bedroom (koitōn), through a silver door put in place by Emperor Constantine VII. The northern apse was known as the Pantheon, a waiting-room for officials, while the northwestern apse, the Diaitarikion, served as a steward's room, and was where the papias of the palace deposed his keys, the symbol of his office, after the ceremonial opening of the hall each morning. The main hall of the Chrysotriklinos was surrounded by a number of annexes and halls: the vestibule known as Tripeton, the Horologion (so named because it probably contained a sundial), the hall of the Kainourgion ("New [Hall]"), and the halls of the Lausiakos and the Justinianos, both attributed to Justinian II (r. 685–695 and 705–711). The Theotokos of the Pharos, the main palace chapel, was also located nearby, to the south or south-east.
Nothing is known of the hall's original, 6th-century decoration. Following the prohibition of human forms under Iconoclasm however, it was redecorated, sometime between 856 and 866, with mosaics in a monumental style. The late 10th-century ambassador Liutprand of Cremona does not hesitate to call it "the finest room in the palace". Above the imperial throne was placed an image of Christ enthroned, while another over the entrance depicted the Virgin Mary, with Emperor Michael III and the Patriarch Photios nearby. Elsewhere was depicted the heavenly court, with angels, priests and martyrs. The overall decoration was intended to reinforce the analogy between Christ's heavenly court and its Byzantine counterpart on earth.
The hall contained valuable furniture, such as the Pentapyrgion ("Five Towers"), a cupboard built by Emperor Theophilos (r. 829–842) that displayed precious vases, crowns and other valuable objects. During imperial banquets, it featured a gilded principal table for thirty high-ranking dignitaries, as well as two to four additional tables for 18 persons each. On occasion, the emperor is described as having his own table, set apart from the rest. The full ceremonial splendor of the hall was reserved for special occasions, such as the banquets for Arab envoys, described in the De Ceremoniis: additional lightning was provided by great chandeliers, imperial regalia, relics and other precious items were brought from various churches and displayed in the apses, while the meal was accompanied by music from two silver and two golden organs, placed in the porch, as well as by the choirs of the Hagia Sophia and the Holy Apostles.
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