I’ve played a bit more since the last post and now I’ve travelled around most of Assassin’s Creed Revelations‘ Constantinople, although much of it superficially. When I finished the last post I was headed towards the Hippodrome, and not long after I arrived there to quite a bit of disappointment.
The first thing that struck me was the size. It’s tiny. Although the Hippodrome is not longer extant today in Istanbul, one can get a sense of the size given the courtyard west of the Blue Mosque and the massive surviving sphendone. The sphendone survives, and although I don’t have any great pictures which show its size, it is a worthy trip for anyone visiting Istanbul who wants to get a sense of the Hippodrome’s enormity.
The entirety of the Hippodrome’s banks of seating is gone today, but the sphendone survived likely because of it served the useful purpose of providing extra level ground for this part of the city. When the hill upon which the Hippodrome was to be built was not sufficient for the size of the structure, Roman engineering took over. While the Greeks modified their buildings to suit the environment (take a look at Hellenistic theatres, for an example), the Romans modified their environments to suit their buildings. Sometimes, for example, if you want to build a bathhouse in Britain you just might have to make the place a desert (Tacitus, Agricola, XXX). Why let the environment limit your construction project when you can fix the problem with an excessive quantity of vaulting?
While it was nice of the developers to include the detail on Theodosius’ Obelisk, the Latin inscription appears to have been unfortunately reversed.
A decent quantity of the seating of the far end of the Hippodrome has survived in the Assassin’s Creed rendition. From Ottoman miniatures it may be that the videogame version of the Hippodrome may actually be in better condition than its real counterpart. While chariot racing had fallen out of fashion as the Byzantine centuries continued, the space continued to be used as a location for emperors to address the public, and was apparently in a condition considered acceptable to show to foreign dignitaries under the Komnenoi. After the establishment of the crusaders in the Levant and the Byzantine court’s interest in western customs tournaments were supposedly held in the Hippodrome.
Other than the rather tiny size of the Hippodrome in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, it’s not too bad. Given that the miniature from 1536 shows columns on the sphendone I think it’s safe to say that seating on that end of the hippodrome is probably a safe bet, and that what we’re seeing here is likely a good depiction of how it looked early in the sixteenth century.