Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

A Hymn for Fallen Soldiers from the 10th Century:

Let us gather together people of Christ

And celebrate the memory

Of our brothers who died in battle

And those who perished in intolerable captivity.

Let us entreat on their behalf.


They were valiant until their slaughter

Your servants, Lover of Man;

They received

Blows pitilessly

Persevering in fetters;

Let it be that these men for these things

Achieve atonement of their souls, Lover of Man.


You alone who are without sin,

Took in those

who are your servants,

Illustrious generals ( stratêgous ),

commanding commanders ( taxiarchas ),

Brave soldiers ( stratiotas ),

Judge them worthy of your repose.

Another Hymn for Fallen Soldiers, possibly from the reign of Leo the Wise:

Saviour, who gave power to wise David,

cast down our adversaries as you did Goliath of old,

Compassionate One,

with your invisible slingshot, Christ,

crush their insolent acts and designs,

so that with faith we may honour you.


Life-giving son of God, by the prayers of your mother,

and by the divine supplications of the angels and gloriously triumphant martyrs,

gladden your faithful emperors,

shatter the throngs of barbarians, and to the army

that worships you, show mercy.


O Lord who showed to Constantine the first emperor of the Christians

the divine cross, and uttered from the heavens

“Trust in this sign,”

You, O Lord, by the power of the cross give now

victory and vigour and truly divine power

to your army in your compassion.


O Lord who fought with most gentle David

to defeat the Philistine,

fight beside your faithful emperors.

and armed with the cross

cast down their enemies.

An Address to Soldiers before Battle, from around 950:

Therefore, have no fear, my men, have no fear, fill your souls with zeal and show the enemies who rely on the aid of Beliar or Mohammed what those who put their faith in Christ can accomplish. Be the avengers and champions not only of Christians, but of Christ Himself, whom they wickedly deny … And so let us put all our hope in Him, and instead of our whole panoply let us arm ourselves with His cross, equipped with which you lately made the fierce soldiers of the Hamdanid the victims of your swords 

Another address to soldiers which mentions the Relics of the Passion.  The famous Limburg Staurotheke, containing a collection of Passion Relics was carried in battle and displayed at the entrance to the Imperial tent alongside the Icon of the Virgin of Victory:

Behold that after drawing holy water from the immaculate and most sacred relics of the Passion of Christ our true God – from the precious wooden fragments [of the true cross] and the undefiled lance, the precious titulus, the wonder-working reed, the life-giving blood which flowed from His precious rib, the most sacred tunic, the holy swaddling clothes, the God-bearing winding sheet, and the other relics of His undefiled Passion – we have sent it to be sprinkled upon you, for you to be anointed by it and to garb yourself with the divine power from on high

from Military documents of the mid-tenth century by Paul Stephenson

Meet Bob Atchison - the Creator of this Website

I am an icon painter, Russian Historian and Austin Web Designer formerly of Seattle, Washington and now living in Austin, Texas. My interest in Byzantium and icons began when I was 8 years old and read my first book on Byzantium called "The Fall of Constantinople".

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Nicopeia - Guardian of Constantinople

Byzantine Nicopeia icon of San Marco

This image of the Virgin was closely associated with the Imperial throne.  The icon is in an original Byzantine frame of gilded silver with gold enamels, pearls and gemstones,  the enamels have been re-arranged. The surface of the icon and the figure of Christ was badly damaged by the attachment of jewels and pearls to the icon by Venetian devotees of the icon followed by the robbery when they were ripped from the icon. The face of the Virgin is very well preserved and shows extreme delicacy and refinement in the the painter's technique.  It was probably created in the late 10th century, specifically to follow the emperor and the army on campaign.  Perhaps it was made for Basil II, who spent most of his reign in the field, fighting the empire's many enemies.  This icon was greatly esteemed by John II and his family.

The icon was taken by bloodied Crusader soldiers in 1204 in hand-to-hand combat with the defenders of the city at the Pantepotes Monastery which was and the last stand of the Byzantines.  In the end the defense of the city had been taken on by a ragtag army composed of common people led by a few young aristocrats that had hastily been organized at Hagia Sophia. Refusing to fight without payment in gold, the Varangian Guard stepped aside and let the Latin troops ravage the city at will.  The icon was taken as war booty by the Venetians and sent to Venice as a trophy. It was a symbol that God had now transferred His blessing from Constantinople to Venice by force of arms.

The crusaders had been blessed by the Catholic church and allowed to rob and rape at will because the Byzantines were heretics and not Christians,  Murdering them was not a sin and would be blessed by Christ Himself.  Killing them was required.  The looting of the churches was also justified as restoring their treasures to the true church.  Catholic bishops, priests and monks followed the Latin soldiers as they looted Constantinople, making deals for relics and having the soldiers do their dirty work of despoiling sanctuaries.

The Nicopeia was meant to be seen from a great distance and in low light. Here's a close-up view of it.  I am nor sure why the beautiful halos were left off in the restoration.  The icon would be much more attractive - and look less battered - with them.  The outline of the Virgin has been greatly altered by later regilding.  Now the head is smaller and the shoulders are too rounded.the icon of the Nicopeia Mother of GodAbove is the icon before its restoration showing the gems and pearls that were stolen in the robbery.