In August 2018, during my visit to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, particular “logos” on some column capitals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_(architecture)) caught my attention. I managed to get some not so blurred photos of a couple of them with the aim to go back home and look for their meaning or significance.
Months passed, but could not find time to research this subject. But Covid-19 happened and lockdown provided some space for this. I got to know that these designs are indeed logos of Imperials. They are known as Imperial monograms.
A source that threats this subject in detail is http://fitarihinden.blogspot.com/2019/03/aziz-sergios-ve-bakhos-kilisesi.html. Unfortunately, I could not find a lot of other sources from this one, which is in Turkish.
What are Imperial monograms?
These are designs made up of letters from one’s name in such a way that it forms one letter. The etymology of the word monogram comes from the Greek words monos which means one/sole and gramma meaning letter. The monograms were put on seals, documents, coins (see phot below), and anything important in order to show one’s power and status.
Imperial Monograms in Hagia Sophia
The structure in place today is the third reconstruction of the church. The first, known as Magna Ecclesia was ordered by Constantine and inaugurated by Constantius II in the year 360. After it’s destruction, it was re-built by Theodosius the Great and burned down during the Nika riots of 532. Today’s Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian I between 532 and 537. The latter left his and his wife’s mark on some of the capitals of the basilica.
The four monograms read their names and titles; Basileus as Emperor and Augusta as Empress. The images below depict the four monograms and their construction (adopted from http://fitarihinden.blogspot.com/2019/03/aziz-sergios-ve-bakhos-kilisesi.html)
Emperor – monogram
Greek – ΒΑCΙΛΕѠΣ (basileos)
Justinian – monogram
Greek – ΙOΥCΤΙΝΙAΝOΥ (Iustinianus)
Theodora – monogram
Greek – ΘEOΔѠPAC (Theodora)
Empress – monogram
Greek – ΑΥΓΟΥΣΤΟΥ (Augusta)
https://sarahemilybond.com/2014/06/17/monograms-and-inscribed-power (monograms in general)