The Nika Revolt Breaks Out In The Hippodrome

Today on January 13, 532, thousands of citizens turn into a violent mob, sparking the destructive Nika Revolt in the Hippodrome.

The Nika Revolt was a five-day riot against Justinian I, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The revolt escalated into one of the most devastating events in Byzantine history. Nearly half of the city’s buildings were damaged and tens of thousands perished. The rioting began in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which was a large oval circus used for chariot racing. It served as both a sporting and societal hub with capacity for 100,000 spectators. Chariot racing had become a cornerstone of Roman and Byzantine culture. Local fans often supported their favorite factions by wearing the team’s color. The four major teams were the Whites, Blues, Reds, and Greens.

Team associations extended beyond racing, as they were known to heavily influence political issues and decisions. Many were also rumored to have supported and participated in street gangs. Needless to say, it was critical the emperor maintain peaceful relations with the four factions. In 531, members of the Blues and Greens were arrested in connection to several murders and were initially sentenced to death. The crowds demanded Justinian pardon their offenses. He compromised by adjusting the sentence to imprisonment, but this did not suffice. Justinian had also recently introduced new taxes, causing further tension with the people.

On January 13, citizens at the chariot race began chanting insults at the emperor. By the final race, the crowds unified their chanting into “Nika, Nika”, meaning “Victory, Victory”. The crowds suddenly turned violent and the Nika Revolt started. People across the city broke out into a destructive riot. Thousands stormed the emperor’s viewing box and surrounded the Imperial Palace. The city was set ablaze and the original Hagia Sophia burned down. Justinian tried to flee, but his wife, Theodora, refused to leave and abandon her position as Empress. Five days later, Justinian appeased the crowds by distributing gold coins. Next, the royal guard led by General Belisarius marched into the Hippodrome and massacred the remaining rioters.

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