The Nike Riots of Constantinople (Istanbul) (AD 532)

The Nike riots occurred in 532 during the reign of emperor Justinian and were the most violent in Constantinople’s history. On January 13, an angry crowd of sports fans entered the hippodrome for the chariot races. The hippodrome was located next to the imperial palace, and Justinian could hear the crowds start yelling insults at him. By the end of the day, they were shouting “Nike”—Victory, Win,

The hyped-up crowd rushed out of the hippodrome and attacked the emperor’s palace for the next five days. They started fires that burned down half of the city, including the Church of Holy Peace (Hagia Irene) and the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).

In fear, Justinian prepared to flee, but empress Theodora declared in defiance, “Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress.” Justinian regained his courage, and his imperial troops killed around thirty thousand rioters, bringing the riots to a bloody end. The destruction in the city gave Justinian an opportunity to reestablish his rule and rebuild Constantinople—including the Church of Holy Peace (Hagia Irene) and the Church of Holy Pace (Hagia Sophia)—in a magnificent fashion, which he did.