The Hippodrome was the center of social life in Constantinople. Fans sported different colors varying from Red, White, Blue and Green. Most fans eagerly awaited chariot races and the best seats could be found around the "sling" areas in the U shaped stadium. Around these narrow curves, fans boisterously cheered on their color, and many eagerly awaited disaster. Often these chariots were unable to turn around the narrow curves at the ends of the stadium and many chariots crashed and slammed into the arena walls.
For the emperor entering the arena was a risk. When high praise was called out from cheering fans, an Emperor could receive such raucous and genuine support that affirmed their right to rule. However, this support was not to be taken for granted, as Justian I learned in 532 AD.
As the color teams became more popular they also became more political, and over time the Blues and the Greens became the dominant political parties of the time. Justinian a supporter of the Blues would enter from a passage way that connected his Imperial Palace (which no longer exists) to the Kathisma or imperial box seat. In such an open arena this seat was particularly vulnerable to attack, and spectators were unafraid cheer or in the case of Justinian their voice their disapproval.
Leading up to days events, Justinian knew that his appearance was contested. For one, he was in the middle of negotiating peace with the Persians and he understood that there was brewing resentment over rising taxes. To make matters worse, some members of the Blues and the Greens were arrested for murder after previous chariot races. The situation was tense.
On January 13th, 532 AD Justinian arrived at the stadium fully aware of the tenuous situation and insults were hailed from spectators above. After race 22 the crowd started to chant "nika!" meaning win or conquer. For the next five days the palace was under seige and fires broke out across the city. One cherished monument that suffered as a result was the Church of Holy Wisdom or the Hagia Sophia, which Justinian later rebuilt.
Justinian was in despair and he considered fleeing, but his wife, Empress Theodora reminded him "royalty is a fine burial shroud." Justinian plotted and was able to avert disaster by bribing the Greens and appealing to the blues. At the end of the seige, it's estimated that around 30,000 rioters were killed, which marked what became known as the Nika riots.
Today, the Hippodrome is in ruins. What remains are pieces of a retaining outer wall to a stadium that once held up to 300,00 people. Although the outer walls have mostly been looted and destoryed since then, spectacular monuments still mark this historical site including: a serpent sculpture from the Greek sanctuary of Delphi and an ancient Egptian Obelisk dating back to the New Kingdom (approximately 1500 BCE). These impressive monuments represented the peak grandeur and impressiveness of Byzantium.
The relief carvings below show scenes about how the obelisk was raised in the stadium, how the Emperor received his guests at the forum and how entertainers danced and amused their guests.