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Spolia (Latin, 'spoils'), the repurposing of building stone for new

construction, or the reuse of decorative sculpture on new
monuments, is an ancient and widespread practice whereby stone
that has been quarried cut and used in a built structure, is carried
away to be used elsewhere The practice is of particular interest to
historians, archaeologists and architectural historians since the
gravestones, monuments and architectural fragments of antiquity are
frequently found embedded in structures built centuries or millennia
Archaeologist Philip A. Barker gives the example of a late Roman
period (probably 1st century) tombstone from Wroxeter that could be
seen to have been cut down and undergone weathering while in use
as part of an exterior wall, then, possibly as late as the 5th century,

Dating of the reliefs on the Arch of


reinscribed for reuse as a tombstone.[1]

The practice was common in late antiquity. Entire obsolete
structures, including underground foundations, are known to have
been demolished to enable the construction of new structures.
According to Baxter, two churches in Worcester (one 7th century and
one 10th,) are thought to have been deconstructed so that their
building stone could be repurposed by St. Wulstan to construct a
cathedral in 1084.[1] And the parish churches of Atcham, Wroxeter,
and Upton Magna are largely built of stone taken from the buildings
of Viroconium Cornoviorum.[1]

Fragments of Greek inscriptions in the

masonry of the Ottoman
Heptapyrgion (Yedikule) fortress
(1431), Thessaloniki.

Roman examples include the Arch of Janus, the earlier imperial reliefs reused on the Arch of Constantine,
the colonnade of Old Saint Peter's Basilica; examples in Byzantine territories include the exterior sculpture
on the Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos in Athens); in the medieval West Roman tiles were reused in St
Albans Cathedral, in much of the medieval architecture of Colchester, porphyry columns in the Palatine
Chapel in Aachen, and the colonnade of the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Spolia in the medieval
Islamic world include the columns in the hypostyle mosques of Kairouan, Gaza and Cordoba.
Although the modern literature on spolia is primarily concerned with these and other medieval examples, the
practice is common and there is probably no period of art history in which evidence for "spoliation" could
not be found.
Interpretations of spolia generally alternate between the "ideological" and the "pragmatic." Ideological
readings might describe the re-use of art and architectural elements from former empires or dynasties as
triumphant (that is, literally as the display of "spoils" or "booty" of the conquered) or as revivalist
(proclaiming the renovation of past imperial glories). Pragmatic readings emphasize the utility of re-used
materials: if there is a good supply of old marble columns available, for example, there is no need to produce
new ones. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and there is certainly no one approach that can
account for all instances of spoliation, as each instance must be evaluated within its particular historical

Spolia had apotropaic spiritual value. Clive Foss has noted[2] that in the fifth century crosses were inscribed
on the stones of pagan buildings, as at Ankara, where crosses were inscribed on the walls of the temple of
Roma and Augustus. Clive Foss suggests that the purpose of this was to ward off the daimones that lurked in
stones that had been consecrated to pagan usage.
Liz James extends Foss's observation[3] in noting that statues, laid on their sides and facing outwards, were
carefully incorporated in Ankara's city walls in the Seventh century, at a time when spolia were also being
built into city walls in Miletus, Sardis, Ephesus and Pergamum: "laying a statue on its side places it and the
power it represents under control. It is a way of acquiring the power of rival gods for one's own benefit," Liz
James observes. "Inscribing a cross works similarly, sealing the object for Christian purposes".[4]

See also
Crisis of the 3rd Century
Roman Empire#Tetrarchy (285324) and Constantine the Great
Palimpsest, the practice of erasing old texts from scarce old vellum
to write new text.
Diocletian's Palace, a Roman Imperial palace in Split, re-purposed by
later inhabitants as a town.

1. Barker, A. Philip (1977).
Wikimedia Commons has
Techniques of Archaeological
media related to Spolia.
Excavation. Routledge. p. 11.
2. Foss, "Late Antique and
Byzantine Ankara" Dumbarton Oaks Papers 31 (1977:65).
Re-used reliefs as decoration in Santa 3. James, "'Pray Not to Fall into Temptation and Be on Your Guard': Pagan
Statues in Christian Constantinople" Gesta 35.1 (1996:1220) p. 16.
Maria in Trastevere, Rome
4. James 1996, noting O. Hjort, "Augustus ChristianusLivia Christiana:
Sphragis and Roman portrait sculpture", in L. Ryden and J.O. Rosenqvist,
Aspects of Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium (Transactions of the Swedish Institute in Istanbul, IV) 1993:93112.

Further reading
There is a large modern literature on spolia, and the following list makes no claim to be comprehensive.
J. Alchermes, "Spolia in Roman Cities of the Late Empire: Legislative Rationales and Architectural
Reuse," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 48 (1994), 16778.
S. Bassett, The urban image of late antique Constantinople (Cambridge, 2004).
L. Bosman, The power of tradition: Spolia in the architecture of St. Peter's in the Vatican (Hilversum,
B. Brenk, "Spolia from Constantine to Charlemagne: Aesthetics versus Ideology," Dumbarton Oaks
Papers 41 (1987), 10309.
B. Brenk, "Sugers Spolien," Arte Medievale 1 (1983), 101107.
R. Brilliant, "I piedistalli del giardino di Boboli: spolia in se, spolia in re," Prospettiva 31 (1982), 2
C. Bruzelius, "Columpnas marmoreas et lapides antiquarum ecclesiarum: The Use of Spolia in the
Churches of Charles II of Anjou," in Arte d'Occidente: temi e metodi. Studi in onore di Angiola Maria

Romanini (Rome, 1999), 18795.

F.W. Deichmann, Die Spolien in der sptantike Architektur (Munich, 1975).
J. Elsner, "From the Culture of Spolia to the Cult of Relics: The Arch of Constantine and the Genesis
of Late Antique Forms," Papers of the British School at Rome 68 (2000), 14984.
A. Esch, "Spolien: Zum Wiederverwendung antike Baustcke und Skulpturen in mittelalterlichen
Italien," Archiv fr Kunstgeschichte 51 (1969), 264.
F.B. Flood, "The Medieval Trophy as an Art Historical Trope: Coptic and Byzantine 'Altars' in Islamic
Contexts," Muqarnas 18 (2001).
J.M. Frey, Spolia in Fortifications and the Common Builder in Late Antiquity (Leiden, 2016)
M. Greenhalgh, The Survival of Roman Antiquities in the Middle Ages (London, 1989). (Available
online (, provided by author)
M. Greenhalgh, "Spolia in fortifications: Turkey, Syria and North Africa," in Ideologie e pratiche del
reimpiego nell'alto medioevo (Settimane di Studi del Centro Italiano di Studi sull'Alto Medioevo 46),
(Spoleto, 1999). (Available online
(, provided by author)
M. Fabricius Hansen, The eloquence of appropriation: prolegomena to an understanding of spolia in
early Christian Rome (Rome, 2003).
B. Kiilerich, "Making Sense of the Spolia in the Little Metropolis in Athens," 'Arte medievale n.s.
anno IV, 2, 2005, 95-114.
B. Kiilerich, "Antiquus et modernus: Spolia in Medieval Art - Western, Byzantine and Islamic", in
Medioevo: il tempo degli antichi, ed. A.C. Quintavalle, Milan 2006,135-145.
D. Kinney, "Spolia from the Baths of Caracalla in Sta. Maria in Trastevere," Art Bulletin 68 (1986),
D. Kinney, "Rape or Restitution of the Past? Interpreting Spolia," in S.C. Scott, ed., The Art of
Interpreting (University Park, 1995), 5267.
D. Kinney, "Making Mute Stones Speak: Reading Columns in S. Nicola in Carcere and S. Maria
Antiqua," in C.L. Striker, ed., Architectural Studies in Memory of Richard Krautheimer (Mainz,
1996), 8386.
D. Kinney, "Spolia. Damnatio and renovatio memoriae," Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome
42 (1997), 117148.
D. Kinney, "Roman Architectural Spolia," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145
(2001), 138161.
D. Kinney, "Spolia," in W. Tronzo, ed., St. Peter's in the Vatican (Cambridge, 2005), 1647.
D. Kinney, "The concept of Spolia," in C. Rudolph, ed., A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque
and Gothic in Northern Europe (Oxford, 2006), 23352.
L. de Lachenal, Spolia: uso e rempiego dell'antico dal III al XIV secolo (Milan, 1995).
P. Liverani, "Reimpiego senza ideologia: la lettura antica degli spolia dallarco di Costantino allet
carolingia," Rmische Mitteilungen 111 (2004), 383434.
J. Lomax, "Spolia as Property," Res Publica Litterarum 20 (1997), 8394.
C. Mango, "Ancient Spolia in the Great Palace of Constantinople," in Byzantine East, Latin West. Art
Historical Studies in Honor of Kurt Weitzmann (Princeton, 1995), 64557.
H.-R. Meier, "Vom Siegeszeichen zum Lftungsschacht: Spolien als Erinnerungstrger in der
Architektur," in: Hans-Rudolf Meier und Marion Wohlleben (eds.), Bauten und Orte als Trger von
Erinnerung: Die Erinnerungsdebatte und die Denkmalpflege (Zrich: Institut fr Denkmalpflege der
ETH Zrich, 2000), 8798. (pdf (
R. Mller, Spolien und Trophen im mittelalterlichen Genua: sic hostes Ianua frangit (Weimar, 2002).
J. Poeschke and H. Brandenburg, eds., Antike Spolien in der Architektur des Mittelalters und der
Renaissance (Munich, 1996).
H. Saradi, "The Use of Spolia in Byzantine Monuments: the Archaeological and Literary Evidence,"
International Journal of the Classical Tradition 3 (1997), 395423.
Annette Schfer, Spolien: Untersuchungen zur bertragung von Bauteilen und ihr politischer
Symbolgehalt am Beispiel von St-Denis, Aachen und Magdeburg (M.A. thesis, Bamberg, 1999).

S. Settis, Continuit, distanza, conoscenza: tre usi dellantico, in S. Settis, ed., Memoria dellantico
nellarte italiana (Torino, 1985), III.373486.
B. Ward-Perkins, From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages: Urban Public Building in Northern
and Central Italy A.D. 300850 (Oxford, 1984).
Lorenzatti, Sandro, Vicende del Tempio di venere e Roma nel medioevo e nel Rinascimento, in "Rivista
dellIstituto Nazionale di Archeologia e storia dellArte",13. 1990, pp. 119138.
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