Translating spolia: a recent discovery of fragments from the walls of Seljuk Konya and their afterlives

Title: Translating spolia: a recent discovery of fragments from the walls of Seljuk Konya and their afterlives
Variant title:
  • Interpretace spolií: nedávný objev fragmentů výzdoby hradeb seldžuckého města Konya a jejich další život
Author: Yalman, Suzan
Source document: Convivium. 2021, vol. 8, iss. Supplementum 2, pp. [156]-177
  • ISSN
    2336-3452 (print)
    2336-808X (online)
Type: Article
Summary language
License: Not specified license
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In the thirteenth-century city walls of Seljuk Konya, a prominent example of spolia – two reused sarcophagus panels once set into the northern walls – serves as a case study. By chance, the material evidence surfaced after publication of an article on the textual descriptions of this alto relievo in nineteenth-century European travel accounts, when a late-Ottoman photograph of the left panel came to light. After reviewing the visual and textual sources, this article discusses how pursuing the provenance led to the whereabouts of the remains today. The discovery of the actual sarcophagus fragments enables reassessment of the sources and inquiry into layers of translation and meaning. Although these works are now displayed as Roman artifacts illustrating the myth of Achilles on Scyros and are thereby stripped of their afterlife in the Konya walls, they compare with reused sarcophagi known from Ephesus or Nicaea. In the case of the Seljuk capital, how were the panels understood when embedded in the walls? Their conspicuous placement indicates a particular prominence given to them. While difficult to pin down given the paucity of sources and multicultural context of Anatolia, a number of semiotic readings are suggested for their reuse. Perhaps what contributed to their magnetism and resonance in the thirteenth century and beyond was their capacity for multivalent meanings and appeal to a diverse range of audiences.