HST2025: Match of the Day: The Nika Riot in 532 HST2025 Winner of a Chariot Race picture

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader: Professor Julia Hillner



Pass in at least two of the Level One modules History Units HST112-121.


Module Summary

On Tuesday, 13 January 532, a chariot race in Constantinople's Hippodrome got out of control. Shouting 'Nika!' ('Conquer!'), the fans of the two competing Circus factions united in anger against the emperor Justinian. The week-long riot that followed was the most violent event Constantinople had ever seen. It is also the best documented, yet most enigmatic riot in late antique history. Circus riots were frequent and usually easily suppressed events in late antique cities, so what was different about this one? This module analyses the different contemporary and later accounts of the Nika riot in detail as a way into the study of sixth-century Byzantine society, and more broadly into the dynamic relationship of sport events and mass violence, the imperial authorities' varied responses to crowd behaviour, and the interaction of different social groups in moments of crisis in the late antique urban context.


Module Aims

This module aims to:

  • Provide students with an in-depth understanding of the key events of the Nika riot and of the social demands underlying it.
  • Enable students to appreciate both the definition and treatment of riots in fifth- and sixth-century Byzantine society on their own terms, and to relate them to modern concepts of riots.
  • Foster students' ability critically to evaluate contrasting modern interpretations in the light of primary sources.
  • Promote students' ability to write informed and cogent essays in clear, structured and grammatical prose.
  • Promote collaborative learning among students and develop team-work skills.
  • Encourage students to develop their confidence and competence in presenting their ideas orally.


Teaching and Assessment

  Lectures Seminars
1   Introduction: Emperors, Sports and Riot Narratives   The Map Project (Introduction to Dreamweaver, with James Pearson)
2 The Nika Riot: Sources and Interpretations How an uprising unfolds I: mobilisation
3 Taxation and Economic Hardship How an uprising unfolds II: reformation
4 Social Hierarchies and Aristocratic Attitudes How an uprising unfolds III: revolution
5 Legal and Illegal Violence How an uprising unfolds IV: suppression
6 Sixth-Century Constantinople Mapping the riot
7 Games and Politics Acclamations
8 Games and Popular Culture Elite Writing on Games
9 Circus Factions Procopius and the Press
10  An Era of Riots Towards a Classification of Late Antique Riots
11 The Nika Riot and the Age of Justinian Course review and evaluation

 Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level2


Selected Reading

Primary Sources

The Chronicle of John Malalas; The Chronicle of Marcellinus; The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor; Chronicon Paschale; Procopius: History of the Wars; Procopius: Buildings; Romanos the Melode: Kontakia.

Secondary Sources

  • J. B. Bury, 'The Nika Riot', The Journal of Hellenic Studies 17 (1897), pp. 92-119.
  • A. Cameron, Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium (Oxford, 1976)
  • N. B. Crowther, 'Sports Violence in the Roman and Byzantine Empires: A Modern Legacy?', International Journal of the History of Sport 13 (1996), pp. 445-458.
  • G. Greatrex, 'The Nika Riot: A Reappraisal', The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 117 (1997), pp. 60-86.
  • A. Louth, 'The Eastern Empire in the Sixth Century', The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 1, (Cambridge, 2005) pp. 93-117.
  • M. Maas (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (Cambridge / New York, 2005)


Intended Learning Outcomes
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