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The tzykanisterion (Greek: τζυκανιστήριον) was a stadium for playing the tzykanion (Greek: τζυκάνιον, from Middle Persian čaukān, čōkān), a kind of polo adopted by the Byzantines from Sassanid Persia.[1]

According to John Kinnamos, the tzykanion was played by two teams on horseback, equipped with long sticks topped by nets, with which they tried to push an apple-sized leather ball into the opposite team's goal.[2][3] The sport was very popular among the Byzantine nobility: Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886) excelled at it; Emperor Alexander (r. 912–913) died from exhaustion while playing; and John I of Trebizond (r. 1235–1238) died from a fatal injury during a game.[3] The Great Palace of Constantinople featured a tzykanisterion, first built by Emperor Theodosius II (r. 408–450) on the southeastern part of the palace precinct. It was demolished by Basil I in order to erect the Nea Ekklesia church in its place, and rebuilt in larger size further east, connected to the Nea with two galleries.[4] Aside from Constantinople and Trebizond, other Byzantine cities also featured tzykanisteria, most notably Sparta, Ephesus, and Athens, an indication of a thriving urban aristocracy.[5]

These were also used as places of public tortures and executions, as it is historically recorded for the tzykanisteria of Constantinople and Ephesus.[6]


  1. ^ Janin 1964, pp. 118–119.
  2. ^ Kinnamos, 263.17–264.11.
  3. ^ a b Kazhdan 1991, p. 1939.
  4. ^ Kazhdan 1991, p. 2137.
  5. ^ Laiou 2002, Maria Kazanaki-Lappa, "Medieval Athens", p. 643.
  6. ^ Anna Komnene, The Alexiad, A. Reifferscheid (ed.) (1884, Teubner) 15:9.4; Theophanes Chronographia 1, de Boor, C. (ed.) (Leipzig 1883), p. 445.3-9.