All that is really known about Constantine’s poem comes from the internal evidence of the work itself, and that leaves more questions unanswered than answered. It seems likely that the text that survives in the Athos manuscript represents only one version of the original work. 1 This text is a collage of pieces written at different times and on different topics but put together into a reasonably coherent form by an editor, who most plausibly was the poet himself, revising an earlier workforalater use or re-use. 2 What exists consists of at least two poems, one that focused on the honorific columns of Constantinople and one that concentrated on the Holy Apostles. In addition to these two major sections, the ‘poem’ contains a series of shorter, encomiastic sections that establish that Constantine of Rhodes wrote for Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. However, it is not possible to date the poem or its parts definitively within the long reign of that emperor. Although a reference to four lawful rulers at lines 22–25 has been used to argue a case for the poem as a whole as dating to between 931 and 944, when Constantine VII was emperor with Romanos Lekapenos and two of his sons, those lines might also indicate a period of rule at the start of Constantine’s reign, during the regency of his mother, Zoe Karbonopsina. Alternatively, they may represent an interpolation added by the poet during his own revisions and referring to Constantine VII, the emperor’s son and their respective empresses. 3 It has been said that subject matter for the Byzantines was the quintessential feature of a poem: the topic shaped the occasion; the occasion shaped the genre. 4 On a general level, it seems obvious that the poem, whether as a whole or in its parts, belongs to a tradition of Byzantine poems and descriptions of city buildings and monuments that range across time and genre, from Chorikios of Gaza’s prose account of the churches of St Sergios and St Stephen in Gaza, and Paul the Silentiary’s poem on Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the sixth century, through to pieces such as Leo Choirosphaktes’s poem on the bathhouse 220of Leo VI. Constantine’s poem, categorising monuments and works of art as it does, and evoking classicism, antiquarianism and imperial ceremony, fits well with traditions of writing in the reigns of both Leo VI and Constantine VII. Throughout the poem, Constantine dealt with topics and themes close to both emperors’ hearts. But is it not clear why he should have produced a poem about the monuments of Constantinople and a poem about the Holy Apostles, as well as one (which may never have been written) about Hagia Sophia. If these were written for specific events, then knowledge of those events has disappeared. Further, arguments about the dating of the poem have affected interpretations and contextualisations of the subject matter. A level of circularity is often evident: because Constantine VII is well-known as a patron of art and literature, therefore this piece written under his patronage must date to a time when he was in a position to commission such works. Too much depends on the particular interpretation of the circumstances of the composition of the poem and on our reading of the character of the emperor himself. Yet, though we cannot provide a definite context, it seems inconceivable in tenth-century Byzantium that there would be no reason for the composition of such lengthy works beyond the poet’s desire to display his skill and gain imperial patronage.