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Survived From Looting and Chaos, A Rare Roman-era Mosaic is Uncovered in Syria

posted on: Oct 19, 2022

Photo: Roman mosaic / Source: Pixabay

By: Jenny Lyu / Arab America Contributing Writer

Roman mosaic found in Rastan, Syria

In the central town of Rastan, an intact Roman-era mosaic with a 1,600-year history is bathed in sunlight again. It has been a significant archaeological discovery since the Civil War started in 2011. This discovery not only revealed to the world the rich cultural heritage and artistic value of the Middle East region but also announced that long at-risk antiquities and cultural heritage are again being protected and cared for. Slowly but surely, illegal traffic in middle eastern antiquities will be minimal.

The mosaic measures about 1,300 square feet (65.5 x 20ft), with small, colorful, and square-shaped tesserae that were roughly half an inch on each side, inlaid on each panel. The image is filled with intricate details, including scenes from the mythological Trojan and Amazon wars, Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and the demigod hero Hercules slayed Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, in one of his 12 labors. The mosaic also features Neptune, the Ancient Roman god of the sea, and 40 of his mistresses.

It was excavated by Syria’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in an old building, and it is currently being investigated to determine whether it is a public bathhouse or something else. Before the country’s armed conflict, there were no significant excavation efforts in the town, so more heritage sites and artifacts could be hidden there. Rastan, or the whole Syria, is absolutely a treasure for humans, the home of great ancient civilizations and cultures.

Photo: Antique Floor / Source: Pixabay

Roman Mosaic Art

This giant mosaic artwork on the theme of Roman mythology shows the fusion of Greco-Roman art’s volumetric and narrative nature with mosaic, a two-dimensional and decorative art form. Mosaics depict vivid pictures of ancient Roman life, from dramatic athletic contests to tender portraits of local wildlife. In addition, these artworks provide a glimpse at who the Romans were, what they valued, and where they walked. 

  1. Mosaic is the carpet of the Romans

Roman mosaics could be walked on. Unlike paintings always on the interior walls, mosaics are a durable and lavish way to spruce up a room and support foot traffic simultaneously. As you walk on it, it is good to see it from different angles. 

2. Patterns and stories in mosaic

The motifs range from simple to intricate geometric patterns to various rosettes, ribbons with twisted borders, or repeating patterns of sophisticated symbols, also called guilloche. The scenes of the figures are often taken from history, such as the story of the gods and heroes in Homer’s Odyssey campaign. Mythological themes include the sea goddess Cetis, the Three Graces, and the Kingdom of Peace. There are also figurative images from everyday Roman life: hunting pictures or images of the sea, the latter usually found in Roman baths. Some are detailed reproductions of paintings, and some are called labyrinth mosaics, which are labyrinths, graphic representations that viewers may trace.

3. Mosaic represents wealth and status

The mosaic raw material is the most direct way to show wealth; the Romans used “tesserae,” a special mosaic for inlay. It is smaller than pebbles, so the picture is more delicate. In addition, people will also use valuable wood, ivory, ceramic, stained glass, and even gemstone, those various materials with different color luster enriches the artistic expression of the mosaic picture and shows the owner’s financial resources.

Photo: Mosaic Floor / Source: Pixabay

Looting and selling antiquities – the value of heritage

Social media is a convenient online space to communicate and do business. Some people cannot waste this fabulous opportunity to do the black-market antiquities trade, anonymous, private, and efficient. As social media platform users based in the Middle East and North Africa have grown, those apps have been used as vehicles for selling illicit artifacts. Moreover, many platforms fail to control and manage their online marketplace, causing heritage selling to become brazen.

Another critical factor is that the war decreased national and governmental attention to cultural relics, and the poor and needy population wanted to survive in this way. As a result, the group looting gradually civilianized and grew. The Arab countries faced significant challenges on the road to preserving their cultural heritage.

However, we have hope, still. We saw more reports and news about heritage, and people paid more attention to antiquities protection. Bit by bit, as governments begin to take heritage seriously and protect it; as reports of this kind are brought to the public’s attention; and as technology and social media platform companies continue to improve their vulnerabilities and regulate the legal use of software, we will be able to give these artifacts of human civilization their best home.

Photo: Roman Mosaic / Source: Pixabay

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