Dragon and Dolphin (nope) Mosaic From Monasterace

This one is potentially very interesting … most of the coverage comes from ANSA-related outlets in various languages, so here’s the English coverage from Gazzetta del Sud:

Students on an archaeological dig near the southern Italian town of Monasterace have uncovered an important and ancient mosaic, authorities said Tuesday. The large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, was discovered near another major find announced last fall by archaeologist Francesco Cuteri. Cuteri says he is pleased that students from Argentina and Italy made the latest mosaic discovery, which he added is an important find. “The discovery is of extraordinary importance because it is the largest Hellenic mosaic of Magna Grecia (an area of southern Italy),” he said. The mosaic, depicting dragon and dolphins, may date from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC. Work on the excavation began in 1998 and last year had already led to the discovery of a mosaic depicting a dragon, a rosette and six panels with floral motifs. Cuteri said work is far from finished. “We are confident….we can find at least two other panels,” he said, adding the new area has been dubbed ‘the hall of dragons and dolphins’. “We have worked on this excavation for 15 years and now what emerges fills us with joy”.

That said, I don’t understand why all the ANSA coverage includes what isn’t exactly the greatest photo available, i.e.:

via Gazzetta del Sud

Corriere della Calabria includes one that’s a bit more clear:

via Corriere della Calabria

… which raises a question: does the ‘dragon’ interpretation come via the first photo, which has something on top of it which makes it look like there are two creatures? So we’ll track down another photo (actually, the whole set, it seems):

via Mondo Tempo Reale

Seems we ain’t dealing with dolphins or dragons. Those are good old-fashioned Hippocampi/oi, no?

UPDATE (an hour or so later): definitely an argument for the benefits of caffeine … when the caffeine hit, I remembered we mentioned an earlier phase of this back in September: Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace … check out the photo there. How are they getting dragons and dolphins from this????

UPDATE II (a couple days later): tip o’ the pileus to the Random Classicist who wrote in to remind me of the beastie known as the Cetus, the foe of Perseus which I had totally forgotten about. Here’s an example of a Cetus image from the Classical Art Research Centre (a mosaic from Tunis) :

… so the thing I was calling a Hippocamp is clearly a Ketos/Cetus. Are they considered dragons? Or is that just something that happened during translation?

UPDATE III (the next day): Tip o’ the pileus to John Dillon, who also sent in some very useful comments:

_Ketos_ seems to be the contemporary term of choice among art historians for sea beasties of this form, though one still encounters _pistrix_ (and, in Italian, its derivative _pistrice_). Joseph Fontenrose (Python_, pp. 288-306) is helpful here, esp. pp. 288-89 and fig. 25 on p. 305; cf. also Barbette Stanley Spaeth, _The Goddess Ceres_, p. 135, and J. M. Blanquez, “Grifos y ketoi en mosaicos de Italia, Hispania, Africa y el Oriente”, in Nicole Blanc and André Buisson, edd., _Imago Antiquitatis_ (Paris, 1999), pp. 119-28; figs. 1-9. In Italian they’re conceived of as a sea serpent and thus as a sort of _drago_ and are popularly called by that latter term (_ketos_ and _pistrix_ both being far too specialized for a general audience). Since English _dragon_ tends to signify a four-legged, terrestrial creature, a better translation of _drago_ in this context would be _sea dragon_.

A few further ancient and medieval _ketoi_:
1) A red-figure vase in the Museo Jatta in Ruvo di Puglia [but how much of this is down to a modern restorer?]
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28433765@N07/3411670241/

2) The sea wind (at right) on the Ara Pacis Augustae:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Tellus_-_Ara_Pacis.jpg

3) Jonah and the “whale” in mosaic on the epistle ambo (said to be earlier C12 but I’d check to see what Jill Caskey has to say before repeating this standard dating) in the cathedral of Ravello:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28433765@N07/3415070638/

4) Detail of the later C12 mosaic floor of the cathedral of Otranto:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28433765@N07/5319544904/

5) At far left, on the probably earlier C13 mosaic frieze on the cathedral of Terracina:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecormany/132384564/

–jd

Eros Mosaic from A-A-A-A-A-dana

Interesting item from Hurriyet:

A mosaic featuring an Eros figure fishing on horse has been found in the southern province of Adana’s Yumurtalık district. The half fish-half horse Eros, which is called Hippocampus in Greek mythology, is claimed to be the one and only such mosaic in the world.

Made up of marble, glass and stone, the mosaic is estimated to date back to the late Roman or early Byzantine era.

The Adana Museum Directorate has initiated archaeological excavations in the region where the mosaic was discovered. One week ago the existence of a villa was determined in the area. The villa was thought to be owned by a top state official and the Eros mosaic was revealed when a part of the villa was excavated.

Yumurtalık Deputy Mayor Erdol Erden said the Eros mosaic was found during a one-week excavation. “We found young and adult Eros figures in the villa. Experts say that these figures were the first and only such figures in the world,” Erden said.

… as often, the original article is accompanied by a photo of the piece which is really interesting … there are a pair of Erotes fishing from the backs of hippocampi … the Erotes also look rather more mature than we’re used to (not the pudgy little kids); the one actually looks like one of the BeeGees …

Odyssey Mosaics Stolen!!!

Just this a.m. in our Explorator newsletter we were mentioning how looting of antiquities was funding the revolution in Syria … and now my spiders bring in some horrible news from AFP via  the Global Post:

At least 18 ancient mosaics depicting scenes from Homer’s “The Odyssey” have been stolen in northern Syria, the culture minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.

“These mosaics were stolen during illegal excavations” on archaeological sites in the war-torn country’s northeast, Lubana Mushaweh said in an interview published on Sunday by the government daily Tishreen.

“We have been informed that these mosaics are now on the Syrian-Lebanese border,” she said without elaborating.

As the nearly two-year Syrian revolt has morphed into an armed insurgency, experts say fierce fighting and deteriorating security have left the country’s extraordinary archaeological heritage susceptible to damage and prey to a rising number of looters.

The minister said that an Aramaic gold-plated bronze statue was stolen from the Hama museum, a raging front in the war between loyalist troops and rebels.

Mushaweh admitted that her ministry faced great difficulties in “safeguarding 10,000 historical sites scattered around Syria,” cautioning against illegal excavations “which could damage some sites and buried cities.”

But she insisted that museums across the country were “well guarded” and “their prized possessions for all humanity have been archived and placed in very secure locations”.
[...]

… I can’t track down from what museum or site these were stolen from (“illegal excavations”) and if they were already known or not … the only photos that seem to accompany articles are some rebels sitting under a Roman mosaic that I don’t think (or hope) is related …

Another Nice Mosaic Find

From Hurriyet:

A mosaic from the second or third century with a human figure has been found during the construction of a district bazaar area in the southern province of Mersin’s Tarsus district.

Tarsus Gov. Orhan Şefik Güldibi said the mosaic was unearthed by chance in the construction area.
“Maybe we have reached one of the most important archaeological remains in Tarsus. We know that the history of Tarsus dates back to ancient ages. We have found Orpheus mosaics on the ancient Roman road next to the courthouse. It shows us the richness of the district’s archaeological treasures,” he said.

After unearthing the mosaic, construction work was halted and scientific work was initiated. The district governor said that there was a structure 25 meters by five meters in the area they thought could be a water cistern from the early Roman period.

“This structure may also be the remains of a bath, palace or villa. We will see after the examinations. The human mosaic has Greek writing on it, which will be translated by experts. We think there are other mosaics around this one. We will restore and display it,” Güldibi said.

… as often, Hurriyet includes an annoyingly small photo of the mosaic (we want to read the Greek!!!!), ecce:

… I can’t figure it out, other than perhaps to suggest this is the origin of North American style football as we clearly have a quarterback sporting a playoff beard … more coffee needed.

Elite Myth Mosaic Use

This seems to be more covert hype for a(n interesting) book than ‘news’ per se (maybe not), but … from a Carlos III University of Madrid press release:

This line of research, coordinated by Luz Neira, who is a professor in the Department of Humanities: History, Geography and Art, as well as a researcher in UC3M’s Institute for Culture and Technology (Instituto de Cultura y Tecnología), continues on the path established by previous studies that examined the images of women and certain legends in Roman mosaics. “We had previously shown the memory and conscious, self-interested reuse of myths, but this new volume also examines the possibility that there is a subliminal message regarding the elites’ fundamental concept of the civilization versus barbarism binomial,” explains the historian, who was in charge of the coordination and publication of ‘Civilización y barbarie: el mito como argumento en los mosaicos romanos’ (‘Civilization and Barbarism: Myths as plots in Roman Mosaics’) (CVG, 2012). A variety of specialists in Roman mosaics also collaborated on this book, which offers a new perspective in the approach to mythology and its reuse throughout history, which was a result of “a conscious and self-interested phenomenon of re-semantization.”

Specifically, there are premeditated and conscious recreations of certain mythological characters and episodes from different areas of the Empire, which were selected and even distorted in order to generate a spirit, deepen principles, or recall the foundations upon which their privileged position within the Roman state had been established, the researchers explain. “They re-used certain Greek myths as symbols that reinforced what Rome stood for,” states Luz Neira, “because they were of transcendental importance, due to the universal values they depicted, and they became champions of civilization”.

The scene of Achilles in Skyros, one of the most frequently depicted among the mosaics of the imperial epoch and which can be found, for example, in the villa of La Olmeda (Palencia), seems to be intended to highlight the archetype of the hero who is capable of giving his life for his country. The legends of divinities such as Dionysius and Aphrodite, the Labors of Hercules, the Journeys of Perseus and the battles between Amazons and centaurs are some of the other mythological episodes that originated in Greece that the Romans appropriated as their own and converted into models to be followed. “The memory of a legendary war and a mythological hero would become with the passing of time, and even up to the present day, the phenomenon with the greatest impact on people and individuals; this is what led us to analyze the myth as the story of the struggle between civilization and barbarism,” concludes the researcher.

Historiography in mosaics

Until now, the concept of the civilization in the Roman Empire had been analyzed using written sources and official images found in public spaces, in sculptures or relieves of certain monuments, such as arcs, steles or commemorative columns. However, very little in-depth research had been done on the representation of these concepts in private spaces, perhaps due to their domestic character, the researchers point out. “We were surprised by the absence of references of this type in the form of mosaics, where due to their unusual circumstances of conservation in situ the mosaic documentation offers an authentic repertoire of tile work, with geometric, plant and human figure decoration, connected to the private domestic contexts that pertained to the most privileged sectors of Roman society in any urban or rural location of the Empire,” comments Professor Neira.

In this respect, according to this historian, it seemed unthinkable, a priori, that members of the elite, who were involved in the government and matters of the Empire, would not have made use of the significant surface area of the mosaics that paved the living spaces of their domus and villae to commemorate their victories and their identification with Rome as a guarantor of civilization as opposed to “barbarism”. “They did it,” states Luz Neira, “by depicting re-used myths that evoked the values that, from an ideological point of view, Rome wished to represent.”

Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace

Brief item from ANSA:

Monasterace (Reggio Calabria), September 20 – A large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, has been discovered in the southern Italian town of Monasterace.

The discovery was announced Thursday by Mayor Maria Carmela Lanzetta.

The polychrome mosaic, said to be well-preserved, measures 25 square meters and covers the entire floor of a room in a thermal bath.

According to archaeologist Francesco Cuteri, who made the discovery, the mosaic is the largest found in southern Italy and dates from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC

The Italian coverage adds some details, such as Monasterace being the ancient site of Kaulon. Reggio TV also includes this photo of one of the mosaics:

via Reggio TV

ANSA’s Italian coverage includes this one:

via ANSA

… which doesn’t quite seem to match, but it is a large mosaic …

Followup: Mosaic at Antiochia ad Cragum

Some additional coverage to add to our previous post: Nice Mosaic from Antiochia ad Cragam (which we also corrected spellingwise to Cragum)

First, a video from the UNebraska folks themselves:


Alia (derived from the UNebraska release we mentioned in our previous post):

Nice Mosaic from Antiochia ad Cragum

Tip o’ the pileus to Lyndsay Powell for alerting us to this one from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln archeological team, led by Hixson-Lied Professor of Art History Michael Hoff, has uncovered a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey – a meticulously crafted, 1,600-square-foot work of decorative handiwork built during the region’s imperial zenith.

It’s believed to be the biggest mosaic of its type and demonstrates the reach and cultural influence of the Roman Empire in the area in the third and fourth centuries A.D., said Hoff, the director of the excavation.

“This is very possibly the largest Roman mosaic found in the region,” Hoff said. “And its large size also signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the Roman Empire were, in fact, very strong in this far-flung area of the Empire.”

The discovery will aid researchers studying the region. Since 2005, Hoff’s team has been excavating the remains of the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern Turkish coast. Antiochus of Commagene, a client-king of Rome, founded the ancient city in the middle of the first century.

“The mosaic is a quintessential Roman artistic element. This hammers home how Roman this city truly is,” Hoff said. “We always thought this was a peripheral Roman city, but it’s becoming more and more clear that it’s weighted more on the Roman side than the native side. The mosaic really emphasizes the pure Roman nature of this city and should answer a lot of questions regarding the interaction between the indigenous locals and the Roman Empire.”

Antiochia ad Cragum was a modest city by Roman standards and outfitted with many of the typical trappings one would expect from a Roman provincial city – temples, baths, markets and colonnaded streets, said Hoff. The city thrived during the Empire from an economy that focused on agricultural products, especially wine and lumber.

Excavation work has focused on a third-century temple dedicated to the Roman imperial cult, and also a colonnaded street lined with commercial shops. In July, the team began to explore the mosaic, which was part of a Roman Bath. The decoration consists of large squares, each filled with different colored geometric designs and ornamentation.

“This would have been a very formal associated pavement attached to the bath,” Hoff said. “This is a gorgeous mosaic, and the size of it is unprecedented” – so large, in fact, that work crews have uncovered only an estimated 40 percent of its total area.

Hoff said it appears the mosaic served as a forecourt for the adjacent large bath, and that at least on one side, evidence shows there was a roof covering the geometric squares that would have been supported by piers. Those piers’ remains are preserved, he said.

Meanwhile, the middle of the mosaic was outfitted with a marble-lined, 25-foot-long pool, which would have been uncovered and open to the sun. The other half of the mosaic, adjacent to the bath, has yet to be revealed but is expected to contain the same type of decoration, Hoff said. Crews expect to unearth the entire work next summer.

“It should be pretty extraordinary,” Hoff said.

Team members first noticed the mosaic in 2001, when Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University, the director of a large archaeological survey project that included Hoff, noticed plowing by a local farmer had brought up pieces of a mosaic in a field next to a still-standing bath structure. The find was brought to the attention of the archeological museum in Alanya, who two years later made a minor investigation that revealed a small portion of the mosaic.

Last year, the museum invited Hoff to clear the entire mosaic and to preserve it for tourists to view and scholars to study.

Hoff’s 60-person team also included Birol Can, assistant professor of archaeology at Atatürk University in Ezrurum, Turkey, a sister university to the University of Nebraska; students from UNL; other students from Turkey and the United States; and workers from a nearby village. About 35 students participated in the project as part of a summer field school Hoff runs.

Phalin Strong, a sophomore art major from Lincoln, said the work was difficult but satisfying.

“It is strange to realize that you are the first person to see this for centuries – a feeling that also made me think about impermanence and what importance my actions have on humanity and history,” Strong said.

Ben Kreimer, a senior journalism major, agreed: “(Working on) the mosaic was great because the more soil you removed, the more mosaic there was,” he said. “Visually, it was also stunning, especially once it got cleaned off. It wasn’t very deep under the surface of the soil, either, so … we had to be careful not to swing the handpick too hard so as not to damage the priceless mosaic that lay just inches beneath us.”

Hoff said the significance of this summer’s discovery has him eager to return to the site and see what the rest of the excavation uncovers.

“As an archaeologist, I am always excited to make new discoveries. The fact that this discovery is so large and also not completely uncovered makes it doubly exciting,” he said. “I am already looking forward to next year, though I just returned from Turkey.”

… a photo accompanies the original article; it seems to have a nice mix of geometric styles if you want to give your mosaics class a little quiz.