Mosaic From Augusta Traiana

I thought we had blogged this before and bewailed the lack of a photo of the mosaic … if so, I can’t find it in my pre-coffee haze. Whatever the case, Focus-Fen has an interview with Dimitar Yankov on the mosaic:

Focus: Mr Yankov, the mosaic you discovered – what had it been part of, what building?

Dimitar Yankov: We are still in the field of hypothesis here, but on the basis of the image on the mosaic’s insignia we can speak about a private building or a temple to Dionysius. It is still to be interpreted, though. The insignia is still not fully uncovered, but what has been uncovered by now speaks of a scene connected to a procession by the retinue of Dionysus – one of the most worshiped Thracian deities. What we have so far seen from it is a figure of a satyr and two dancing maenads behind it. The image is really elegant and the figures on the insignia are well-preserved. This is only hypothetically a Dionysus temple, since we do not know what temples in the actual cities looked like back at the time. The information on a Dionysus temple in the Rhodope Mountains which both media and scholars have been mentioning a lot lately is one thing, but we have no idea what city temples looked like. What we have is preliminary data which leads us to thinking the building might have been a temple.

Focus: What century do you think that the mosaic originates from?

Dimitar Yankov: It dates from 3rd century, i.e. it is Roman and coincides with the time of the prosperity of Augusta Traiana.

Focus: What are the predominant techniques of workmanship of the mosaic?

Dimitar Yankov: It is made from small stone cubes with the opus tessellatum technique, but glass smalt has also been used for the finer parts of the figures – the chaplets of the two dancing maenads are tied with such glass cubes, which have a shiny colour, along the hands and the girdles of the chiton of the two dancing maenads are also tied with such smalt cubes. The mosaic is multi-coloured and more than 5 shades of red have been used, around 5-6 shades of blue-grey, as the red varies from pale pink to dark cerise. There is a certain vivacity of the figures of the dancers, a vivacity which springs from the figure of the satyr, who is leading the parade of these maenads, as well. We also have to point that the mosaic is very clear – there are no figures of animals, which are usually accompanying this plot – the retinue of Dionysus.

Focus: Have any such mosaics been discovered in the past?

Dimitar Yankov: This is the first mosaic of this type, not only in Bulgaria, but on the entire territory of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. There is no exact analogue to this mosaic, and I am convinced that this is the only one discovered so far. It is the first of its kind in Bulgaria – that is 100% certain. The mosaic is a wonderful masterpiece of the Roman mosaic art in our lands.

Focus: What is the meaning of the mosaic and do you have any hopes that when you continue the excavations you will find something as valuable, or even more valuable than it?

Dimitar Yankov: The remaining part of the emblem of the mosaic must have Dionysus on it, as this is a compulsory figure in the retinue, and there will probably be one more figure from the emblem of the mosaic. This is at least what our expectations are. I am now sure whether we will manage to excavate this part of the mosaic, which is to the north. We have an issue with the adjacent land, where the owners have investment plans – it is difficult to dig as the mound is too big. For now I cannot say whether we will be able to discover the remaining part of the emblem of the mosaic. I hope that we will be able to. In the next 3 or 4 days things will be much clearer.

Focus: Where will the mosaic be stored after its restoration and will it be accessible to the general public?

Dimitar Yankov: The mosaic will be disassembled first. It needs conservation, as it cannot be left like this during the winter. After the conservation and restoration, which will be more a certain fortification of the mosaic with a new basis, it will be exhibited in the new museum building. We have such opportunities, and we are even considering exhibiting it in one of the halls of our current museum. The conservation and restoration process, however will cost a lot of money, and I hope that after the local elections the municipality will manage to find sufficient amount of money for that, and I also hope that local representatives of the business will contribute with donations.
I would like to add that the mosaic is unique not only for the history of our city, but also for the art history on Bulgarian lands in general and in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. There will probably be many discussions about the character of the building, as we are unable to make a thorough research of the complex in which the mosaic was included. This however could be done by next generations.

Here’s a small photo — hmmm … maybe it’s not so small after all —  that accompanies the original article; a larger one is available at the original site:


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