Après une tournée à l’étranger, la mosaïque romaine de Lod s’installe in situ

After a tour abroad, the Roman mosaic of Lod settles in situ

The Roman mosaic of Lod has been exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Metropolitan in New York, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the G. Cini Foundation in Venice and the Altes Museum in Berlin. Back in her country, she will be installed in the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center, specially built on the excavation site where she was exhumed. Called Diospolis in Roman-Byzantine times, the city of Lod in occupied Palestine is ancient Lydda, destroyed by the Romans in the First Jewish War in 66 CE. Refounded by Hadrian, it became a Roman colony under Septimius Severus in 200, then a Christian city of the Byzantine Empire before coming under the control of Islam. His name appears in the Bronze Age in a list of Canaanite cities conquered by Pharaoh Thutmose III, in Karnak in the 15th century BC. The city where Jewish and Arab citizens currently live together experienced violent intercommunity clashes in 2021 .

Israeli conservators working on the 1,700-year-old Lod mosaic. Menahem Kahana/AFP

Textures, colors and patterns

It is in this city located ten kilometers from Tel Aviv airport that the mosaic was discovered in 1996, two meters underground, by construction workers widening the street. It paved the floor of the triclinium (room used for receptions, meals and entertainment) of a Roman villa, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

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Remarkably preserved and beautifully crafted, the Lod mosaic, made up of marble and limestone tesserae and colored glass paste, offers a diversity of textures and colors, but also a variety of decorative motifs on the theme of still life. (fruits, flowers, birds, fish) and a marine scene, where two merchant ships sail among fish, dolphins and shells. The octagonal medallion of its central panel depicts wild animals, such as the lion, the elephant, the giraffe, the rhinoceros or the tiger. Some of these mammals were used by the Romans during circus games. The excavations also unearthed ceramic material and coins from the late 3rd to early 4th century, says the Israel Antiquities Authority (AIA).

The giraffe and the rhinoceros

In the catalog of the Metropolitan Museum, Christopher S. Lightfoot, curator of the Greek and Roman Art department, points out that “the giraffe and the rhinoceros are rarely represented in ancient art, which makes their appearance in the mosaic of Lod all the more more remarkable. Referring to Heilbrunn’s art history publication, Roman Games: Playing with Animals, it also states that the first giraffe seen in Rome was used for Ludi, Julius Caesar’s triumphal games, or public games , in 46 BC. On the other hand, the oldest known representation of a rhinoceros dates back to the 1st century BC, again according to Lightfoot. It appears in the famous Nile mosaic from Praeneste, a pavement from the late Hellenistic period which depicts the course of the Nile from Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea. It was part of a classical cave sanctuary in Palestrina, Italy. But “unlike the Indian one-horned rhinoceros first encountered by the Greeks during the campaigns of Alexander the Great, the animal depicted in the mosaics of Praeneste and Lod has two horns and must therefore be identified with the black rhinoceros. or white from sub-Saharan Africa. Specimens of this ferocious and very powerful beast were apparently obtained by the Romans for shows in the amphitheater. The Met’s curator points out that the rhinoceros appears on the obverse of bronze coins minted in Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96). “A very unusual case,” says Lightfoot.

The Ottoman Sump

Unusually for a mosaic floor of this age, the mosaic is in near perfect condition, with the exception of one of the two ships depicted which suffered damage when an Ottoman-era sump (a hole to harvest rainwater in the absence of sewers or a ditch) was dug into the mosaic. The ships are of the navis oneraria type, Roman merchant ships typically displacing 80 to 150 tons, used to transport goods such as garum and grain from Egypt to Rome. The center will house another polychrome mosaic of the same kind also discovered in Lod, in 2014. 1,700 years old, this pavement of 11 meters by 13 meters provides more evidence of the luxurious lifestyle that prevailed in Roman times, according to the specialists.

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The Roman mosaic of Lod has been exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Metropolitan in New York, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the G. Cini Foundation in Venice and the Altes Museum in Berlin. Back in her country, she will be installed in the Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center, specially built on the excavation site where she was exhumed. Called Diospolis in…

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