When archaeologists start throwing around words like “massive” in reference to ancient mosaic discoveries — it’s worth taking notice! The latest in mosaic art news is the discovery of a huge floor section in Rastan, Syria. Not only is it huge — around 1300 square feet — it’s stunning.
According to Hammam Saad, who leads excavations and archaeological research at Syria’s General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, “It is not the oldest of its kind, but it’s the most complete and the rarest.”
Possibly a section of a Roman-era bathhouse, the panels depict mythical scenes from the Trojan and Amazon Wars, as well as Roman Gods. As we’ve talked about in previous blogs, mosaic art was often a key element in public spaces. Some of the most well-known pieces of mosaic wall art and floors were found in former bathhouses, where patrons could enjoy the patterns and scenes while relaxing and socializing.
Just like today, both home and business owners appreciated the artistry that could be achieved with a durable, cool, and clean medium — mosaic tiles.
The property where the mosaic is located was purchased by local businessmen in Lebanon, with the intent of donating it to the Syrian government. It was a wise move. Similar antiquities have suffered under the armed conflict of the Syrian Civil War.
Rastan, the site of the discovery, was reclaimed from the rebels in 2018. Subsequent excavations of the 4th-century building by the government unearthed the remarkably well-preserved mosaic floor.
Now, the site is under armed guard as the excavation continues. Fears of looters and vandalism are still valid. As a matter of fact, says Saad, there have not been significant excavation efforts in the town prior to the country’s armed conflict.
“Unfortunately, there were armed groups that tried to sell the mosaic at one point in 2017 and listed it on social media platforms,” he said.
Happily, excavations continue, with the expectation that even more large panels will be uncovered. Syrian actress Sulaf Fawakherji, who is also a member of the Nabu Museum’s board of trustees, says that she hopes the organization can purchase other buildings in Rastan, which she says is filled with heritage sites and artifacts waiting to be discovered.
“There are other buildings, and it’s clear that the mosaic extends far wider,” she states. Fawakherji feels that the historical significance of Rastan can increase heritage tourism.
Thus far, the scenes depicted on mosaic art panels are unique, with vivid shades and notable scenes from mythology, including the legendary Trojan War. The storied battle was a conflict that took place between the ancient Greeks and the people of Troy more than 2,000 years ago.
Still famous today, it brought us stories like the one of the Trojan Horse. The rift between the ancient Greeks and Troy began around the 12th century BC, when the Trojan prince Paris abducted Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta.
When Paris refused to return the now-famous Helen of Troy, her enraged husband enlisted his brother Agamemnon to lead an army against the nation. The battle lasted nine years — until the Greeks infiltrated the city with a large hollow wooden horse in which a small group of warriors was concealed.
Included in the panels are portrayals of the ancient Amazon warriors who fought alongside the people of Troy. The Amazons were the race of female warriors in Greek mythology — who once ruled a region of what is present-day Ukraine.
It also depicts the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, with 40 of his mistresses.
Other identified elements of the mosaic include panels with portraits of ancient Greek leaders and their names.
The sheer size and level of preservation of the Trojan War mosaic have archaeologists and scholars salivating at the possibilities of even more significant finds. Officials are hopeful that other excavations in the area will yield new discoveries. “We have no similar mosaic,” says Saad. The city of Rastan is likely to share incredible new mosaic art finds in the near future.
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