Israel: Ancient Mosaics

Israel: Ancient Mosaics

Israel: Ancient Mosaics

Israel: Ancient Mosaics

Excerpt

The earliest mosaics found in Israel were discovered in the Herodian palace at Masada; they are the contemporary Augustan black-and-white geometric style. Then there is a gap of nearly three centuries, till the Late Roman period; followed by a great outburst of mosaic art under the Byzantines.

The pavements illustrated in this volume form a closely knit unit in time and space. They range from the Vth to the VIth century A.D., and from the vicinity of Gaza to the Sea of Galilee. The only exceptions to the time bracket are the Late Roman mosaic at Beth-Shean (p. 16) and the VIIIth century pavement from Khirbet el-Minya (Pl. XXXII). Of the five hundred and more pavements found in Israel those shown here are but a small selection, which, however, has been made as eclectic as possible.

The period in which mosaics flourished in Israel witnessed its transformation from the Cinderella of Roman provinces -- dear only to the Jewish minority of its population and to the Jewish Diaspora -- into the Holy Land of the imperial faith of Constantine and his successors. From the IVth century onwards till the Persian and Arab invasions in the VIIth century, monies, public and private, poured into the country. Most of them were used to build churches, hundreds of which were erected in the Vth, VIth and early VIIth centuries; on the average of one for every thousand inhabitants.

The decoration of these shrines varied in splendour in proportion to the donor's purse, the importance of the locality and the reputation of the saint to whom they were dedicated. The most resplendent basilicas were paved with patterned marble floors, with mosaics reserved for their walls. We can still see examples of this type at Constantinople and Ravenna. In more modest churches the marble paving was replaced with mosaics, which were cheaper at least as far as the raw material was concerned. The increasing prosperity of Byzantine Palestine found its expression not only in the erection of churches and monasteries; synagogues, palaces and villas, baths and even streets, were built and paved with mosaics. Owing to their relatively protected position on the floor of these buildings, the mosaic pavements had a much better chance of survival than the walls or the roofing. Hence the relative plenty of mosaics which, coupled with the frequency of dated inscriptions inlaid in the pavements, enables us to reconstruct their development with a precision uncommon in the history of ancient art.

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