Remarkable Roman Mosaic Unearthed in Turkey

Archaeologists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have discovered what they believe is the largest Roman mosaic ever found in southern Turkey.

This is the largest Roman mosaic ever found in southern Turkey. It measures some 25 x 7 meters and served as the forecourt for the adjacent large bath (Michael Hoff / University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

“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 CE,” said Prof Michael Hoff, the director of the excavation.

“This is very possibly the largest Roman mosaic found in the region,” Prof 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.”

Since 2005, Prof 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,” Prof 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,” Prof Hoff said. “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,” Prof 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.

“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,” Prof Hoff concluded.