Who owned the magnificent Lod mosaics?
Among the subjects that decorate the exquisite Roman floor mosaics are lions, birds, fish and ships—but there are no human figures. Who lived at the house at Lod? Can the Lod mosaics themselves hint at the identity of the house’s owner? This question is explored in the article “The Lod Mosaic—Jewish, Christian or Pagan?” in the May/June 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Roman floor mosaics that were discovered at Lod during the initial rescue excavation in 1996 are known as “the Lod Mosaic.”1 Measuring 30 feet wide and 56 feet long—the largest mosaic in Israel—the Lod Mosaic is comprised of two rectangular mosaic carpets separated by a colorful band.
Birds and other animals decorate the Lod Mosaic’s south carpet.
The north carpet features scenes of animals in combat. At the center of the carpet, in an octagonal panel, are a lioness and lion facing off and surrounded by a giraffe, rhinoceros, elephant, tiger, water buffalo and a mythological sea monster in a body of water.
Just below these scenes of land animals is a rectangular panel featuring a marine scene: Two merchant ships are depicted amidst various fish, a whale, a dolphin and other creatures of the sea. The ships are not steered by anyone.
In fact, as Rina Talgam, Professor of the History of Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, points out, no human figures are seen in the Lod mosaics:
“The absence of depictions of human figures raises the question of whether this can be regarded as suggesting that the owners were Jews or Christians, since a pagan certainly would not have been concerned by their presence. … The appearance of small crosses on the prows of the ships and at the ends of the northern mosaic carpet may have been intended to suggest the Christian identity of the owner, but we cannot rule out the possibility that this is merely a decorative pattern.”2
What else can we glean from the Lod Mosaic and from the ancient town at Lod (then known as Lydda or Diospolis)? Can the mosaics and the town offer clues into the identity of the Lod Mosaic’s patron? Learn more by reading the full article “The Lod Mosaic—Jewish, Christian or Pagan?” in the May/June 2016 issue of BAR.
BAS Library Members: Read the full article “The Lod Mosaic—Jewish, Christian or Pagan?” in the May/June 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
1. More colorful Roman floor mosaics were discovered during excavations in 2009 and 2014.
2. Rina Talgam, “The Late Roman Mosaics at Lod,” in Israel Antiquities Authority, ed., The Lod Mosaic: A Spectacular Roman Mosaic Floor (New York: Scala Arts Publishers, Inc., 2015), pp. 100–101.
Mosaics of Faith
A review of Rina Talgam’s book Mosaics of Faith: Floors of Pagans, Jews, Samaritans, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on April 25, 2016.
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