Text-division in Greek mosaic inscriptions from the Near East

Dr Michael Zellmann-Rohrer, St Cross
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17:00 - 18:30
Merton College
Merton Street
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Fitzjames I

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Lectures and seminars
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Mosaic pavements offer a striking combination of image and text in the decorative programs of civic and private spaces. The technique spread widely across the ancient Mediterranean, but there is especially rich documentation from the Near East in the late Roman through early Byzantine periods, on which this paper focuses. As an introduction, I consider the typology and diachronic development of mosaics in the region. I then examine the interaction of text and image in four well-known mosaic pavements from ancient Syria, Palestine, and Arabia: the mosaic of Socrates and the Seven Sages from Heliopolis-Baalbek; the so-called House of Leontios at Beth She‘an-Skythopolis; the mosaic map from Madaba; and the church decorations of Mt. Nebo. In addition to the layout of text as explanation of, and independent accompaniment to the artistic decoration, I consider significant trends in the division of the texts by punctuation marks, spacing, line breaks, geometric borders, and coloration. In closing I offer a comparative perspective on mosaics with inscriptions in Syriac and Palestinian Aramaic from the same region.