When I wrote my previous blog, The unique mosaic from Apamea, I was not aware that there was more of the kind to follow. There is a much larger mosaic estimated to cover at least
19 m2 that is also high on INTERPOL’s
list of illegal digs at Apamea
Beside the panel discussed previously showing the foundation of Apamea by Seleucos I with his son Antiochus I, there are three more panels coming from the same source. Because of their size and magnificence, this entire mosaic is assumed to belong to a large room from a wealthy Roman residence. The top one depicts the foundation of Pella (as Apamea was called previously) by the legendary Archippos and the bottom panels illustrate the construction of a fortification wall around the city that holds monumental public buildings.
Based on the clandestine photographs of this floor, it seems that the very lower part and half of the central zone are missing. What remains is, however, of the highest quality and has been compared to the paintings from the tomb of Agios Athanasios (see: The Macedonian Tomb of Agios Athanasios in Thessaloniki) – not without ground.
The top mosaic portraying the religious foundation of Pella, shows five Macedonians cavalry men with their horses, shields and spears on the right hand side and five figures making cult offerings in the left corner. Three of these men have been identified as their names are inscribed in Greek. We read Archippos as the legendary founder of the city sacrificing a bull, flanked by Antipater and his son Cassander – all richly dressed in their best tunic, cloak and wearing a diadem.
The central part of the mosaic depicts the key moment of the foundation of Apamea where Seleucos holds the ktistes, an architectural measuring instrument symbolizing him as being the founder. Around a large table filled with silver and gold coins we find once again Archippos and Antiochus I, together with Antipater and Cassander, and most importantly Seleucos’ wife Apame who contributed lavishly to the construction of the city. All these figures are dressed in the same sumptuous outfits as mentioned above.
I fail, however, to understand the presence of old Antipater in the company of his not so beloved son Cassander. We will remember that Antipater named Polyperchon as his successor and not Cassander, so why would he have dragged his son along to Pella/Apamea? And for what reason would they both be present in Pella/Apamea in the first place? The article published in Popular Archaeology, seems to place the entire scene around 321-319 BC when Antipater was regent and Cassander was the commander of the Macedonian cavalry in Pella/Apamea but I wonder what their contribution was to the foundation of Apamea. The Roman vision of history in the 4th century AD, some seven centuries after the facts appears to be shrouded in mystery.
The background of this mosaic is, however, as exciting as the figures in the foreground, to say the least. We see huge defence walls encircling the city. Inside those walls, there is a large roofed temple with a high pediment supported by five columns. This temple is flanked by several other smaller and roofed buildings. Also recognizable is the large hippodrome or Roman circus not unlike the one that has been unearthed in nearby Gerasa (which was founded about the same time) with a central spina delimited by little turrets. The figures on the left bottom part of that section are less obvious. They seem to be men working on the fortification wall and a large ox is pulling something heavy.
The very bottom of the mosaic depicts a more idyllic suburban scene with on the right hand side a lovely Roman Bath. Two distinct entrances can be seen, one probably leading to the cloakroom used by two women with small children, and the other opening up above a ramp from which children are sliding down into the pool below. Very important is, however, the large noria (waterwheel) depicted on the left of this section. Until now, it was generally accepted that the oldest norias dated from the 5th century AD but this picture confirms that they were used already one full century earlier! Norias are still standing along the
River in Hama
and its norias) where in the 5th
century some one hundred of them were still functioning. This makes you wonder
how many of them were aligned along that same river here in Apamea!
All in all, these mosaic scenes are very revealing while at the same time they rise many new questions. It is not surprising to find them among the most valuable objects wanted by INTERPOL. It would be great if these masterpieces could be recovered some day enabling professionals to examine them more closely.