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Mosaics - Stone Arts in Zeugma, Edessa and Antioch

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Mosaics - Stone Arts in Ancient Greece and Roman Empire

Among the first mosaics in the Greek world are the so-called pebble mosaics, which consist of selected creek pebbles, often dominated by the colors black and white. A world-famous example of this is the mosaic showing Dionysus on a panther in the capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia (first Aigai then Pella) from the period 330-310 BC.

Less known but at least equivalent are similarly made mosaics in the entrances of atrium houses with their large courtyards, which can be even found in Antalya today. The pebbles are embedded in mortar and mainly used for floor mosaics. The time of the ancient pebble mosaic began in the 5th century BC and lasted for about three centuries.

Mosaic technique in Gordion and the Alexander mosaic

The origin of the mosaic technique is due to a floor mosaic found in Gordion, in Asia Minor, by the archaeologists, dated to the 8th Century BC. This and other mosaics discovered in Gordion were made with pebbles, a technique that still lives on in the pebble mosaics of the Greek islands, too.

Already in the time of Hellenism, the round pebbles were replaced by specially cut and polished stones. Its first heyday was the ancient mosaics in the second century BC. During this time, large picture motifs that could cover the floor of an entire room were produced. The best known example is the Alexander mosaic in the Casa del Fauno in Pompeii, other examples were found in Delos.

Spread of the mosaics by the Romans

With the advent of Roman rule, mosaics were also widely spread. Many floors, but also sometimes walls in residential buildings of the upper social layer were decorated with mosaics. In the first century AD black and white mosaics were popular, with geometric motifs dominating. Figurative representations are rather rare and become popular only in the second century, the Greeks for the first time integrated images and figural representations into their mosaics. From the second century, more and more multicolored mosaics are found, which were especially popular in the African provinces of the Romans and show their own style. In the eastern part of the empire, classical Greek elements and traditions prevail.
Beginning of the 2nd century, the Greeks began to process regularly hewn stone cubes (Opus tesselatum), the material was then spread by the Romans throughout the Mediterranean. Among the most important early Roman finds is the Alexander mosaic of Pompeii (around 100 BC). It consists of over 4 million stones and is 5.82 m by 3.13 m in size.

Edessa, Zeugma and Antioch - strongholds of mosaic art

Zeugma, Edessa (today Sanliurfa) and Antioch (today Antakya) became a center of the mosaic art in the early Christian time. New was the use of highly light-reflecting glass mosaic bricks, which were ideal for designing interiors of churches. In addition, an infinite color palette was available. Thus, from the 4th to the 6th century AD, many magnificent mosaics were created throughout Southeastern Europe. After a caesura, the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul meant a new beginning from the beginning of the 4th century, as did the Rotunda in Thessalonica. They are the largest ever realized mosaic works. Striking feature of Byzantine mosaic art is the golden background image (read: Rotunda in Thessalonica).

Mosaics and inlaid border

The contours of the figures are underlined by narrow, laid pieces inserted in the plaster. The mosaics are embedded in richly decorated frames with matching motifs of mythology. At the end of the 3rd century BC, in the course of the surface smoothing process, a mixed technique is used by inserting already smoothed stones between the pebbles and then finally reaching the use of polished stones.

Floor mosaics also in private homes

From the 1st century BC, the mosaic is no longer seen as a luxury item, but is also popular as a floor covering in ordinary homes and therefore often executed by anonymous workers. Famous artists, on the other hand, have the privilege of inserting their "emblem", a mosaic with their signature, into the overall decoration.

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