Ship Iconography on “Black-and-White” Mosaics of the 1st – 3rd Centuries AD
Article by courtesy of Zaraza Friedman, Marine Archaeologist.
This paper introduces three sites from the Mediterranean, with ship iconography depicted on mosaic floors produced in the black-and-white technique. These mosaics cover the period from the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. The mosaic floors are related to different architectonic structures, such as private villas, public or private baths, and maritime traders’ and shippers’ offices in the Mediterranean.
The sites are Migdal, in Israel, Althiburus, in Tunisia, and Ostia, in Italy (fig.1). The ships depicted on these mosaics will be described below and also related to the specific names depicted on the Althiburus floor, as well as mentioned in historical references.
Migdal, on the Kinneret
Migdal is situated on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), about 5 km north of Tiberias. It is also known as Magdala, the home of Mary-Magdalena (1) Mainly, Migdal is noted as one of the places where many Jews from Tiberias sought refuge at the outbreak of the Great Revolt in 67 AD. In The War of the Jews, Josephus wrote about the Revolt which took place on the shores of the Kinneret, and which was one of the most bloody sea battles between the Jews and the Romans (2). Josephus himself was personally involved in this war, being the Governor of Galilee during that period. The sea battle was carried out in fishing boats of different sizes, which were taken from the local fishermen.
In Strabo’s Geography Migdal was known as Taricheae, where the lake supplied excellent fish for pickling (3). The Aramaic name of Taricheae is Migdal Nunia, i.e. “Tower of Fish” (4). The name “Taricheae” is indicative of the source of the local population’s livelihood.
The various names attributed to Migdal attest to its maritime character. Remains of a harbor were discovered near the courtyard belonging to the Franciscan Monastery. Dr. V. Corbo, from the Franciscan Institute in Jerusalem, conducted the archaeological excavations carried out between 1971-77. During the excavations were revealed the town-square, some streets, various buildings and a water system (fig. 2). Also an urban villa was revealed (Area C) to the northeast of the Water Tower (fig. 2). Most of its floors were paved with mosaics. The mosaic floor of Room C6 is the subject of this paper. The room is located in the most central part of the villa (fig. 2). It forms a square of almost 2.80 x 2.50 m. Two layers of mosaic pavements were found in the room. For an accurate dating of the villa it was necessary to remove the upper mosaic floor which was of a later period. The lower floor revealed the mosaic produced in the black-and-white technique. The style of this mosaic, and the ceramic remains found beneath this floor, established the dating of the villa as 1st century AD.
The mosaic floor consists of two parts:
1. A short Greek inscription “kai su” (to you or you too), made of black tesserae on a white background. The inscription was found on the southern doorstep (5).
2. Two black frames enclose the area of the mosaic with a white strip dividing them. The entire rectangle measures 1.10 x 1.12 m. The objects depicted within the area are formed with black and a very few brownish-red tesserae on a white background. They are depicted in the same orientation. The patterns represent a kantharos, on a half ring are attached two strigilis and an aryballos. There are some other objects that have not been identified properly. A unique depiction is a ship, which is situated close to the lower left corner of the frame (fig. 3). Beneath the stern and slightly to the right is the partially preserved fish’s head. Although the objects are depicted schematically they still provide us with a general outline and a possible identification.
The Migdal Ship
The ship is depicted from the port side, with the bow pointed and almost touching the left side of the black frame. The hull, mast, and ropes are depicted with black tesserae, while the oars and the sail are depicted with brownish-red stones (fig. 4). The hull has an elongated shape, with a pointed stem and a rounded stern ended with an inner-turned volute above the aft-deck (fig. 4). Beneath the bow is the pointed cutwater, which resembles the shape of the fish head beneath the stern (fig. 3).
The stempost extends almost horizontally above the cutwater, though it is a continuation of the gunwale. This extension may indicate the bowsprit. Along the same line as the pointed cutwater is a single brownish-red tessera, probably indicating the oculus (6). A horizontal wide white strip that extends about 2/3 of the hull’s length may represent the lateral wale or rubbing-strake that reinforces the outer hull and also supported the oars (fig. 4).
Above the port gunwale there are four protrusions, probably indicating the heads of the crew. They appear to be seated behind a screen or fence attached above the gunwale, or on lower thwarts, facing the stern with their back turned to the bow. The hull does not show any line of flotation or draft, nor is a water line indicated. The ship is rigged with one mast and a yard with the adjacent cordage, and three oars placed obliquely to the port hull with the looms pointing towards the stem (fig. 4).
The mast is a vertical spar set on the forward third of the vessel, between the second and third rower. It is depicted with a single row of black tesserae. The length of the mast (from its tip to the presumed bilge, ca. 1cm above the bottom) is about 2/3 of the hull’s length. The yard represented by a horizontal spar makes a 90° angle with the masthead and is parallel to the deck. It is slightly offset, towards the stern. The length of the yard is equal to the length of the mast. Attached beneath the yard is a line of brownish-red tesserae. This line is a bit shorter that the yard and represents the furled sail by means of brails (fig. 4).
Only two distinctive lines can be associated with the standing and running rig. An angular strip of black tesserae stretches from the starboard side of the masthead (behind the furled sail) to the tip of the bowsprit. This line may represent the forestay. From the starboard edge of the right yardarm, behind the sail, an almost vertical line is hanging down towards the port gunwale. This line indicates the right brace or sheet (fig. 4).
There are two kinds of oars depicted on the port hull. Only their shafts, without blades, represent two of them, the left and the middle oars. The third oar (right-hand) is depicted with a shaft and at its lower end is a blade with round shoulders and a straight cut end (fig. 4).
All the oars are made of brownish-red tessera. The blade constitutes about 1/3 of the shaft’s length. The Migdal ship is depicted schematically with no indication of specific type, other than a merchant vessel or a passenger transporter. It appears to be shown in 3/4 view (a side perspective). The highly raised stern, with an attempt shortening the voluted sternpost, emphasizes it. This vessel may also portray a fishing boat, which could be rigged with sailing gear for when the wind conditions were favorable. Inner-voluted stemposts have appeared in ship iconography since the 7th century BCE (7). This feature became a decoration on merchant vessels from the 1st -2nd centuries AD (8). It also appeared in some wargalleys (9). The shape of a bow with the projecting cutwater was a characteristic feature of merchant vessels since the middle of the 1st century AD (10). The closest parallel of the shape of the bow of the Migdal ship appears in the 1st century BCE graffito of a ship from Delos (11). (fig. 5). In the graffito the bowsprit is supported by an arched stempost. One may assume that the Migdal ship had a similar device (fig. 4).
The forestay of the ship in the Delos graffito is attached to the aft tip of the bowsprit, while on the Migdal ship it is attached to the fore tip of the bowsprit. The depiction of different oars in the Migdal ship was probably meant either to distinguish the row-oars from the steering-oars, or that the blades of the left and middle oars are submerged in the water and the right-hand oar is in the process of maneuvering. Most probably the same number of oars were set on the starboard hull, though the picture shows the port hull only. The use of brownish-red tesserae for the oars was probably for the purpose of distinguishing them from the hull. The heads of the crew above the gunwale or the fencing, and the angled oars, may indicate that the ship was rowed in a two-oars/sit/pull technique (12), which would indicate the left-hand sailing of the ship. The oar with the blade may indicate the steering-oar set on the port quarter and worked by a helmsman seated beneath the voluted stempost.
The Migdal ship may represent small merchantmen (naves oneraria) with a crew of five or six men; four rowers, a helmsman and the captain (kybernetes). To deduce the load capacity of this ship we may rely on two sources:
1. The results of anthropological studies on skeletons dated to the period of Josephus (13). These studies showed that the average weight of a man was 62-67 kg. Thus, a vessel with a crew of six men, their own gear, anchors, and the rigging would indicate a capacity of between 800 to 1.5 ton.
2. The discovery of “Jesus Boat“, on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, at Ginnosar, and excavated in 1986 (14). It was dated to the period between the end of the 2nd century BCE and the first part of the 1st century AD. The Kinneret boat is a fishing craft and the Migdal ship may represent a small merchant craft, or a assenger transporter that also could be used for fishing. The Kinneret boat was built in the traditional Mediterranean fashion, of shell-first with mortise-and-tenon joints. Hypothetically, if we take the length of the ship in the mosaic and the Kinneret boat, one can see that the model indicates a reduced scale of approximately 1:25 (15).
Althiburus, in Tunisia
Althiburus (modern Medina) is situated on the central plateau of Tunisia, about 200km off the northeast coast. The ancient city was built before the Roman conquest. The location of the city at a strategic point on the trade route between the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean shore placed Althiburus as an important storage center of the products that were shipped to Rome from the port of Carthage. The environs of Althiburus consisted of fertile agricultural plains and it has rich deposits of phosphates. During the reigns of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) and Septimius Severus (192-211 AD), Althiburus was very prosperous, and became an important grain trading center. The city was abandoned in the Arab conquest, during the 7th century AD.
The first archaeological remains of Althiburus were revealed in 1895. The famous mosaic floor with the “Catalogue of Ships” (fig. 7a) was discovered during this time, in a very large and elaborate villa, the Maison des Muses. The floors of the entire villa were paved with beautiful mosaics, which depicted rich and varied maritime scenes. The room where the catalogue was found has a cross shape (fig. 6). According to the top plan of this room 1 was deduced that it formed the frigidarium of a large bath. In 1961, the entire villa was excavated, and during this period the mosaic with the Catalogue of Ships was removed and put on display in the Bardo Museum, Tunis (16). The mosaic depicts about 25 different types of vessels, which were spread over the entire floor without any specific orientation. The ships are pictured on an olive-green background (17). Only 22 vessels are identified by Greek and Latin inscriptions (fig. 7b). Some of the ships are depicted with putii, their rigging, and some are laden with cargo (jars, horses, fishing nets). The putii are not in proportion to the vessels, but appear to be much larger. The style of the inscriptions and the mosaic work indicates that the villa and its floors were made during the second half of the 3rd century AD.
The largest number of vessels is depicted on the central part of the mosaic (fig. 7a) which measures 8 m in length. The width of the mosaic with the right arm of the cross measures 5 m; the left arm was destroyed. At each end of the cross are depicted water gods; at the top is Okeanus, at the bottom a river god and at the right corner the goddess Venus (fig.7a). The inscriptions associated with the vessels do not necessarily indicate a specific ship.
Types of Vessels
The vessels depicted in the catalogue can be classified according to the shape of the hull, the stem-and-stern posts and the rigging.
A. The Hull
1. Very rounded and spoon-shaped with the stem-and-stern raised almost vertically (figs. 7b/7, 2, 7).
2. Long and slim hulls with an almost vertical stempost with the forward projecting pointed cutwater. The rounded stern is ended either with an inner-turned volute or it is slightly higher than the deck and has a V-shape (figs. 7b/10, 12, 13, 19, 21, 22,25).
3. Long hulls with raised stempost curving above the stem and ended with an inner-turned volute. The stern is rounded and either with rounded tip or a V-shape (figs. 7b/3, 15, 16, 17).
The rigging of the vessels comprised of one or two masts and sails with the adjacent cordage, a pair of steering oars; there is one vessel depicted with three oars:
1. One steering oar on the quarter, one mast and no sail (fig. 7b/7). Attached to the tip of the masthead is a small flag (18). Although only one steering oar is seen on the starboard quarter, the artist probably intended to depict two oars on either quarter.
2. One mast and a sail, a pair of oars (figs. 7b/5, 11, 12, 13). The vessels in figs. 7b/5, 12 are depicted with a mast set fore amidships and a fully open sail. The yard is secured to the mast by lifts. On the fore side of the sail a checkerboard pattern is visible, representing the brails used to work the sail. These vessels are also maneuvered by a rower who is working a pair of oars set on either side of the hull amidships.
The vessels depicted in figs. 7b/11, 13 are rigged with one mast and a furled sail beneath the yard. The yard is secured to the masthead with lifts. In fig. 7b/11 one putt works the halyard. The angled left-hand line that stretches from beneath the sail to the port gunwale may indicate the left shroud. There is a single oar lain on the starboard gunwale with its loom behind the putii. The vessel in fig. 7b/73 is occupied by three putii. One puti is rowing a pair of oars placed on either side amidships, another one is climbing the ladder on the mast and the third figure is holding a hammer in his right hand. The mast is set fore amidships. The yard is attached to the masthead by lifts. On both sides of the lower corners of the furled sail a free hanging rope is seen. This line may indicate the right and left sheets.
3. Two masts and sails (figs. 7b/2, 3, 4). These vessels are rigged with a large main mast and sail, and the second mast is the artemon (foresail). In figs. 7b/2, 3 both sails are furled. The yard is secured to the mast by the lifts. At the tip of both left-yardarms is seen the brail or the sheet. The masts are secured with a series of ropes that represent the fore-and-back stays. Both vessels are rigged with a pair of oars on either quarter. The oars have long and wide blades. Most probably they indicate the rudders.
The vessel in fig. 7b/4 is rigged with two masts and fully open sails. The main mast is set amidships and a bit higher than the artemon (set at a slight angle from the main mast). Both yards are secured to the masthead by a series of lifts. On the fore face of the sails is a checkerboard pattern, indicating the brails. One puti seems to work the halyard of the artemon and the loom of the starboard steering oar.
4. There are several vessels rigged only with a pair of oars set on either side (figs. 7b/7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23). Some of them are worked by one puto(figs. 7b/7, 8, 10, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23).
The Hippago ship (fig. 7b/6) is rigged with three oars lain at an angle on the starboard hull. The looms are pointed to the stem. It is probable that the vessels had the same number of oars on the port hull as well. The oars are not worked by anybody. The fishing boat in fig. 7b/79 is rigged with two oars laid on the starboard rubbing-wale. The looms are pointed towards the putii who are lifting a fishing net full of fish.
Almost all the vessels are depicted with a long lateral strake beneath the gunwale (figs. 7b/3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 16, 17, 78), slightly above it, or at the same level (figs. 7b/2, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24). Both ends of these strakes are protruding from the stem and aft the stern. This element indicates that the upper strake or the rubbing-strake that was used to reinforce the outer lateral hull, and protect it when the vessel was anchored at the quay. This strake also supported the shafts of the oar. There are some vessels depicted with a small protrusion above the gunwale. This element may signify the thole-pins used to secure the looms of the oar (figs. 7b/7, 9, 10, 13, 14) or the bitts used for the running and standing rig (figs. 7b/73).
Ostia, in Italy
Ostia was founded (349 BCE) as a small fort at the mouth of the Tiber River. It enabled control of the river as well as protection for Rome. Claudius, who started the work in AD 42, built the first commercial harbor of Ostia. The building of the harbor was accompanied by the centralization of the corn administration under imperial control (19). It was completed at about AD 46, as attested by an inscription that records Claudius’ construction of a canal from the Tiber to the sea, to connect the new harbor with Rome. Another purpose of the canal was to serve as a second outlet of the river and save Rome from flooding (20). By AD 62, the Claudian harbor was fully functional, as attested to by Tacitus (21). The development of the harbor is also associated with services related to the maritime trade. The storage capacity of corn at Ostia increased during the 2nd century AD in spite of the addition of the new horrea around Trajan’s harbor (22). The business life of Ostia concentrated around a large square or piazzale behind the theatre, north of the decumanus, and about half way between the Forum and the East Gate (23). Offices of various commercial corporations were set up around the open square surrounded by colonnades (24). known as Piazzale delle Corporazioni. A marble pediment found on the east side of the colonnade bears the inscription “navicular/’ Africani“. This inscription shows that overseas shippers were present at Ostia before the 2nd century AD. (25). Sixty-one rooms open to the colonnade and were paved with mosaics. A few of the surviving mosaics from these shops illustrate the occupation of the owner, and subsequent inscriptions indicate their place of origin. These mosaics are not set at the original level of the shops. Beneath them were found earlier remains of mosaics which could reveal the date of the colonnade and the theatre. It is assumed that traders and shippers who were most important as suppliers of Rome were concentrated here by imperial authority under Augustus. Since this period (1st century BCE) and until the 3rd century AD, Ostia was one of the main centers of official control (26). Traders who were located at Ostia originated from North Africa, Gaul, Sardinia and the Adriatic. Three inscriptions of the shippers are accompanied by the traders’ naviculatorii et negotiates. Presumably the negotiates dealt with orders for goods that they would buy in their home district, and henceforth ship to Ostia (27). Most of the offices in the corporation square were for foreign and out of town shippers and traders. There were some groups of workers who served these offices (restiones, stupatores, codicarii, pelliones) and had their shops in the Corporation Square (28).
The Corporation Shops
Following, the group of shippers and traders whose evidence was found to be in Ostia and on the Tiber will be listed. The presence of an office of the Spanish and Gallic export tax “statio Antonin (iana) XXXX Galliarum et Hispaniarum” at Ostia suggests that goods from Gaul and Spain were coming to the mouth of the Tiber, and then brought to Ostia (29). The nacularii lignarii indicate that they were the boatmen who transported timber to Rome (30). The list will refer to the merchant vessels that came from different places in the Mediterranean:
• classis Alexandrinae (from Egypt or in trade with Egypt)
• navicularii maris Hadriatici (from the Adriatic)
• navicularii Narbonenses (Narbonne in Gaul, France) [fig. 8]
• navicul(arii) et negotiantes Karalitani (Cagliari, in Sardinia) [fig. 9]
• navicularii Turitanni (Turritani or Turris Libisonis, in Sardinia) (31)
• navicul(arii) Karthag(iensi) Disuo (Carthage, in Tunisia) [fig. 10]
• navicularii Misuaenses (Misya, in North Africa)
• Sabratensium (Sabratha, in North Africa)
• navicularii Syllecti(ni) (North Africa)
• navicularii Gummitani (Gummi, in North Africa)
• navicularii Curbitani (Curubis, in North Africa).
The vessels depicted on the mosaic floors of the shops in the Corporation Square are made with black and white tesserae on a white background. All the vessels represent merchantmen of different sizes. Some of them are depicted with a cargo of jars, and others show harbor activities, such as unloading large seagoing ships (anchored in open sea at the mouth of the Tiber) into smaller harbor vessels and then carried upriver to the stores at Ostia. These vessels can be classified according to the shape of their hull and the rigging:
A. Long hulls with a concave prow, ended with a pointed projecting cutwater (figs. 8, 9,11). The stern is very round and the sternpost ends with the figure of a goose-head behind fencing or a railing. The sternpost ends either with a short horizontal fore extension of the gunwale (fig. 9), with a rounded shallow head (fig. 8), or with an outer-turned volute (fig. 11). The lateral wales beneath the gunwale are outlined with a strip of white tesserae. This element may also signify the rubbing-wale. In fig. 11, a small white triangle is depicted, just beneath the fore tip of the wale. This decoration indicates the oculus.
B. Rounded hull with two different stems; their stemposts are almost vertically ended with a short vertical block-shape (figs. 10, 13, 14):
1. Rounded stem ended with a block-shaped stempost (figs. 12, 13).
In fig. 12, there is a trapezoidal frame, which is attached to the tip of the stempost. It is outlined with a strip of black tesserae and has an angled forward extension. This frame probably signifies some kind of bowsprit. Above the port gunwale there are two short vertical spars. They indicate the bitts used for the fore standing rigging.
2. Rounded stem, slightly higher than the fore-deck and ending in a V- shape (fig. 10)
3. Rounded hull with an angled stem, ending with a block-shaped stempost (fig. 13). The vessel appears to have a flat bottom.
C. The rigging is comprised of one (fig. 10, 12, 14), two (figs. 8, 9) and three masts and sails (fig. 11), and a pair of steering oars placed on either quarter. The sails of all the vessels in discussion are fully open. The masts and sails are seen with the adjacent ropes which make the standing and running rig. The checkerboard pattern on the fore face of the sail appears in figs. 9, 11, 12, while in fig. 10 (on both vessels) it appears on the lee face of the sail. This pattern represents the whole system of brails used to work the sail. In fig. 8, thesail depicted from its /ee side is made of black tesserae. The brails are not shown. On the fore face of the sail in fig. 13, there are several longitudinal short arches depicted with a strip of white stones. They may indicate the brails. Above the yard (fig. 8 ) a black triangle is depicted. This pattern
signifies the topsails used on large seagoing ships of the Roman period.
1. The single mast and sail is set amidships (figs. 10a, b), fore amidships (fig. 12) and fore close to the bow (fig. 13). The standing rig is comprised of the forestay (figs. 10a, 13) and the backstay (figs. 10a, 12). In fig. 12, the backstays appear behind the lee face of the sail. The upper ends seem to be tied to the lifts and their lower ends are seen beneath the lower edge of the sail, thus secured to the top of starboard and port aft railing. The running rig comprised of braces is shown on the fore face of the sail in fig. 13.
The sheets are seen clearly in fig. 12; the lower end of the right sheet seems to be held by the helmsman set on the aft deck. The lower end of the left sheet is hidden by the fore starboard corner of the railing.
2. Vessels with two masts and sails: The main mast is high and tapered and the large square sail is fully open (figs. 8, 9). In fig. 8 the main mast is seen entirely from the starboard side, while as seen in fig. 9 it is hidden by the sail and only the lower part is visible (between the lower edge of the sail and the gunwale). The second mast and sail make the artemon (foresail). In fig. 8, the mast of the artemon is stretching at an angle above the stem. It is depicted as a tapered spar with black tesserae. The sail appears to be furled beneath the yard and depicted as a wide black strip. In fig. 9, the artemon mast appears as a very thin and angled spar, stretching above the bow. The artemon sail is fully open, and seen from its fore face. It appears as a small rectangle depicted with white tesserae. On both artemons the running rig is seen as comprised of sheets or braces (fig. 8), or only sheets (fig. 9).
The standing rigging comprised of fore-and-back stays is clearly seen on the lee face of the sail in fig. 8. In fig. 9, only the lower ends of the stays are visible from beneath the lower edge of the main saiil. The ends of these stays run to either sides of the gunwale. The brails depicted as a checkerboard pattern are seen on the fore face of the main sail (fig. 9). Above the yard in fig. 8 is depicted a black triangle. Its base is the length of the yard and the point of the triangle is attached to the port side of the masthead. This triangle represents the topsail used on large Roman seagoing vessels (32). It its probable that the vessel in fig. 9 is depicted with a topsail similar to the one in the previous illustration, though the short lines seen between the yard and the lifts may indicate the upper ends of the brails.
3. Three-masted vessel: Iconographic representations provide us with different types of ships and their rigging. The representation of vessels with three masts and sails is very rare. The mosaic depiction of such a vessel was found in the shop of the shippers from Syllectum (North Africa) [fig. 11]. The main mast is set slightly fore amidships. It is much higher and tapered than the other masts. The ship is shown from its starboard side and the sails are bunt on that side, thus partly covering the masts. The artemon is angled and stretches above the bow. It is slightly shorter than the main mast. The third mast is the mizzen, set on the aft deck between the main mast and the stern. It is much shorter than the artemon and the main one. The yard of all three rigs is supported by the lifts. On the fore face of the bunt is the checkerboard pattern of brails used for working the sails. The mizzen sail is depicted with sheets, which are probably worked by the helmsman set on the aft deck. On the fore part of the port gunwale there are three short block-like protrusions. They may represent the bitts used for the standing and running rig.
The vessels described above are rigged with a pair of steering-oars set on either quarter. Their looms appear to be supported by the backwards extension of the wing-like ends of the bulwarks, that ran along the amidships section outside the gunwale (33) (figs. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). The oars are angled to the quarter with the looms pointing to the stem. The blades of all the oars appear to be about half the size of the shafts’ length. The lower part of the shafts cross their blades at their mid-point (figs. 8, 10, 11, 12, 13). This representation indicates that a groove in reversed U or V-shape was cut into the mid-width of the lower shaft and that the long and thick blade was inserted perpendicularly into this groove. When this operation was finished, the blade was secured to the shaft by tree-nails and probably reinforced with bronze nails. We do not have definite proof of such a construction of large steering oars. When a ship is wrecked, its rigging is what is first to be destroyed. We may reconstruct such oars from different iconographic representations, since no such artifacts have yet been found.
The iconography of ships on mosaics pertains to two distinct parts of the Mediterranean, the east and the west. Geographically, some of the mosaics are not in close vicinity to the Mediterranean shores. Migdal (ca. 60 km from the sea), though considered as eastern Mediterranean, is located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The ship depicted on the mosaic probably represents a vessel of Mediterranean type and origin. One may assume that the owner of the house was involved in maritime trade not necessarily only on the Lake. He may have been familiar with Mediterranean types of vessels. The depiction of the ship model on the mosaic floor probably was used to demonstrate his knowledge or indicate his occupation.
The Catalogue of Ships depicted on the mosaic floor of the frigidarium, in the “Maison des Muses“, at Althiburus, is also located far from the northern shore of North Africa. This site is considered western Mediterranean. The depiction on the mosaic indicates that the owner(s) of the house were familiar with classical literature and art. This is deduced from the inscriptions and quotations of verses that are associated with the models of the vessels. The variety of vessels illustrated on the mosaic floor may also indicate that the owner(s) had a wide knowledge of the vessels sailing in the western Mediterranean. It is probable that he (or they) had been involved in maritime trade and owned several ships.
The vessels depicted on the mosaic floor of the shops in Piazzale delle Corporazioni at Ostia emphasize the importance of this harbor, not only as the largest of the Roman Empire, but as an important link between the great trade route from east to west. The various vessels illustrated on these mosaics depict different types of merchantmen that sailed in the Mediterranean connecting trade centers, mostly in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
The vessels portrayed on the mosaics described above represent merchantmen of different sizes. Sailing gear and steering oar or rudders mainly operate them. Some of the vessels (of smaller size) are represented with rowing oar, or sail, or both (figs. 4, 7b/11, 12, 13). Three sails (fig. 11) propelled the very large freighters. The inscriptions associated with the vessels on the Althiburus mosaic probably indicate different types that were known to the Greek and Roman Mediterranean. Some of these names were identified in the historical writings and were even identified as specific vessels. The Migdal ship (fig. 4) is a small monokrotos vessel (single-banked). It may indicate a light craft used as a passenger transporter and possibly associated with actuaria (akatos, in Greek). In Latin this type refers to a merchant galley, while in Greek it is a generic name for “boat” (34). The rig consisted of a single square sail and the hull was of the pointed cutwater type (35). Actuaria is depicted on the Althiburus Mosaic (fig. 7b/13) along with myoparo (36) (fig. 7b/13), a type which can also be associated with the Migdal ship. If the Migdal ship represents a passenger carrier, then it would not accommodate more than 10-15 people (not including the crew of six). The load capacity of such a vessel would not be more than 1.5 ton (37).
The vessels on the Althiburus mosaic represent a range of crafts, from the simplest rowboat-raft’s (fig. 7b/14), fishing boat-cydarum (fig. 7b/19), to the one-masted-corbita (fig. 7/1), actuaria (fig. 7b/13), and the largest types rigged with two masts-ponfo (fig. 7b/3), and cladivata (fig. 7b/4). The mosaic also depicts vessels that were used on rivers or along the coast for traffic and fishing: hippago (fig. 7b/6), slatta (fig. 7b/75), celox (fig. 7b/27), horeia (fig. 7b/20). The larger freighters are indicated by corbita (figs. 7b/7, 2) and amphorae carrier (fig. 7b/25). The load capacity of the vessels depicted on the Althiburus mosaic is estimated to be from 1.5 to 400 tons (38).
The ships depicted on the mosaics in the Corporation Square , at Ostia, also demonstrate a wide range of seagoing merchant vessels along with crafts used on the Tiber , and harbor services. The ships with rounded hull and block-shaped sternpost, and rigged with one mast (figs. 10, 12, 13), can be associated with an adopted form of corbita (fig. 7b/1) or prosumia (fig. 7b/12), without the projecting cutwater. The bigger ships rigged with two masts (figs. 8, 9), may be associated with ponto (fig. 7b/3) or cladivata (fig. 7b/4). The strip of black and white pattern depicted on the masts of the vessels in figs. 8 and 10 indicates a rope ladder abaft the mast for getting aloft. It became a characteristic feature of the Mediterranean sailing vessels (39), The three-masted ship (fig. 11) represents the largest seagoing freighters, probably more common in the western Mediterranean. This mosaic was found in the shop belonging to shippers from Syllectum ( North Africa ), and it is a rare representation of this type of vessel. The load capacity of such a ship would be 200-500 tons (40).
Despite the wide geographical location of the sites with ship iconography on the mosaics described above, they are related to one another by virtue of the subject matter, and the mosaic making of black-and-white technique. They also originate from the same period, the 1st (Migdal) and the 3rd centuries AD (Althiburus and Ostia). These are some similarities of the depictions of the vessels, especially Althiburus and Ostia.
The style of black-and-white mosaics developed in the second half of the 1st century AD and was used until the late 3rd century. Such mosaics are mainly found in Italy
(Rome, Pompeii, Herculanum) and only very few examples exist in the Roman provinces. Since the technique of black-and-white style is much simpler than the polychrome style, the artists developed a great skill for the use of chiaroscuro (light and shade). Economic factors may have dictated the use of the black-and-white style. This technique requires less planning and is thus faster in production.
The depiction of the Migdal ship, in black-and-white technique, may indicate that the owner of the house was familiar with the new fashion of interior design, which developed in the center of the Empire, or that he was also lead by economic factors. Building his house on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and wishing to decorate the pavements in the new fashion encouraged him to use local material from the area. The black stones are basalt while the white and brownish-red are different kinds of limestone, which could have come from around Kinneret, Galilee or the Golan Heights.
The Catalogue of Ships from Althiburus belongs to the period of the 3rd century, when the Roman economy was at its apex. The African provinces became the main suppliers of corn, olive oil and garum for Rome. This change in the economy led to extensive planning and building. The mosaic floor may indicate that the owner of the house was involved in the business of shipping products brought from rich inland plains, and shipped to Rome through the port of Carthage. Despite the fact that the depiction of the water gods is formed in polychrome tesserae, the vessels were depicted only in shades of gray on the olive-green background of the sea (41). The style of the work used for the vessels is very similar to the black-and-white technique (42). Hie making of this mosaic can be attributed to three factors: 1. The influence of the new style from the center of the Empire; 2. The use of local material; 3. The cheaper and much faster way of making the mosaic floor.
The black-and-white mosaic in the Corporation Square, at Ostia, may indicate a unity of the economic factor and the height of fashion for making such floors. The prosperous economy of the Roman Empire during the first half of the 2nd centurys led to massive planning and building in Italy, especially in Rome and Ostia. The fashion of paving the private and public buildings with mosaics led to the use of the black-and-white style. It required less planning, and the making of such floors was faster and the setting was prated to short periods.
Although the mosaics presented in this paper have different geographical locations, they belong to the same period and are connected one to another through cultural and economic factors which spread all over the Mediterranean via maritime connections.
This article was made possible with the help and encouragement of several people.
I owe special thanks to my advisor Prof. Michal Artzy, from the Department of the Maritime Civilizations, University of Haifa. Through the research of articles and other publications for this work, I came across some material published in German. I am grateful to Mr. Alex Neber, from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, for helping me with the translation from German to English. I am thankful to Ms. Nichole Nachshon for the English editing. I wish to thank Mr. Ezra Marcus, from the Department of Maritime Civilizations, for giving me some pictures of the mosaics which he photographed at Ostia.
Center for Maritime Studies
University of Haifa, Haifa 39105
1. The Synoptic Gospel describes Mary of Magdala as one of the women from the Galilee who gave financial help and domestic services to Jesus and his disciples. She also was present at the crucifixion and the burial of Jesus. The Fourth Gospel gives Mary of Magdala pride of place as the first witness of the resurrection and the risen Christ; Comay, J. & Brownrigg, R., 1980: Who’s Who in the Bible; The Old Testament and The Apocrypha, The New Testament; Bonanza Books, New York; pp. 299-301.⇧
2. The War of the Jewish, Book iii. 9-10, pp. 74-6.⇧
3. Strabo, Bookxvi. 2.45.⇧
4. Raban, 1988, p. 323.⇧
5. This type of inscription is the first one to be found in Israel and dated to the 1st century AD. Such inscriptions were mostly found in private houses in Antioch. They were used as a sign of protection against the “evil eye”; Corbo, 1978, p. 237. ⇧
6. Literally meaning “eye”. It is a device in the form of an eye and sometimes highly stylized. The decoration was painted on either side of the bow, close to the stem, for reasons of religion or superstition.⇧
7. Basch, 1987, fig. 871 (ivory fragment from Chios, end of the 7th century BCE), p. 409. ⇧
8. Basch, figs. 919, 921, 1081, 1089; Casson, 1974, fig. 177; Casson, 1994, fig. 97. ⇧
9. Basch, figs. 971-B, 973-A.⇧
10. Casson, 1971, p. 146; Steffy, 1994, pp. 277-8.⇧
11. Basch, fig. 41, p. 377. The graffito comes from the Maison aux Stucs, in Delos. ⇧
12. McGrail & Farrell, 1979, Table 1, p. 157; fig. 6, p. 160.⇧
13. Wachsmann & Steffy, 1990, p. 120.⇧
14. Ibid., pp. 29-47.⇧
15. The measurements of the mosaic and the ship model were taken by the writer in 1996 and appear in a table used for the MA Thesis, 1999; Table 2.1.1, p. 12.⇧
16. Schmerbeck, 1992, p. 16.⇧
17. The Althiburus mosaic was brought into this paper as a black-and-white example. Recently I was made aware of a German article about the Althiburus mosaic that was published in 1992. It presents some general information about the entire mosaic, but refers to four types of vessels depicted on this floor. Although some elements such as the fish and the water gods associated with the maritime scene are depicted with colored tesserae, the vessels are illustrated with white and darker shades of gray. The water background is depicted with oilive-green tesserae. Light-colored stones were used for the zigzag strips depicted as the waves of the sea. Since the first publication (1905) of the mosaic in black and white, there was no mention of the technique used for its making and the colors that were used.⇧
18.Such flags were attached to the masthead of the flagship in sea combat. In merchantmen it was used either as a trademark, or to indicate the wind direction, as can be seen on contemporary yachts.⇧
19. Meiggs, 1973, p.55.⇧
21. Tacitus records the loss of 200 vessels within the moles of the harbor, due to a severe storm; Meiggs, p. 55. 22⇧
22. Meiggs, p. 280.⇧
23. Ibid, fig. 2 (plan of the site), p. 137.⇧
24. Ibid., p. 283. The colonnades are contemporary with the original building of the theatre, during the time of Augustus (1st century BCE).⇧
25.Ibid., p. 285.⇧
26. MEIGGS, p. 283.⇧
27. Ibid., p. 287.⇧
28. Hermansen, 1981, p. 74.⇧
29. Mieggs, p. 279.⇧
30. Ashby, 1912, p. 179.⇧
31. Houston, 1980, p. 156, note 70.⇧
32. It appears that the topsail was used in iconographic representation on vessels, not later than the 3rd century AD; Casson, 1971, figs. 144, 149, 154.⇧
33. Casson, p. 211.⇧
34. Casson, p. 159.⇧
35. Ibid., p. 160.⇧
36. Originally, myoparo was a type of single-banked warship, beamier in proportion with its length; Torr, 1964, p.118. In the Althiburus mosaic it is depicted as a vessel with a concave prow ended with a projecting pointed curtwater.⇧
37. See above p. 178.⇧
38. Casson gives a list of large freighters mentioned in historical writings and also a table of the wrecks found with their cargo; Casson, pp. 183-4 and pp. 198-90.⇧
39. Casson, p. 240.⇧
40. Ibid., pp. 189-90.⇧
41. See note 17, above.⇧
42. The black-and-white style had great influence on the polychrome mosaic in the organization of the field of the composition; Clarke, R., J., 1979: Roman Black-and-White Figural Mosaics; New York University Press; pp. 58-62. ⇧
Atiqot – The Israel Antiquities Authorities
DEGUWA – Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Underwasserarchaologie e. V.
IJNA – The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
JRS – Journal of Roman Studies
LA – Liber Annuus
MAAR – Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome
Monuments et Memoires Fondation Eugene Piot; LAcademie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres
Ashby, T., 1912: Recent Discoveries at Ostia; JRS vol. II, pp. 153-194
Basch, L, 1987: Le Musee imaginaire de la marine antique; Athens
Casson, L, 1971: Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World; Princeton University Press, New Jersey
Corbo, V., 1978: Piazza e Villa Urbana a Magdala; LA XXVIII, pp. 232-40, Pls. 71-6; Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem
Hermansen, G., 1981: Ostia: Aspects of Roman City Life; University of Alberta Press
Houston, G., D., 1980: The Administration of Italian Seaports During the First Three centuries of the Roman Empire; in d’Arms, J., H. & Kopff, E., C. (eds.): The Seaborn Commerce of Ancient Rome: Studies in Archaeology and History; MAAR vol. XXXVI, Rome; pp. 157-172
Josephus, F.: The War of the Jews, vol. 8, Book iii, in Complete Works of Josephus in TenVolumes; The World Syndicate Publishing Company
Glaucker, P., 1905: Un Catalogue Figure de la Batellerie Greco-Romaine, la Mosaique d’Althiburus; Monuments et Memoires vol. XII, pp. 113-154, Pls. ix-x
McGrail, S. and Farrell, A., 1979: Rowing: aspects of the ethnographic and iconographic evidence; IJNA 8.2, pp. 155-166
Meiggs, R., 1973: Roman Ostia (2nd ed.); Clarendon Press, Oxford
Raban, A., 1988: The Boat from Migdal Nunia and the anchorages of the Sea of Galilee from the time of Jesus; IJNA 17.4, pp. 311-29
Schmerbeck, U., 1992: Das Schifsmosaik von Althiburus; DEGUWA2, pp. 16-20
Torr, C., 1964: Ancient Ships; Argonaut, Inc., Publishers, Chicago
Wachsmann, S., 1990: The Excavations of an Ancient Boat in the Sea of Galilee (Lake); Atiqot XIX, Jerusalem
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Fig. 1: Sites mentioned in the text; drawing Z. Friedman
Fig. 2: General plan of the excavated site at Migdal; Corbo, P., V., 1978;LB XXVII, p. 72
Fig. 3: Migdal mosaic panel; photo, Z. Friedman
Fig. 4: Drawing of the Migdal ship, Z. Friedman
Fig. 5: Ship graffito from Delos; Basch, 1987, fig. 41, p. 377; computer process, Z. Friedman
Fig. 6: Plan of the Maison des Muses, Althiburus; Glauckler, P., 1905, fig. 2, p. 123
Fig. 7a: The Catalogue of Ships, Althiburus; Dunbabin, 1978, fig. 122; computer process, Z. Friedman
Fig. 7b: Drawing of the Catalogue of Ships; Casson, 1971, fig. 137
Fig. 8: Navi Narboninses, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus
Fig. 9: Navicularii et negotiantes Karalitani, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus
Fig. 10: Navicularii Karthagiensi, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus
Fig. 11: Three-masted merchantmen, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus
Fig. 12: Rounded hull with block-shaped stem-and-stern posts, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus
Fig. 13: Rounded hull with angled stem, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus