Penn Museum Gets Floored
The Lod Mosaic at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. www.penn.museum. February 10-May 12
By Jackie S. Akins
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
In the year 300 A.D. in the Roman Empire colony of Diospolis in Palestine area of Judea, fifteen miles southeast of Tel Aviv, business was thriving. The colony stood on the former Jewish municipality of Lod and while the Roman citizens were primarily Christians, it being a day’s walk to Judea, the city after the fall of Jerusalem became famous as a seat of Jewish scholarship.
Commerce and trade abound amid the borders as major stop in the highway between Egypt and Syria.
Today the town of Lod, Israel bares little resemblance to the thriving metropolis of antiquity. The city of roughly 100,000 people is divided between Jews and Muslims both struggling to survive in the new economy. Lod resembles many of the third class cities dotting the American landscape. Lod though is still important in the infrastructure of Israel as a transportation hub and in 1996 authorities were in the midst of widening a road around the township to better handle traffic from and to Tel Aviv airport.
During the construction workmen stumbled upon one of the largest and best preserved mosaic from Roman times. Determined to rescue this archaeological find the Israel Antiquity Authority covered up this masterpiece until money was secured for an excavation. Conservation on this seven panel mosaic got underway in 2009.
The tile floor is believed to have come from the home of a wealthy Roman. Since the mosaic reveals no blatant religious symbols the faith of the wealthy owner is disputed. Why this would matter is anyone’s guess.
What is known by this 27 wide by 50 feet long flooring is the owner who commissioned it was in some way enamoured by the wild animals of Africa and the ship which brought them to the Empire. Simple logic deducts an obvious reason for this. Diospolis would have been a prominent stop over for traders from this continent. With its intricate road systems, transporting this creatures to a port of call on the Mediterranean for shipment to the coliseums of the Empire for Gladiatorial games could be done expeditiously. A adept trader would have made a neat fortune plying in such an endeavor. Clearly the size and workmanship of the Lod mosaic indicates its owner was one of these one percenters.
After the work of the conservators was completed Israel decided (for the good of the country and for the economic shot in the arm Lod needs ) to house this eight marvel of the world in a Museum there.
The Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White, Chairman of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority provided the necessary funding to conserve the mosaic and establish the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Centre, which will open to the public in 2012/13 in Lod, Israel.
While waiting for the Centre to be constructed the three best panels of the floor were selected for loan exhibition in the United States and Europe.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum, (whose Women's Committee was a principal sponsor for the for the unearthing of the mosaic ) is the last stop in this country for American audiences. After May 10.2013 the Lod mosaic will fly to Europe to lay in the Louvre and other European museums before it goes home to Israel.
The mosaic is ideally placed on the third floor gallery right off the Egyptian mummy on the other end of the Roman and Greek exhibits and adjacent to the Israeli room.
When I entered the hall I gazed down on what looked liked an exquisitely woven rug of tinted green, deep red and yellow. This, to my delight, turned out to be the mosaic. The centre panel depicts wild African exotic animals, the premier attraction (besides gladiators) to the games in the coliseums. The bottom row in its centre has two leopards holding an urn, animals sacred to the pagan god Bacchus, perhaps as a tribute to the merriment of the games? . On the the south panel are birds of prey familiar to the Roman and Israelites while the north one shows; fish, Ketas, the mythical sea monster ( to represent the perils of ocean travel?) and merchant ships presumable the vessels used by the businessman for delivery of the prey to Rome.
Around the mosaic the Museum had taken time to enlighten the experience with tidbits about the tile’s depictions and Roman customs relating to the time and gladiator sportsmanship.
Penn Museum is an ideal venue for this exhibit because its halls are dedicated to exposing us to humanity; showing its diversity and uniformity throughout the ages and varied cultures. I didn’t feel like I was experiencing an alien portrait of a long away time in an universe far far away but more like I was standing in a Main Line reception hall waiting for a waiter to deliver my wine and canapés before a dinner party.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.