A massive Roman mosaic, from the apex of Imperial reach and power, has been unearthed in southern Turkey.

The 1,600-square-foot decorative handiwork is believed to be the biggest mosaic of its type and demonstrates the reach and cultural influence of the Roman Empire in the area during the third and fourth centuries A.D. The archeology team has been investigating the remains of the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern Turkish coast. Antiochus of Commagene, a client-king of Rome, founded the ancient city in the middle of the first century. Antiochia ad Cragum was a modest city by Roman standards and outfitted with many of the typical trappings one would expect from a Roman provincial city – temples, baths, markets and colonnaded streets. The city thrived during the Empire from an economy that focused on agricultural products, especially wine and lumber.

Excavation work has focused on a third-century temple dedicated to the Roman imperial cult, and also a colonnaded street lined with commercial shops. In July, the team began to explore the mosaic, which was part of a Roman Bath. The decoration consists of large squares, each filled with different colored geometric designs and ornamentation.

 “This is very possibly the largest Roman mosaic found in the region. And its large size also signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the Roman Empire were, in fact, very strong in this far-flung area of the Empire. The mosaic is a quintessential Roman artistic element. This hammers home how Roman this city truly is,” said
Michael Hoff, Professor of Art History at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and leader of the expedition. “We always thought this was a peripheral Roman city, but it’s becoming more and more clear that it’s weighted more on the Roman side than the native side. The mosaic really emphasizes the pure Roman nature of this city and should answer a lot of questions regarding the interaction between the indigenous locals and the Roman Empire.”

The Roman mosaic measures approximately 25 x 7 meters and served as the forecourt for the adjacent large bath. Hoff's team unearthed about 40 percent of the mosaic this summer and hopes to uncover the rest of the mosaic next summer. Credit: UNL

Hoff said it appears the mosaic served as a forecourt for the adjacent large bath, and that at least on one side, evidence shows there was a roof covering the geometric squares that would have been supported by piers. Those piers’ remains are preserved, he said.

Meanwhile, the middle of the mosaic was outfitted with a marble-lined, 25-foot-long pool, which would have been uncovered and open to the sun. The other half of the mosaic, adjacent to the bath, has yet to be revealed but is expected to contain the same type of decoration
 “This would have been a very formal associated pavement attached to the bath,” Hoff said. “This is a gorgeous mosaic, and the size of it is unprecedented” – so large, in fact, that work crews have uncovered only an estimated 40 percent of its total area. Crews expect to unearth the entire work next summer.

They first noticed the mosaic in 2001, when Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University, the director of a large archaeological survey project that included Hoff, noticed plowing by a local farmer had brought up pieces of a mosaic in a field next to a still-standing bath structure. The find was brought to the attention of the archeological museum in Alanya, who two years later made a minor investigation that revealed a small portion of the mosaic. Last year, the museum invited Hoff to clear the entire mosaic and to preserve it for tourists to view and scholars to study.

“As an archaeologist, I am always excited to make new discoveries. The fact that this discovery is so large and also not completely uncovered makes it doubly exciting,” he said. “I am already looking forward to next year, though I just returned from Turkey.”