Over the past century, exploration and serendipity have uncovered mosaic after mosaic in the Near East—maps, historical images, mythical figures, and religious scenes that constitute an immense treasure of new testimony from antiquity. The stories these mosaics tell unfold in this brief, richly informed book by a preeminent scholar of the classical world.
G. W. Bowersock considers these mosaics a critical part of the documentation of the region’s ancient culture, as expressive as texts, inscriptions on stone, and architectural remains. In their complex language, often marred by time, neglect, and deliberate defacement, he finds historical evidence, illustrations of literary and mythological tradition, religious icons, and monuments to civic pride. Eloquently evoking a shared vision of a world beyond the boundaries of individual cities, the mosaics attest to a persistent tradition of Greek taste that could embrace Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in a fundamentally Semitic land, and they suggest the extent to which these three monotheistic religions could themselves embrace Hellenism.
With copious color illustrations, Bowersock’s efforts return us to Syrian Antioch, Arabia, Jewish and Samaritan settlements in Palestine, the Palmyrene empire in Syria, and the Nabataean kingdom in Jordan, and show us the overlay of Hellenism introduced by Alexander the Great as well as Roman customs imported by the imperial legions and governors. Attending to one of the most evocative languages of the ages, his work reveals a complex fusion of cultures and religions that speaks to us across time.