Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Mosaics as History

Mosaics as History

The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam

G. W. Bowersock

ISBN 9780674022928

Publication date: 11/15/2006

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.


  • On the surface this may appear an esoteric and quaint study of an ancient artform, yet the author bestows it with a depth and significance that reaches right to the heart of ancient Near Eastern culture. Despite their great age, marred by neglect and sometimes deliberate vandalism, these mosaics indicate a complex fusion of cultures and religions, illustrations of literary and mythological tradition, iconography, and monuments to civic pride. Bowersock's immense scholarship in this field, combined with a plethora of high quality, colour images, returns the reader to a time of relative peace and harmony in the Near East, when the regions we now know as Syria, Arabia, Palestine, and Jordan were united in a tradition of classicism which bound together Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in a fundamentally Semitic land.

    —Antiques Magazine


  • G. W. Bowersock is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Book Details

  • 160 pages
  • 6 x 8 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author