Archaeology Swords and Sandals

Discussion in 'Archaeology' started by mscbkc070904, Mar 27, 2005.

  1. mscbkc070904

    mscbkc070904 Premium Member

    In Libya, again open to U.S. travelers after more than two decades, archaeologists have uncovered spectacular mosaics of the glories of Rome

    Helmut Siegert returned to the coast of Libya last year to follow up on a tantalizing discovery. In September 2000, his colleague Marliese Wendowski was excavating what she thought was a large farmhouse when, 12 feet deep in the sandy soil, she came across a floor covered with a stunning glass-and-stone mosaic of an exhausted gladiator staring at a slain opponent. The discovery had come too late in that year's expedition to pursue further, so the University of Hamburg archaeologists reburied the mosaic. "It was well preserved," Ziegert says. "I knew there had to be a lot more."

    When Ziegert and his co-workers finally returned to the site—near the town of Homs, which is adjacent to the ancient Roman settlement of Leptis Magna—they found, mixed in with the ruins of a modest farmhouse, those of a stately villa that housed gladiators, ancient Rome's superstar athletes. The mosaics decorated the floor of an elaborate cold-water bathhouse and consisted of tiny pieces of green, brown and gold glass and stone laid in a thin layer of chalk atop about five inches of concrete. Ziegert, who has conducted digs all across northern Africa, was stunned by the works' size: five huge panels that stretched 30 feet. Luisa Musso, a specialist in mosaics and Roman archaeology at the University of Rome Three, says, "I've seen mosaics all over this area, and these are extraordinary."

    The scenes captured the gore of the Roman amphitheater that stood nearby. In the panel Ziegert's team uncovered first, the slain gladiator's head tilts backward nearly out of the frame, in a technique more common to paintings than mosaics. In the other panels, four young men wrestle a wild bull to the ground with their bare hands, a warrior does lone battle against a long-antlered deer, and a gladiator wearing intricately patterned trousers hoists his shield over a stricken foe. Some antiquities specialists say the painterly touches indicate that a Roman artist probably created the mosaics. But other experts resent the implication that an African couldn't produce such sophisticated work. "It looks like the artist might have been trained at one of the local schools in North Africa," says Hafed Walda, a Libyan archaeologist based at the University of London's King's College.

    The mosaic is a window onto a thriving Roman city at the height of the empire's hold on North Africa. Set in a natural harbor on Libya's North African coast, Leptis Magna was founded some 3,000 years ago by Phoenicians as a commercial trading post for the Mediterranean region. After centuries of political turmoil, the area joined the Roman Empire around 25 b.c. Walls and gates were built around the city later, but residents retained the right to own their land and control local affairs. Leptis Magna's traders did well under Roman rule, but after the empire collapsed, in the fifth century a.d., the city's prestige and population waned. The town disappeared completely in the 11th century. Today, the ancient settlement is nestled next to Homs, a bustling modern town that caters largely to archaeological missions and a growing number of foreign tourists.

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