Ship Iconography In Mosaics
Mosaic surfaces (floor and/or wall) are the most durable art form that survived from antiquity. The varied and complex designs depicted in mosaics may be classified according to subjects' representation and their architectural settings: baths, villas, shippers' squares and ecclesiastic structures. The question as to whether ship representations in mosaics, augment the data of ancient ships, is addressed, bearing in mind the limitations of the milieu. Ships depicted in mosaics were meant to be everlasting images or an allusion to the activity of the owner for those who entered spaces where they were positioned. It is possible that some of the merchants who grew rich from the profits of shipping of African goods may have chosen to record the source of their wealth on their pavements.
The ship motifs do not appear as a single item in mosaics but as a part of a design; they were derived from different sources such as vase paintings, reliefs, frescoes, graffiti, models, etc., as well as from sketches from observations of vessels sailing around the Mediterranean in antiquity. Different types of vessels depicted with many details suggest a close approach to realism. The vessels are shown with their hull shape, propulsion and steering gear. They also suggest the sailing environment (river, lake, delta, harbor or open sea). Ship motifs used as a theme for mosaic decorations provide us with a wider understanding of the techniques used for laying the stones and the planning of the surface design. Although mosaics are not an easy and flexible medium for the depiction of ships, they represent significant details that may be considered as relevant information about shipbuilding traditions and types of vessels typical of the period when the mosaic was prepared.
Ships depicted in mosaics, even those found in occasional publications on the subject of mosaics in general, have never been researched from the point of view of marine archaeology. The present study began with research for a MA degree, which in this case deals with mosaics in the eastern Mediterranean, namely Israel and Jordan. This research has been carried out with the purpose of understanding ancient ships and their construction, which may complement the long list of ship representations in other art forms (frescoes, graffiti, reliefs, models, etc.). In general, representations of Greco-Roman ships are never at scale, but they permit us to observe and understand some of the most distinctive parts of such vessels.