Ancient mosaics make fun of events
Nowadays, some people read satirical and political cartoons in the newspaper or on their smartphones while sitting on the toilet, but in Antalya’s Antiocheia Ad Gragum, such cartoons were illustrated on mosaics on the floor below the toilets in the ancient city’s bathhouse.
Mosaics making fun of important figures and current events were uncovered in a Roman latrine and bathhouse in the most recent excavations in the ancient city in the southern province’s Gazipaşa district.The mosaics depict Zeus and other mythological figures alongside satirical captions and were found in the men’s section of the bathhouse.
“Here, some scenes from ancient mythology are depicted. Normally, because they are dirty places, in mythology, they are associated with bad, dangerous things,” said Professor Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska, who leads the excavations at Antiocheia Ad Gragum. “The mosaics made here in the latrine made fun of these issues.”
Archaeologists found two satirical mosaic scenes in the excavations. One is still intact, while the other needs considerable restoration.
One scene depicts the abduction of Ganymedes, a Trojan prince renowned for his beauty, by Zeus, the Olympian god of the sky who is king of all gods and men. Zeus disguises himself as an eagle and kidnaps Ganymedes to Mount Olympus, where he makes the young prince his cupbearer and lover. Although Zeus, in fact, disguised himself as an eagle – one of his many symbols, the mosaic portrays him as a heron.
“So he was mocked” in the mosaic, Hoff said.
The other scene depicts Narcissus, a hunter who was so handsome that he fell in love with himself when he saw his reflection in a pool of water.
Although he’s a stunningly attractive character in Greek mythology, he is depicted in the latrine mosaic as ugly with a large nose
“It makes us understand that the people here had fun with them while they are in the toilet. In this respect, it is one of the rare mosaics,” Hoff said.
The mosaics show archaeologists two things: one is that society had cartoonists, and the other is that people during that period changed their perspectives and values concerning religion, he said.
“It shows that the people working here changed their perspective on these events. They started to make fun of their past beliefs, Hoff said. In fact, history confirms that the beliefs of the people were changing.
The bathhouse dates back to the late Roman period, when the early Byzantines abandoned the Roman faith and converted to the belief in one god, i.e. Christianity.
“This place was originally a Roman bath … where they socialized and spent time together when bathing,” Hoff said.
The building changed along with the beliefs of the early Byzantines. Originally built as a Roman bathhouse, archaeological finds indicate that the early Byzantines “no longer considered [the structure] as a bath or as a socializing area but was used ıt for a different purpose.”
“They used these areas as ceramic workshops. We see that materials such as lime and brick were produced,” Hoff said. “During the Late Roman period, the baths of the city were converted into an industrial place in order to produce the needs of the city.”
Located in Güneyköy Nohut Yeri, the ancient city of Antiocheia Ad Gragum takes its name from the king of Kommagene, Antiochos IV. The ruins of the ancient city are located on three hills that descend steeply towards the sea. The city was located within the borders of the region known as “Mountainous Cilicia” in ancient times. The structures surviving in the Roman and Byzantine periods are the medieval fortress, agora, colonnaded street, church, bath, monumental gate, temple and monumental tombs in the necropolis area.
Archaeologists have been excavating the site since 2005. A medusa figure was unearthed in 2015. The figure dates back to the second or third century.