7. Mosaic Floor with Animals

  • Roman, from Antioch, Syria (present-day Antakya, Turkey), ca. AD 400
  • Stone tesserae, 257.2 cm × 682.3 cm
  • 70.AH.96.1–.5


This mosaic floor comes from a small bath building that was discovered by a local farmer near Toprak-en-Narlidja in Syria, located on the slopes of Mount Silpios, east of the ancient city of Antioch. A modern farm complex built over the site had used the earlier building material extensively. The ancient structure, known as the Bath of Apolausis, was uncovered in 1938 during a series of excavations made at Antioch and its vicinity.1 The bath has been dated to the late fourth century BC.2 Parts of the building dating to the mid-fifth century AD are thought to have been restorations or additions. The mosaic itself was exported from Syria soon after it was excavated and brought to the Worcester Art Museum, but it was never put on display. The J. Paul Getty Museum purchased the mosaic from the Worcester Art Museum in 1970.


The dominant characteristic of the mosaic is its mesmerizing assortment of geometric patterns, executed in a muted color scheme consisting primarily of varying shades of gray, pink, ocher, black, and white. The only figural elements are the three square panels at the center of the mosaic, which depict animals in medallions enclosed by elaborately decorated borders. The main scene of a hare or rabbit eating a bunch of grapes is framed on either side by representations of birds pecking at foliage: two partridges on the left and a woodcock on the right. Continuous decorative bands—one a guilloche, the other a single cable—encircle the birds and merge with an exterior square border of the same pattern to create an enclosure for each of the figural compositions. A striking circular pattern composed of alternating rays of multicolored squares highlights the central medallion; this pattern, referred to as “rainbow style,” produces a distinctive kaleidoscopic effect. A series of wavy lines fills the triangular spandrels in the four corners of each of the squares, matching similar patterns in the outer border of the mosaic. Rectangular end panels on the left and right sides of the mosaic contain lozenges (a decorative motif found primarily in coffered ceilings) that enclose a circle with a leafless rinceau. Although a large section of the left panel is missing, the right side is essentially complete.3 A continuous border composed of rectangles and triangles, each decorated with a different geometric pattern, outlines the entire mosaic. The rectangles, placed diagonally in alternating directions, are marked by an inner hourglass shape. A variety of linear patterns, including zigzags and wavy lines running in different directions, decorate the triangles. These designs, which have abundant parallels in other mosaics at Antioch, are possibly intended to simulate the marble veining of contemporary floor pavements in opus sectile.4

This mosaic pavement originally covered the floor of a vestibule leading to the main room of the so-called Bath of Apolausis. The vestibule was entered through a portico along the building’s southern side and gave access to the largest room of the bath, a central octagonal space with large niches that functioned both as the frigidarium and as the main hall of the building (see fig. 18). Bathing in the Roman world served an important social function. It was a necessary part of the daily routine, and many bath complexes were also cultural institutions that contained audience halls, libraries, and rooms devoted to cult activities. A distinguishing characteristic of baths in the Eastern Roman Empire in late antiquity was that the frigidarium transformed from a major hall with cold-water plunges to a spacious lounge-apodyterium, a hybrid room for gathering and entertainment.5 The excavations of the area surrounding this bath indicate that it was a public facility, connected to a large country villa or a farm complex, one of several similar constructions in the vicinity.6

Although small in scale, the exceptional quality of the construction of the bath building and its lavish decoration, which included frescoes on the walls as well, attests to the wealth and taste of prosperous landowners in the countryside surrounding Antioch. The mosaic floors of the Bath of Apolausis illustrate themes that in late antiquity related to the beneficial effects of the baths, whose revitalizing waters could give pleasure and relieve pain.7 The octagonal room and the adjoining apsidal room to the west were each decorated with an elaborate mosaic floor depicting a female bust. The figures are identified by inscriptions as the Greek personifications of Soteria (see fig. 19) (Salvation) and Apolausis (see fig. 20) (Enjoyment), qualities closely associated with the building.8 Antioch’s many sources of water—the Mediterranean Sea, the Orontes River, and especially the natural springs and pools at nearby Daphne, known for their healing properties—greatly enhanced the city’s reputation for providing a luxurious quality of life. The leisure activities offered by public baths are praised by the fourth-century AD orator Libanius in his tribute to Antioch, which he describes as having the most beautiful and abundant waters of all cities, and therefore the finest baths.9


Representations of the central image on the Getty’s mosaic floor, a crouching hare or rabbit feeding on fruit, appear as early as the first century AD in Roman wall paintings.10 The diffusion of the motif is evident in mosaics found in a variety of contexts throughout the Roman Empire, dating from the third through the fifth century AD. In addition to the public bath building near Antioch, where the Getty mosaic was discovered, the image appears in mosaics from the basilicas at Aquileia in northern Italy and the hall of a public building at Sepphoris in Israel.11 This theme was also popular in private settings—for example, an elaborate mosaic floor decorating the reception hall of a large villa at Lydda (present-day Lod) also in Israel. Mosaics from wealthy Roman villas at Corinium Dobunnorum (present-day Cirencester) in Britain and at Thysdrus (present-day El Djem) and Hadrumetum (present-day Sousse) in Tunisia depict similar scenes.12 Hares with fruit frequently are found in vine-rinceau borders, as in the mosaic from the House of the Bird-Rinceau at Antioch, which includes birds, hares, and other animals within scrolls, between leaves and bunches of grapes.13 The significance of the motif is not always clear, but it may relate to the cycle of life, as hares and rabbits are often associated with vitality and fertility.14 This symbolic meaning, appropriate also in the decoration of the Bath of Apolausis and its reference to the good life, may have contributed to the continued use of the image in later Christian iconography, which centered on themes of eternal life.


The mosaic is mostly intact. A section (approximately 92 × 150 cm) on the left end of the mosaic is missing, however, and was reconstructed with concrete fill. The area of loss includes nearly all of one of the two rectangular panels with lozenge decorations.


Stillwell 1941, 19–23, fig. 21, 182–83, no. 123; Levi 1947, 304–5, plates 68b and 121a–b; Vermeule and Neuerburg 1973, 55, no. 116; Jones 1981, 20, M143, A–E; Balty 1995, 92–93; Cimok 2000, 238.

  1. The campaigns were undertaken from 1932 to 1939. At the time, the Department of Syrian Antiquities permitted the sponsors of the excavations to export the mosaics. The excavation report was published in Stillwell 1941, 19–23, fig. 21, 182–83, no. 123. 

  2. Levi suggests a date of ca. AD 400, based on coins dating to the second half of the fourth century AD; see Levi 1947, 304, 626. Balty supports this on the basis of stylistic comparisons with other mosaic pavements of the region—particularly those from the Church of Khirbet Muqa in Apamea (AD 394/395); see Balty 1995, 92, and especially 89–93, for additional discussion and references. 

  3. Compare the image of the Getty mosaic in cat. 7 with the state of the mosaic in situ in fig. 17

  4. For additional examples from Antioch that may imitate this style, see Levi 1947, e.g., plates 73, 81, 109, 113. Balty also compares the patterns of additional mosaics in the Bath of Apolausis with pavements from other locations in Syria; see Balty 1995, 92–93. For a general catalogue of mosaic patterns at Antioch, see Campbell 1988, 85–100. 

  5. For more on baths and bathing in Roman Antioch, see Yegül 2000, 146–51. 

  6. The bath building formed the northern part of a courtyard, and a number of additional residential complexes were discovered to the east and the south; see Stillwell 1941, 19–23. 

  7. Personifications of abstract concepts, often associated with the function of the buildings they decorated, appear frequently in mosaics of the Eastern Roman Empire during this period. In another example from Antioch, a personification of Ananeosis (Renewal) may celebrate the restoration of the building in which it appeared; see Levi 1947, 320–21, plate 73. 

  8. The mosaic of Soteria is now in the Hatay Archaeological Museum in Antakya, Turkey (inv. no. 977, excavation no. 5287-M82A). The Apolausis mosaic is at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (BZ.138.72). The use of Greek inscriptions to name figures is a common feature of mosaics. Personifications were ubiquitous in the fifth century AD, and the similarities between busts may have required labels to distinguish the various abstract concepts portrayed. 

  9. Libanius, Oration, 11.244–45. 

  10. A wall painting from Herculaneum showing a hare crouching beside figs is now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (inv. no. 8630). This motif also appears in paintings in tombs—for example, a tomb discovered in Rome between the Appian Way and the Via Latina—see Reinach 1922, 364, 11. 

  11. For the basilicas at Aquileia (fourth century AD), see Cecchelli 1933, plate 17, 1 (North Basilica, campata V), and plate 37, 1 (South Basilica, campata III). For the third-century AD Roman public building at Sepphoris, see Talgam and Weiss 2004, 1–2, figs. 1, 2. 

  12. For the villa at Lod (fourth century AD), see Talgam and Weiss 2004, 12–13, fig. 13. For the mosaic from the villa at Corinium Dobunnorum (fourth century AD), found during the excavations at Beeches Road in 1971, see McWhirr 1986, 81, fig. 67 (now in the Corinium Museum, Cirencester). For the individual panel of a threshold mosaic at El Djem, see Inv. Tunisie, suppl., no. 71c, and for the mosaic with dancing satyrs and nymphs at Sousse, see Inv. Tunisie, no. 155. 

  13. Levi dates this mosaic to the second quarter of the sixth century AD; see Levi 1947, plates 91–92. For additional examples dating from the Byzantine period, see Hachlili 2009, 154, figs. 7-2a–c. 

  14. Hares, prized hunting quarry well known for their fertility, were frequently depicted as an attribute of Aphrodite and served as a gift between lovers.