Founded in 300 BC, Antioch (present-day Antakya, Turkey) was one of the most important political and cultural centers of the Greek East, and it became one of the great metropolises of the Roman Empire. Extensively excavated, the ancient site is recognized in particular for its widespread use of elaborate mosaic decoration, which adorned private houses, public buildings, and churches. During excavations in the 1930s at Antioch, its wealthy suburb Daphne, and the port city of Seleucia Pieria, archaeologists unearthed more than three hundred mosaic pavements.1 While the majority of the mosaics decorated private villas, mosaics also embellished public buildings such as bath complexes, which Antioch was renowned for in antiquity. Libanius and other ancient authors celebrated the clear and abundant waters of the city, as well as the great number and splendor of public and private baths, fountains, and nymphaea. The excavations at Antioch brought to light the long tradition of decorating such structures with impressive paintings and mosaics.

Figure 17. Excavation photo
Figure 17. Excavation photo showing Mosaic Floor with Animals from the Bath of Apolausis, Antioch, Syria, 1938. Antioch Expedition Archives, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, no. 4092
Figure 18. Plan of the Bath of Apolausis
Figure 18. Plan of the Bath of Apolausis, Antioch, Syria, based on an original excavation drawing (see Stillwell 1941, plan 5)

The Getty Museum’s Mosaic Floor with Animals (cat. 7) was uncovered during the excavation of the Bath of Apolausis, a small Roman bath discovered on the eastern side of the plain of Antioch, at the foot of Mount Silpios.2 The bath, a public building that originally served an agricultural complex or group of country villas, was richly decorated with floor mosaics and wall frescoes. Mosaics were used primarily in the decoration of the main rooms of the bath. The Getty’s mosaic paved a vestibule connecting the entrance to the bath—a portico along the south side of the building—with the largest room—a central octagonal space with large niches that functioned as both the frigidarium and the main social hall (figs. 17, 18). Geometric patterns decorated the floor of the portico while a mosaic depicting a female bust of Soteria, the Greek personification of Salvation, covered the floor of the frigidarium (fig. 19).3 A second figured mosaic—a personification of Apolausis (Enjoyment), after which the bath was named—decorated the bottom of a large pool with an apsidal end accessed through a doorway on the west side of the octagonal hall (fig. 20).4 At the time they were excavated, the elaborate floor mosaics decorating the bath were relatively well preserved, but the only significant remains of fresco decoration were found in the vestibule with the Getty mosaic. On the walls of this room, traces of a painted revetment imitated marble slabs, which were arranged in alternating contrasting colors: white veined with blue, black, shades of red, and yellow.5

Figure 19. Excavation photo
Figure 19. Excavation photo showing the mosaic of Soteria from the Bath of Apolausis, Antioch, Syria, 1938. Antioch Expedition Archives, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, no. 3955
Figure 20. Excavation photo
Figure 20. Excavation photo showing the mosaic of Apolausis from the Bath of Apolausis, Antioch, Syria, 1938. Antioch Expedition Archives, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, no. 4082

To the east of the central hall, an opening led to the antechamber of a caldarium. This antechamber, paved with a mosaic of geometric patterns and scrolling vines, had an entrance at either end of the room. The caldarium consisted of two apsidal rooms that were heated by a hypocaust system, in which a raised floor supported by pilae (pillars) created channels underneath the building to distribute warmth from the furnace. The pilae of the hypocaust in the Bath of Apolausis stood on a tiled floor, and a square chamber at the end of a passageway to the north housed the furnace. The northern section of the bath, consisting of a large courtyard flanked by two-columned porticoes and a latrine, was not decorated with mosaics.

The bath itself occupied the northern end of a substantial architectural complex where fewer remains have been preserved. Buildings to the east and the south were partially covered by a modern farm, which made extensive use of architectural fragments from the ancient structures. No additional mosaics were discovered. Though relatively large, these buildings were unremarkable in comparison to the high-quality construction and the rich decoration of the bath. While some of the ancient remains reused in the modern walls have been dated to as early as the second or third century AD, the excavations of the bath and the surrounding buildings suggest that the main period of use was in the fourth and fifth centuries. Although there is evidence for construction in the mid-fifth century, the parts of the bath dating to this period are thought to be restorations or additions to an original structure built in the late fourth century AD.6 Based on stylistic comparisons with other mosaic pavements from Antioch and the surrounding region, it has been determined that the Getty mosaic should also date to the very end of the fourth century.7

  1. Eight campaigns were undertaken from 1932 to 1939. For a catalogue of the mosaics, see Stillwell 1941, 171–219; and Levi 1947. 

  2. The site was located near present-day Toprak-en-Narlidja. On the excavations of the Bath of Apolausis, see Stillwell 1941, 19–23; and Levi 1971, 304–6. 

  3. The mosaic of Soteria is now in the Hatay Archaeological Museum in Antakya, Turkey (inv. no. 977, excavation no. 5287-M82A). 

  4. The Apolausis mosaic is at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (BZ.138.72). 

  5. The surviving frescoes were extremely fragmentary. Stillwell notes that the French excavator, Jean Lassus, described traces of bright red paint on the exterior of the building; see Stillwell 1941, 22. 

  6. See Levi 1947, 304, 626. 

  7. Balty supports Levi’s date on this basis, citing in particular the Church of Khirbet Muqa in Apamea (AD 394/395); see Balty 1995, 92, and especially 89–93 for additional discussion and references.