The Roman Mosaic Edifice

Discovered in 1959, it is one of the largest architectural assembly of the Roman era from our country.
The Edifice is located in the area of the old port of Tomis and was built in the first half of the IV century, during the rule of Constantine the Great and his successors. The research carried out concluded that during that historical period the entire cliff of the peninsula was subjected to a complex systematization process. The complex from which the Roman Mosaic Edifice is a part of provided strong ground support and protected the port from the inherent landslides in this part of the peninsula. It also offered a generous space for public, economic, social, politic, or cultural activities.

The construction on the south-western slope of the peninsula had four levels connected by large stairs constructed of limestone.

The general situation can thus be summed up:
Level A: the level of housing and inhabitance of the ancient city of Tomis (partially discovered)
Level B: the level of the Roman Mosaic Edifice (partially restored)
Level C: the level of the arched rooms, used as storage spaces and warehouses (fully restored)
Level D: the level on which other warehouses were situated, located on the docks of the ancient port (not restored, currently below the sea level)

Terrace “B” is located at a height of 12.60 m above sea level, and used to be fully covered with mosaic pavement. The decorations of the terrace are luxurious, and the improvised grandstand on its northeastern side had a commercial purpose, and served as the place where the merchants would meet, negotiate deals and haggle on the prices. In Antiquity, it most likely was covered with a huge arch supported by pillars. From the hall are still standing most of the long wall and one of the side walls, which is good enough in order to deduce how the great port construction used to look like.
The first wall is preserved and has a length of 65 m with a maximum height of 5.40 m(this is well maintained only in the southern end and gradually descends towards north to the level of the foundation) and presents a rhythmic sequence of pillars embedded within. It seems that there were 14 pillars that delimitated 14 fields. The walls were plated with marble, and the pillars had marble tiles at the top that imitated the shape and decoration of some capither. The decoration patterns on them were primarily resembling vegetation. The wall had an entrance coming from the modern-day Ovidius square, subsequently closed and used as niche, in which the bust of an emperor was probably exposed (among the sculpted fragments discovered here is the bust of Constantine the Great). Another peculiarity of the room is represented by the several steps also covered with marble that made up the small platform attached to the same wall. It was probably used as a stand for the auction of merchandise.
With a length of 101 m and a maximum width of 21.45 m, the mosaic floor stretches over an area of over 2000 m2 and is one of the largest mosaic-covered surfaces, not only in Europe, but throughout the Roman Empire.The portion that was located on the cut terrace in the cliff was the one that got preserved the best, and the part above the eleven rooms in the lower level collapsed together with the arches and vaults, thus trapping beneath them all the goods. Some of the lost goods have been recovered in the meantime. The pavement has a length of 49.80 m and a maximum width of 16.60 m, and it covers a surface of about 850 m². The pieces that compose it have variable dimensions, depending on the size and details of the motifs showcased, and they measure about 2 – 3 cm in the frame and 1 – 2 cm in the central portion. The materials used are marble and other types of natural stone of different colors: white, red, green,blue, black, beige. They are arranged in straight rows, or in squares or winding lines for more complex motifs and are placed on a bed of lime mortar mixed with lots of crushed brick.

These technical characteristics allow the building to be included in in two of the typology categories proposed by several researchers. From a technical point of view, there are 2 techniques that are combined together: “opus tesselatum” and “opus vermiculatum” (represented by the center and circular motifs). Also, the floor has two component parts: the frame and the central panel. The frame has a rectangular shape and a width of 6.20 m. It is composed of several continuous, different strands, which frame and highlight the central representations. These are, in order of their succession towards the interior:

-a rectangular frame that delimits a white band on which a stalk ivy can is stretched on, with symmetrically arranged leaves, with their tip pointing upwards or downwards, equally spaced apart. The stalk has a red color, and the leaves have white, red and green leaves from the inside to the outside.
-the next part contains the motif of the simple rope, which is simetric with another rope, and together they form a larger motif formed by symmetrical intersections of circles. The circles have a brick-like color, and their intersection is in the form of a white petal. Each quadrilateral is bounded by intersections in the middle of a circle and has in its center a rectangular group of white tiles, and has a similar motif to the one found in the lodges of Histria.
-after the other rope the well-known motif of the Etruscan wave appears and is white and facing left. This one is symmetrically arranged with another one that is brick-colored and oriented in the opposite side. Together they form a band containing a triple braid, which is also called David’s knot.

The central painting is made up of an alternation of rectangles and circles inscribed into squares. It seems that there were three such circular fields, but only the first two have been maintained. The first circle is the one on the south western side, with a diameter of 7 m, and is inscribed in a square with polychrome sides. The sides contain a series of half-disks and of isosceles triangles (a.k.a. wolf teeth or chainsaw motif). Between one of the corners of the square and the corresponding arc of the circle is represented a stylized, brick cantharos, with white grooves arranged vertically and with an “S” shape on its lower half. |From this form spring the two opposite parts, creating thus the illusion of the ivy holding up the circular frame. Next to one of the ivy leaves a white pigeon can be found, and it is the only zoomorphic representation of this composition. The circumference of the circle is adorned by a line of wolf teeth arranged in the mirror with those on the sides of the square and the brick-like colored Etruscan wave. Inside the circle, the simple rope delimits several geometric medallions, each one containing different motifs: stylized vessels, gibberish crosses, plant representations, weapons – double crossed crosses and other geometric shapes. The other preserved circle, towards the northwest, is filled with circular scales. Their size decreases with the proximity of the center and it seems that this was the central circle of the carpet. Between the two circles a rectangle divided by simple ropes in several squares arranged regularly was kept. The other dividing rectangle, located in the south, comprises a set of different geometric shapes (squares, rhombs and triangles), which use different motifs: the braided rope in four, zig-zags, chess board, pelts, petals, gammata cross, etc.

In the northwest, the color and stylistic unity of the mosaic is interrupted. The mottifs are not that well kept and the colors differ. This is because of the several repairs that were made on this side.What is interesting is that the artisans and builders from that time period that rebuilt this degraded part chose to use the most expensive and most difficult method of repairing a mosaic.
The carpet from inside the edifice is loaded with geometric motifs well known in the Roman world and used in most works of art in this category. The simple rope, Etruscan wave and wolf teeth are usually used in mosaic art as framing motifs ,as decoration or frames surrounding other more important decorative elements. They have a delimiting role and highlighting a much more important representation, similar to the frame of a painting. The whole ensemble is executed neatly, having a unitary composition, consisting of various images, combined in a rich and carefully chosen color framework.

Terrace “C” is the level of the 11 arched rooms, used as warehouses. At the same level, in the continuation of the edifice, there are a number of rooms that served as workshops.
In the rooms used as warehouses, evidence of the intense commercial activity in the ancient port was discovered: large quantities of iron ore, opaque patterns, marble weights for large scales, amphorae containing organic materials (resins and aromatic substances) nails and rivets made of iron, ceramics, etc. Also in one of the warehouses were discovered 8 iron anchors, in perfect condition.

The construction of these huge spaces impresses with the exceptional dimensions. The walls of the entire edifice are built in an era-specific technique (“opus mixtum”) from square brick rows (usually four rows) which alternates with four rows of cochiliferous limestone blocks, linked with mortar. The Roman builders took into account the exposed position of the building which is located on the cliff, and built a system for drainage of rainwater. This drainage system is functional even today, after almost 2,000 years.

The building underwent several renovations and adaptations, until the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century, when it was destroyed by an earthquake. Its ruins continued to be inhabited until the 7th century, when its existence ended with the abandonment of the ancient fortress of Tomis, after the great barbarian invasions.

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