Socio-economic aspects of the Byzantine mosaic pavements of Phoenicia and northern Palestine
The present thesis analyzes the Byzantine mosaic pavements of Phoenicia and Northern Palcatine from a socio-economic perspective, primarily by examining the laying of pavements including technical aspects and bedding, the quality of decoration, the distribution of pavements in time and space, as well as inscriptions which provide names of donors and artists as well as dates. The approach adopted represents a novel alternative and complement to typical interpretations of mosaic floor decoration which overwhelmingly focus on the development and diffusion of style, or provide an exegesis of figurative iconography. Key aspects discussed include the extent to which chronological patterns of mosaic floor laying may be used to gauge economic conditions; the factors which determined the quality and distribution of technique and decoration in different building types; as well as the social mechanisms of patronage. Close scrutiny of the regional mosaic Corpus (which includes the total number of pavements) suggests that mosaic pavements provide a reasonable indication of economic conditions, especially in association with other media (coins, pottery, inscriptions). Together these media paint a historical picture of the economy of the period. Having graded according to four Levels of Complexity all the geometric designs in the Corpus after their codification following the rules devised by the Association Internationale pour l'Etude de la Mosaïque Antique (AIEMA), and with the support of the written ancient sources, it is demonstrated that quality and distribution of technique and style were governed by a combination of factors, notably function, financial expenditure, social use and various socio-economic categories of patrons, liturgy and liturgical level of participation. By building on the methodologies followed and the conclusions reached by other mosaic scholars, this innovative approach has attempted to reintroduce the human element into a discipline focused since the late 1960s on codification and descriptive precision. Revealing the hidden costs underlying the laying of mosaic pavements has presented a new insight into mosaic pavements as tri-dimensional products of team work. Likewise, stripping the literary language of dedicatory formulas down to essential information has challenged the misinterpreting of epigraphic evidence regarding donations and donors. In-depth analysis of Christian mosaic inscriptions has strengthened the pattern of changes plotted by historians of the Early Byzantine period and suggested that Christian patronage of mosaic art is to be equated with the local initiatives of the Church, ecclesiatics and wealthy laymen (or women) as private donors, and more rarely entire village communities. By contrast, scrutiny of the Jewish and Samaritan mosaic inscriptions has highlighted the fact that benefaction emanated from rich and poor alike, and was far more family and community oriented.