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Over the past century, exploration and serendipity have uncovered mosaic after mosaic in the Near East--maps, historical images, mythical figures, and religious scenes that constitute an immense treasure of new testimony from antiquity. The stories these mosaics tell unfold in this brief, richly informed book by a preeminent scholar of the classical world.
G. W. Bowersock considers these mosaics a critical part of the documentation of the region's ancient culture, as expressive as texts, inscriptions on stone, and architectural remains. In their complex language, often marred by time, neglect, and deliberate defacement, he finds historical evidence, illustrations of literary and mythological tradition, religious icons, and monuments to civic pride. Eloquently evoking a shared vision of a world beyond the boundaries of individual cities, the mosaics attest to a persistent tradition of Greek taste that could embrace Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in a fundamentally Semitic land, and they suggest the extent to which these three monotheistic religions could themselves embrace Hellenism.
With copious color illustrations, Bowersock's efforts return us to Syrian Antioch, Arabia, Jewish and Samaritan settlements in Palestine, the Palmyrene empire in Syria, and the Nabataean kingdom in Jordan, and show us the overlay of Hellenism introduced by Alexander the Great as well as Roman customs imported by the imperial legions and governors. Attending to one of the most evocative languages of the ages, his work reveals a complex fusion of cultures and religions that speaks to us across time.
A large number of Roman-Byzantine floor mosaics have been unearthed in the Levant over the past few decades, and G.W. Bowersock's Mosaics as History presents a refreshing synthesis of this material...[T]his is a very good book that provides a long-awaited analysis of many new and recent mosaic discoveries across the most culturally diverse regions of the Roman-Byzantine world.
— Mark Merrony
This is a splendid book, well composed and closely reasoned...The author convincingly uses the mosaics and their depictions and inscriptions as an important source for understanding late antiquity in the Near East. All the way through, Bowersock emphasizes the contexts—the connection between literature and various groups of material culture—an approach that cannot be encouraged enough.
— Birte Poulsen
No one is better qualified to instill in his readers the sense of wide horizons and of unexpected continuities between cultures that are usually held to be irrevocably divided than Glen Bowersock. His recent book, Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam, is an iridescent masterpiece. A vast weight of erudition, unflinchingly precise, is brought to bear on a few crucial (and hitherto unconsidered) problems to produce a book that has the sharpness and the shimmer of an industrial diamond. The clarity, economy, and charm of Bowersock's writing make us forget the iron discipline on which his scrutiny of the evidence is based and the devastating effect of his conclusions on all kinds of conventional wisdom. It is the work of an urbane iconoclast...Those who wish to understand more about the deep and complex history of the Near East in all ages, our own included, would be well advised to read Bowersock's book...Only the sharp tang of scholarship like Bowersock's, devoted to a seemingly distant past, can clean our eyes, a little, of the itch of modern pseudohistory, of modern stereotypes, and of modern hatreds, so that we can view the present, if not with comfort, then at least with clarity.
— Peter Brown
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