The ships depicted on the mosaics in the Corporation Square , at Ostia, also demonstrate a wide range of seagoing merchant vessels along with crafts used on the Tiber , and harbor services. The ships with rounded hull and block-shaped sternpost, and rigged with one mast (figs. 10, 12, 13), can be associated with an adopted form of corbita (fig. 7b/1) or prosumia (fig. 7b/12), without the projecting cutwater. The bigger ships rigged with two masts (figs. 8, 9), may be associated with ponto (fig. 7b/3) or cladivata (fig. 7b/4). The strip of black and white pattern depicted on the masts of the vessels in figs. 8 and 10 indicates a rope ladder abaft the mast for getting aloft. It became a characteristic feature of the Mediterranean sailing vessels 39, The three-masted ship (fig. 11) represents the largest seagoing freighters, probably more common in the western Mediterranean. This mosaic was found in the shop belonging to shippers from Syllectum ( North Africa ), and it is a rare representation of this type of vessel. The load capacity of such a ship would be 200-500 tons 40.


Despite the wide geographical location of the sites with ship iconography on the mosaics described above, they are related to one another by virtue of the subject matter, and the mosaic making of black-and-white technique. They also originate from the same period, the 1st (Migdal) and the 3rd centuries AD (Althiburus and Ostia). These are some similarities of the depictions of the vessels, especially Althiburus and Ostia.

The style of black-and-white mosaics developed in the second half of the 1st century AD and was used until the late 3rd century. Such mosaics are mainly found in Italy
(Rome, Pompeii, Herculanum) and only very few examples exist in the Roman provinces. Since the technique of black-and-white style is much simpler than the polychrome style, the artists developed a great skill for the use of chiaroscuro (light and shade). Economic factors may have dictated the use of the black-and-white style. This technique requires less planning and is thus faster in production.

The depiction of the Migdal ship, in black-and-white technique, may indicate that the owner of the house was familiar with the new fashion of interior design, which developed in the center of the Empire, or that he was also lead by economic factors. Building his house on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and wishing to decorate the pavements in the new fashion encouraged him to use local material from the area. The black stones are basalt while the white and brownish-red are different kinds of limestone, which could have come from around Kinneret, Galilee or the Golan Heights.

The Catalogue of Ships from Althiburus belongs to the period of the 3rd century, when the Roman economy was at its apex. The African provinces became the main suppliers of corn, olive oil and garum for Rome. This change in the economy led to extensive planning and building. The mosaic floor may indicate that the owner of the house was involved in the business of shipping products brought from rich inland plains, and shipped to Rome through the port of Carthage. Despite the fact that the depiction of the water gods is formed in polychrome tesserae, the vessels were depicted only in shades of gray on the olive-green background of the sea 41. The style of the work used for the vessels is very similar to the black-and-white technique 42. Hie making of this mosaic can be attributed to three factors: 1. The influence of the new style from the center of the Empire; 2. The use of local material; 3. The cheaper and much faster way of making the mosaic floor.

The black-and-white mosaic in the Corporation Square, at Ostia, may indicate a unity of the economic factor and the height of fashion for making such floors. The prosperous economy of the Roman Empire during the first half of the 2nd centurys led to massive planning and building in Italy, especially in Rome and Ostia. The fashion of paving the private and public buildings with mosaics led to the use of the black-and-white style. It required less planning, and the making of such floors was faster and the setting was prated to short periods.

Although the mosaics presented in this paper have different geographical locations, they belong to the same period and are connected one to another through cultural and economic factors which spread all over the Mediterranean via maritime connections.


This article was made possible with the help and encouragement of several people.
I owe special thanks to my advisor Prof. Michal Artzy, from the Department of the Maritime Civilizations, University of Haifa. Through the research of articles and other publications for this work, I came across some material published in German. I am grateful to Mr. Alex Neber, from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, for helping me with the translation from German to English. I am thankful to Ms. Nichole Nachshon for the English editing. I wish to thank Mr. Ezra Marcus, from the Department of Maritime Civilizations, for giving me some pictures of the mosaics which he photographed at Ostia.

Zaraza Friedman
Center for Maritime Studies
University of Haifa, Haifa 39105


1. The Synoptic Gospel describes Mary of Magdala as one of the women from the Galilee who gave financial help and domestic services to Jesus and his disciples. She also was present at the crucifixion and the burial of Jesus. The Fourth Gospel gives Mary of Magdala pride of place as the first witness of the resurrection and the risen Christ; Comay, J. & Brownrigg, R., 1980: Who's Who in the Bible; The Old Testament and The Apocrypha, The New Testament; Bonanza Books, New York; pp. 299-301.
2. The War of the Jewish, Book iii. 9-10, pp. 74-6.
3. Strabo, Bookxvi. 2.45.
4. Raban, 1988, p. 323.
5. This type of inscription is the first one to be found in Israel and dated to the 1st century AD. Such inscriptions were mostly found in private houses in Antioch. They were used as a sign of protection against the "evil eye"; Corbo, 1978, p. 237.
6. Literally meaning "eye". It is a device in the form of an eye and sometimes highly stylized. Thedecoration was painted on either side of the bow, close to the stem, for reasons of religion or superstition.
7. Basch, 1987, fig. 871 (ivory fragment from Chios, end of the 7th century BCE), p. 409.
8. Basch, figs. 919, 921, 1081, 1089; Casson, 1974, fig. 177; Casson, 1994, fig. 97. 9. Basch, figs. 971-B, 973-A.
10. Casson, 1971, p. 146; Steffy, 1994, pp. 277-8.
11. Basch, fig. 41, p. 377. The graffito comes from the Maison aux Stucs, in Delos.
12. McGrail & Farrell, 1979, Table 1, p. 157; fig. 6, p. 160.
13. Wachsmann & Steffy, 1990, p. 120.
14. Ibid., pp. 29-47.
15. The measurements of the mosaic and the ship model were taken by the writer in 1996 and appear in a table used for the MA Thesis, 1999; Table 2.1.1, p. 12.
16. Schmerbeck, 1992, p. 16.
17. The Althiburus mosaic was brought into this paper as a black-and-white example. Recently I was made aware of a German article about the Althiburus mosaic that was published in 1992. It presents some general information about the entire mosaic, but refers to four types of vessels depicted on this floor. Although some elements such as the fish and the water gods associated with the maritime scene are depicted with colored tesserae, the vessels are illustrated with white and darker shades of gray. The water background is depicted with oilive-green tesserae. Light-colored stones were used for the zigzag strips depicted as the waves of the sea. Since the first publication (1905) of the mosaic in black and white, there was no mention of the technique used for its making and the colors that were used.
18. Such flags were attached to the masthead of the flagship in sea combat. In merchantmen it was used either as a trademark, or to indicate the wind direction, as can be seen on contemporary yachts.
19. Meiggs, 1973, p.55.
20. Ibid.
21. Tacitus records the loss of 200 vessels within the moles of the harbor, due to a severe storm; Meiggs, p. 55. 22
22. Meiggs, p. 280.
23. Ibid, fig. 2 (plan of the site), p. 137.
24. Ibid., p. 283. The colonnades are contemporary with the original building of the theatre, during the time of Augustus (1st century BCE).
25. Ibid., p. 285.
26. MEIGGS, p. 283.
27. Ibid., p. 287.
28. Hermansen, 1981, p. 74.
29. Mieggs, p. 279.
30. Ashby, 1912, p. 179.
31. Houston, 1980, p. 156, note 70.
32. It appears that the topsail was used in iconographic representation on vessels, not later than the 3rd century AD; Casson, 1971, figs. 144, 149, 154.
33. Casson, p. 211.
34. Casson, p. 159.
35. Ibid., p. 160.
36. Originally, myoparo was a type of single-banked warship, beamier in proportion with its length; Torr, 1964, p.118. In the Althiburus mosaic it is depicted as a vessel with a concave prow ended with a projecting pointed curtwater.
37. See above p. 178.
38. Casson gives a list of large freighters mentioned in historical writings and also a table of the wrecks found with their cargo; Casson, pp. 183-4 and pp. 198-90.
39. Casson, p. 240.
40. Ibid., pp. 189-90.
41. See note 17, above.
42. The black-and-white style had great influence on the polychrome mosaic in the organization of the field of the composition; Clarke, R., J., 1979: Roman Black-and-White Figural Mosaics; New York University Press; pp. 58-62.



Atiqot - The Israel Antiquities Authorities

DEGUWA - Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Underwasserarchaologie e. V.

IJNA - The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

JRS - Journal of Roman Studies

LA - Liber Annuus

MAAR - Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome

Monuments et Memoires Fondation Eugene Piot; LAcademie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres

Ashby, T., 1912: Recent Discoveries at Ostia; JRS vol. II, pp. 153-194
Basch, L, 1987: Le Musee imaginaire de la marine antique; Athens
Casson, L, 1971: Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World; Princeton University Press, New Jersey
Corbo, V., 1978: Piazza e Villa Urbana a Magdala; LA XXVIII, pp. 232-40, Pls. 71-6; Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem
Hermansen, G., 1981: Ostia: Aspects of Roman City Life; University of Alberta Press
Houston, G., D., 1980: The Administration of Italian Seaports During the First Three centuries of the Roman Empire; in d'Arms, J., H. & Kopff, E., C. (eds.): The Seaborn Commerce of Ancient Rome: Studies in Archaeology and History; MAAR vol. XXXVI, Rome; pp. 157-172
Josephus, F.: The War of the Jews, vol. 8, Book iii, in Complete Works of Josephus in TenVolumes; The World Syndicate Publishing Company
Glaucker, P., 1905: Un Catalogue Figure de la Batellerie Greco-Romaine, la Mosaique d'Althiburus; Monuments et Memoires vol. XII, pp. 113-154, Pls. ix-x
McGrail, S. and Farrell, A., 1979: Rowing: aspects of the ethnographic and iconographic evidence; IJNA 8.2, pp. 155-166
Meiggs, R., 1973: Roman Ostia (2nd ed.); Clarendon Press, Oxford
Raban, A., 1988: The Boat from Migdal Nunia and the anchorages of the Sea of Galilee from the time of Jesus; IJNA 17.4, pp. 311-29
Schmerbeck, U., 1992: Das Schifsmosaik von Althiburus; DEGUWA2, pp. 16-20
Torr, C., 1964: Ancient Ships; Argonaut, Inc., Publishers, Chicago
Wachsmann, S., 1990: The Excavations of an Ancient Boat in the Sea of Galilee (Lake); Atiqot XIX, Jerusalem


Fig. 1: Sites mentioned in the text; drawing Z. Friedman

Fig. 2: General plan of the excavated site at Migdal; Corbo, P., V., 1978;LB XXVII, p. 72

Fig. 3: Migdal mosaic panel; photo, Z. Friedman

Fig. 4: Drawing of the Migdal ship, Z. Friedman

Fig. 5: Ship graffito from Delos; Basch, 1987, fig. 41, p. 377; computer process, Z. Friedman

Fig. 6: Plan of the Maison des Muses, Althiburus; Glauckler, P., 1905, fig. 2, p. 123

Fig. 7a: The Catalogue of Ships, Althiburus; Dunbabin, 1978, fig. 122; computer process, Z. Friedman

Fig. 7b: Drawing of the Catalogue of Ships; Casson, 1971, fig. 137

Fig. 8: Navi Narboninses, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus

Fig. 9: Navicularii et negotiantes Karalitani, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus

Fig. 10: Navicularii Karthagiensi, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus

Fig. 11: Three-masted merchantmen, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus

Fig. 12: Rounded hull with block-shaped stem-and-stern posts, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus

Fig. 13: Rounded hull with angled stem, Ostia; photo, E. Marcus



Designed by: onyx studios


Fig 10:
Navicularii Karthagiensi,

Fig 12:
Rounded hull with block shaped stem-and-stern posts, Ostia

Fig 13: Rounded hull with angled stem Ostia

Fig 8:
Navi Narboninses

Fig 9:
Naviculari et negotiantes Karlitani, Ostia

Fig 7b:
Drawing of the catalogue

Fig 11:
Three masted -
merchantmen, Ostia

Copyright ©Zaraza Friedman