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Theodorias (Qasr Libya)


Cast of a bust of Theodora. The original is in Milano (Italy); this cast is in the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Cast of a bust of Theodora. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz.
Theodorias: Byzantine city in the Cyrenaica, founded by Justinian. The floor of one of its churches is one of the greatest artistic treasures of Libya.

The ancient city of Olbia, which had suffered heavily when the Vandals and the Laguatan nomads had occupied parts of northern Africa in the second half of the fifth and first quarter of the sixth century, was refounded in 539 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, and renamed after his wife Theodora, who had spent her youth in nearby Apollonia: Theodorias. The rebuilding of the city was part of the Ananeosis, the reorganizing of the Cyrenaica.

The new city has been partly excavated, and two churches have been identified, which have become famous for the splendid mosaics that were excavated over there. Compared to the official imperial art of that age (like the mosaics in Constantinople), they are a bit coarse, but they are lively, very colorful and express a kind of élan vital that is still fascinating. On this page, you will find photos of the floor mosaic of the Eastern Church.

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Qasr Libya, church. Photo Marco Prins.
This is what the Eastern Church looks like today. The entire floor in this room was covered by fifty small mosaics (the square holes in the floor), with a total size of 10½ x 6 m. These works of art represent the founding of the city. The mosaics were removed and transferred to the museum opposite the West Church. There was a second mosaic in the room to the left, which will be discussed below.

The atrium in front of the Eastern Church at Theodorias (Qasr Libya). Photo Jona Lendering.
The atrium at the entrance of the Eastern Church. It was surrounded by porticoes. Visitors who entered the sanctuary from this place, would enter the church over a mosaic that represented the Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria, which compared the salvation offered by the church to the salvation offered by a good port. Elsewhere, the four rivers of Creation story are represented, which suggest that the church is identical to Paradise.

Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Deer Adornment Theodorias Founding Deer
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Nilotic scene Gihon [1] Ananeosis Pishon [1] Nilotic scene
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Stag Lion Eagle Lion Stag
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Bear Euphrates [1] Castalia [2] Tigris [1] Crocodile
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Bull Zebra Inscription [3] Zebra Bull
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Fish Horseman Church Horse Nilotic scene
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Ostrich Castle Peacock [4] Birds Ostrich
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Fish Satyr Musician Leopard Merman
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Fish Bull Birds Ram Amphibious monster
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins. Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Theodorias, church mosaic (Qasr Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Fish Amphibious monster The Pharos of Alexandria Ship Fish

>> to part two >>

[1]
The Gihon, Pishon, Euphrates, and Tigris are the four rivers in the Garden of Eden (Genesis, 2.10-14). The Gihon was believed to be identical to the Nile, the Pishon to the Danube.

[2]
The Castalian Spring was the source at Delphi; it represents wisdom. Together with the Nilotic scenes and the rivers of Eden, Europe, Asia, and Africa are represented. And Castalia, coupled with the Biblical rivers, shows that the designer regarded both Greece and Israel as his sources of inspiration.

[3]
The translation of this inscription says that this was made by bishop Macarius, in the third year of the indiction, i.e. 539.

[4]
The peacock was a symbol of the resurrection.

There was a second mosaic in the room to the left, which will be discussed below.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2008
Revision: 31 Dec. 2006
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