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Villa Nile


The Villa Nile. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Villa Nile or, to be precise, the Villa of the Nile Mosaic, is situated near the port of the ancient city of Lepcis Magna. It is named after three mosaics from the second century with Nilotic scenes that were excavated inside this mansion, which was situated close to the beach. Pictures of the river Nile were common in the ancient world: near Lepcis, they have also been found in the Villa Selene and the Villa Dar Buc Ammera.

The first mosaic shows a ship entering a port that may resemble the one at Lepcis Magna with its temple of Jupiter Dolichenus. Several erotes accompany the boat; one of them has discovered an interesting way of windsurfing (using an amphora as board). 

A fisherman on one of the Nilotic scenes on the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.

The second mosaic represents the Nile flood. The symbolism is complex. To the right, we see two bald priests welcoming the waters: the river god is shown to the left, sitting on a hippopotamus. (Like most ancients, the maker had probably never seen a hippo; his representation is not better than the description by Herodotus of Halicarnassus.) All in all, fourteen figures -twelve erotes and two ladies- are in the procession. The number fourteen represents the fourteen cubits of a good Nile flood; the two ladies also represent Upper and Lower Egypt. Finally, the herm to the right reads Agathe Tyche, "good luck".

The third mosaic is probably the best: it shows several fishermen at work.

The fourth mosaic has a different theme and may have been made a bit later than the three first works of art. It shows how six ladies who are washing the winged horse Pegasus. I am not aware of any ancient myth about this subject.

A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic 1 (above): the port
A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic 2 (above): the Nile flood
A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.A Nilotic scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic 3 (above): fishermen
Scene with Pegasus on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.Scene with Pegasus on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic 4 (above): Pegasus
A hunting scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins. There are several other mosaics, which show hunting scenes. They were made in the fourth century and must have been added later. This mosaic, although very damaged, shows several people, some on horseback, trying to kill a boar. It is hard to imagine that this is a scene from Libyan daily life: boars typically live in forests with broad-leaved trees, which are rare on the southern part of the Mediterranean world.

A hunting scene on one of the mosaics from the Villa Nile. National Archaeological Museum, Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins. In the upper part of the scene, a man is turning and about to throw a javelin to a lioness; in the lower part, the hunter has already struck at the lion. The lion chase was a typical activity of the nobility of ancient Libya, also mentioned in the works of Synesius of Cyrene, a younger contemporary of the artists who made the hunting mosaic in the Villa Nile.

All these mosaics can be seen in Libya's beautiful National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli.
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 16 May 2012
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