‘Be cheerful’ advises wine drinking skeleton

25th April, 2016 by Rupert Millar

A 2,400 year-old mosaic featuring a wine-drinking skeleton and the ancient equivalent of a self-help message has been uncovered in Turkey.

Wine skeletonReclining on a cushion, the skeleton holds a wine cup in one hand while bread and an amphora of wine sit close by. Above it, in Greek, is written the phrase, “be cheerful, enjoy your life”.

The mosaic was found in the Turkish province of Hatay near the Syrian border and was part of a richly-decorated floor of what was most likely a wealthy family’s dining room.

Found in the city of Antakya – ancient Antioch – the ruins in which the mosaic was discovered have been the focus of an excavation by local archaeologists since 2012.

Demet Kara, an archaeologist at the Hatay Archaeology Museum, told Turkish paper Daily Sabah, that it was the first ‘skeleton mosaic’ to be found in Turkey although others have been found in Italy.

The British Museum for example has an example of a skeleton mosaic found in Pompeii, in that instance the skeletal figure was holding two wine jugs. The motif was common in Roman mosaics, frescos and sculptures and was a reminder to ‘carpe diem’ – ‘seize the day’.

Many reports have naturally ascribed the mosaic to Roman owners and it is true that the Roman elite often spoke Greek rather than Latin, in the same way that later European aristocracies favoured French.

As the skeleton relief is common in later Roman art the link seems to make sense. Yet, if the mosaic really does date to the third century BC, it is more likely Greek as the Romans had not arrived in the region – in any great number at least – by this period.

Antioch was a ‘Greek’ city, founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Seleucus I Nictor, in the fourth century BC after the conqueror’s death and subsequent partition of his empire in the 330s.

Large swathes of the Middle East as well as Egypt remained culturally Greek or ‘Hellenic’ under the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires until the arrival of the Romans in the first century BC.

Although mosaics are best-remembered as an essential part of Roman villa life, many examples have been found in Greek houses that pre-date the golden days of Republican and Imperial Rome.

The Macedonian royal palace at Pella features mosaics from the fourth century BC, so of course the ‘Diadochi’ – Alexander’s successors – would have been well acquainted with the art form.

Evidence of later Roman mosaic makers shows many, and usually the most highly-regarded, were Greeks.

*Update: Many initial reports wrongly stated the mosaic dated to the third century BC, it does in fact date to the third century AD. It is therefore absolutely Roman although the region still had a strong Greek influence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletters

Job vacancies

European Brands Sales Manager, Field Sales Managers and Executives

Amathus Drinks PLC
London, Brighton, E Sussex/Kent, Cornwall & Devon, GB

Commercial/Sales Manager

Crush Wines Ltd
Bremhill/Home office, GB

Wine Buyer

Adnams
Southwold, UK

Sales Manager - Scotland

Eurowines Ltd
Scotland

Sales Manager - North-West England

Eurowines Ltd
North-West England, UK

Sales Manager - London

Eurowines Ltd
London, UK

Key Account Manager - Grocery

Australian Vintage Limited
London (Croydon), UK

Key Accounts Manager - Impulse

Australian Vintage Limited
London (Croydon), UK

Business Development Manager

Regency Wines Ltd
North Devon & Somerset, UK

Sales Manager - North East England

Eurowines Ltd
Within 15-20 mile radius of York, UK

National Account Manager

Ehrmanns Wines
London, UK

London Account Manager

The Drinks Club
London, UK

London Sales Executive

Gourvid Limited
London and Greater London, GB

Logistics Administrator

Speciality Drinks Ltd
Park Royal, London, UK

Head of Sales - Hush Heath Estate

Hush Heath Estate
Kent/ London, UK

The Global Merlot Masters 2017

Deadline : 2nd May 2017

db Awards 2017

Deadline : 3rd May 2017

The Global Organic Masters 2017

Deadline : 2nd May 2017

The Global Sparkling Masters 2017

Deadline : 12th May 2017

Click to view more

Global Chardonnay Masters 2016

Now in its fourth year, the competition will identify the best Chardonnay from all around the world in every price range.

Rioja Masters 2016

Now in its fifth year, the competition will recognise and reward the finest Riojas on the world stage.

Fortified Masters 2016

Now in its third year, The Fortified Masters will reward the best fortified wines on offer.

The Global Malbec Masters 2016

the drinks business is proud to announce the inaugural Global Malbec Masters 2016.

Click to view more