A Rare and Ancient Mosaic from a Greek Synagogue Goes on Display

Aug. 14 2019

First discovered in the 19th century, the mosaic floor of a destroyed synagogue on the Greek island of Aegina has recently been made available for public viewing. The synagogue belonged to a community of Jews who were precursors of the Romaniot—the Judeo-Greek-speaking Jews who lived in the eastern Mediterranean before the influx of refugees from Spain in the 15th century. Ilanit Chernick reports:

The mosaic has rich geometric patterns and two Greek inscriptions, which identify the mosaic floor as belonging to a 4th-century-CE synagogue on the island. . . . “The Jewish community, which was involved in purple dyeing and tanning, was prosperous enough to establish a synagogue in 300-350 CE with a richly decorated mosaic floor,” [the group curating the exhibit] explained. “According to the inscriptions, Theodoros Archisynagogos built the synagogue from donations.”

While scholars are not entirely in agreement about the meaning of the term archisynagogos, it seems to have referred to the lay leader, and usually prime funder, of a synagogue. Chernick continues:

[The synagogue is] believed to have remained in use until the 7th century, when the community fled inland with the rest of the population because of threats and raids from the sea. “According to published sources, an inscription belonging to a medieval synagogue was also found in Paleochora, the town where the island population settled,” [the curators stated].

The mosaic was discovered by the German archaeologist Ludwig Ross in 1829. In 1928, the archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik, a Jew living in Mandatory Palestine, traveled to Aegina to study it. Several years later, in 1932, the American archaeologist Belle Mazur, under the guidance of the German archaeologist Franz Gabriel, [excavated the remainder of the synagogue].

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More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Greece, Jewish art, Romaniote Jewry, Synagogues

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