Ancient Mosaic Criticises Christianity

Related Articles

Related Articles

An ancient mosaic from a 4th-century house in the centre of the ancient city of Paphos in Cyprus, was a ‘pictorial’ criticism of Christianity according to experts.

Dr. Marek T. Olszewski from the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw believes that the mosaic was probably inspired by Neoplatonists, a philosophical and religious movement in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, which had many followers among the then elite who criticised followers of the new religion.

He said: “This mosaic is an illustrated anti-Christian polemic from the period of increasing domination of the followers of the Christian faith.” Verbal polemics were particularly popular at the time and the ‘pictorial’ criticism of the principles of Christian theology contained in the mosaic are consistent with a general trend.


Nea Paphos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Cyprus. During the Greco-Roman period, it was the capital of the island. It was founded in its western part at the end of the 4th century BC.

Numerous teams of archaeologists have been excavating in Nea Paphos for decades. In 1983, a team of researchers led by Professor Wiktor Daszewski from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw discovered the ruins of a magnificent 4th-century villa called the House of Aionin that contained an extensive floor mosaic.

In the days when the building existed, the Roman power and administration was rejecting the pagan religion and converting to Christianity. At that time, there were numerous confrontations and discussions between conservative followers of Roman religions and those who worshiped a monotheistic god.

The Paphos mosaic was decorated with the myths of the classical world. To this day, there are visible depictions of Leda with Zeus in the form of a swan, a scene from the myth in which Kassiopea, the queen of Ethiopia (and the mother of Andromeda), stands before the court of the gods, or a Dionysian procession, where the god is shown surrounded by maenads and satyrs, or a scene with a death sentence on Marsyas.

According to Dr. Olszewski, the structure of the mosaic is subject to several rules of the rhetorical art of the period. These are: allegory, analogy, personification and antithesis. For example, the panel showing Dionysus as a child on Hermes’ lap is an antithesis of the famous image of Mary with the baby Jesus. Likewise, the panel where Marsyas is sentenced to death by Apollo is the antithesis of the scene when Pontius Pilate passes judgment on Christ.

Olszweski said: “All these rhetorical principles were used in the rhetorical arts, but they had a wide impact on other arts, including the visual arts. The mosaic is built on the principles of a rhetorical antithesis to the principles of the Christian religion (criticism of the Passion of Christ).”

He added that there are two more polemical mosaics in Syria from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

Written by Szymon Zdziebłowski


Header Image Credit : George M. Groutas – CC BY 2.0

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


Camulodunum – The First Capital of Britannia

Camulodunum was a Roman city and the first capital of the Roman province of Britannia, in what is now the present-day city of Colchester in Essex, England.

African Crocodiles Lived in Spain Six Million Years Ago

Millions of years ago, several species of crocodiles of different genera and characteristics inhabited Europe and sometimes even coexisted.

Bat-Winged Dinosaurs That Could Glide

Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Ancient Maya Built Sophisticated Water Filters

Ancient Maya in the once-bustling city of Tikal built sophisticated water filters using natural materials they imported from miles away, according to the University of Cincinnati.

New Clues Revealed About Clovis People

There is much debate surrounding the age of the Clovis - a prehistoric culture named for stone tools found near Clovis, New Mexico in the early 1930s - who once occupied North America during the end of the last Ice Age.

Cognitive Elements of Language Have Existed for 40 Million Years

Humans are not the only beings that can identify rules in complex language-like constructions - monkeys and great apes can do so, too, a study at the University of Zurich has shown.

Bronze Age Herders Were Less Mobile Than Previously Thought

Bronze Age pastoralists in what is now southern Russia apparently covered shorter distances than previously thought.

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

Popular stories

Legio IX Hispana – The Lost Roman Legion

One of the most debated mysteries from the Roman period involves the disappearance of the Legio IX Hispana, a legion of the Imperial Roman Army that supposedly vanished sometime after AD 120.

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.