‘Rare’ Roman mosaic discovery threatens owners of neighboring houses of al-Rastan, Homs

Part of a Roman-era mosaic panel shows one of the best preserved of its kind in al-Rastan city in central Homs governorate - 12 October 2022 (Ouruba newspaper)

Part of a Roman-era mosaic panel shows one of the best preserved of its kind in al-Rastan city in central Homs governorate - 12 October 2022 (Ouruba newspaper)

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Enab Baladi has obtained information that the 1,600-year-old virtually intact Roman-era mosaic is not a new discovery, but it was discovered in the central Homs governorate in mid-2017.

The mosaic showed mythical scenes, including the Trojan and Amazon wars. It is said to be the rarest of its kind, the BBC reported.

The owner of the house in al-Rastan city near central Homs city discovered the mosaic, measuring 20 x 6m (65.5 x 20ft), which was held by rebels in the war until 2018 during the period of opposition forces’ control over the northern countryside of Homs, and the activity of excavation and search for artifacts.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent learned from sources close to the owner of the house who discovered the painting that antiquities dealers had paid him 300,000 US dollars if he was able to extract it and deliver it to Turkey and that local merchants paid him about 25,000 US dollars for it. However, the process was halted when regime forces took control of the area over the reconciliation (settlement) deal in 2018.

The Directorate of Antiquities in Homs city bought the house in which the painting was discovered and the house next to it, and excavations did not begin until the beginning of this year to announce the details of the old painting and new paintings adjacent to it.

The state-run Ouruba newspaper quoted the actress Sulaf Fawakherji, as a member of the board of trustees of the Lebanese Nabu Museum, that the museum provided financial support for the purchase of the two houses and cooperated with Syrian archaeologists in the excavations and the recovery of the stolen pieces.

The newspaper also quoted the Director of Antiquities and Museums in Homs, Hussam Hamish, that in late 2018, in coordination with the “competent authorities” in al-Rastan, the directorate was informed of the existence of this painting, which some were planning to smuggle abroad, and its presence under a residential house forced the directorate to remove these houses by technical means to make way for the specialized technical teams, who discovered three other mosaic panels nearby.

Many of Syria’s archaeological treasures have been damaged after more than a decade of war.

But the latest find is being described as the most important archaeological discovery since the start of the conflict in 2011.

“What is in front of us is a discovery that is rare on a global scale,” Hamman Saad, a senior official at Syria’s General Directorate of Museums and Antiquities, told the Associated Press.

He added that the mosaic was rich in detail, portraying the Roman sea god Neptune and 40 of his mistresses, as well as Hercules slaying the Amazon queen Hippolyta, according to the BBC.

Al-Rastan was a rebel stronghold and scene of intense fighting until it was captured by Syrian regime forces in 2018.

Low compensation for ancient houses

The Ouruba newspaper report did not mention the price paid by the Antiquities Directorate to buy the houses or the date of purchase.

According to sources close to the owner of the house, the directorate bought the house last year from its owner for 9 million Syrian pounds, while its real price was then estimated at 40 million SYP.

A Rastan-based resident where the mosaic was found told Enab Baladi that residents of the neighborhood are afraid that the Antiquities Department will buy their homes by force and at low prices.

He added that fear arises when the government evaluates homes according to the popular price set by a committee from the Finance Directorate, which is not equal to a quarter or half of the real price of the property.

Previous attempts to sell

The BBC revealed the booming antiquities trade in Syria through the social networking site “Facebook,” which is a way to display looted artifacts from the conflict areas in Syria in preparation for smuggling them outside the country and selling them.

An investigation published by the BBC in May 2019 indicated that antiquities trade operations are carried out through groups on Facebook, whose members exchange information about how to excavate archaeological sites and the precautions against them.

According to the BBC, hundreds of these groups are active on Facebook, and sometimes they witness special “looting requests” to be smuggled into Turkish territory.

The BBC quoted the Turkish police as saying that the archaeological artifacts looted from Syria and Iraq, which crossed the borders into Turkey during the years of conflict, are estimated at millions of pounds.

Syria is considered a treasure trove for archaeologists, being home to some of the best-preserved relics of ancient civilizations, including the Umayyad mosque in Damascus and the ancient city of Palmyra.

But much has been destroyed or looted in the conflict years. In 2015 the Islamic State group overran Palmyra, causing devastation in the city, BBC reported.

The chaos has also fuelled a black market for smaller items such as coins and statuettes.

 

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