Mosaic Pavements recently found in the Gaza Strip

by Mohammed Moain Sadeq

In April 1995, the Gaza Palestinian Department of Antiquities uncovered a Byzantine mosaic pavement in al-Fawayda street, one of the streets of al-Thalathini Street, approximately 300m east of the UNRWA headquarters, between the old city of Gaza and the sea shore. It is made of large colored marble cubes of ca. 2 x 2 cm, and is decorated with geometrical elements, mainly circles and squares. The pavement is partially damaged. The remaining part has dimensions of approximately 2 x 2 m. The style of this mosaic is famous for the Gaza Region, although mostly these mosaics are made in white as their main color. On the seashore at Deir al-Balah for example, there is similar pavement with only white cubes. Approximately 8 m south-west of this mosaic, the Gaza Department of Antiquities uncovered a floor made of rubblestones mixed with lime and ashes. Directly below this floor several Byzantine jars, ordered in one row, were found. Other parallel rows of jars on the floor are expected to be discovered. No other architectural remains have been discovered to ascertain the function of the building. But other mosaic pavements were reported in the area. The different discoveries in this site make clear evidence of a Byzantine settlement.
The mosaic map of Madaba depicts a church referred to as "Of St. Victor", closely in the south-west direction of the city of Gaza. This building may correspond to the church mentioned by the 6th century pilgrim Antoninus Placentinus, although he saw it, seemingly, inside the city of Maiuma, i.e. on the sea shore.1 That same church might be part of the monastery founded by Petrus Iberus in the late 5th century,2 where Severus of Antioch had also dwelled before he founded - maybe close to it - his own monastery.3 The structure depicted on the Madaba map is a rectangular building with a gabled roof covered with red tiles, oriented east west and provided with a colonnaded porch. Although nothing, until now, allows us to say that the buildings uncovered belong to the monastery of St. Victor itself, they certainly belong to the area in which the monastery existed.
"Thauatha" straight to the south of Gaza on the Madaba Map, five miles to the south of the city according to Jerome, is mentioned as the birth place of Hilarion, who, in the beginning of the 4th century, founded a monastery seven miles away from Maiuma (Hieronymus, Life of Hilarion, 2), and twenty stades away from Thabatha (Sozomenos, History of the Church, III 14,23). We suggest that the ruins of Thabatha are located on Tell Umm 'Amir between al-Zawayda area and al-Nuseirat, which was excavated by the Israeli Antiquities Office in Gaza between December 1991 and January 1992. The Palestinian Department of Antiquities investigated the end of the Tell in the north-east side. Foundations of a Roman structure, most probably a palace built of sandstone, were discovered under the sand-dunes. Parts of the destroyed structure were paved with mosaic made of big white cubes (ca. 18 x 18 mm). This kind of mosaic was also used in the Byzantine period. Similar cubes of mosaic have been found for instance in Gaza, Deir al-Balah and Beit Lahya in the Gaza strip. The pottery cooking pots, jars and other artifacts discovered are mostly of local production and of the Roman Byzantine type. The type of wall courses with its outer plaster is also similar to the one discovered in Gaza to the north of the walled port of Anthedon in al-Bilakhiyya area.
Some scholars locate the village of Thabatha on the site of Kh. Umm al-Tut, which is also located in the al-Nuseirat area, c. 500 m to the north of Tell Umm 'Amir. The site of Kh. Umm al-Tut could be a site bordering Thabatha but not Thabatha itself, as it is too small in comparison to Tell Umm 'Amir.
Another mosaic is located in the centre of the village of 'Abasan al-Kabira, 4 km to the east of the city of Khan Yunis, uncovered by the Gaza Department of Antiquities in June 1995.4 It has an excavated area of ca. 9 x 4 m in plan, partially damaged, and it is made of very fine colored square cubes of marble (averagely 0.5 cm), and different kinds of stones and glass. It shows geometrical and floral forms, birds, cups filled with fruits, as well as parts of the plaited band that framed it. In the centre of the pavement there is a Greek inscription dating the pavement to the month Desios of the year 666 of the Gaza calendar. This date corresponds to the month of May in the year 606 CE.
Our last item was uncovered on the west side of the coastal road between Deir al-Balah and Khan Yunus. It is made of white marble cubes (ca. 2 x 2 cm). The pavement measures ca. 4 x 5 m. Some walls built of sandstone were found on the site. This kind of mosaic cube was also found in the north-east side of the site of Tell Umm 'Amir in al-Nuseirat and in al-Khirba area in Beit Lahya. The sea shore of the city of Deir el-Balah and also the centre of Deir al-Balah and the surrounding area indicate many sites with archaeological remains from the Bronze Age down to the Roman Byzantine period.


1 "We went to the city of Maiuma of Gaza, the resting place of the martyr Saint Victor" (Piacenza Pilgrim, 33; Wilkinson 1977:85). There is an Egyptian martyr under the emperor Antoninus called Victor (BHL 8559) and another from Antioch under Diocletian (BHO 1242).

2 "und kam und wohnte in der zwischen Gaza und der kleinen Stadt, Namens Majûma, gelegenen Congregation, die zu jener Zeit voll von heiligen, ihr Kreuz tragenden Mönchen war" (Vita Petri, ed. Raabe 1895:50).

3 PO, 2, p. 96-97 and p. 229.

4 The artefacts excavated are part of the collection of the Gaza Department of Antiquities, and currently exhibited in the Antiquities office in Khan Yunus.

This contribution was first published in: The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 214-215.

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Created Saturday, December 16, 2000 at 11:29:45
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