Archaeology does not often provide the opportunity for such extraordinary discoveries as the one that a team of researchers has just made in the province of Homs, Syria: a gigantic mosaic from the 4th century A.D. dedicated to the Trojan War, in an almost-perfect state of conservation.
The mosaic, located in Rastan, a town halfway between Aleppo and Damascus, has not yet been completely excavated, but it already appears to be one of the most exceptional and complete mosaics ever unearthed in the country. Its dimensions are currently estimated at twenty metres long and six metres wide.
In the centre of the mosaic is a series of Trojan warriors whose names are written in Greek, allowing them to be identified without hesitation, like Achilles, Menelaus, and Patroclus. Other figures are also represented, such as Hercules killing the Amazon queen Hippolyta and the sea god Neptune, in the company of his many conquests. The iconography is particularly rich and unusual, demonstrated in a scene of Amazon warriors fighting alongside the Trojans. The profusion of details is exceptional, according to Dr. Saad, the expert in charge of the excavation site.
The site where this mosaic was discovered has already yielded eight other mosaics, but none of this quality and scale. The exact purpose of the site is still unknown, but archaeologists speculate it may have been part of the ornamentation of a public bathhouse.
Prior to the outbreak of the war in Syria in 2011, the town where the mosaics are located, Rastan, had not been the subject of any archaeological campaign. It is one of the cities that suffered multiple events of destruction during the civil war. Parts of the mosaic had already appeared under a house a few years ago when jihadist rebels from the al-Nosra group were digging tunnels in the ground.
The area was occupied by armed groups until 2018 before being retaken by Syrian government forces. The site was initially purchased by Lebanese businessmen who had invested in the creation of the Nabu Archaeological Museum in northern Lebanon but was eventually given to the Syrian government for an excavation campaign.
Local heritage has suffered greatly: in 2017, parts of the mosaics were already stolen for resale. The site is now under heavy guard to prevent further theft or damage.
One of the donors of the Nabu Museum and a member of the board of trustees hopes to be able to proceed with new purchases of land in Rastan for further excavations. The complete excavation of the site should make it possible in the next few years to determine the exact function of the building decorated by this mosaic, and to uncover new remarkable treasures.