Delphi and Late Antiquity

As most folks know, Delphi was a major center during Late Antiquity. 


The town of Delphi had a vibrant economy, lavish villas, several Early Christian basilicas, a couple with mosaic decorations.  One mosaic is particular spectacular.  The mosaic below was excavated from a church in the village of Kastri.  It has an inscription that suggests the church was a funerary basilica.  The mosaic itself is striking and its most striking feature is the central emblema of the west panel of the nave:


The tiger cat attacking the deer is not what one would except to see in an Early Christian funerary basilica!  But it might have significance in context.  The mosaic is surrounded by elite motifs including two summer months bringing in abundant harvests, hunting dogs, eagles (common in both a religious and secular context throughout antiquity), and exotic animals.  The scene of tiger cat attacking a deer has elite associations, particularly with exotic animal hunts in the amphitheater.  Finally, since tigers attacking deer do not fit into the known exegetical inventory of Late Antiquity, it might well be that this mosaic represented images that resonated with the expression of elite values — which would not be particular uncommon in a funerary context at any time during Antiquity.

The prominent display of this mosaic in the courtyard outside the museum stands in contrast to dearth of well-displayed Late Antique material in the museum or on the site more generally (compared to, say, Olympia).  There is, however, a handful of assorted marble disjecta membra on display around the site, but some of it suggests that the folks responsible for the displays were not entirely familiar with Late Antiquity…


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