|A featured design of the great mosaic floor underlying the bell tower of the Aquileia basilica. It depicts a ram bearing a sizable shofar, or ram’s-horn, a musical instrument employed uniquely by Jews in their religious rites.|
Photograph by Samuel Kurinsky by courtesy of the Aquileian Museum
The image is part of a large mosaic found in Aquileia, a town at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. According to historian Samuel Kurinsky, the town was an active center of Jewish life and commerce during much of the Roman Era. Jews brought skills in textiles and glass making from the Eastern Mediterranean and prospered. While much of the town's Jewish history has been lost, the archeological record suggests that the Christian basilica in town was built over a large synagogue.*
The basilica rises above a vast and magnificent mosaic floor which had lain more than a meter below the actual floor of the basilica before its accidental discovery. It extends the entire length of the great basilica and passes below its presbytery out to an undetermined end... A campanile, or bell tower, rises majestically at a short distance from the basilica. Its base... thrusts crassly through another set of mosaic floors of a complex of buildings connected to that under the basilica. The mosaics of the basilica, of the bell-tower, and of the connecting structures lay buried, unchronicled and unremembered, until accidentally discovered in 1962 as a consequence of repairing the floor of the basilica.
The design of all the floors... is a configuration of multiple panels. Many contain exquisite faunal figures, others the portraits of donors, and all are interspersed with the Nodo di Salomone, "Solomon's knot." Brilliant glass tiles are included in the tesserae that compose the mosaics. Glass tesserae was known to be used in mosaics only in the Near East up to this time. The brilliant renderings attest dramatically to the artistic and technical competence of the mosaicists.
The floors under the bell-tower conjoined with that of the basilica The complex of buildings thus delineated by the layout of the ancient floors is reminiscent of other such synagogue complexes, as for example, that of Duro-Europus, in which the layout of the floors and the function of the synagogue are remarkable similar to those at Aquileia.Returning to my question, what is the iconographic significance of the horn tied to the back of a goat? It is hard to know without seeing the image in context. Still, I am willing to offer my interpretation. The goat appears to be saddled and carrying other items along both of its flanks. On its right side, along with the "shofar" is what appears to be a short shepherd (goat herder?) crook. This suggests that the herder is using the animal to carry his gear. From this, we have an indication that a shofar was a basic tool among herders.
The area of the floor under the basilica rivals, and may prove to exceed, that of the hitherto largest synagogue of ancient time at Sardis in Anatolia. The exposed area alone measures some eight hundred square meters!
It is undeniable... that the building with the mosaic floor had to have been in existence before the year 320 CE.
If you have another idea, please let me know.
* See dissenting opinion.
For a better, color photo of this design, click here.