Friday, March 15, 2024

From Wilderness to Paradise: A Sixth-Century Mosaic Pavement at Qasr el-Lebia in Cyrenaica, Libya

book cover

From Wilderness to Paradise presents an in-depth study of the large mosaic pavement in the East Church at Qasr el-Lebia in Cyrenaica, Libya. The pavement, which survives almost in its entirety, consists of fifty panels, each containing a different image. Despite being described as ‘the finest and most interesting set of Christian mosaics yet found in Libya’ (Illustrated London News, December 1957), subsequent studies have generally dismissed the pavement as a random selection of images with no symbolic meaning and no overarching scheme. This book argues that the remarkably rich and complex mosaic should be understood as a coherent whole.

A discussion about reading imagery in Late Antiquity precedes a meticulous iconographical study. Within the pavement’s overall coherence, the grid layout allows the panels to be read in different directions, rather like a crossword puzzle, their meaning shifting with each change of focus. Particular attention is paid to small groups of images related either by subject matter or location, and the discussion shows how the placement of certain panels impacts the surrounding imagery, giving meaning over and above the significance of individual motifs. The iconographical study concludes by considering the mosaic from the viewpoint of those moving across the pavement and the phenomenological responses this interaction may have elicited. It suggests that as the images passed fleetingly underfoot, a journey unfurled and one was led from a chaotic oceanic wilderness in the east, to a more orderly paradisiacal world further west.

H 290 x W 205 mm

168 pages

166 figures (colour throughout)

Published Mar 2024

Archaeopress Archaeology


Paperback: 9781803277301

Digital: 9781803277318

DOI 10.32028/9781803277301



1. Introduction

Overview of the Mosaics

The Large Mosaic Pavement

Pavements in the Northeast Annex and Sanctuary

Northeast Annex



2. Cyrenaica

Geographical Context

Christianity in Cyrenaica

The Archaeological Site at Qasr el-Lebia

West Church

East Church

3. Reading the Mosaic Pavement

Imagery and Literature in Late Antiquity


Layout of the pavement

4. Iconographic Analysis

Ocean and Nile

Personifications - Kosmesis, Ktitis and Ananeosis

The Rivers of Paradise

Kastalia and the Eagle

A Musician, a Leopard and a Satyr

Architectural Representations


5. Overall Programme

The Journey: Wilderness to Paradise



6. Architectural Setting and Hypotheses

Architectural Setting

Hypothesis 1: The Large Mosaic as the Pavement of part of an Episcopium

Hypothesis 2: The Large Pavement as Part of a Baptismal Complex




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