Is this ancient skeleton mosaic the first motivational poster?

A 2,400-year-old mosaic recently discovered in the southern Hatay province of Turkey could be the first ever motivational poster, as it shows an image of a happy-looking skeleton that contains an inscription reading “be cheerful, enjoy life,” according to various media outlets.

As the Associated Press reported on Friday, archaeologists unearthed the mosaic during a series of excavations in the Syrian border province which had once been known as Antioch. The floor mosaic dated back to the third century BCE and features the skeleton on a black background, the researchers said. It is believed to have been created in the dining hall of a home.

The mosaic was actually first discovered four years ago, according to Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah, and was one of many such creations that date back to the ancient Greek-Roman city of Antioch. The inscription is written in Ancient Greek, archeologist Demet Kara with the Hatay Archeology Museum told the publication, and the skeleton is shown lying down with a jorum (a drinking glass) in one hand and a wine pitcher and bread next to him.

The home is believed to have belonged to a member of the upper class, Kara said, and while the mosaic is said to be similar to one previously discovered in Italy, the newfound depiction is more complete than its predecessor. It is also unique among mosaics discovered in Turkey, she said.

mosaic

Credit: AA Photo

Image’s context indicates that the subject committed a social faux pas

Founded by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals of Macedonian king Alexander the Great, during the fourth century BCE, Antioch is best known as the first place where the followers of Jesus were actually referred to as Christians. The ancient city is also famous for its Greek and Roman-era mosaics, which date as far back as the second and third centuries BCE.

“Antiocheia [and alternate name for Antioch] was a very important, rich city,” Kara told the Hürriyet Daily News on Friday. “There were mosaic schools and mints in the city. The ancient city of Zeugma in [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep might have been established by people who were trained here. Antiocheia mosaics are world famous.”

As for the mosaic itself, she explained that it was one of three discovered by her team. In one, a black individual is shown throwing fire, which she told the newspaper depicted the bath, while in the second, a young man and a bald butler are shown running towards a sundial set between 9pm and 10pm, which indicates that he was late for supper. Both dining and bathing were considered important social activities among the elite living during the Roman period, Kara said.

“9 pm is the bath time in the Roman period. He has to arrive at supper at 10 pm,” she explained. “Unless he can, it is not well received. There is writing on the scene that reads he is late for supper and writing about time on the other. In the last scene, there is a reckless skeleton with a drinking pot in his hand along with bread and a wine pot. The writing on it reads ‘be cheerful and live your life,’” the archeologist told the Daily News.

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Image credit: AA Photo

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