Inhabited Scrolls from the IVth to the VIIth Century A.D. in Asia Minor and the Eastern Provinces of the Byzantine Empire
Dauphin, Claudine M.
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The "inhabited scroll" is a sinusoidal ornament of vegetal nature - either of vine or acanthus, or even, but rarely an ivy stem, filled with human and animal figures, e.g. vintagers, hares, partridges, and inanimate objects, e.g. baskets and vases. The motif, whose origins have been traced back to Hellenistic ornamental metalwork of the fourth-third century B.C., was popular in the Roman East. The present study confined to inhabited scrolls in architectural sculpture and on mosaic pavements from the fourth to the seventh century in Constantinople and in the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, examines the motif within its immediate architectural, geographical, economic, social and artistic context. It is based on 37 inhabited scrolls in architectural sculpture and 116 on mosaic pavements collected in the course of field-work in Turkey, Cyprus, the Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel, embodied in the catalogue of Vol. II and illustrated in Vols. Ill and IV. Owing to the nature of the material (destroyed, lost, damaged), and in view of its uneven publication, a systematic processing of it has been necessary. It includes the elaboration of a code of types of inhabited scrolls which condenses information and simplifies description. The geographical distribution of inhabited scrolls is examined and the evolution of the motif is traced from late Imperial times, a development illuminated by newly discovered second and third century inhabited scrolls in the Eastern Mediterranean. An attempt is also made to put forward reasons for changes in the distribution patterns from the Roman period when inhabited scrolls predominate in North Africa to the early Byzantine period, when they cluster in the Levant. The cluster in Syro-Cilicia and Palestine is accounted for principally by the booming economic situation of the area in the fifth-sixth century period. The code, moreover, provides a useful means of analysis from which inferences may be drawn particularly in the study of the predominance of some types of inhabited scroll patterns over others and the question of pattern books. Technical aspects of the study, e.g. the analysis of mosaic beds and tesserae stones, size of tesserae and number of tesserae to the dm2, provide information which may be combined with code-type, measurements of pavements, diameter of scrolls, composition, stylistic elements and date to determine "regional groupings" of inhabited scrolls. It is argued that workshops proper can only be determined by a computed cluster analysis combining the various attributes of inhabited scroll pavements cited above. Finally the question of the symbolic significance of the motif is discussed. Like most other motifs from the Graeco-Roman artistic repertory, the inhabited scroll passed into Jewish and Christian art alike, taking a different meaning according to the period, the religion, the building and the onlooker.