Farmer Unearths Byzantine Treasure in Gaza Strip

eastern roman empire mosaic discovered near israeli-palestinian border

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A Palestinian farmer found a Byzantine mosaic while digging in his backyard. After months of carefully unearthing the structure, the find is ready for a proper excavation. The Eastern Roman Empire’s capital was Constantinople.

The Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey (Constantinople)
The Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) is located in Istanbul, Turkey (Constantinople). Photo by f11photo / Shutterstock

A farmer in the Gaza Strip was digging on his land to plant a new olive tree when he found a Byzantine mosaic. Measuring about 250 square feet, the mosaic depicts several animals and ornate tiles. Archaeologists are excited by the discovery, calling it the biggest of its kind in the area and it is believed to date back to between the 5th and 7th centuries CE.

Concerns regarding the preservation of the mosaic have mounted: Not only does Hamas rarely take care to preserve antiquities, but the Palestinian farmer’s land is just a half-mile from the Israeli border.

The Eastern Roman Empire’s capital was the great city of Constantinople. In his video series The Roman Empire: From Augustus to the Fall of Rome, Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete, Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, provides an overview of the Byzantine capital.

Istanbul Was Constantinople

“By the end of the 5th century CE, the Western Roman Empire centered on Rome had fallen, or at the very least, had been transformed into something that was no longer truly, fully Roman,” Dr. Aldrete said. “On the other side of the Mediterranean, the Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital at Constantinople, most certainly did not fall, and would continue to flourish for another 1,000 years.”

Citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire referred to themselves as Romans. Historians later chose to call this empire the Byzantine Empire, named after the ancient Greek colony Byzantium, which was located where Constantinople was founded. Its name changed again, to Istanbul, in what is now the country of Turkey.

“Established by Constantine in the 4th century to be the eastern capital of the Empire, Constantinople sits exactly at the border between Europe and Asia overlooking the Bosphorus, that both links the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea and separates Europe from Asia,” Dr. Aldrete said. “Geographically, Constantinople commands a vital economic and strategic crossroads. The main trade routes connecting east to west and north to south converge at this single point.”

The Byzantine Empire and the Birth of Islam

In the year 610, in the town of Mecca, which is located on the Arabian Peninsula, a middle-aged merchant named Mohammed began to experience visions. In these visions, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and recited to him a series of revelations from God. Gabriel commanded Mohammed to recite them back. Mohammed wrote them down in a book whose title, translated to English, is “The Recitations,” but is much more popularly known by its original title, the Qur’an.

“Mohammed identified God, or in Arabic, Allah, as the same God who was revered by the Jews and the Christians,” Dr. Aldrete said. “And in Islam, figures such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are venerated as human prophets who had received earlier divine revelations. Mohammed, then, was believed to be the last in this line of prophets, and had been granted the fullest and most accurate version of God’s message.”

Islam spread rapidly among the nomadic Arab tribes of the desert surrounding Mecca. For the 30 years following Mohammed’s death in 632, his successors led the Arab tribes to conquer vast territories in the Mediterranean. Today, Palestine is a majority Muslim country. With the long-standing tension between Israel and Palestine, the fate of the newly discovered Byzantine mosaic—which lies just a half-mile from the Israeli border—hangs in the balance.

The Roman Empire: From Augustus to the Fall of Rome is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily